Report: Secret Service Found Most Mass Attackers Had History of Concerning Communications

The Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center has found that three-quarters of the perpetrators of mass attacks in the U.S. in 2017 either made concerning communications or elicited concern from others prior to carrying out an attack.

The finding was part of an in-depth analysis of the 28 mass attacks in public places in which three or more people were harmed between January and December 2017. 147 people were killed and 700 injured in total in these attacks, leading the USSS National Threat Center to perform this analysis to try to identify common themes.

The assessment also discovered that almost half of the perpetrators were motivated by a personal grievance related to a workplace, domestic or other issue and over half had histories of criminal charges, mental health problems or substance abuse. It also revealed that all perpetrators had at least one significant stressor in the past five years, and almost half had indications of financial instability.

Almost half of the attacks last year were carried out at businesses, with a further 32 percent taking place in outdoor spaces — often public events or attractions. Three attack took place in schools — one high school and two elementary schools — and one occurred in a university. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the attacks were carried out with firearms, and in these cases almost half had been purchased illegally.

The violence lasted just five minutes for half of the attacks, and the majority of the incidents ended either because the attacker left the scene or committed suicide. In five out of the 28 cases, violence ceased because of the intervention of law enforcement.

All of the attackers who carried out mass violence in this period in 2017 were male, ranging from 15 years old to 66. The majority of attackers — 71 percent — had histories of criminal charges, which included domestic violence, and nearly two-thirds had experienced mental health symptoms including paranoia and hallucinations.

In almost half of the attacks studied, the attackers were motivated by personal grievances such as perceived wrongs in the workplace or bullying from classmates. One attacker stated that he hoped to gain fame and notoriety for his actions, as well as righting a perceived grievance.

A quarter of the attackers seemed to subscribe to a particular belief system, such as white supremacy, radical black nationalism, ISIS ideology or, in one case, government conspiracy theories.

Despite many attacks been motivated by a supposed grievance, 57 percent resulted in harm only to random persons.

All attackers had experienced a significant stressor in the past five years, but these varied in nature ranging from bereavement and divorce to being fired and being bullied. The financial instability that over half of perpetrators had experienced ranged from homelessness and eviction to bankruptcy and tax warrants.

A huge 79 percent of attackers had engaged in concerning communications prior to conducting an attack, which included threatening someone — sometimes the target of the attack. Seventy-nine percent of attackers had also elicited concern in neighbors, parents, friends, work associates, classmates or teachers. Concerns were often passed onto to employers or building managers and sometimes law enforcement agents. Attackers who had elicited concern in others tended to cause a higher number of casualties in their attacks than those who hadn’t.

The 28 incidents studied within the report included the Sutherland Springs shooting in November, where 26 people died, and October’s Las Vegas festival shooting, which claimed the lives of 58.

Read the full report here

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