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FBI study: ‘Lone wolf’ attacks rare in U.S.; plotter profiles vary

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Nov. 14 (UPI) — An FBI report on gun violence perpetrated by “lone wolves” in the United States shows that single assailants are rarely truly alone in their activities — adding credence to the bureau’s belief that public awareness is key to foiling domestic plots before they unfold.

The analysis by the bureau’s Behavioral Analysis Unit examined terror attacks in the United States between 1975 and 2015 and found just 52 “lone wolf” plots. The profilers, however, found just one characteristic that linked those single assailants — they were all men. The lack of other common patters, the FBI said, makes predicting lone assailants extremely challenging.

“One key concept is there is no one demographic profile,” said agent John Wyman, chief of the Behavioral Threat Assessment Center, which conducted the research. “As a result, there’s no checklist or scoresheet someone can use to say whether this person’s a threat or not.”

The Lone Offender Terrorism Report focused on offenders who acted independently without any direction from a terrorist group or organization. It also analyzed motivational factors and backgrounds, including family and social behavior, radicalization, attack planning and observations from bystanders and friends.

The FBI found that in most cases of lone attackers, there were family, acquaintances or contacts online who’d been “in a position to notice troubling behavior.” More than half of them made “some effort to intervene or voice their concerns,” the report said.

“It is our goal that this report successfully enhances the public’s education and awareness of these types of attacks,” said FBI Critical Incident Response Group Assistant Director John Selleck. “By closely studying past lone offender behaviors and sharing the findings, we enhance our collective efforts to prevent future attacks and save lives.”

“But prevention is more than just a law enforcement effort,” added FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Law enforcement is working diligently to improve its collaboration and coordination with other government entities … as well as private sector partners and stakeholders, to share information.”

Although the lone assailants noted in the report lacked common traits, profilers said most were U.S. citizens, single and had some college education. More than half were not employed or in school at the time of their attacks — and most “appeared to experience mental health stressors.”

Thirteen of the 52 had been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, and the most common conclusion by analysts was they suffered from depression or bipolar disorder. Most also “demonstrated a pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others or a belief that others were plotting to harm them,” it noted.

The FBI released the lone offender study Wednesday, a day after it publicized its annual hate crimes report, which said such crimes have declined in the United States. It said violent crimes, though, have increased.

Thursday, pollster Gallup issued a survey that shows more Americans today view crime as an “extremely” or “very serious” problem than they did just last year — an increase from 48 to 52 percent.

The share of Americans who feel that way, though, is still down from between 2015 and 2017, when roughly 60 percent of respondents identified crime as an “extremely” or “very” serious problem in American society.

“Perceptions of U.S. crime are frequently different from the reality of how much crime is actually occurring,” Gallup said. “This is not to say Americans’ perceptions are entirely removed from reality. U.S. crime indeed decreased in the early 1990s, and Americans responded by becoming less likely in the decade that followed to say the crime rate was going up. This was short-lived, however, as their perceptions of increased crime rebounded even as federal crime statistics continued to grow.”

Less than half of respondents said the U.S. crime problem is “moderate,” “not too serious” or “not serious at all.” Women in the study tended to view crime as a greater problem.

Since Gallup began asking the question in 1989, the average share of respondents who viewed U.S. crime as a problem has been 67 percent. Less than a quarter said there’s “less” crime and 9 percent said the level has remained the same.

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