There were 332,198 robberies in the US last year according to the FBI, but (probably) only one of them involved a man trying to forcibly steal a domain name. Now the man responsible for the bizarre instance of domain hijacking will spend 20 years in prison.
Sherman Hopkins Jr, a 43-year-old man from the US state of Iowa, attempted to gain control of the website DoItForState.com by breaking into the domain holder’s flat and threatening him at gunpoint until he transferred the site. According to the US Department of Justice, Hopkins pleaded guilty to one count of interference and attempted interference with commerce by threats and violence.
To understand what Hopkins was after, it’s important to understand just what the domain represents. DoItForState.com is the website for Do It For State, and Do It For State is one of those things that exists in a specific corner of the internet. In this case, it’s of the “students doing regrettable things online” variety. A sort of spin-off of the uni confessions pages where people would anonymously admit to doing dumb things, Do It For State emerged from Iowa State University and documents the happenings on university campuses around the US with user-submitted videos and photos. Content ranges from graphic sex to beer chugging—basically everything parents worry their kids might be doing—and the phrase “Do it for state” is often the prompt for the action.
The in-person domain hijacking attempt took place on 21 June 2017, when Hopkins broke into the home of 26-year-old Ethan Deyo—the owner of DoItForState.com. (It’s worth noting that at the time of the home invasion, there was no website hosted at the domain. Per Motherboard, the site was taken down a month before the robbery and still doesn’t currently return a webpage.)
According to the account from the Department of Justice, Hopkins entered the home with a hat and pantyhose on his head and dark sunglasses covering his eyes. Deyo, who was upstairs at the time, heard Hopkins enter and saw him, gun in hand, on the first floor of the house. Deyo locked himself in a bedroom, but Hopkins kicked in the door and grabbed Deyo by the arm.
For the rest of the duration that Hopkins was in the house, per the US Attorney’s Office, he terrorised and assaulted Deyo, dragging him to his computer and demanding he login to his computer and throwing his phone so he couldn’t call for help. Hopkins pointed his gun at Deyo’s head, handed him a piece of paper with directions on how to transfer a domain name from one GoDaddy account to another, and demanded he follow the instructions provided.
Deyo complied with the request, working through the domain transfer process under duress. At one point, he asked Hopkins for a mailing address and phone number—information required by GoDaddy to complete the transfer—and Hopkins responded by pistol whipping Deyo in the head multiple times. Hopkins then pulled out a taser that he brought with him and tased Deyo multiple times in the arm, back, and neck.
Hopkins continued his assault against Deyo, hitting him several times before cocking his gun. Deyo, fearing for his life, managed to knock the gun away from Hopkins. As the two struggled for control of the weapon, Deyo was shot in the leg. He eventually got the gun and shot Hopkins in the chest multiple times before calling the police.
Hopkins initially faced charges of kidnapping, use of a firearm in during a crime of violence, and possession of a firearm by a felon (he was convicted for committing perjury in 2006). He pleaded guilty to two lesser charges and will be behind bars for the next 20 years. [Department of Justice, Motherboard]