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U.S. Statehouses Evacuated After Bomb Threat Hoaxes

Multiple U.S. state capitols and statehouses were evacuated on 3 January after bomb threats were emailed to officials. No explosives were found, and the FBI called the threats a hoax, saying the Bureau has “no information to indicate a specific and credible threat.”

Statehouse offices or buildings were evacuated in Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Montana. Other states received threats but didn’t close, including Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, the Associated Press reported.

The threatening email claimed that “multiple explosives” had been “well hidden” inside the statehouses, and that the bombs would detonate “in a few hours,” killing many people, according to the BBC. The threats disrupted the start of new legislative sessions, but only briefly. Kentucky’s statehouse was swept for threats by police within three hours, and legislators were cleared to return. The Mississippi Capitol was locked down and evacuated before bomb-sniffing dogs patrolled the hall; an all-clear was given shortly after.

The FBI said it is working with state, local, and federal law enforcement to investigate the hoax. “The FBI takes hoax threats very seriously because it puts innocent people at risk,” the Bureau said in a statement.

Hoax threats against political figures have been making the rounds recently. In the past two weeks, several public officials have been hit by swatting calls—a prank call made to emergency services intended to spark a heavy police or SWAT team response, such as claiming there is an active shooter or hostage situation.

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In 2022, the FBI warned that swatting hoax perpetrators use technology such as caller ID spoofing, social engineering, and prank calls to make it appear that the emergency call is coming from the victim’s phone to fool emergency operators and law enforcement.

“These calls are dangerous to first responders and to the victims,” the FBI alert said. “The callers often tell tales of hostages about to be executed or bombs about to go off. The community is placed in danger as responders rush to the scene, taking them away from real emergencies, and the officers are placed in danger as unsuspecting residents may try to defend themselves.”

Swatting can be deadly. Police responding to the scene have shot and killed the targets of swatting hoaxes, and one victim died of a heart attack during the police response, according to NBC News.

In 2023, the FBI launched a national database to track swatting incidents.

Congressman Brandon Williams of New York was subjected to the criminal harassment prank on Christmas Day, The Guardian reported. He said he suspected that he was pranked because of his pro-Israel positions, and that public officials are being increasingly targeted by agitators seeking to disrupt their lives.

Multiple Georgia lawmakers were targeted on Christmas, and the string of incidents is prompting officials to consider making swatting a felony, Fox News reported. Currently in Georgia, a person who makes a swatting call can be charged with an unlawful request for emergency services assistance—a misdemeanor unless it interferes with critical infrastructure, at which point it becomes a felony.

Some public officials, including Gabe Sterling, chief operating officer for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, warned that this type of threat and activity is likely to continue as the United States 2024 presidential election cycle moves forward.

For more about bomb threats, check out Security Management’s 2023 coverage here, as well as our guide on 13 training steps organizations can take to prepare for a bomb threat.