These YouTubers say they hunt pedophiles. Their targets keep winding up dead.
Dads Against Predators claims to be keeping communities safe. But is there a cost?
An assistant district attorney stands in a dark hallway staring down the steel barrels of a SWAT team, a barrel of his own held to his temple. Two dozen Dateline producers and crew members stand on his front lawn, eyes peeled and necks craned, cameras picking up any audible dialogue. Drywall is the only thing separating production assistants from tactical gear. Louis Conradt Jr., accused of exchanging sexually explicit messages with a minor, retreats into a dark room and pulls the trigger.
NBC’s popular sting series To Catch a Predator gave American viewers their weekly dose of schadenfreude through investigations led by host Chris Hansen, on the hunt for internet predators. Each episode focused on a single city, luring multiple predators to a wired bait house for the show’s iconic “gotcha” moment. Though for Louis Conradt Jr., his network debut panned out differently. Conradt Jr.’s 2006 appearance began with a horde of television producers on his front lawn and an armed tactical team in his home, and ended with a point-blank gunshot to the head.
In 2008, the suicide became a catalyst for the abrupt cancellation of To Catch a Predator, setting into motion a $100 million lawsuit against NBC, prompting a federal judge to accuse the series of creating a “substantial risk of suicide” for the subjects, and displaying “conduct so outrageous and extreme that no civilized society should tolerate it.” Of the show, Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker wrote, “When a TV show makes you feel sorry for potential child-rapists, you know it’s doing something wrong.”
In recent years, the vigilante virus born from To Catch a Predator has found a new host in an underground YouTube community, with one channel leading the charge: DAP INC. Short for Dads Against Predators, DAP INC. is a YouTube channel with 98,000 subscribers and more than 140 videos, each of which allegedly exposes a local predator, Chris Hansen-style. The channel is led by young fathers Joshua Mundy and Jay Carnicom, who in October 2020 were allegedly threatened with legal action by county law enforcement agencies. The message from law enforcement was clear: “Either stop or potentially face prosecution.”
Dads Against Predators has “caught” more than 133 alleged predators, indiscriminate of gender, age, or race. Joshua and Jay pose as teens and tweens online, arrange public meetups, and film the interactions. Despite the channel’s relatively low viewership and nearly non-existent public awareness, it has become one of the darkest holes on the internet, allegedly responsible for three suicides in just a year and a half. And amid YouTube’s growing control and demonetization of content, the group has moved elsewhere on the internet, including debuting a new subscription model offering more freedom, privacy, and profit.
Dads Against Predators joins the ranks of other amateur predator hunters who are racking up views, publicity, and alleged suicides of their own. A 2019 NBC News review found more than 30 similar sting operations across the internet, including groups like Truckers Against Predators, Creep Catcher, Prank Call Mafia, Predator Poachers Michigan, and arguably the most popular of the genre, POPSquad, a Connecticut-based group with upwards of 176 catches of their own. Across the genre, the videos follow the same format, exposing the names and faces of alleged local online predators, many without a single charge or conviction. Despite regional differences, the groups are sewn together with the same strings: dwindling faith in law enforcement, a craving for vengeance, and a trail of suicides allegedly connected to their stings.
Dads Against Predators has become one of the darkest holes on the internet, likely responsible for three suicides in just a year and a half.
Earlier this year, Kyle Swanson, leader of the St. Louis-based KTS Predator Hunters, was charged with two felony counts of unlawful restraint and obstruction of justice following an encounter filmed for his YouTube channel. Swanson was further hit with a misdemeanor assault charge after allegedly luring a “catch” into his car, refusing to let him leave, and threatening to hit him. In previous public warnings to Swanson, the former Madison County state’s attorney stated the actions of the group and others like it make it “virtually impossible to charge somebody,” urging internet vigilantes to stop immediately.
