Back in the early 2000s, the most popular segment on NBC's news show Dateline was "To Catch a Predator." Host Chris Hansen would confront suspected child predators snagged in an online sting operation shortly before they were arrested by local police.
The segment came to a screeching halt in 2008 when Hansen's crew filmed in a suburban home in Murphy, Texas, where an online vigilante group known as Perverted Justice was expecting former Rockwall County Assistant District Attorney Louis Conradt to come meet the "minor" with whom he'd been chatting online. When Conradt didn't show up at the Murphy bait house, police and a camera crew went to Conradt's home to confront him. Conradt shot himself in the head as police entered his home.
Collin County's then-District Attorney John Roach later declined to pursue charges against the other suspects caught in the TV sting operation because of what he deemed a lack of credible evidence, as it had been obtained from civilians and not from law enforcement.
Since then, YouTubers and TikTok stars have been doing their own "investigations" using tactics similar to those of the defunct NBC segment.
One local YouTuber named Cassady Campbell conducted his own online sting at a home in Allen, where he confronted a man identified only as "Christian." The man turned out to be a music and band teacher with Garland ISD.
The video, titled “Middle School Teacher Comes to Meet 14 Y/O at 2 AM, Meets Military Dad Instead” is one of a series called Chester Vs. Pred. Chester is a character on Campbell's channel, a twangy redneck who wears a cowboy hat or a "Make America Great Again" hat, usually in hidden prank videos in which he interacts with other people in public settings, sometimes to the point of annoyance or anger.
The video shows a redacted screenshot of Christian's driver's license after Campbell requests to see it. Before Christian leaves, Campbell identifies him as a "28 years [sic] old, middle school teacher."
In the video, we see Christian entering the Allen home, where he's immediately confronted by Campbell as Chester, who's wearing desert camouflage, a black cowboy hat, a Jeff Foxworthy-esque mustache and what appears to be a bulletproof jacket. Campbell reviews Christian's online conversation and asks him why he came to the home shortly after the chat. The opening of the video shows a transcription of the alleged conversation on the dating app Grindr between Christian and a person who says he's a 14-year-old boy who is in town visiting his aunt. The alleged transcript plays along with voice tracks and images from the Nickelodeon cartoon show SpongeBob SquarePants.
The video spells out bits of the alleged conversation, such as "Have you ever done anything with a guy before?" before cutting to a SpongeBob meme of the cartoon character looking unamused while a voice screams "Oh, brother, this guy s ... " which is cut off mid-word.
The video shows a car pulling up to the curb. Christian then enters the house and Campbell asks him to sit on a couch. Christian tells "Chester" that he's been chatting online for two years but swears that he never met anyone in person until that night.
Christian also says that he's a teacher who works with middle school children in the "Rowlett area," which is false. Garland ISD officials confirmed to the Dallas Observer that he worked in their district and has been removed from his position, but they did not confirm or release his full name.
Campbell asks Christian about any childhood trauma that led him to seek sexual company with minors, and Christian says he was molested by his grandmother. Later in the video, Campbell asks, "How'd you know you were like this before?"
"How do you mean?" Christian asks.
"How did you know you like men?" says Campbell. "Was it after your grandma?"
Campbell presses him to reveal more information by threatening to call the police. Christian later asks if Campbell is carrying a badge, and Campbell identifies himself only as "a very concerned citizen."
The YouTuber has conducted similar operations for his channel in the past two years. We reached out to Campbell to comment on his latest video but did not hear back by press time.
Some of his other videos show him interacting with people in public in episodes called "Chester Confronts Liberals!" and "Ain't Nothin Worse than a Vegan!" Another video called "Border Patrol Agent Captures ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT In Public!" shows Chester running around stores such as Walmart and Lowe's with a friend in a neon yellow shirt who is tackled and restrained by Campbell in front of other people, just to catch their reactions.
His Facebook page also includes right-wing memes claiming "Abortion=Murder" and citing Exodus 20:13 ("You shall not murder."). He also has many photos of "Chester" in a MAGA hat posing with a life-sized cutout of Donald Trump's head on Rambo's body and a posed shot with Infowars host and famed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Campbell and his crew state in an opening disclaimer that Christian was not detained following filming and encourages people not to "harass, threaten, assault" him if they see him in public. The disclaimer also says the video was made to "raise awareness on the severity of child sexual exploitation" and "encourage all parents to hold accountability of their kids' online activity."
Garland ISD's executive director of communications Sharese Lightfoot said in a statement that the person identified as "Christian" in the video has been fired from his job and that the district has contacted Garland police to file a report.
"Garland ISD aggressively investigates and responds to all reports of educator misconduct and cooperates fully with law enforcement regarding possible criminal activity," Lightfoot wrote. "Employees who are found to have engaged in inappropriate conduct with a student or minor are terminated, reported to the Texas State Board of Educator Certification and placed on the Texas Do Not Hire Registry in accordance with House Bill 3."
Garland police officials said that since the video was shot in Allen, they referred the report to the Allen Police Department. Allen Police Sgt. Jonathan Maness released a statement confirming that the case is still under investigation for "online solicitation of a minor" and police officials "had no knowledge of this incident taking place."
"We ask the community for patience while we investigate this incident and want to remind citizens of the dangers of performing investigations like these," Maness wrote. "Law enforcement officials are the only ones qualified to conduct these kinds of investigations. Having gone through specific and extensive training, these officials are familiar with proper techniques in collecting and preserving evidence that is vital in the prosecution of these kinds of cases."
Maness also wrote that the potential for harm and misconduct are significant, and he encourages "citizens to resist taking the law into their own hands."
"These citizen sting operations can be very dangerous and potentially result in injury or death to the person(s) conducting the sting, the person they are confronting or innocent bystanders," Maness wrote. "These types of situations can turn violent quickly as well as result in potential lawsuits for libel or slander."
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune,Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.