Feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a talk that would have taken place tonight at Utah State University after the university received a terror threat from someone claiming they would commit “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if Sarkeesian gave her lecture.
The threat, e-mailed to Utah State staff by someone purporting to be a student, stated, “I have at my disposal a semi-automatic rifle, multiple pistols, and a collection of pipe bombs,” according to the Standard Examiner. The letter-writer warned of an attack like the Montreal massacre targeting lecture attendees, faculty, staff and the university’s women’s center and claimed university efforts to step up security would be fruitless.
“One way or another, I’m going to make sure they die,” the letter-writer claimed.
Sarkeesian is a blogger and critic who founded the Web site Feminist Frequency, where she discusses sexist and misogynistic tropes in video games and critiques gamer culture. As escalating threats of death and rape marked Sarkeesian’s tenure as a video game vlogger, she’s been adamant about not allowing them to silence her.
The Utah State threat is just the latest one in the ongoing saga of Gamergate, an increasingly nasty culture war between video-game critics like Sarkeesian and a mob of gamers. (See this post by the Post’s Caitlin Dewey for more.) Sarkeesian isn’t the only woman who has received death threats in connection with Gamergate. On Friday, game developer Brianna Wu left her home after alerting police that she received a death threat that included her home address. Zoe Quinn, an independent developer who was the original target of Gamergate, was also forced to leave her home because of death threats. In August, the threats grew so severe that Sarkeesian was forced to flee her home too.
Typically, Sarkeesian does not back out of events because of threats — last month, someone threatened to bomb the Game Developers Choice Awards if they honored Sarkeesian. They proceeded anyway, under caution — and Tuesday night she clarified her reasoning for canceling the event at Utah State.
This instance was different because of Utah’s concealed carry law: Anyone in the state, including college students, can carry a concealed weapon as long as they have a permit for the gun.
“To be clear: I didn’t cancel my USU talk because of terrorist threats,” she tweeted. “I canceled because I didn’t feel the security measures were adequate.”
According to university spokesman Tim Vitale, the university formulated a security plan when they knew Sarkeesian was coming, prior to her arrival. “We were going to not allow bags in at all,” Vitale said. Once the threat was sent, “We added officers, both uniform and undercover, and we were going to empty the room and sweep the room [for bombs].”
However, the university didn’t plan to use metal detectors or institute a temporary gun ban restricted to the confines of the lecture space. Utah State is a publicly-funded university.
When Sarkeesian arrived in Utah, campus police Capt. Steve Milne “explained by state law if someone has a legal concealed carry permit, that they were allowed by law to have that,” Vitale said. “In the end, it caused her to decide to cancel the event.”
The Gamergate crowd responded to news stories reporting Sarkeesian alerted authorities with accusations that she was fabricating threats to serve herself and her message. She wasn’t, and law enforcement confirmed they were investigating the threats against Sarkeesian, which prompted the involvement of the FBI.
Wu was also accused of making up the threats against her, which has become a tactic to discredit the very women who are being targeted.
“I am a professional developer,” Wu told Kotaku. “The quickest way I could think of to end my career and destroy my credibility would be making something like this up and getting arrested for filing a false police report.”
Vitale said Milne was overwhelmed Tuesday coordinating with the Logan, Utah, police force, as well as the FBI’s cyberterrorism task force and behavioral analysis unit, to track down the source of the threat and assess the probability the perpetrator would act on it.
“I’ve been here 17 years and I can’t remember anything in this realm before,” Vitale said. “We’ve never seen anything like this before. Logan, Utah, is a very bucolic valley. It’s a quiet, peaceful place to be. We’re not used to these kind of pointed and ugly threats. We don’t have our heads in the sand about violence, but this is new.”