Dads Against Predators works alone against the directive of local authorities, shirking both tangible accountability and personal protection, which should be a natural concern for a group working in a newly-minted Stand Your Ground state. In October 2020, following a third suspected suicide, Christopher Hilton, sheriff of Sandusky County, Ohio, along with other county police chiefs, published a public statement that said, “DAP’s careless and reckless regard for law and order and due process has resulted in the loss of life, and the situation has gotten out of hand.” Yet despite pleas from law enforcement, Dads Against Predators shows no signs of slowing, now traveling beyond Ohio state lines. (Dads Against Predators did not respond to requests for comment.)
The most viral of the group’s videos brings the group to Iowa City. Phones in hand, Mundy and Carnicom approach a woman smoking a cigarette outside a hotel. The flustered woman says she came down to wipe the phone of the underage girl she thought she was chatting with online, a thinly-veiled lie. According to her story, she and her husband were hoping to arrange a threesome, but upon learning of the young girl’s age, Beth was to confront the child, wipe the phone, and walk away.
This video is a top performer for a reason. The woman’s flimsy coverup and sour attitude make the exposure that much sweeter, commenters echoing, “she should be arrested for those expressions alone.” It’s lighthearted compared to the group’s 100-some other videos and elicits a shared satisfaction from most viewers.
Other DAP videos mimic the levity of the woman’s video, with Carnicom and Mundy laughing in the background as their marks give excuses such as, “I just came to look at the TVs.” The subjects’ reactions appear to range from laughable to deadpan to violent. Mundy and Carnicom approach their catches with an antagonistic and confrontational style, a far cry from Hansen’s calm and measured approach. In some cases, Mundy and Carnicom can be seen chasing subjects down the street, shouting expletives, and threatening physical violence.
A March 2020 video (reuploaded in November) titled “DAP Catch #9 Rick” detailed the first confrontation that would end in suicide purportedly resulting from DAP’s actions. Posing as a 14-year-old boy online, Mundy and Carnicom chatted with “Rick,” a husband, father, local driving school instructor, and alleged online predator in Tiffin, Ohio. Struck with a case of cold feet and growing suspicions, Rick pulls up to the bait house, refuses to exit his vehicle, and quickly drives away. Mundy and Carnicom chase the car, shouting, “We got your license plate, we know the company you own, you’re done.”
A follow-up text conversation shows Rick pleading, “I really wish you won’t do this and let me get help. I’ll prove to you I’m getting help.” “I’m asking for a little compassion even though I don’t deserve it.” The response from Mundy and Carnicom: “We are ‘Dads Against Predators,’ not Jesus Christ.” Days later, Richard L. Brodman, 51, was found dead of an apparent suicide. The group later published a reuploaded version of Rick’s video with a voiceover prelude absolving themselves of responsibility, stating, “We do not believe Rick killed himself because of the videos because there was no video” — yet.
In a video titled “Jay’s Story,” 27-year-old Jay Carnicom follows the car of the man who he says abused him as a child, approaching the man and his wife in a Walmart parking lot. The couple appears shocked as Carnicom asks the man, “You didn’t cuddle me with a hard d*ck on my back?” The disjointed interaction presents the story of a sick man who took advantage of a young, vulnerable, and fatherless Carnicom. “I thought you were my dad,” he says. “I didn’t report you because you told me you were gonna be my dad. I loved you.” Shortly after the video’s release, Steven J. Klisz, 67, was found dead. (A third suspected suicide has been linked to Dads Against Predators by the Sandusky County Sheriff’s department following the death of a subject just one day after their video was posted.)
“I really wish you won’t do this and let me get help. I’ll prove to you I’m getting help.”
A 2014 study from the International Academy of Sex Research into the stigmatization of people with pedophilia reported a combined 17% of respondents in agreement that people with pedophilia “should better be dead,” even if they’ve never committed or attempted to commit a sex crime. The study concluded that the “public stigma against people with pedophilia may not only have an important (negative) impact on people bearing the stigmatized characteristic but also restrict meaningful and targeted prevention of sex offenses, which are sometimes related to pedophilic motivation.” This study and others like it have come to the same conclusion: The stigmatization and oversimplification of pedophilia may have indirect negative consequences for child abuse prevention. By conflating the illness with the crime, we discourage the estimated 1%-5% of the population afflicted with the disorder from seeking help.
