25% of Shootings Driven by Conspiracy Theories, Hateful Beliefs

In just the first three weeks of 2023, the United States has seen 39 mass shootings. In 2020, more than 45,000 Americans died from gun violence, including suicides – a pace that had steadily increased in the 21st century.

A recent study by the US Secret Service (USSS) has concluded that roughly one-quarter of mass shootings happen in the United States because the perpetrator was driven by either a conspiracy theory or a hateful ideology.

The study was published on Wednesday by the federal police agency tasked with protecting the US president and other senior members of the US government. They looked at 173 incidents from 2016 until 2020 in which three or more people were hurt in attacks in public spaces, including workplaces, schools, houses of worship, military bases, nonprofit service providers, residential complexes, public transportation, and open spaces.

The USSS said it undertook the study to help communities identify rising threats and address them before they become violent by highlighting observable behaviors that should be a cause for concern.

Among their findings were that one-quarter of perpetrators “subscribed to a belief system involving conspiracies or hateful ideologies, including antigovernment, antisemitic, and misogynistic views.”

However, even more, roughly half, were motivated by personal issues, such as grievances with friends or family, work colleagues, or were “retaliating for perceived wrongs.”

They also found that most attackers used firearms they had obtained illegally, and many had a history of “physically aggressive or intimidating behaviors.” They also found most exhibited behavior that elicited concern from others, many of whom feared violence would result from them.

More than half of attackers were experiencing mental health problems before or at the time of their attacks, and many had experienced stressful events in their lives, with some having a specific triggering event prior to carrying out the attack.

The USSS noted communities should encourage bystander reporting and businesses and public institutions should consider adopting plans for identifying people who may pose a risk of violence and for resolving interpersonal grievances. They also said authorities must pay more attention to hate speech against various groups, and especially to misogyny, as a key indicator of the potential for violence, but cautioned that such speech could be protected by the First Amendment, too.

Online platforms were singled out as a key place where people become exposed to and inculcated with hateful ideologies.

“The internet allows individuals to come together and share common interests across online platforms and communities; however, these online communities can provide a place for violent and concerning ideas to manifest,” the report notes. “Nearly one-quarter of attackers were found to have conveyed concerning communications online, such as threats to harm others and posts referencing suicidal ideations, previous mass shootings, violent content, and hate toward a particular ethnic group.”

Members of such sites may also discuss their plans to carry out an attack beforehand – talk that must be taken seriously and immediately responded to.

The publication of the report comes as the nation is reeling from a spree of large shooting incidents in California, including the killing of 11 people at a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park and a shooting spree at several mushroom farms that killed seven.

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