As of February 25, 2021, more than 30 virtual events celebrating Black History Month have been disrupted by racist Zoombombing attacks. Zoombombing first gained attention nearly a year ago, during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, as extremists and anonymous online trolls took advantage of the new reliance on virtual conferencing technology by disrupting a wide range of events, often targeting marginalized communities.
In this most recent spate of virtual attacks, Zoombombers have infiltrated film screenings, poetry competitions, panel discussions and other events celebrating Black history with racist and violent imagery, slurs and threats. Bad actors have found success targeting events hosted by colleges and universities, in particular, as those institutions often publish calendars listing Black History Month events online and encourage public participation in the sessions.
At least four of the incidents this month—all targeting college campuses—included video footage of known white supremacist Philip Hedley (aka Catboy Kami, as he is known on social media) in blackface or dressed as a police officer and "reenacting" the murder of George Floyd. Hedley previously gained attention for using the same tactic to harass people on the video chat platform Omegle.
On 4chan, a website frequented by extremists, hundreds of anonymous users openly coordinated and encouraged some of the targeted attacks throughout February, sharing Zoom links for Black History Month events and suggesting strategies for when and how to disrupt scheduled speakers. In one 4chan thread, a user asked, “Does anyone have access to active zoom links for us to troll? Hopefully ‘anti-racism/black history month’ related.”
Another 4chan poster suggested that fellow Zoombombers “join with [a] minority name (Ishmael, Tyrone, Daluan)” and “start lowkey trolling and racebaiting, don't be too obvious.” After the attacks, 4chan users celebrated their efforts by reposting media coverage of the incidents and mocking statements from officials denouncing the Zoombombings.
Below is a sampling of racist Zoombombing attacks targeting Black History Month events in reverse chronological order, compiled from news reports and social media. Where there are media reports about the events, we have included links.
- February 24 (Fairfield, CA): Solano Community College’s discussion of the book “Just Mercy,” by Bryan Stevenson, was disrupted by multiple Zoombombers, including one who played racist audio clips and a video of white supremacist Philip Hedley in blackface.
- February 24 (Bowie, MD): Multiple Zoombombers repeatedly disrupted a Black History Month Trivia Night at Bowie State University, a historically Black university.
- February 23 (Northridge, CA): An event presented by the California State University Northridge Deaf Studies Department and the CSUN Black Signers Club was disrupted by repeated racial slurs on screen and in audio clips.
- February 23 (Washington, DC): A webinar co-hosted by the US State Department and Global Affairs Canada about “racial equality, justice, and inclusion in culture and sport” featuring Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in the National Hockey League, was inundated with racist comments in the chat.
- February 22 (Philadelphia, PA): Philadelphia high school students participating in a virtual Black History Month field trip to Lincoln University, a historically Black college in Pennsylvania, were Zoombombed with racist imagery and comments.
- February 18 (Boston, MA): An event hosted by the Roxbury Branch of the Boston Public Library, titled “Boston's Black History Matters with Dart Adams,” was disrupted by racist Zoombombers, causing organizers to lock the chat and remove the recording from their social media.
- February 18 (Jackson, MI): A Black History Month Spoken Word Competition for high school and college students, hosted by Jackson College, was interrupted by racist, violent audio and imagery.
- February 17 (San Diego, CA): A film screening and discussion hosted by San Diego Mesa College in honor of Black History Month was Zoombombed with racist rhetoric.
- February 16 (Rohnert Park, CA): A discussion about “The Black Student Athlete Experience” sponsored by Sonoma State University’s Black Faculty and Staff Association was disrupted by someone who wore blackface and shared racist comments.
- February 16 (Fort Collins, CO): A conversation about Black activism, hosted by Colorado State University’s Black/African American Cultural Center, was Zoombombed with racist audio and video clips.
- February 15 (State College, PA): An event hosted by Penn State University Park, “Pioneers of Prevention: Black Women Activists Against Sexual Violence,” was interrupted by video of white supremacist Philip Hedley (aka Catboy Kami) dressed as a police officer while “reenacting” the murder of George Floyd and shouting racist, violent threats. Based on a recording of the incident, the Zoombomber appeared to use a video that Hedley originally posted last year after harassing people on the platform Omegle.
- February 15 (Media, PA): A diversity event at Penn State Brandywine on the same day as the Penn State University Park even was similarly interrupted by video of an individual who dressed as a police officer and “reenacted” the murder of George Floyd while displaying an apparent firearm.
- February 15 (Mequon, WI): Concordia University Wisconsin’s discussion about Black hair was Zoombombed with a different video of white supremacist Philip Hedley, shown wearing a police officer’s uniform and assaulting an effigy of George Floyd.
