Game developer Brianna Wu has been stalked, tormented, and harassed by GamerGate—the amorphous reactionary movement centered around video game journalism—for months now. But it's never been as frightening as it was this weekend—when she watched a terrifying video made by a deranged fanatic who claims he crashed his car on the way to her home. "I'm worried my husband and I are going to die," she tells me.
The video is the work of a man who calls himself "Jace Connors," and claims to be both a retired Marine and Navy Seal. It's unclear whether he has any real military affiliation, present or former, but his fantasy love of violence is clear, and he frequently shares images of himself posing with guns and knives. He can be seen here assaulting some guy over a stolen Xbox.
Jace Connors might've just been another wingnut who lets Call of Duty bleed into reality, but he's become a popular figure inside GamerGate, which has egged him on through increasingly bizarre and disturbing acts. This culminated with a video on January 30th, showing Connors' wrecked car on the side of the highway:
In the video, the very obviously disturbed man says he was on his way to confront Wu at her home outside Boston—this, after she tells me he'd uploaded a video threatening to "kill her Assassin's Creed style" with a knife. A Skype transcript between Connors and a friend he'd asked to accompany him to Wu's house is almost as unsettling as the video:
[2:52:35 PM] Jace Connors: I SENT ELI UP TO DISABLE HER COMMS WE DONT HAVE MUCH TIME BEFORE SHE ASKS FOR REINFORCEMENTS THOUGH AND I NEED YOU FOR BACK UP!!
[2:52:52 PM] FlyAwayNow - Matthew.N: What? You want me to bring my rifle or what?
[2:53:05 PM] Jace Connors: YEA JUST LIKE IN PAYDAY 2 DUDE ITLL BE SICK
[2:53:36 PM] Jace Connors: IN CASE SHE SHOOTS AT MY CAR I CANT GET BULLET HOLES IN MY MOMS CAR SHE ILL KILL ME ESPECIALLY BECAUSE I STOLE IT
[2:54:10 PM] Jace Connors: WERE GONNA STREET RACE HER SHE WONT BE ABLE TO DRIVE IN THE STORM SO WE WILL BE ABLE TO WIN EASY AND TAKE YOUR RIFLE IN CASE SHE SHOOTS US TOO
[2:54:32 PM] FlyAwayNow - Matthew.N: You're not laying a hand on my gun.
[2:54:42 PM] Jace Connors: ILL DRIVE YOU SHOOT
Luckily, Connors never made it to Wu's home. And, to be clear, all we have to go on that he actually tried is his word, which obviously doesn't mean much.
But the fact that he claims he tried, combined with his clear derangement evidenced in the video itself, is terrifying enough—"absolutely" marking a high water mark for GamerGate's scare tactics, Wu says. "Anyone that's moderate has left the movement," she told me via phone. "[Now] you just have these extremists here. For them, it's straight up entertainment." Sure enough, "fans" of Jace Connors applauded the video, which now has over 50,000 views on YouTube. And he's still going:
Connors' unhinged campaign against Wu resembles that of another GamerGate favorite, a game developer named Slade Villena who tweets under the handle @_RogueStar_. Like Jace Connors, RogueStar claims to be a military veteran, and demonstrates terrifyingly obsessive behaviors—most recently, in a relentless campaign to ruin the life of Peter Coffin, a D-list YouTube personality. As explained at length in this Storify, RogueStar has tried to get Coffin involuntarily committed:
And has also tried to convince GamerGate that Coffin's family doesn't exist—in what appeared to be a bid to bait Coffin into posting photographs and other identifying information about his family. Coffin refused, but his brother, unaware of Villena's all-consuming obsession, responded.
If Villena and Connors aren't mentally ill, they're putting on an extremely good performance of mental illness. But scarier even than Gamergate's last psychopaths is the small army of anonymous commenters who—seemingly out of a bored, sadistic impulse to mess with sick and dangerous people—whip them into a frenzy, pushing Connors and Villena to even greater heights of obsession and rage. There's an entire corner of 8chan, the web's current top toxic slime pit, dedicated to manipulating mentally ill people into real-life action for amusement.
There's no point to it, of course. There's no real agenda here, nor anything you could call ideology—"ethics in game journalism" feels like a thousand years ago. But if you're Brianna Wu, you can't shrug this off as mere trolling, even particularly vicious trolling. There's a man out there, by all accounts mentally ill, galvanized by a hashtag, and threatening to hurt her. Wu tells me that when she's been aware of Jace Connors' threats since December, but when she most recently spoke to her local police force, they merely took down her report and said "we suggest you turn off your electronic devices."
Twitter has been equally unhelpful; the social network is able to lock down Taylor Swift's hacked account within minutes, but serial harassers go unchecked. But Wu somehow remains undaunted, or at least not locked in a closet rocking back and forth, which is where I'd be: "I've been in touch with members of congress who are frustrated, and what they're frustrated about is there's no delineation of whose job it is to respond to these threats." But talking is only so reassuring: "I really just need people to do stuff. People are going to die if we don't act here."
To contact the author of this post, write to firstname.lastname@example.org