US Secret Service report looks for parallels in mass attacks


The US Secret Service has released a report looking for similarities between incidents of mass violence in public spaces across the country.

The analysis was released Wednesday, days after consecutive mass shootings in California left 18 people dead, and once again drew attention to the relatively common occurrence of large-scale and often deadly attacks in the US.

The report identified 173 targeted attacks between 2016 and 2020 that took place in what it described as “public or semi-public locations” in the country. Those institutions include “companies, schools, places of worship, open spaces and other locations where we live our daily lives”.

In all 173 incidents, three or more people were injured, not counting the attacker.

Of the 180 identified attackers, 63 were between the ages of 25 and 34, the highest percentage of any age group. The next highest age ranges were 14 to 24 and 35 to 44. About 96 percent of the attackers were male.

Firearms were involved in nearly three quarters of the attacks. A total of 88 incidents were recorded in business premises, including restaurants and shops, and another 60 in open spaces such as streets, sidewalks and parking lots. Thirteen took place in educational institutions and five in places of worship.

Targeted violence ‘to be prevented’ with tools

Wednesday’s report comes as pressure mounts to create community-level early detection and prevention protocols, known as “behavioral threat assessment.”

The report concludes from the 173 attacks identified “that targeted violence is preventable when communities are equipped with the proper tools, training and resources to intervene before violence occurs.”

One of the key findings of the report was that most of the attackers had “raised concern” among family members, friends, neighbours, classmates and colleagues before turning violent. Many also had a history of being physically aggressive or engaging in intimidating behavior, while more than half had psychological problems.

Half of the attackers were also “motivated by grievances” and retaliated for abuses they witnessed in person, at work or at home.

Meanwhile, a quarter of the attackers subscribed to “a belief system involving conspiracies or hateful ideologies, including anti-government, anti-Semitic and misogynistic views,” the report said.

Nevertheless, the report noted that in more than two-thirds of incidents, the attackers directed violence at random individuals, as opposed to specific targets. That same percentage of attackers communicated threateningly or not before committing acts of violence.

However, the report added that most of the threats prior to violence were vague, underlining the need for early intervention even in the absence of more specific explanations.

To improve overall safety, the report recommended that workplaces create plans to prevent violence. It also called on communities to encourage early reporting when conduct occurs, with a particular focus on incidents of misogyny or domestic violence.

Secret Service report the first of its kind

The Secret Service, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is primarily tasked with protecting the U.S. President and Vice President, as well as the President-elect and Vice President-elect.

However, the agency’s National Threat Assessment Center was established in 1998 to “provide research and guidance” in support of individuals with “public safety responsibilities”.

Wednesday’s report was the first of its kind.

For its part, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), an agency of the Justice Department, began documenting so-called active shooter incidents in 2017. The department defines an “active shooter” as someone who is involved in killing or attempting to kill people in a public area in a seemingly random manner.

The Secret Service report was released just two days after a gunman shot and killed seven people in Northern California’s Half Moon Bay.

Just two days earlier, on January 21, a gunman shot and killed 11 people during a Lunar New Year celebration near Los Angeles, California.

At least 70 people have been killed in mass shootings in the US so far, according to data collected by the Gun Violence Archive (GVA).

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