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Zoombombing Disrupts New Jersey Town Council

A West Orange town council meeting this week was interrupted by at least four people registered to make public comments under fake names. The group made racist and antisemitic comments before being cut off.

(TNS) — A West Orange town council meeting was “Zoom bombed” Tuesday by outsiders making racist and antisemitic statements, local officials said.

At least four people registered for the public comment section of the meeting via Zoom using fake names and launched a tirade of bigoted statements before they were cut off by West Orange Town Council President Bill Rutherford.

Rutherford ended public comment at the meeting, which was being held online due to the winter storm.

“We’ve had some challenges before with people maintaining decorum,” Rutherford said Wednesday. “But even that pales in comparison to what happened last night.”

Zoom bombing is a hostile form of targeted harassment by speakers who hijack events or public meetings held online. In most cases, the speakers interrupt the meeting to show pornography or make antisemitic, racist, misogynistic or homophobic remarks.

The practice became widespread during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when most public meetings were held online via Zoom or other online services.

The FBI released a statement in 2020 alerting the public to Zoom bombing as an emerging crime. Law enforcement agencies investigate Zoom bombing as a criminal act.

Rutherford, the town council president, said he spoke to the West Orange police chief and plans to file a complaint so law enforcement can investigate the incident.

West Orange police did not respond immediately Wednesday to comment.

Three men and one woman made the racist and bigoted statements during the meeting, Rutherford said. Those watching the meeting only heard their voices and did not see their faces.

Town council meetings are regularly posted on the West Orange website. A video of Tuesday’s meeting has not been posted, but is expected to go up this week, he added.

There have been several high-profile Zoom bombings in New Jersey. In 2021, three New Jersey college events were Zoom bombed, including online Black History Month events and a “Galentine’s Day” celebration.

The comments made during the West Orange town council meeting sparked outrage from the local group West Orange for Humanity, which called for a police investigation.

“We have come to understand that this attack was in all likelihood part of a coordinated effort by white supremacists to ‘Zoom Bomb’ City Council meetings in cities and towns across the U.S.,” the organization said in a public statement.

Rutherford, the town council president, said West Orange’s technology department will work with police to identify the computers used in the attack and prosecute those who spoke “to the extent the law allows.”

“This is really crazy. We have a very diverse community here, it’s one of our strengths. And we’re transitioning into leaning into the diversity, to being inclusive in the way we do the work in town. But this makes it harder,” said Rutherford, who was elected in November 2020.

“Things like what happened last night make it immeasurably harder to heal and widens the divide between the various communities in town,” said Rutherford.

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.