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The Deadly Subculture of Internet Video Vigilantes
These influencers are angry, weird, and they have a body count
Happy New Year, everybody. Here’s a story I’ve had in the works for most of 2022. It deals with the subculture of internet “predator catchers” or “creep catchers" — people who take it upon themselves to confront alleged sexual predators. In a follow-up, I will go into some of the reasons this has become so popular (spoiler: late-stage capitalism) but for now I’ll content myself with discussing one particular vigilante and the destruction he’s left in his wake.
“Predator catchers” are social media influencers who livestream their amateur child predator sting operations
Few of these sting operations lead to arrest, and fewer still lead to conviction
The alleged predators are often harassed and sometimes commit suicide
Cody Mattingly, a predator catcher from San Diego County, is being sued for harassment by two of his targets
Another one of his targets, attorney Craig Gertz, killed himself during a sting operation
Mattingly primarily uses Grindr, an LGBTQ dating app, to set up his stings
Encinitas is a coastal city in San Diego County, ninety-five miles south of Los Angeles. The San Diego Tourism Authority calls it “one of the best surf towns in the world.” While I have no opinion on that, I can say that to an outsider, it has all the hallmarks of what a rust belt kid like me would recognize as being appropriately — cinematically, even — SoCal: boathouses, beaches, the mild, Mediterranean climate, a downtown worthy of a 1980s teen movie. Encinitas was the home of Craig Gertz, a transplant from the Midwest looking to meet someone on the gay dating app Grindr about this time last year when he was catfished by a self-styled “predator catcher” named Cody Mattingly. The incident led to a confrontation, which in turn led to Gertz’s suicide later that same night. He was 56 years old.
I first learned of the death of Craig Gertz earlier this year, when an activist in San Diego told me about a YouTube livestream he had witnessed in 2021. In the video, he said, Mattingly chased Gertz down the street to the latter’s house and waited outside until Gertz killed himself inside the residence. The activist, whose identity I am withholding, said the gunshot could be heard on the livestream. The video was then removed from YouTube.
Hear excerpts of the 911 calls from the night of Gertz's death below:
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