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BREC wants FBI probe of more than 50 Zoom-bombers involved in 'graphic' interruption of virtual meeting

1 week 1 day 22 hours ago Friday, June 26 2020 Jun 26, 2020 June 26, 2020 4:19 PM June 26, 2020 in News
Source: WBRZ

BREC's Board of Commissioners voted to request Connie Bernard's removal from the commission Thursday, but only after it was briefly waylaid by hijackers playing disturbing video and audio over the virtual meeting.

The board was discussing a proposal to have Bernard replaced as the EBR school board's representative on the commission when the meeting was overrun in a so-called "Zoom-bomb." The virtual meeting had to be cut off after board members were drowned out by intruders shouting racial slurs and playing disturbing, phallic imagery.

A BREC spokesperson said the board could not restrict access to the virtual discussion due to it being a public meeting. The department released the following statement Friday. 

"BREC is profoundly sorry for the graphic images seen during our Commission meeting last night. Our IT Department immediately launched an internal investigation which found the Zoom platform was breached by over 50 zoom accounts utilizing sophisticated measures to conceal their identities. The accounts had the appearance of originating in countries all throughout the world and showed signs of being one of the sophisticated, automated attacks that has been plaguing public organizations all throughout the nation, and even locally, that are using the Zoom platform to conduct public meetings as a result of COVID-19. While we are deeply disappointed the incident occurred, we were able to restart the meeting without further issue and complete the Commission’s agenda.

BREC's IT department is currently gathering information about the incident and determining the proper FBI Cyber Crime officials to report the details. No other BREC internal or customer systems were affected by the incident."

The board reconvened in a separate Zoom meeting shortly afterward and ultimately approved the proposal to request Bernard's removal. It will now be up to the East Baton Rouge School Board president to assign a replacement on the BREC Commission. 

Bernard has become a lightning rod of controversy in the past week after she was caught online shopping during a discussion about renaming Lee High School. A video of local activist Gary Chambers lambasting Bernard over her perceived apathy and insensitive comments concerning Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the school's original namesake, went viral on social media over the weekend.

In the days following the meeting, Bernard has been met with calls for her resignation from the school board, some coming from her fellow board members. A petition to recall Bernard from the board was filed with the state this week.

Bernard has said that she currently has no plans to resign from her position on the EBR school board.

Chairman of BREC commission, Lloyd H. Benson Jr., shared his thoughts on the intrusions, substance of the discussion, and outcome of the meeting with WBRZ. His full statement can be found below.

About the resolution calling for Connie Bernard’s removal from the commission:

As chairman of the Board, it is my responsibility to be attentive to the concerns of the public and to echo the sentiments of our community under the condition that their opinion is rooted in moral and sound judgment for all. The same is expected of every commissioner who serves on the BREC board, and in this case, an overwhelming majority of the board (7-1) concur that Connie Bernard’s ability to carry out her responsibility with integrity has been compromised in light of her recent show of disregard for the people in the community at the EBRP school board meeting and her other documented indiscretions. 

About the bizarre intrusions that derailed the discussion temporarily:

I was completely taken aback by the deplorable intrusions that took place during our meeting. We have used the Zoom platform on several occasions and have never had this type of interruption take place. Phallic imagery, a song using racial epithets including the “n-word”, and other strange behavior ran rampant to the degree that we were forced to suspend our meeting temporarily. To be frank, I hesitate to say that this hacking/interruption was anything “bizarre”. This action took place immediately upon my call to vote for Connie’s removal, so the timing was evident that this was a planned attempt at blocking the vote. The attack on our meeting in Connie’s favor demonstrates how Connie’s views on the confederacy and desire to maintain the status quo rallies the support of those who are considered racist and intolerant. 

About the substance of the discussion and outcome :

As far as BREC is concerned, a part of our mission is to serve as community builders, champions of diversity and inclusion, and develop our communities in a progressive fashion. Connie serves in an influential decision-making position and her presence on the board would be a blight on our ability to garner support from all sectors of the community. Unfortunately, Louisiana politics has enabled Connie to remain in multiple positions of authority despite her controversial views and actions, including the recent incident where she choked a minor. We can no longer afford to uphold this kind of behavior from our public officials, and they must face swift and direct consequences to protect the interests of those in which we serve. Tonight’s 7-1 vote to remove Connie from the board reflects our duty to rid our political spaces of those that are not sensitive to the needs and plights of the community, our children, and those who hold little to no respect for ALL people, especially our underserved. 

About “is the misbehavior that interrupted that discussion just one of the things we’re going to have to be prepared for in the virtual space as we make our way through the very strange time in which we live?”

Virtual meeting hackings have been reported on for some time now, however as we continue to shift into a world where virtual meetings are a part of how must communicate, it is my hope that tech companies that offer these services will continue to develop these platforms to ensure that this kind of interruption does not compromise our ability to hold public meetings that require public access.

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