- February 15 (Laramie, WY): A University of Wyoming discussion about “Cinematic Realism and Racist Propaganda” and “the death of Black Wall Street” was disrupted by racial slurs and other offensive content.
- February 13 (Slippery Rock, PA): A poetry writing workshop and discussion of Black poets, hosted by a historically Black sorority at Slippery Rock University, was disrupted by a violent video and a racial slur repeated dozens of times.
- February 12 (Fullerton, CA): A virtual screening and discussion of a 1972 speech by activist Angela Davis at California State University Fullerton was disrupted by racist comments.
- February 12 (Northridge, CA): A Black History Month event hosted by the Africana Studies Department at California State University Northridge, titled "Healthy Love: Connecting Black," was disrupted during the Q&A portion of the panel discussion.
- February 11 (Springfield, MA): Racist Zoombombers disrupted Springfield College’s Black History Month discussion of Isabel Wilkerson’s book, “Caste.”
- February 11 (Lawrence Township, NJ): Multiple people Zoombombed an event co-hosted by two Black sororities at Rider University by harassing participants with racist comments and drawing racist images on the screen.
- February 11 (New Brunswick, NJ): An event about Black leaders, hosted by Rutgers University’s Delta Iota Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha and the Paul Robeson Cultural Center, was attacked with racist, violent language and images.
- February 11 (New Brunswick, NJ): A Black History Month virtual film screening, hosted by Rutgers University’s Center for Social Justice Education & LGBTQ Communities, was Zoombombed in a racist and anti-LGBTQ+ attack.
- February 11 (New York, NY): CUNY Macaulay Honors College’s second annual “Diversity Through Hair” event was targeted with racist imagery and messages.
- February 11 (Springfield, OH): A panel discussion about the experience of Black professionals, hosted by Wittenberg University’s McClain Center for Diversity and Concerned Black Students, was disrupted by multiple people making racist and antisemitic comments over the Zoom audio and chat features.
- February 9 (Lawrence, KS): During the Lawrence City Commission’s weekly meeting, the scheduled reading of a proclamation officially declaring February 2021 “Black History Month” in the city was delayed by racist comments and offensive imagery.
- February 9 (Seattle, WA): A Black History Month discussion hosted by Seattle University’s Black Student Union was interrupted with racial slurs.
- February 8 (McMinnville, OR): A racist Zoombombing caused a discussion about “Racism and Sports,” co-hosted by Linfield University and the McMinnville Public Library, to be rescheduled for a later date.
- February 4 (Ventura, CA): Ventura College’s opening event for Black History Month, hosted in conjunction with the Black Student Union and the student government, was interrupted by racial slurs, a video of Adolf Hitler, and other offensive imagery.
- February 4 (Albuquerque, NM): A statewide collegiate town hall to discuss the CROWN Act (legislation designed to protect against discrimination on the basis of race-based hairstyles) was interrupted by racial slurs, a video of Hitler and other offensive content.
- February 3 (Fort Lauderdale, FL): A Black History Month session at Broward College was Zoombombed with racist and antisemitic content.
- February 3 (Newark, NJ): Racist comments were entered in the chat during the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Black History Month opening session.
- February 3 (Albany, NY): A discussion about Black History Month during the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations’ monthly meeting was Zoombombed with racial slurs, racist music, and racist, vulgar images on the screen.
- February 3 (Springfield, PA): A celebration of Black inventors, organized for elementary school children by the Springfield School District and the Multicultural Parents Association, was targeted in a racist Zoombombing attack.
- February 3 (Salt Lake City, UT): A virtual Black History Month poetry slam hosted by the Black Student Union at Salt Lake Community College was disrupted with racist messages.
In addition to Zoom sessions explicitly advertised as Black History Month events, other recent Zoombombings have also targeted Black speakers, audiences and related topics. In late January, Zoombombers bombarded the Penn State Black Caucus with racist, antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ+ slurs. In Longmeadow, MA, a Racial Justice Task Force meeting was disrupted by racial slurs and swastikas, and a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) event at Tufts University in Medford was Zoombombed while a Black speaker was presenting. A church service in Michigan celebrating Civil Rights Era activists was disrupted with racist threats. Zoombombers also targeted Black politicians on multiple occasions in the past month. Outside the U.S., Black student groups in Scotland and Canada were among those recently harassed in racist Zoombombings.
These recent incidents are a reminder that groups should take steps to safeguard their virtual meetings and, should a Zoombombing attack occur, groups should document as much information as possible while it occurs. The following ADL resources provide tips for securing Zoom meetings and what to do during/after an incident:
- How to Prevent "Zoombombing"
- Zoom Security Update Provides Tools to Fight Zoombombing
- Steps To Take During a Zoombombing Incident