Late last night, sources all over the Internet were ablaze with the news of emails sent Monday to staff at Utah State University, where Anita Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak today, threatening a mass shooting if the event were to take place. In addition to the media frenzy, students and faculty protested the threats vehemently.
“If you do not cancel her talk, a Montreal Massacre style attack will be carried out against the attendees, as well as students and staff at the nearby Women’s Center. I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs. This will be the deadliest school shooting in American history and I’m giving you a chance to stop it,” the email stated.
“You have 24 hours to cancel Sarkeesian’s talk. You might be foolish enough to just beef up security at the event, but that won’t save you. Even if they’re able to stop me, there are plenty of feminists on campus who won’t be able to defend themselves. One way or another, I’m going to make sure they die.”
The email went on to refer to Marc Lépine, the shooter who went on a rampage on a Montreal campus a quarter-century ago, killing 14 women and wounding 10 women and 4 men. In the 25 years since that shooting, the name “Lépine” has taken its place among the names of many other mass shooters and now has a status of relative obscurity. Among feminists, however, his name is often used to evoke images of terror and violence toward women.
“Utah State University police is coordinating the threat information with other local, state and federal agencies, including the Utah Statewide Information and Analysis Center, the FBI Cyber Terrorism Task Force, and the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit,” said a statement issued by the university police department at 4 p.m. on October 14 on the website of the school’s newspaper, Utah State Today. “After a careful assessment of the threat it has been determined it is similar to other threats that Sarkeesian has received in the past, and all university business will be conducted as scheduled tomorrow.”
The statement did not elaborate as to why—since the threat had been determined to be “similar to other threats” Sarkeesian has received—the university would be conducting business as scheduled.
At 7 p.m., an update was posted on the same website, telling students that Sarkeesian herself had canceled her speech after discussing the emails with campus police: “During the discussion, Sarkeesian asked if weapons will be permitted at the speaking venue. Sarkeesian was informed that, in accordance with the State of Utah law regarding the carrying of firearms, if a person has a valid concealed firearm permit and is carrying a weapon, they are permitted to have it at the venue.”
Later in the evening, the police issued another statement to Utah State Today, reassuring students that their safety was the department’s top priority. They repeated prior assertions that state law enforcement and the FBI were involved in the investigation, saying, “Following a disturbing email received late Monday evening, Utah State University police and administrators have been working throughout the day to assess any level of risk to students or to a speaker scheduled to visit. USU police, in conjunction with several teams of state and federal law enforcement experts, determined that there was no threat to students, staff or the speaker, so no alert was issued.”
“At no time was there any imminent threat,” the statement continued. “The investigation is continuing.”
AVfM News called the Utah State University Police Department earlier today for more details, including whether or not a suspect was identified, and if so whether or not an arrest has or will be made. The officer who answered the phone call transferred us to Tim Vitale, the school’s executive director of public relations.
Vitale said that no suspect has yet been identified.
When asked why, if the threats were consistent with other serious threats directed toward Sarkeesian in the past, the school decided to go on with the event anyway, he replied, “Those threats never amounted to any action, and the law enforcement experts that were assessing the threat said that the threat was not real.”
“The letter itself was threatening, but they [the investigators] did not expect a followup to be carried out.”
When asked if this was based on investigations into previous threats directed toward Sarkeesian, Vitale answered affirmatively.
“We are talking about the FBI Cyber Terrorism Task Force, the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit, and other law enforcement professionals who are experts in this world. We tapped the best resources we could and that was their assessment.”
When asked if he was concerned that the voluminous amount of negative media attention surrounding USU would affect its reputation and if any action would be taken against the student or students responsible for the email, Vitale said, “One, we don’t think nor do law enforcement officials think that this is a student at our institution. The investigation continues and we certainly are pursuing the name of the individual, but we really don’t believe it is a student of ours. Two, we are looking to see the investigation continue aggressively and we aren’t looking at the next round of action until that process is complete.”
“We are very aware of our university’s stellar reputation already, and as we explain how we addressed the situation and our response to the email we know that we will make it clear to people that we did everything we could in the situation to both protect the safety of the speaker herself, our students, and audience members who had chosen to go to the event,” he added. “And two, that at all times we also protected the academic integrity of the institution.”
“Front and center during this entire event were two things: safety, safety, safety, and two, academic freedom slash freedom of speech. Freedom of speech both of the speaker herself and of our students and community members who want to hear her speak about a very important topic. We know that is what we do, educate people. Give students, give the community a chance to hear different perspectives on new information presented to them. They in turn can express their own opinions either in support of or in opposition to the material they are hearing and then the final part of the process is that, we hope, they learn something. It’s the heart of the heart of what we do as an academic institution.”
You can listen to an audio recording of the phone conversation here:
Sarkeesian, a well-published critic of what she describes as a misogynistic gaming culture, has been the subject of much controversy lately, having claimed she has been the target of multiple threats, via Twitter and email, against her safety. She even claimed to have had to leave her home in August because of constant online harassment.
She has many detractors who believe that she is poisoning the game industry with what they call hateful feminist ideology. Her most famous detractor, Dr. Phil Mason, also known by the YouTube handle Thunderf00t, has produced many videos criticizing her inadequacies and exposing her outright dishonesty. #Gamergate is the Twitter hashtag most associated with her critics and has been derided by many of Sarkeesian’s supporters as being a hotbed for misogyny and a platform for attacks against her. Thunderf00t even had his Twitter account suspended at her behest, even though there was no evidence of any threats he made against her.
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