OOver the past five years, the consistency with which mass attackers in public spaces cause concern in their communities has increased dramatically. About 69 percent of attackers made people worried before their attack, according to the Secret Service.
Almost half of those affected had only peripheral contact with attackers, meaning a person may have had only a brief or limited interaction with the attacker, but it was enough to cause concern for the attacker’s or others’ well-being , according to a report by the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center.
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The report analyzed attacks in mass public spaces over five years, from 2016 to 2020. The assessment center recorded 180 attackers in 173 attacks in public and semi-public spaces. In the attacks, 1,747 people were injured and 513 were killed in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Most of the attackers were men, only three identified themselves as women, and three-quarters of the attacks involved illegally possessed firearms.
While the number of attacks has remained consistent in similar studies conducted by the Secret Service, Chief Lina Alathari said during a news conference Tuesday that the biggest change over the past five years has been the consistency of the concern raised .
The report comes days after two mass shootings occurred in California. One happened Saturday in Monterey Park. It left 11 dead and nine wounded. The other happened Monday in Half Moon Bay. At least seven died and one suffered life-threatening injuries. A school shooting in Iowa also occurred on Monday. Two students died and the school’s founder was left in critical condition.
Locations of the 173 mass attacks that occurred in the US between 2016 and 2020.
US Secret Service National Threat Assessment “Mass Attacks in Public Spaces: 2016 – 2020”
Alathari said that most of the time, attackers will explicitly threaten to kill, but will not include details of their attack. Because of this, he said, law enforcement may not respond to such cases of potential violence.
“[Attackers] rarely is the time, place, location specified, which is really important to us and especially to our investigators in the law enforcement community,” Alathari said. “We shouldn’t expect a how and why how specific to attack a threat of harm.”
Almost 65% of related communications occurred within 30 days of the attack, and 37% occurred on the same day of the attack.
Examples of threats range from direct threats and targeted hit lists to posting veiled comments such as “the countdown has begun,” Alathari said.
“We really should set a low threshold in terms of behavior to make sure we’re asking the right questions,” Alathari said.
The Washington Examiner did not receive data requested on the percentage of attacks that included direct threatening communications and did not result in a police response prior to the attack.
Chart showing the most recent communications
US Secret Service, National Threat Assessment Center “Mass Attacks in Public Spaces: 2016 — 2020”
A new variable investigated by the Secret Service’s threat assessment center for its recent report was the attacker’s affiliation with the attack. More than half of the attackers (53%) had no affiliation with their attack, meaning they had no connection to the place, people or location they attacked.
Almost half of attackers had a most recent stressor between 0 and 30 days before the attack, and 18% of attackers chose to attack on the same day that their stressor occurred and triggered their violence .
The concern caused by attackers comes in several forms. 58% of complaints focused on the behavior and mental well-being of the perpetrator. Among the 180 attackers, more than half experienced mental health symptoms such as depression and psychosis related to paranoia or delusions that someone is out to get them.
However, Alathari cautioned against people who perceive mental illness as a constant indicator of violence.
“Mental illness is not a barometer of dangerousness,” he said. “It’s not a correlation for mass attacks. The vast majority of mentally healthy individuals in this country will never be violent.”
Alathari said the goal of the center’s research is to equip communities with information so they can proactively respond to troubling behavior before an attack occurs. More than 21,000 people from all 50 states and 80 countries have registered for a virtual event presenting information from the report.
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Reducing mass attacks and violence is a “multidisciplinary effort” by the community, he added.
“Everyone has a role to play in promotion,” Alathari said. “It’s not just one person’s responsibility or one organization’s responsibility.”