The first eight months of 2019 in America have been irretrievably scarred by the indiscriminate killings of people and kids attending festive events they never knew would be their last moments on Earth. The listing of killings and the killers is lengthy besides being upsetting because of the number and recency of these assaults by men armed with military-style weaponry. The frequency of these deadly assaults has resulted in a change in all of our lives with programs and videos being developed to assist not just law enforcement personnel but the “man-on-the-street,” the intended victims. Kids in schools or churchgoers and hospital personnel now have training for terroristic attacks. Who would have thought this possible?
Who are these men (and to date they have all been men) and what promotes this killing exercise that we’ve seen over the past months and years? Is it mental illness? Disgruntled workers? Domestic violence? Political activists? Filtering out the who and why of the grim statistics is a drill meant for AI (artificial intelligence) if ever there was one.
Most of the efforts have been in preventing school shootings but the locales have been broadened to include any area where a “soft target” a large group of unaware persons will be present. The presence of children is no deterrent and one has to wonder if that wouldn’t act as an added incentive because of the pain it would cause.
To quote an often-used expression, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. We’ve seen these attacks at schools, nightclubs, festivals, malls, hospitals, offices, car dealerships, concert venues, military training facilities, retail stores, movie theatres, colleges, fast-food shops, churches, and transportation vehicles. There is no haven from these shooters who pick their targets with deadly intent, arm themselves with military-grade weapons and body protection and plan their attacks in advance for greatest effect. Fences or entry guards provide no protection as we saw in the Gilroy garlic festival where the shooter cut through fencing at the back of the venue and gained access. Reinforced door or windows, too, have proven of little use when high-powered weapons are in use.
Who Are the Shooters?
Who are these shooters and what might we suspect is their motive for these killings? The FBI has been tracking shooters for decades and they offer some insight into the who and why of the shootings, but nothing is infallible, even FBI profiles of shooters.
The FBI supported a special report of active shooters between the years 2000 in 2013 in “A Study of Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters in the United States Between 2000 and 2013. The key findings of that study, carried out by several persons in university positions, found that:
1. The 63 active shooters examined in this study did not appear to be in uniform in any way such that they could be easily identified prior to attacking based on demographics alone.
2. Active shooters take time to plan and prepare for the attack, with 77% of the subjects spending a week or longer planning their attack and 46% spending a week or longer actually preparing (procuring the means) for the attack.
3. A majority of active shooters obtain their firearms legally, with only very small percentages obtaining a firearm illegally.
4. The FBI could only verify that 25% of active shooters in the study had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness. Of those diagnosed, only three had been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder.
5. Active shooters were typically experiencing multiple stressors (an average 3.6 separate stressors) in the year before they attacked. But they were not mentally ill as some might suppose.
6. On average, each active shooter displayed 4 to 5 concerning behaviors over time that were observable to others around the shooter. The most frequently occurred occurring concerning behaviors were related to the active shooter’s mental health, problematic interpersonal interactions, and leakage of violent intent.
7. For active shooters under age 18, school peers and teachers were more likely to observe concerning behavior than family members. For active shooters, 18 years old and over, spouses/domestic partners with the most likely to observe concerning behaviors.
In the “personal grievances” area: the precipitants included adverse interpersonal action against the shooter, adverse employment action against the shooter, adverse governmental action against the shooter, and adverse academic action against the shooter.
8. When concerning behaviors was observed by others, the most common response was to communicate directly to the active shooter (83%) or do nothing (54%). In 41% of the cases the concerning behavior was reported to law enforcement. Therefore, just because concerning behavior was recognized does not necessarily mean it was reported to law enforcement.
9. In those cases where the active shooter’s primary grievance could be identified, the most common grievances were related to an adverse interpersonal or employment action against the shooter (49%).
10. In the majority of cases (64%) at least one of the victims was specifically targeted by the active shooter.
One thing which this report does not recognize, and we must understand that it was done six years ago, is that we are now in an era where the Internet is being used to spread hateful behavior and indoctrinate vulnerable individuals.
