Clara Sorrenti’s fear came to life on Saturday morning as armed police knocked on her door, asking her to come out as they had a search warrant for her home.
Sorrenti, a transgender woman and popular online streamer on Twitch, going by the name Keffals, had been doxxed — with harassers sending false death threats with her name and address to London, Ont., city councillors, leading to Sorrenti being arrested at gunpoint.
“When I went into the hallway and then saw that assault rifle, I screamed and I thought I was going to die,” Sorrenti told Global News in a sit-down interview.
Swatting is a tactic of calling the police to a live streamer’s home, as armed police show up on their doorstep in an attempt to intimidate them. Doxxing is publishing private information, like an address or phone number in public.
Sorrenti was arrested on the morning of Aug. 5, woken up by police yelling at her from her doorway. When she went to open the door she saw one London Police Service (LPS) officer crouched down wearing a riot shield and holding an assault rifle directly pointed at her, she alleged.
Then, she was pulled out into the hallway by multiple officers and arrested, still puzzled as to why she was being handcuffed.
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London Police Service confirmed the arrest to Global News.
“I can confirm that on Friday, August 5 London police were contacted by London City Hall indicating that several individuals had received a letter threatening potential violence against individuals within City Hall later that same day. Officers commenced an investigation and through evidence obtained, were successful in obtaining Judicial Authority to search a residence,” wrote a LPS spokesperson in an email.
“Ms. Sorrenti was arrested as the investigation progressed, and later released without charges pending analysis of electronic devices seized. This investigation is ongoing, and at this point in time we cannot provide a firm date as to when it will conclude.”
Sorrenti showed Global News a search warrant that indicated police were searching for a handgun, ammunition and her computers. Officers allegedly placed her under arrest, telling her that she was in possession of an illegal firearm and she was taken to the police station.
Eventually, all her streaming gear and personal communication devices as well as her partner’s were seized and remain in the custody of the police.
“During the search, they seized my work computer, my work cellphone, my personal cellphone, as well as my fiance’s work computer and personal cell phone,” Sorrenti said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Sorrenti confirmed that she was able to get her belongings back from London Police Services.
The email that was sent to London city councillors alleged that Sorrenti killed her mother, which is untrue as her mother helped find her a lawyer. It also claimed that she had the intention of killing any “cis and straight” people at city council, according to Sorrenti’s recollection of what police told her.
“It’s kind of a terrifying thought that anyone can just take your name on an anonymous email, upload any picture of a gun, and a SWAT team will be sent to your house and you’ll have to stare down an assault rifle,” Sorrenti said.
But for Sorrenti, this doxxing is particularly scary given that she’s a trans woman who receives death and hate threats regularly.
“I was terrified. I had no idea what was going to happen and still don’t know what is really going to come of all this,” she said. “It’s only been a few days, every now and then I think back to it and I feel just stuck.”
Sorrenti said that she was notified of a similar swatting attempt by Toronto Police Service, who did not follow through on it saying it was not credible.
“Apparently there was no correspondence between the Toronto Police Service and London Police Service, so they had no idea that swatting attempts had already been made,” she said.
Global News has contacted the Toronto Police Service who confirmed there is “an ongoing investigation”.
“I can confirm that a report was filed. We have reached out to the investigator,” wrote a Toronto Police Service spokesperson in an email.
Dating back to March 27, Sorrenti and her family were targeted by hate online and were doxxed. At that time, she said she and her brother allegedly told LPS that they wanted to be put on a “no swatting list” foreshadowing what would eventually happen, but were told that no such list existed.
Global News contacted LPS to ask about a potential swatting list and were “as this is an active investigation, we are unable to provide any further details.”
Alleged transphobia of London Police Service
With a fraught history of interactions with transgender people and police and lack of distrust of authorities, Sorrenti noted that she felt some of the actions of LPS officers were transphobic.
She said that she was dead-named multiple times, including in the police report and on her evidence bags, which Global News confirmed. A dead name is the “birth name of a transgender person who has changed their name as part of their gender transition” and using one is considered harmful.
However, during the arrest, she said that at least one officer asked Sorrenti if she is a “she” or a man.
“The way that I was treated by the police really showed me they know nothing about transgender people or issues,” she said.
After being arrested and put in the back of a police car, Sorrenti alleged that the same officer asked her to give her a “trans 101” class, wherein she was asked to explain dead-naming was.
On Tuesday, Global News asked LPS about the allegations of transphobic behaviour, but received in response, “as this is an active investigation, we are unable to provide any further details.”
On Wednesday afternoon, LPS Chief Steve Williams released a statement regarding the “public interest” regarding Sorrenti’s case and her allegations.
“It has come to my attention that Ms. Sorrenti was referred to during her time in London police custody by an incorrect name and gender,” reads Williams’ statement. “We acknowledge the distress this has caused Ms. Sorrenti and we will be reviewing the occurrence to understand how that might have happened. At this time, we are still in the process of gathering the information necessary for this review.”
