By Scott Schaefer

On Tuesday, July 21, 2020, the Kent Chamber of Commerce was the victim of a coordinated, racist ‘Zoombombing’ hack towards the end of an online webinar with the Washington Retail Association on employee COVID-19 accommodations and leave policies.

The hack – which included obscene, horrific hate speech and videos – was conducted by three unknown ‘guests’ in the chamber’s Zoom meeting. It is unknown how they got into the meeting, but the public Zoom link was shared widely prior to the event by the chamber, on Facebook and this website.

This was a first-time hacking experience for the chamber, and it was devastating.

At around the 21:48 minute point of the meeting – which I was managing – three unknown guests using the pseudonyms ‘Ashley,’ ‘Matilda’ and ‘Jim_Calloway’ suddenly unmuted themselves, interrupting speaker Rose Gunderson, then yelling racist obscenities. As I was serving as Admin, I quickly tried to mute each of them, but the meeting spiraled out of control so quickly that it was hard to mute or remove them fast enough. Next thing I know, an incredibly horrific, racist video was playing.

It was like a scene out of a horror movie, and I feel a tremendous sense of guilt and anguish.

Soon the meeting was ended, but the damage was done. The full Zoom recording and all associated files will be shared with the FBI and local authorities for investigation.

“I’ve just experienced one of the most disturbing things as a chamber CEO and a community leader,” Chamber CEO Zenovia Harris said shortly afterwards. “Our Zoom meeting was just hacked by racist people spewing racist and unimaginable derogatory comments in videos. I am hurt, I am disgusted and I am determined to rise above.”

I quickly deleted the video from Facebook, then decided that the incredibly racist statements and hurtful videos shown were not worth sharing. Security on future webinars will be increased to prevent this from happening again. And, quite frankly, my trust in fellow humans has taken a big hit (I’m looking at you, little evil immature a-holes ‘Ashley,’ ‘Matilda’ and ‘Jim_Calloway’).

“Yesterday was one of my most difficult days at the chamber, but as any good leader it was a teachable moment and it created an opportunity for us to grow as a team, chamber, community and leaders,” Harris added. “I encourage all of you to speak your truth, stand up against racism, and continue to support us.”

Here’s video of Harris’ emotional reaction that she posted to Facebook shortly after the incident:

“Racism has no home at the Kent Chamber and will not be tolerated against our employees or businesses,” added Cindi Cameron, President of the Chamber.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Kent Chamber of Commerce has been holding regular webinars online, using Zoom software that allows for guests to participate live with panelists sharing their expertise. Public links to these online webinars have been shared widely, but that will change moving forward.

Future events will include increased security settings, with the intention of preventing any further attacks.

“It’s sad that we’ll have to increase security for future Zoom webinars,” Schaefer said. “The chamber shares such great learning resources that helps so many local businesspeople, but this has now been forever tainted by these childish, racist, hate-filled hackers. We will not let this happen again, and will do what’s needed to track down these hackers.”