On Wednesday morning, Sandy Gilson noticed four political signs, including one supporting Senate candidate John Fetterman, missing from her front lawn — the second time in two weeks this had happened. When Gilson, a longtime resident of Tredyffrin Township, an affluent Philadelphia suburb where she serves as a committee member for her precinct, drove around her neighborhood, she noticed more signs — all supporting Democrats ahead of next month’s midterm elections — gone too.
But when she decided to file a report with the local police department, the cops already knew where her signs would be — in a large commercial dumpster behind a strip mall in the area. How? Because someone had put an Apple AirTag on one of the signs.
“The signs were found after a resident notified our officers of the location of the AirTag,” Lt. Tyler Moyer of the Tredyffrin Township Police Department told BuzzFeed News.
The dumpster contained more than 100 stolen political signs, all supporting Democratic candidates or progressive causes like reproductive rights and Black Lives Matter. Police said they are combing through video footage near the dumpster but have yet to identify a suspect.
AirTags, Apple’s tracking devices that look like small, white pucks, broadcast Bluetooth signals to nearby Apple devices, allowing owners to locate them (and anything they are attached to) on a map. Since Apple released AirTags in 2021, people have used the trackers to find missing bags, keys, and pets. AirTags have proved controversial, because they have also been used to stalk unsuspecting victims.
Using AirTag technology on political lawn signs seems to be catching on. Earlier this year, a candidate in Florida tracked a stolen campaign sign to the house of a political rival thanks to an AirTag.
Arlene Talley, Gilson’s friend and a member of the Chester County Democratic Committee who also had signs stolen from her front lawn, was one of the first to show up at the dumpster after Gilson passed its location on to her. Inside, Talley found 118 signs. “I just started taking them out and putting them in my car,” Talley told BuzzFeed News.
Among the candidates whose signs were swiped was Pennsylvania state Rep. Melissa Shusterman, who is running for reelection. “Kudos to the technology of an AirTag!” Shusterman told BuzzFeed News in a phone call, not long after tweeting a picture of the signs in the dumpster and accusing “local Republicans” of stealing them.
When asked about her claim that Republicans were behind the thefts, Shusterman demurred. “Right now it’s in the hands of our local police,” she said. “So I think it’s really up to them to figure that out. It’s someone who is a cheater or someone who’s not interested in doing things fairly.”
“It is unfortunate that Representative Melissa Shusterman decided to try to score political points with this issue by using highly charged and divisive rhetoric and pointing blame at local Republicans,” said Raffi Terzian, chairman of the Republican Party of Chester Country in a statement to BuzzFeed News. He condemned the thefts and added that the party had also received reports of stolen and vandalized Republican signs.
Another fact of the case that isn’t clear yet: exactly who put the AirTag on the sign. Police declined to disclose the resident’s identity to BuzzFeed News. “This person obviously had signs stolen before,” Gilson said. “So putting an AirTag on was pretty smart.”
Talley, one of the first people who found the signs in the dumpster, uses AirTags herself. She has them on her keys and her dog, and said that she also throws one in her suitcase when she travels.
Would she put one on a lawn sign?
“Frankly, I don’t know,” she said. “They’re $30 each.”
This story was updated with a statement from the Republican Party of Chester County.