“The London Police Service is committed to bias-free policing and treating all individuals with respect and dignity. We work closely with LGBT2QSIA community partners in London to ensure we are responsive to the needs of the community, and to address any concerns they may have. We acknowledge that despite our best efforts we may fall short at times, and in those situations, we learn, we educate, and we do better,” reads the rest of Williams
In other swatting attempts, it doesn’t typically escalate to an arrest, and despite no prior criminal history and being a prominent online figure, Sorrenti is well known on a local and personal level in London. She has previously run in provincial and federal elections, participated with the city of London in activities for the LGBTQ2 community and held in-person events and community gatherings.
The fact that police are still investigating what she calls a very clear doxxing and swatting attempt is bizarre, according to Sorrenti.
“I don’t know how they’re investigating this, but to you, this is very clearly a hate crime,” she said.
With her streaming gear still in police evidence lockup, Sorrenti has opened a GoFundMe to get back to streaming so she can continue to earn a living but has been traumatized by LPS’ handling of the situation.
“Instead of the police helping me, it victimized for it,” she said.
Now with her information public, Sorrenti is forced to make some wholesale changes in her life to avoid further complications and copycats.
“By publicizing this, it means that more people are probably going to attempt to do it. I’m currently trying to find a new place immediately,” she said.
Sorrenti said she’s not done with LPS yet, and once she’s in the clear with criminal charges, she intends to sue the police department.
Why was Keffals swatted?
On Twitch, Sorrenti, better known as Keffals is a proud trans woman who advocates for transgender rights and often covers issues in the news through a critical lens. Her existence has led to her being attacked online, with trolls mass reporting and getting her suspended from Twitch and Twitter for breaking down issues facing the trans community.
“They want me dead. I’m a high-profile transgender activist, there’s a big target on my back, and for the past year, transgender people have been at the focal point of a culture war,” she said.
With prominent celebrities like Joe Rogan, Dave Chappelle and J.K. Rowling taking aim at the transgender community over the past year, Sorrenti said it’s becoming increasingly hard to be a trans person and simply exist.
“I came out when I was 16, back in 2011 and it’s worse now than it was then,” she said.
Sorrenti added that back in the day people simply didn’t know what transgender people were so there was still hate, but one that was based in ignorance. However, that hate has evolved from being steeped in ignorance to being ideological.
“It’s targeted now, it’s a lot scarier because now people are going out of their way in order to hurt transgender people, they’re trying to claw back the progress we’ve made as a community,” she said.
Through her Twitch streams, Sorrenti has become a voice for the trans community, especially those looking to go through reassignment and claim their identity. She said recently a 16-year-old reached out to her, saying that for the first time they felt like a normal teen being a part of her community.
“These bigots, they don’t want people like me to exist because I go out of my way, almost every day, in order to uplift our community,” she said, right before breaking down.
Sorrenti was visibly shaken during the interview, crying and wiping away tears multiple times. She was hesitant to check her phone following the interview, fearful of what could be said about her online, and overwhelmed by the support she had been receiving. She had just posted a video called “My life is in danger. I need your help” on her YouTube page detailing the incident.
Amanda Jette Knox, a non-binary person, with a transgender partner and trans child, knows all too well about the rising hate against the community. One of the more dangerous tropes that Knox knows about is calling transgender people “groomers” or “pedophiles” which was similarly done to gays and lesbians back in the 1980s and ’90s.
“The hate has gotten a lot worse lately, it’s really escalated,” she said. “There’s a lot of accusations, things like being called a groomer or a pedophile and … those accusations are really fuelling a lot of the attacks.”
Knox thinks that Sorrenti is under attack by right-wing trolls and hatemongers because of her increasing online presence and the community of followers she’s cultivated. On Twitch she has nearly 40,000 followers, while on her main Twitter account she has over 112,000 followers.
“Doxxing is used as a form of intimidation, so the more that you can silence someone through fear, the less they’re going to want to speak out,” Knox said. “In these cases, people who are very vocal, a lot of prominent activists, a lot of community members are being doxxed and then going quiet because they’re terrified of it happening again.”
Knox’s own transgender child looks up to and follows Sorrenti, and knows the value that she has to the community, but also to the larger society in being able to give education to the masses about who and what transgender people represent.
“We need to be talking about how trans people and queer people are just parts of society and we’re just members of society and there’s nothing to be afraid of. And I think over time, at least, I hope it’s going to get a lot better,” she said.
And while Knox is hopeful of a better future, Knox thinks that in the interim, things could go the wrong way.
“If history has taught us anything, it’s that we will get through these really dark days. I do absolutely have hope that things are going to get better. I do fear that they are going to get worse first,” she said.
As for Sorrenti, she admitted that she is shaken up and will likely remain traumatized for the near future, but isn’t going to let hate rule the day.
“I’m not backing down. I know that the work I do is incredibly valuable, and thousands of trans people told me that I have people almost every day saying they came out to their families because of me,” she said.
“If they want me to stop, the next time, they better manipulate the police into pulling the trigger.”