The U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) released Mass Attacks in Public Spaces: 2016 – 2020, a comprehensive report examining 173 incidents of targeted violence and highlighting the observable commonalities among the attackers.
The report’s release coincides with a webinar presentation tailored to community leaders and stakeholders. Over 20,000 participants have registered for the event, including government officials, police, school officials, workplace security managers, mental health professionals, and faith-based leaders. The registrants represent all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and multiple countries.
“The prevention of mass violence in America remains as critical as ever. Far too often, communities and families have been devastated by the impact of these tragedies, and public safety professionals continue to work toward preventing future attacks,” said U.S. Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle of the report. “The information revealed in this report is intended to guide those prevention efforts. NTAC’s exploration of each attacker’s background, motivation, and pre-attack behavior will assist the Secret Service and our partners in our shared violence prevention efforts. We encourage our public safety partners to review the information within this report and apply it to their own practices for providing a safe environment in communities across the country.”
The attacks contained within the report impacted a variety of locations, including businesses and workplaces, schools, houses of worship, military bases, residential complexes, and more. In many of these cases, the attackers had a known affiliation with the site of the attack.
The analysis is intended to provide critical information to a cross-sector of community organizations that have a role in preventing these types of tragedies. Among the report’s key findings:
- Most of the attackers had exhibited behavior that elicited concern in family members, friends, neighbors, classmates, co-workers, and others, and in many cases, those individuals feared for the safety of themselves or others.
- Many attackers had a history of physically aggressive or intimidating behaviors, evidenced by prior violent criminal arrests/charges, domestic violence, or other acts of violence toward others.
- Half of the attackers were motivated by grievances, and were retaliating for perceived wrongs related to personal, domestic, or workplace issues.
- Most of the attackers used firearms, and many of those firearms were possessed illegally at the time of the attack.
- One-quarter of the attackers subscribed to a belief system involving conspiracies or hateful ideologies, including anti-government, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic views.
- Many attackers experienced stressful events across various life domains, including family/romantic relationships, personal issues, employment, and legal issues. In some of these cases, attackers experienced a specific triggering event prior to perpetrating the attack.
- Over half of the attackers experienced mental health symptoms prior to or at the time of their attacks, including depression, psychotic symptoms, and suicidal thoughts.
The report also highlights key operational implications for those tasked with violence prevention. These implications should be kept in mind while communities develop the tools, training, resources, and policies to prevent future tragedies.
“Everyone in the community plays a role in violence prevention,” said National Threat Assessment Center Chief Dr. Lina Alathari. “The latest NTAC report provides an unprecedented analysis to support our public safety partners and affirms that targeted violence is preventable if communities have the right information and resources to recognize warning signs and intervene.”
The Secret Service will continue to build on our threat assessment methodology and provide research findings and guidance to public and private sectors to enhance the prevention efforts of those charged with safeguarding our communities.