Republican presidential candidate former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley delivers remarks at her primary night rally at the Grappone Conference Center on January 23, 2024 in Concord, New Hampshire.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images
Authorities responded to a fake emergency at the South Carolina home of Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley last month after a man claimed to have shot a woman and threatened to harm himself at her home, according to town records obtained by Reuters.
The previously unreported “swatting” incident is among a wave of violent threats, bomb scares and other acts of intimidation against government officials, members of the judiciary and election administrators since the 2020 election that have alarmed law enforcement ahead of this year’s U.S. presidential contest.
Swatting cases have surged over the past two months, targeting both allies and rivals of former President Donald Trump as he campaigns to return to the White House. The targets include figures who have publicly opposed Trump, such as Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat who barred him from her state’s primary ballot. Judges and at least one prosecutor handling cases against Trump have been targeted. But Trump backers such as U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene have also faced swatting attempts.
The hoax against Haley, who is challenging frontrunner Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, occurred on Dec. 30 in the town of Kiawah Island, an affluent, gated community of around 2,000 people.
Haley’s campaign declined to comment.
An unknown person called 911 and “claimed to have shot his girlfriend and threatened to harm himself while at the residence of Nikki Haley,” Craig Harris, Kiawah Island director of public safety, told town officials on Dec. 30, according to an email Reuters obtained in a records request for threats to Haley’s home. “It was determined to be a hoax … Nikki Haley is not on the island and her son is with her.”
Swatting is the filing of false reports to the police to set off a potentially dangerous response by officers. Law enforcement experts see it as a form of intimidation or harassment that is increasingly being used to target political figures and officials involved in the civil and criminal cases against Trump.
In the email, Harris said he was in contact with South Carolina’s state police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the head of Haley’s security team. “This incident is being investigated by all involved,” he wrote. The email did not mention a suspect or potential motive. In a separate email obtained by Reuters, an FBI official in South Carolina told Harris and other law enforcement officials that federal agents were tracking the hoax call and intended to open a “threat assessment” into the matter.
Harris, the FBI and the state police had no immediate comment on the incident. Law enforcement agencies have not publicly identified a suspect in the Haley case or in other high-profile swatting cases.
Haley and her husband bought the $2.4 million Kiawah Island residence in October 2019, local property records indicate.
Trump, famed for his incendiary rhetoric, has expressed fury at Haley in recent weeks. She has lost the first two Republican nominating contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire, but has refused to drop out of the race. Haley has ramped up her criticism of Trump, suggesting he’s too old to be president again and calling him “totally unhinged.”
Reuters has documented at least 27 swatting incidents of politicians, prosecutors, election officials and judges since November 2023, ranging from Georgia Republican state officials to hoaxes this month against Democrat Joe Biden’s residence at the White House.
Some of the calls bear striking similarities. In two cases in which Reuters reviewed 911 recordings of hoax calls, a person identifying himself as “Jamal” called police to say he had killed his wife.
One such incident targeted the Florida home of Republican U.S. Senator Rick Scott on Dec. 27, weeks after he endorsed Trump, according to records from the Naples Police Department. “I caught my wife sleeping with another dude so I took my AR-15, and I shot her in the head three times,” the caller said, referring to a popular semi-automatic rifle. Officers checked Scott’s home and concluded the call was a hoax. Scott wasn’t home at the time of the call.
“Jamal’s voice sounded as if it was computer generated/artificial,” wrote a Naples Police Department official in the incident report.
A caller identifying himself as “Jamal” also targeted Georgia Republican state senator John Albers on Dec. 26, according to an incident report from the Roswell Police Department. In that case, the caller said he had shot his wife and demanded $10,000 or he would shoot himself, too. In both cases, the callers were male and spoke with a similar accent, according to a Reuters analysis of the audio recordings.
A Jan. 7 call targeting Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a strong Trump supporter, also had some similarities. The caller told police he was phoning from the official’s address in the state capital, said he had shot his wife and added “he was going to kill himself and hung up on the operator,” according to an incident report by the Jefferson City Police Department. Ashcroft and his wife and children were home at the time, according to a statement from the Missouri Secretary of State.
Scott, Albers and Ashcroft did not respond to requests for comment.
Gabriel Sterling, a top official in the Georgia secretary of state’s office, said when someone called 911 on Jan. 11 to falsely report a shooting at his Atlanta suburban home, 14 police cars, a fire truck and an ambulance raced to his house. “Now I bolt my doors every night,” said Sterling, a Republican who faced a torrent of threats for denouncing Trump’s false voter-fraud claims after the 2020 election. “That’s the reality I’m living in now,” he said in an interview.
Similar scare tactics have been directed in recent weeks at judges and prosecutors involved in cases against Trump.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 11, police in Nassau County, New York, received a report of a bomb at the home of Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, who is presiding over the civil fraud trial of Trump and his family real estate business. Police officers, including a bomb squad, were dispatched to the judge’s home in the upscale suburb of Great Neck, Long Island, at 5:30 a.m., according to the Nassau County Police Department.
But no explosive device was found and the call was determined to be a false report. A spokesman for the New York court system declined to comment on the incident.
Just days earlier, police in Washington, D.C., responded to a false report of a shooting at the home of U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is hearing the criminal case charging Trump with attempting to overturn his 2020 election defeat. Late in the evening on Jan. 7, police were dispatched to the home, where an unidentified woman advised them that she was uninjured and no one else was in the home, according to an incident report reviewed by Reuters. Police cleared the home and found no explosive device. The U.S. Marshals Service, which protects federal judges and prosecutors, did respond to a request for comment on the incident.
Other security scares have involved hoax bomb attacks.
Over two days in early January, bomb threats were sent to state capitals and courthouses in multiple states, according to news reports and state officials, including Minnesota, Arkansas, Maine, Hawaii, Montana and New Hampshire. In Minnesota, state courts received bomb threats by email, but the threats were deemed false and did not block court proceedings, court officials told Reuters. The FBI said it was investigating the threats.
In a statement issued previously on the surge in swatting incidents, the FBI said people making the false calls were using tactics such as caller-ID spoofing technology “to make it appear that the emergency call is coming from the victim’s phone.”
The calls “are dangerous to first responders and to the victims,” often involving fake reports that hostages have been taken or bombs are about to go off, the FBI said. “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.”
The recent swatting incidents follow a surge of violent threats against U.S. election workers after the 2020 election, inspired by Trump’s false stolen-election claims. Reuters documented more than 1,000 intimidating messages between the 2020 election through 2021 in a series of stories that chronicled the campaign of fear against election administrators in more than a dozen battleground states. A report published on Thursday by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice said the intimidation continued well into last year. In its survey of state legislators completed in October 2023, 43% reported being threatened over the past three years.
The swatting wave coincides with the most sustained spate of political violence in the United States since the 1970s, according to a Reuters investigation last year. That report documented at least 232 politically motivated acts of violence since Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The events ranged from riots to brawls at political demonstrations to beatings and murders.