Local and federal authorities are "continuing to aggressively pursue the investigation" of death threats made against critic and Feminist Frequency creator Anita Sarkeesian and Utah State University, USU executive director of public relations and marketing Tim Vitale told Polygon today.
Sarkeesian, known for her work on Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, was originally slated to speak at the university today on the topic of misogyny in video games and online harassment. The event, which would have taken place in an auditorium seating around 350 people, was open to the public. Vitale said the university expected it would have "filled the room."
Yesterday, an anonymous person claiming to be a student of the university sent a threatening email to staff and alumni. The message promised "the deadliest school shooting in American history" if Sarkeesian was allowed to speak. Later that evening, Sarkeesian canceled her talk.
"During the discussion, Sarkeesian asked if weapons will be permitted at the speaking venue," the university's alert read. "Sarkeesian was informed that, in accordance with the State of Utah law regarding the carrying of firearms, if a person has a valid concealed firearm permit and is carrying a weapon, they are permitted to have it at the venue."
Sarkeesian reiterated this on Twitter, saying that she did not decline to speak because of the threats themselves, but because she felt the security measures were inadequate.
"Our police officers and forces are still working ... to try to determine who sent the email."
Vitale previously told Polygon that both USU staff and authorities did not believe the sender was a student of the university. No further contact has been made on the part of the sender, he said today.
"We are looking to find out who this person is, and our police officers and forces are still working closely with both state and federal agencies to try to determine who sent the email, including the FBI," Vitale told Polygon.
Contacted today via phone, the FBI in Salt Lake City was unable to provide any additional details on this specific case and responded with "no comment." Special agent Todd Palmer did inform Polygon of practices and policies for general cases.
In the instance of threats leveled against a university, the report will first go to authorities there, who classify the threat as they see fit. Those authorities then contact the FBI based on the organization's specialties. For a crime to be classified as a federal violation, it must fit specific guidelines that are investigated by law enforcement and an attorney.
How a crime is classified is decided by the nature of the threat, how it was communicated and if it is violent. Officials then look at how viable and credible the threat is — or how likely it is to happen — by the conveyance of the threat, if the person has the means to carry out the threat and if the individual can be identified. When trying to determine the level of the threat, officials will attempt to identify the source, see how many times a threat has been made, whether they've been carried out in the past or if negative things have happened as a result of threats in the past.
"Every single threat that we've been able to ascertain is credible will be investigated the same way," Palmer said. "When we receive a threat, the number one thing we do is try to ascertain the credibility of that threat.
"At some point, we would either find the perpetrator of that threat, not be able to find the perpetrator of that threat, determine if the threat is actually credible, or not. All of those different steps we're going to go through. We don't know if the threat is real. Just because it comes in doesn't mean it's credible or [not credible]. You just have to go through the steps each time."
Officials will investigate such threats to "the most logical conclusion."
Palmer said that officials will investigate such threats to "the most logical conclusion." Agencies will also work together across state lines if the same threat has been sent to an individual in multiple states.
We've reached out to local authorities, as well as Sarkeesian herself, for more details on the case.
On Twitter, Sarkeesian said that there were "multiple, specific threats made stating intent to kill me & feminists at USU." She added that one threat did claim affiliation with the campaign known as GamerGate.
The GamerGate movement and Twitter hashtag is a social campaign defined by most supporters as a call to effect change in video game journalism and to defend the "gamer" identity. The movement is difficult to define because what it has come to represent has no central leadership or agreed-upon manifesto. The hashtag was first used by actor Adam Baldwin in August after intimate details of a personal relationship between a video game developer and a video game journalist were made public and led some to allege cronyism between press and developers. The campaign is now also linked to ongoing and well-established harassment of women in video games, including Depression Quest creator Zoe Quinn, Sarkeesian and Giant Spacekat head Brianna Wu, though many of GamerGate's supporters deny the campaign should be blamed for harassment.
Last week, Wu fled her home following a disturbing set of tweets containing graphic, violent threats and her home address. The developer was targeted after tweeting images critical of those who identify with the campaign. Shortly afterward, Wu tweeted that members of 8chan, a message board including former 4chan posters, had posted her personal information online. The investigation of those threats is ongoing.
In the case of the specific email threat regarding Sarkeesian and USU, Vitale said he did not believe it was linked to GamerGate. However, he admitted to being unfamiliar with the campaign.
"She's an important national voice discussing an important topic."
"The investigation is going to continue to try and find the person," Vitale said. "Had it not been canceled, we would have been continuing the investigation right up until the moment to see if anything changed, to add any level of risk that we needed to prepare for.
"Safety, of course, always absolutely has to be placed in the context of what we do, which is educate people, and in this case bring a nationally known speaker who's bringing an interesting perspective about an important topic."
Vitale told Polygon that after the immediate problems posed by the threat are settled, the university will discuss the possibility of inviting Sarkeesian back.
"She's an important national voice discussing an important topic," he said. "We did invite her in the first place for a reason. She has something to say that's important."
Sarkeesian said that she will continue to to be active in her work.
"At this point, supporting #gamergate is implicitly supporting the harassment of women in the gaming industry," she said on Twitter. "I'm safe. I will continue my work. I will continue speaking out. The whole game industry must stand up against the harassment of women."