Selectboard Meeting Notes: Racism, Homophobia, Misogyny, Pornography, and Nazi Symbols Interrupt Zoom Meeting

Warning: Offensive Descriptions Below!

Tuesday’s meeting of the Brattleboro Selectboard was unusual in multiple respects. The remnants of a hurricane passed overhead, causing power outages and damage across the region, it was the first time the board tried a meeting using Zoom rather than GoToMeeting, and the meeting was hijacked by someone.

The weather event the board was ready for. They met on Zoom as scheduled, using a phone version of the Zoom app because power was lost as the wind and rain picked up.

About 16 minutes into the meeting an unidentified male joined and “zoom bombed” the meeting. 

The liquor commissioners were wrapping up and Daniel Quipp was making a motion when a voice interrupted.

“I just want the floor to know that I hate n*ggers…” began the rant.

“I am sorry for the people of Brattleboro,” said Quipp, after it registered what had happened.

“Daniel, shut up, f*ggot…” said the caller.

“What is this? What is going on?” said Liz McLoughlin.

“Ian gave us the code, thank you Ian, you dumb son of a bitch,” said the intruder.

The person continued with insults of the ASL interpreter and the Town Manager, and mentioned again that Ian had “given them the code.”

“It’s a public code. You are no Sherlock Holmes,” said Chair Tim Wessel.

“Thanks, n*gger”…. said the caller.

“I presume, Patrick, that at some point you will kick this person off the call,” said Quipp.

“Peter doesn’t know what he is doing. Thanks for the power, guys,” said the caller.

“In the list of participants there is a name near the bottom that keeps changing” said Elwell.

“No. Shut up, b*tch,” said the caller.

Chair Wessel asked if they should all end the meeting and rejoin.

Patrick Moreland said “OK, guys, I just want to let you know that I shut off the ability of people to un-mute themselves, just in an effort to help you out here. I’m going to come along and unmute each of you, one at a time. You can let me know what you want to do with the meeting.”

The board members mics were checked then Elwell suggested they continue with their agenda.

Music then began playing. It was a short clip containing more racial epithets.

Brandie Starr started to speak and the music started back up, then faded out.

“I honestly can’t tell who is doing that,” said Moreland.

Wessel suggested they reconvene at a different time. The racist music started up again.

The board contemplates moving the meeting.

Brandie started speaking, then pornographic images started appearing. Then a swastika, and someone raising their arm in a salute.

“Can you mute video?” asked Wessel.

“Whoever this is they are pretty good as they are coming in as all sorts of different people” replied Moreland.

About 23 minutes into the meeting, everything calmed back down and the meeting returned to business. The tax rates were set.

Remaining agenda items have been moved to next Tuesday’s meeting.

“Tonight’s inaugural Zoom meeting didn’t go as well as I hoped. Nature’s fury thrown at us, then some terrible bigotry, which shows we have a long way to go in town and in society. No one will get in the way of our discussion on Thursday. Brattleboro Police has a digital detective on staff and will look into this.”

Town staff and officials are investigating.

Chair Tim Wessel said “An anonymous, racist man-child disrupted our public meeting last night, as we attempted to get a couple bits of business done while the Selectboard were all on our phones due to the power outage. But we got the pressing items done, and I’m determined not to give him the attention he is seeking. Let’s focus on community progress, not divisiveness, moving forward.”

Peter Elwell says “The Police Department is investigating what happened.  We (civilian staff) are contacting Zoom and other governmental users of Zoom to see if we can prevent this from happening again.”

Police Chief Mike Fitzgerald said “We are just beginning the process of investigating the incident. We should know more in the coming days. I have assigned this case to the Criminal Investigation Division. “

Comments | 3

  • Going old school

    If they get whomever was responsible for the interruptions, can we bring back an old New England tradition and go for some old fashioned public humiliation? I don’t know if we can get an okay for stocks and a pillory in Pliny Park, but at the very least can the person’s photo be published? Usually, there’s just a name in a two line item. It’s time to expose the folks who do things like this. I can’t believe I’m actually suggesting this, but….

    • Pillory Park

      Having watched the meeting, my guess is that the person responsible wasn’t from around here. They used names of people they saw on the screen and ran through a short list of every possible way to be offensive – racism, check… misogyny, check… anti-semitism, check…porn, check…and so on. But these taunts and insults weren’t terribly well aimed, suggesting the person making them didn’t know anyone here. It was scattershot, hoping something would land. The person also didn’t use the names of some people that, had the intruder been from here, one might expect. Patrick Moreland was running the meeting, but the intruder called out Elwell, for example, for not being in control of the meeting. I didn’t hear anything directed at Brandie, either.

      Having done some additional reading about this, it is very common and not that hard to do if one wants to be disruptive AND the meeting isn’t well secured. Zoom defaults to leaving too many controls open and needs to be locked down a bit so this can’t happen. A waiting room enabled, user cameras and mics off, no screen sharing or attachments… those sorts of things seem to work. Part of the problem is meeting IDs are easy to figure out, and many meetings are open without passwords by necessity.

      If you search for news of arrests related to this, it is almost always a teenage boy arrested for disrupting a school class or meeting by swearing or flipping people off. If you search for stories about racist zoom bombings, you get lots of stories and warnings to tighten up Zoom, but very few arrest reports. There seem to be two levels of this – kids messing around and getting caught, and slightly older folks that want to spew hate to disrupt not getting caught.

  • zoom metings get "photo bomb"

    The Town made a terrible choice with using Zoom. Countless meetings like municipal meetings, AA meetings, etc have had similar issues months ago and groups have avoided at all costs using Zoom. Our town uses Webex.

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