Can Behavior Indicate a Person May Carry Out Violence?

July 15, 2022, 5 a.m. ·

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Can someone’s behavior be an indicator that the person may carry out a mass shooting? That is the focus of a document published by the University of Nebraska’s National Counterterrorism, Innovation, Technology, and Education Center. In it, they connected federally recognized behaviors indicating someone may be planning violence to the shooter behind the mass killing in Buffalo, New York earlier this year. Nebraska Public Media’s William Padmore spoke with the author of the document Clara Braun and Center Director Dr. Gina Ligon.

Clara Braun sits smiling behind a black background
Clara Braun - Criminology Ph.D. student (Photo Courtesy of NCITE)

William Padmore: Before we get into the actual substance, of the article, would you mind going over the purpose of making this document and who its target audience is? is this for governments? Is it just for concerned citizens? Who is supposed to be reading this and acting on it?

Clara Braun (Article author – criminology Ph.D. student): So we keep having these events happen in the US. We keep having mass casualty violence, mass shootings, and what we're seeing is there are behaviors prior to the event that are suggestive somebody's mobilizing to violence. So Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, all of these agencies have made multiple iterations of this booklet called The Mobilization Indicator Booklet and it goes through the different types of behaviors that people should be looking for that suggests that somebody's going to engage in ideologically motivated behavior. So you asked who the documents for, it's for everyone. They have a section on the inside flap that talks about any person in your community who comes into contact with these individuals, be it someone in health care, law enforcement, at the grocery store. And the entire purpose of the document was to just raise awareness that there are behaviors that we need to be more conscientious of and it also provides them reporting resources-so there's a link at the bottom of the document that takes you to your state that gives you information on who to contact, how to contact them and what to contact.

William Padmore: And these mobilization indicators, I won't have you go through all of them, but could you briefly explain the ones identified in the Buffalo shooting?

Dr. Gina Ligon smiles wearing a grey vest against a nature background
Dr. Gina Ligon - NCITE Director (Photo Courtesy of NCITE)

Clara Braun: Definitely. So the document breaks it down by three behavioral stages. So does the Mobilization Indicator Booklet but it's behaviors to look for that are imminently suggestive of violence. So in the case of the purported Buffalo shooter, we saw that he had done reconnaissance at the place that he was going to attack. He disseminated a manifesto, which is one of the indicators that they say a suggestive of intimate imminent violence. There's also stuff about mobilization or sorry, motivation, so him adopting extremist ideologies that's going to inform violent action. So him doing research on prior shootings, him reading manifestos from Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch shooter from 2019 - all of these are also indicative of him starting to adopt the motivation that at some point he will mobilize to violence.

Gina Ligon (NCITE Director): And I think what's important about the resource, the booklet, if you and we do have a link to it in the document, but what's important about it is no one of the indicators alone would be necessarily indicative that someone was going to engage in violence, but it's a combination of them. And the problem with that is that no one person saw all of the indicators, but multiple people saw some of the indicators about him. And so it's a real problem of getting people to report because they may not think it's enough, you know, for someone to go do surveillance or case out of place, but they may not know that someone else had already reported that he was posting aggressive things online. So I think what we were hoping is that you may not have all the pieces of the puzzle, but you may have one really important one. So it's important for people to recognize that they can do something about it, and that there are resources out there to help stop it.

William Padmore: How prominent is the issue of extremist ideology in relation to violence in America right now? Now, while obviously it's concerning, and seemingly occurring more often, is it really? And is it something that people everyday people should be concerned about and on the lookout for?

Gina Ligon: There's a lot of people who have extreme ideological beliefs, whether they be conspiracy beliefs about what the government is, or is not doing or beliefs about what is in the COVID vaccine. There is a very small percentage of those individuals who would engage in violence on behalf of those beliefs. And so I think one of the important things about this document is that it moves the observable indicators from the ideas or the beliefs - the conspiracy thoughts - which you're are right, a lot of Americans are adhering to right now, and moves it to focusing on what actually moves that person from holding that extreme idea to wanting to act violently on behalf of it. And I think that's something that we struggle with in America, because we do have the First Amendment protected right to believe anything you want, including conspiracy beliefs and really hateful ideology, which is what this person seemed to espouse online. But we do not have the right to act violently on behalf of that. And so I think what we're hoping is that this document kind of focuses on the violent behavior associated with those extreme beliefs.