The Social Media Connection
The ADL (Antidefamation League) has showed that social media has provided a means for white nationalists or conspiracy terrorists to engage in coded language on social media networks that will not only promote terror attacks but encourage them. Similar to what Al Qaeda is doing, these groups are now amassing lists of “heroes” who have died in the cause against immigration or whatever their beliefs of the moment might be. The groups the ADL lists in one article include Gab, 4 Chan, and 8chan which serve as “round-the-clock racist rallies.”
An ADL-NCRI study utilized several methodologies and their report synthesized these channels as containing or providing:
1. The research shows an uptick in hateful rhetoric on fringe web communities in the wake of significant political events or highly publicized extremist violence;
2. Bowers and Tarrant regularly shared themes associated with the white supremacist narrative of “white genocide,” which holds that the white race is threatened by non-white immigration, orchestrated largely by Jews;
3. On these fringe sites, users frequently rely on coded, ironic language so that only “insiders” can discern their rhetoric’s profoundly hateful intent;
4. On Gab, talk of “white genocide” frequently accompanies explicit genocide comments about Jews.
5. 8chan hosts an especially radical iteration of extremism which enabled Tarrant to use it as a site for recruitment and for calling on others to commit violent acts.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has characterized the new white nationalist terrorists as intent on fighting for what they see as “their” country as follows:
“White nationalists seek to return to an America that predates the implementation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Both landmark pieces of legislation are cited as the harbingers of white dispossession and so-called “white genocide” — the idea that whites in the United States are being systematically replaced and destroyed.
These racist aspirations are most commonly articulated as the desire to form a white ethnostate — a calculated idiom favored by white nationalists in order to obscure the inherent violence of such a radical project. Appeals for the white ethnostate are often disingenuously couched in proclamations of love for members of their own race, rather than hatred for others.”
The terrorist group do not confine themselves to what we might consider the usual social media, but have broadened out not only to Gab but Twitter, Instagram, and Bit Shoot intending to spread information for a violent action and inciting such action in those who are predisposed to this type of ideology.
Groups such as Iron Youth are affiliated with Nazi ideology and posters which they have uploaded to the Internet show “the future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty” then there is a gun which shows “it’s the only thing they understand”. Iron youth also recommends the reading of the controversial, inflammatory book, “The Turner Diaries.” They indicate on their website that it “lays out a good game plan for what we need to do immediately before, as well as after Siege kicks off.”
To stem the hatred that is being spread via social media, Facebook and Instagram (owned by Facebook) have announced a ban on what they say includes “praise, support and representation of white nationalism and separation.”
Youtube has announced a move to aggressively remove white nationalist hate groups from its platform, but are there other platforms they can use? White nationalists are just as capable of any other group of infiltrating “harmless” platforms and spreading their ideology and they have found Discord, a gamer’s site with 150 million gamers, that’s a lot of unwary, potential recruits it would seem.
The Move to the “Dark Web”
White nationalists have now moved off of the sites that have banned them, such as Google, Facebook, Instagram and GoDaddy and have taken to the dark web, a place that used to be restricted to selling drugs, stolen credit card and Social Security numbers. Now it hosts hate groups. The neo-Nazi publication, The Daily Stormer, has moved to the dark web after they pulled it from GoDaddy and Google.
Access to the dark web is through a special browser called Tor, which uses a series of servers, each containing only a bit of information, sometimes called “torrents.” This strategy prevents the disassembling of any website since it distributed over, potentially, hundreds or thousands of servers.
The software was originally intended for hackers who wanted to download complete films or books, programs or games free. Legal issues have prevented it from being used around the world on well-known Torrent sites such as the Pirate Bay and others. But Tor has utility for providing access to researchers all over the world, although it has been turned to this diabolical new use.
Summing up, we can expect more shootings as the hatred index is ratcheted up by inflammatory speech, which the haters are claiming is their First Amendment right. But did the First Amendment framers ever intent to make a message of mass killings legal? Aren’t we standing on the precipice between free speech and terroristic threats, which are not legal?