Editorial: How Should We Respond to the Aurora Massacre?
In recent years, the frequency of mass-murders has risen. New mass murderers have better weapons and may use the information gleaned from prior mass-murders to increase the harm they inflict. A new record for the number of injuries was set last night in Aurora, Colorado by the latest mass-murder—James Holmes.
Although the motives of mass-murderers may not be political and they operate as single individuals as opposed to an organized network, their goals are the same as terrorists. Mass-murderers seek to kill large numbers individuals at the same time and inflict damage on our society as a whole. It’s time we recognized these individuals as terrorists or at least as psycho-terrorists and begin a national effort to end psycho-terrorism.
For nearly ten years, the U.S. has been engaged in a monumental response to 9/11. Currently, we continue to strengthen our defense against terrorism in the U.S. through a national initiative directed through the Department of Homeland Security. Janet Napalento has given two annual speeches on the The State of America’s Homeland Security. Her remarks are worth considering in terms of how our understanding of terrorists and how best to defend against terrorism has evolved. Her speeches (see highlights below) emphasize that Homeland Security requires a national effort that involves everyone and the threat from those within the United States is increasing.
If the U.S. can mobilize against other forms of terrorism, why can’t we do the same with psycho-terrorism? Why not have a centralized organization to research, coordinate and educate as well as act as a place where individuals can report suspicious behavior and develop new ideas in response to psycho-terrorism(see above video)? There are three common reasons/excuses why the U.S. has not previously developed such as program.
First, we’re told it’s not feasible. That is, we’re told that we can prevent terrorist acts by terror groups who are secretive, thoughtful and organized and in some ways sane but we can’t do anything about disorganized and mentally unstable individuals who want to achieve the same thing. James Holmes was unusual in terms of the degree to which he planned his attack over several months while real terrorists may implement plans over years or even decades with far greater financial support and organization than any psycho-terrorist. Unlike organized terrorists, most mass-murders exhibited disturbing and unusual behavior before they murdered anyone. That is, psycho-terrorists in many cases may be more easily detectable that other types of terrorists.
A related argument is that psycho-terrorists are totally unpredictable even though family members and others often report after the fact that the person exhibited many warning signs. For example, psycho-terrorists frequently become increasingly isolated and experienced new failures in their life before they attacked. For example, James Holmes had recently left school as had several other mass-murderers (e.g., Gabriel Gifford’s attacker). The same experts who claim that there is nothing we can before an occurrence, will also tell us they see patterns in Holmes and believe they know a great deal about his motivations and personal nature.
Clearly, expertise is available but it’s disorganized and not used to prevent psycho-terrorism. Every day forsensic psychologists attempt to unravel why criminal suspects may have committed violent acts—after-the-fact. Why not put their skills to use for people who are suspected of having a potential for future violence? Every day mental health professionals make decisions about the degree to which their patients constitute a threat to themselves and society yet their expertise is often not organized or utilized to prevent mass-murders but it used for profiling other types of terrorists.
If we’re going to understand how to prevent such crimes, then we’re going to have to be honest about what causes them. The first step in that process is to acknowledge who is an expert on various aspects of mass-murder prevention and who is not. Criminal justice experts are not experts on the human mind though some act as if they are when being interviewed by reporters. Those who claim that no mental illness was involved in these acts are almost uniformly unqualified to make that determination. In contrast, psychiatrists and psychologists who actually have the relevant expertise and knowledge of the research in this area are well aware that such mass-murders typically have mental health problems such as psychosis, schizophrenia, extreme depression and a wide-range of personality disorders. The only individuals who claim that mass murderers do not have mental health problems, seem fearful that such individuals will get off the hook by pleading insanity. That is, they don’t trust that the mental health system will protect such individuals from the public. They should display their mistrust of the system more openly and not attempt to make claims that these individuals have no mental health issues when they lack the evidence and the expertise to make such claims. They only impede our understanding of these individuals and how we can prevent such acts from occurring in the future.
