Barriss himself was swatted by a fellow Halo player in February 2015, but the experience titillated rather than cowed him. “I remember hearing the helicopter hovering over our house for about five minutes before I realized it had to be a police chopper,” he tells me. “How cool would it be, I thought, if I could do that to anyone I wanted. It was just appealing to me, to be able to completely and anonymously own someone like that and not get caught.” Soon after that epiphany, he began to teach himself the skills necessary to swat his enemies. He wrote and revised call scripts, making each one more dramatic yet plausible than the last. He figured out how to obtain temporary phone numbers with area codes that wouldn’t make 911 operators suspicious. And he tried to scrub the internet of his personal information, so his victims would find it difficult to locate his home address and respond in kind.
Barriss quickly became addicted to the thrill of swatting. “It was like a kind of online power,” he says. “Knowing that you’re breaking the law, and knowing that they won’t be able to find you, and knowing you just sent the SWAT team or bomb squad somewhere, and knowing you could do that over and over again.” He crowed to his grandmother about his achievements and described himself to her as a “hacking god.”
But Barriss’ swatting career was interrupted by his arrest for the KABC-TV bomb threats. He pleaded no contest to two felony counts of making a false bomb report and was sentenced to two years and eight months in the Los Angeles County Jail. With credit for time served and good behavior, he was released on January 20, 2017.
The next day, Barriss was arrested for illegally entering his grandmother Wendy’s house. According to police, Gregory lived in constant fear of her grandson and had taken out a protective order against him. Barriss pleaded no contest to violating that order and was sentenced to another 364 days in jail. When he finally went free again that August, after serving about half his term, he moved into a homeless shelter near Exposition Park in South Los Angeles as he waited for a Section 8 apartment to open up. The shelter is a 15-minute walk from a public library, which is where Barriss used the free computers to quietly resume his campaign of terror.
He started with bomb threats again. Barriss had once harbored a vague aspiration to earn fame on the professional gaming scene as a Halo champion; now he sought to make a name for himself by tormenting gamers who’d attained celebrity. In early December 2017, he twice caused the evacuation of a major Call of Duty tournament at the Dallas Convention Center. When the social media star SoaR Ashtronova tweeted about the confusion she felt as she fled the event beneath the whir of police helicopters, Barriss taunted her from one of his Twitter accounts: “It got ran, baby girl. Thats what happens.”
Six days later Barriss tweeted, “Gonna evacuate the net neutrality meeting guys don’t be upset.” That afternoon, the members of the Federal Communications Commission were compelled to scurry out of their Washington, DC, meeting room in response to a bomb threat, delaying a key vote on the future of net neutrality—an issue of vital importance to bandwidth-hungry gamers. Barriss took credit for the incident on Twitter and also marveled at the lack of any law enforcement response. “Where the cops at?” he wrote. “I’m too godly.”