Mass attacks are an ongoing problem in the U.S. A recent report from the U.S. Secret Service details exactly what can be done to combat them.

Picture this scenario:

An individual walks into a workplace. He has an ax to grind and has been hedging his bets on how. His mind has tossed ideas back and forth and with every thought the anger grew. He felt rejected, offended and just treated wrong. Despite trying to think through how to deal with this offense, his mind kept coming back to the same thought: utter revenge. “How dare they treat me this way.”

As he walks, his heart starts to race, pulse quickens and breathing becomes faster. He’s told people he feels wronged and, in his mind, they all ignored him. No one gives him any respect or has offered any help. He needs to address this. As he reaches under his jacket, the excitement builds as he feels the cold steel concealed there. He comes across the receptionist that says, “Good morning.” Without responding or warning, he raises his gun, takes aim and fires.

This scenario has played out across our nation in recent years. Yet still, people continue to question “why?” No one can make sense or understand why an otherwise “regular” person, who in many cases has no criminal record or background in violence, would resort to such evil.

Well, the Secret Service, an agency that bases its work on understanding the inner workings of threatening behavior, has put its resources into understanding why these attacks happen.

In its recent report titled “Mass Attacks in Public Spaces — 2017,” the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) investigated these incidents and tried to make sense out of what most people would consider senseless.

Killing Fields

Thanks to its extensive background in threat assessments, the Secret Service’s NTAC looked at 28 incidents of mass attacks. These occurred between January and December 2017. The focus was on those where three or more people were harmed.

In every case, these acts took place in public spaces, in many locations most would consider safe.

The resulting loss of 147 lives and injury to nearly 700 people has had a ripple effect across our nation. According to the report, “Regardless of whether these attacks were acts of workplace violence, domestic violence, school-based violence, or terrorism, similar themes were observed in the backgrounds of the perpetrators.”

Concerning the attacks, the reports general findings included that:

  • Nearly half were motivated by a personal grievances related to a workplace, domestic, or other issue.
  • More than half had histories of criminal charges, mental health symptoms, and/or illicit substance use or abuse.
  • All had at least one significant stressor within the last five years, and more than half had indications of financial instability in that timeframe.
  • More than three-quarters made concerning communications and/or elicited concern from others prior to carrying out their attacks. On average, those who did elicit concern caused more harm than those who did not.

Despite the focus on school attacks, the report shows that the vast majority of these types of attacks continue to take place in the workplace.

Out of the 28 incidents carried out at 31 different sites, 46 percent occurred at a business (bank, retailers, a law office, warehouses, etc.).

Out of those that occurred outdoors, 32 percent took place on public sidewalks, at large outdoor events, attractions, and communal areas.

A total of four (14 percent) of the 28 incidents were carried out at educational institutions; that includes two elementary schools, one high school and one university.

The remaining incidents took place on commuter trains, at an airport, and at churches.

Mental Health & Mass Attacks

The report also substantiated what always seems to get lost in the aftermath of these incidents.

In “nearly two-thirds of the attackers experienced mental health symptoms prior to their attacks. The most common symptoms observed were related to psychosis (e.g., paranoia, hallucinations, or delusions) and suicidal thoughts.”

Further, 25 percent of attackers had been hospitalized for treatment or prescribed psychiatric medications prior to their attacks.

The data also shows that “most of the attackers (82 percent) exhibited behaviors that were indicative of aggressive narcissism, as evidenced by displays of rigidness, hostility, or extreme self-centeredness. For example, some inappropriately asserted control over others, as observed by their histories of domestic violence, sexual assault, harassment, or harming animals. Others had a history of violent or angry outbursts following interpersonal conflicts with co-workers, neighbors, or family members. Some attackers displayed an inflated sense of self or entitlement, unrealistically believing that they were deserving of certain relationships, successes, or benefits, with some reacting angrily when they did not obtain what they believed they deserved.”

This gives some concrete statistics to the ongoing discussion about the importance of mental health and the need to ensure people with mental health issues are not accessing firearms.

If You See Something, Say Something

It’s often been shown that, for the most part, these attackers don’t conduct these in a vacuum. They give indications prior to the attack and, in some cases, tell people.

“Most of the attackers (79 percent) had engaged in threatening or concerning communications. While half had threatened someone, one-third threatened the target (36 percent) in some way prior to their attack.”

“All 10 of the attackers in the latter group had a personal relationship to the target in that they were either co-workers, domestic partners, neighbors, or classmates. Though the presence of prior threats to the target is unusual for some forms of targeted violence (e.g., assassination), it is often seen in cases involving domestic or workplace violence, which together represent more than a third of the mass attacks described in this report.”

In addition to the threats, “three-quarters of the attackers engaged in other concerning communications that did not reach the threshold of a threat, such as making overly angry statements, racist comments, references to past attackers, suicidal language, or comments indicative of their intent to carry out an attack.”

“Most of the attackers (79 percent) engaged in communications or exhibited behaviors that caused concern in others. Those who expressed concern included parents, siblings, current or former romantic partners, friends, neighbors, teachers, classmates, work associates, community members, and law enforcement.”

Yet, as we saw in Parkland, despite the threats, not much is done in many cases.

The Secret Service’s report provides a blueprint for these mass attacks and attackers. Our failure to address or react to the issues cited in this report will only mean one thing: history will continue to repeat itself.

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