A third argument is that it would impede individual rights if we question or investigate people prior to their committing mass-murder. That same issue was addressed in the case of other forms of terrorism by creating new laws that allow law enforcement to investigate individuals with a potential for terrorism. That process also involved training law enforcement officials in how to refer and handle reports of suspicious behavior. It allowed us to develop and coordinate our expertise. As noted by Janet Napalento(see below) law enforcement has made great strides in handling the huge mass of information about potential terrorists.
One need not arrest, incarcerate or commit all individuals who are suspected of having a high potential for mass murder, one simply has to deprive them of their weapons. Few gun owners believe that the mentally unstable who display a potential for mass murder or random violence should be allowed to possess dangerous weapons or other destructive devices and even Libertarians acknowledge that it is the government’s role to prevent violence. Rather, the argument has always been that the government will over-reach and wrongly take away the liberties of individuals who are not violent. In this case, that argument is especially weak as the law could be written so that only a grand jury could take away the right to posses dangerous weapons or allow an assessment of the number of dangerous weapons that a potential person has in their possession. In some cases such as Mr. Holmes, the right and ability to investigate would have been sufficient to undermine his efforts as it would have become readily apparent that he was an immediate danger to the public.
To the extent that we don’t understand how to prevent mass murder, a national effort would begin a process of coordinating research, appropriate dissemination of what we do know, bring new ideas to our attention (see video above) and coordinate efforts to prevent violence across disciplines and other areas of law enforcement. All that is really required is that we acknowledge that a person can be a terrorist without a clear cause, organization or mission.
Release Date: January 27, 2011
George Washington University
(Remarks as Prepared)
“So over the last two years, our approach has acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security – indeed, the whole Federal government and the military – cannot, itself, deliver security. Real security requires the engagement of our entire society, with government, law enforcement, the private sector, and the public all playing their respective roles.
bq. From day one, the Obama Administration has operated on the premise that security is a shared responsibility – that no matter who you are – from students and professors to first responders to everyday citizens – we all play a part.”
“Historically, our domestic counterterrorism efforts were based on the belief that we faced the greatest risk from attacks planned, and carried out, by individuals coming from abroad. But the arrests of an increasing number of U.S. persons on terror-related charges in the last two years mean that we must move beyond this paradigm. These include Najibullah Zazi, a legal permanent resident arrested in 2009 for plotting to attack the New York City subway system; Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen, who attempted to explode a car bomb in Times Square last year; as well as more recent arrests in Portland, Oregon; Dallas, Texas; and here in the Washington area.
Today, we operate under the premise that individuals prepared to carry out terrorist acts might already be in the country, and could carry out further acts of terrorist violence with little or no warning. We must all work to gain a better understanding of the behaviors, tactics, and other indicators that could point to terrorist activity."
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s 2nd Annual Address on the State of America’s Homeland Security: Homeland Security and Economic Security
Release Date: January 30, 2012
The National Press Club
(Remarks as Prepared)
“As I have said many times, homeland security begins with hometown security.
And as part of our commitment to hometown security, we have worked to get resources out of Washington and into the hands of state and local officials and first responders.
We have made great progress in improving our domestic capabilities to detect and prevent terrorist attacks against our people, our communities and our critical infrastructure.
We have supported our nation’s network of 72 fusion centers, increasing our ability to analyze and distribute threat information across the country.
We have invested in training for local law enforcement and first responders of all types in order to increase expertise and capacity at the local level.
We work with a vast array of partners, from local law enforcement to the private sector to community leaders across the country, all of whom are committed to doing their part to help keep America safe.
And we will continue to build upon those efforts.
At the same time, we have worked to protect Americans from natural disasters. Last year our nation saw remarkable examples of resilience grounded in this work. "
" Accordingly, security measures should, to the greatest extent possible, be designed to facilitate the safe and efficient movement of people and goods while securing our critical infrastructure.
Threats against our nation, whether by terrorism or otherwise, continue to exist and evolve. And DHS must continue to evolve as well."
by Todd Miller
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