Though hardly uncommon, hijacking a domain is a relatively new kid on the block of criminal offences, but it has a lot to do with the rise and rise of the internet. In simple terms, stealing a domain is not dissimilar to hacking, where an unauthorised person/s illegally manages to gain access/control of someone else’s website. But it’s probably the first time in history someone has attempted to do so by using a physical weapon.
43-year-old Sherman Hopkins, Jr. from Cedar Rapids in Iowa is currently serving 20 years behind bars for just this offence, counting interference with commerce as just one of the long list of charges that he is being jailed for.
The crime took place in June 2017, when Hopkins, sporting an identity-concealing pair of pantyhose over his head, forcibly gained entry into the home of Ethan Deyo, the 26-year-old owner of the website DoItForState.com. Deyo – who sources say previously worked for the web hosting service GoDaddy – happened to spot the unwelcome intruder on the ground floor of his apartment and, having no other means of escape, locked himself upstairs in his bedroom in the hope of avoiding a confrontation.
It didn’t take long for the gun-wielding Hopkins to sniff out the terrified entrepreneur’s whereabouts. But, unlike your run-of-the-mill cat burglar, Hopkins wasn’t after Deyo’s money or valuables. His somewhat unorthodox demand was that Deyo transfer the domain name for DoItForState to a different account. Deyo had no choice but to comply, as Hopkins, who threatened, terrorized and domineered him throughout, was clearly in no state of mind to reach a compromise. When he was asked to provide an address and phone number in order to the complete the transfer, he even clubbed his victim over the head with his pistol and tasered him.
Fearing for his life, Deyo then attempted to attack his assailant and the two engaged in a lengthy tussle for Hopkins’ weapon. Deyo suffered a shot in the leg, but, having finally managed to wrestle the gun away from the intruder, shot him repeatedly in the chest, thus disabling him sufficiently enough to buy some time and call the police.
It does appear that, like any other perpetrator, Hopkins did have a motive for his actions. Preliminary research hints that it could be that Hopkins was attempting to hide graphic proof of an unwise act performed during his years at Iowa State University. The website showed videos and images of university attendees doing foolish acts, spurred by onlookers who yelled “Do it for state!” as they did so. Examples of said dumb actions included inserting firecrackers in unhygienic bodily orifices; tamer, but no less foolhardy behaviour involving swallowing four or more drinks simultaneously; and even explicitly sexual videos. Whether Hopkins himself had starred in any of these, though, it seems we will never know – DoItForState had been taken down a month prior to the failed hijack.
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