In his 2007 essay To Catch a Predator, Call a Cop, Dr. David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, argued that “law enforcement should not be a free-enterprise zone, where any combination of public citizen and media enterprise can stake out a claim.” In conversation with Mic, Finkelhor renewed a 14-year lease on that argument. “The fear of shaming and criminal prosecution certainly play a role in deterring crime, and child molestation in particular,” Finkelhor says, “but vigilante activities in this realm pose risks that are not consistent with the rule of law and the protection of rights. Curbing sexual abuse is best done with education of children, parents, youth-serving organizations, well-trained and sensitive law enforcement, and child protection activities by governmental entities.”
Founder of the National Institute for the Study, Prevention, and Treatment of Sexual Trauma, Dr. Fred Berlin has spent years studying pedophilia as a sexual disorder, conducting early research on the administration of antiandrogenic (sex drive-lowering) medication in the U.S. and establishing a sexual disorders clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. In a conversation with Mic, Berlin shared insight into the stigmatization of pedophilia in society and the resources available to those struggling.
“When talking about conflating the disorder with the crime, it’s just not accurate,” says Berlin, “It’s like confusing addiction with drunk driving. As far as pedophilia is concerned, we don’t know the exact percentage of people in the population who may be attracted to children because we’ve so stigmatized it. Folks would be very hesitant to share that they are experiencing those kinds of feelings.”
“Group therapy and support is a great option. In Germany, there is a program that creates public service announcements for this type of treatment. In our country, we hear PSAs all the time; if you have a drug problem, if you have depression, please come in — we want to help you. When have we ever heard a public service announcement saying, ‘if you’re a young person having troubling sexual feelings, come in and let us help you before you cause problems in your life and the lives of others?’
“The approach taken by DAP and other vigilante groups is dehumanizing,” says Berlin.” It’s talking about them like they’re not human beings.”
What started as mimicry of Chris Hansen’s style has evolved into a machine much faster and perhaps far deadlier than To Catch a Predator ever was. In the shadow of multiple suicides allegedly connected to DAP and other similar groups, support for the community continues to grow, with DAP INC. viewers commenting “y’all killed someone ... love it” and “keep up the good work.” In just a year and a half, Dads Against Predators has been connected to more alleged suicides than seen on To Catch a Predator’s four-year run, and the group shows no signs of stopping. The group’s newest addition, the “Wall of Shame,” can be found on their website. The recently launched forum pins the photos, first names, and locations of alleged online predators, destined to become a breeding ground for continued online harassment and doxxing, further damaging legitimate investigations.
With a virtual content base too vast to be effectively regulated, the internet has become the Wild West, with Mundy and Carnicom playing sheriff. And as of last month, they are charging top dollar to do so. In June, the group launched a Patreon channel featuring unedited versions of their fan-favorite hits and at least three paywall-protected videos of Mundy and Carnicom physically assaulting “catches.” In a video posted to the DAP Community Facebook page, Mundy explained to his 21,000 fans, “The reason it’s not five or 15 dollars is because of how much we are risking doing that. Yeah, you could look up [free] fights on YouTube, but could you look up a predator getting caught, getting beat up? I don’t think so. Your favorite predator catchers have not done this, are not doing this. Your favorite predator catchers run when confrontation happens.”
The Dads Against Predators Patreon channel offers subscription memberships ranging from $5 a month to a $1,500 per month “God Mode” tier with the description, “you control us, with God Mode, you pick where we go for one weekend within the US.” With 360 total patrons, Dad’s Against Predators is making anywhere from $1,800 to $540,000 per month as internet predator hunters, and taking requests.
Behind the protection of a paywall, online predator hunters are ushering in a new era of vigilantism that says, “Want to catch a predator? Hire a hitman.”