To date, there have been 307 mass shootings in the United States in 2018 alone — nearly as many mass shootings as there are days in the year. According to a study in the ScienceDaily Journal, more people have died or been injured in mass school shootings in the United States in the past 18 years than in the entire 20th century. This rise of uncharted violence and terror begs the ultimate question, why? In order to attempt to answer this complex question, we must first establish the psychological profiles of the typical offender and extrapolate based on those assessments.
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The key case studies this paper will consult are those of Robert Bowers and Cesar Sayoc.
On October 28th, Robert Bowers, 46, shot and killed 11 people when he stormed into the Tree of Life synagogue. Here are some of the characteristics identified in Bowers’ profile: 1. He possessed (and broadcasted) extreme bigoted views, and was likely radicalized entirely online. While in custody after the Pittsburgh shooting and upon receiving medical treatment, Bowers told a SWAT officer he wanted all Jews to die and also that [Jews] were committing genocide to his people, according to the police criminal complaint. But that was just a simple side comment as compared to his previous sentiments on the social media platform Gab. On this website, Bowers regularly posted vulgar anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic comments with the central theme that Jews were either threatening the sanctity of the United States on their own or that they were aiding and abetting illegal invaders to do the same. Thus, Bowers directed the highest concentration of his vulgar sentiments towards HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society). And according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s article Analyzing a Terrorist’s Social Media Manifesto, Bowers participated in a wider range of fixations and grievances shared across the broader far-right, including a call to arms against Antifa and a conspiratorial focus on the caravan of Central Americans fleeing violence. Additionally, the article went on to make the connection that much of Bowers’ online presence resembles those of countless other extremist users in that as with other alt-right killers, it’s likely that Bowers was radicalized entirely online. His posts on Gab echoed the classic themes in alt-right profiles: white genocide, nativism, and globalism. In this respect, Bowers is very similar to a lot of social media profiles operated by alt-right members. Additionally, there appear to be many similarities between Dylann Roof and Bowers — both were tired of seeing their ideological peers only active on the internet. They also shared similar ideological views around white genocide, and both targeted specific communities they saw as threatening and in need of cleansing (based on a steady intake stream of racist propaganda online). Both sought out victims in houses of worship. 2. He had no prior criminal history. One of the ways in which Bowers differs from the classic description of an alt-right extremist/killer is that he had no previous run-ins with law enforcement (discounting a traffic citation he received in 2015). According to a statement made by FBI Pittsburgh special agent Bob Jones on the day of the attack, we have no knowledge that Bowers was known to law enforcement before today. Even though Bowers had an active license to carry firearms, there are no records of previous any serious criminal activity he could have engaged in before this attack. 3. He was apolitical.
One additional characteristic Bowers possesses (which puts him in stark comparison to other killers) is that he was and remains completely apolitical. Police found Bowers’ voter registration listed as no affiliation in Allegheny County, PA. Bowers even stated on his Gab profile that for the record, I did not vote for [Trump] nor have I owned, worn or even touched a MAGA hat. He is on record as having even called Trump a globalist, not a nationalist. In other words, Bowers’ disdain for Trump and all other mainstream political parties was with the fact that he believed Trump had too many Jews around him. According to yet another one of his posts to the infamous Gab website, “Trump is surrounded by k****”, “things will stay the course.” Another post written two days before the shooting reads: “There is no #MAGA as long as there is a k*** infestation. 4. He had little to no higher education. Jim Brinsky, a childhood friend of Bowers, offered the testimony that although they drifted apart in high school, Mr. Bowers was not listed in any activities or sports in his 1989 junior class yearbook and that he does not appear in the next year’s book as a senior at all. In other words, it’s unclear if Bowers ever graduated high school. 5. He lived an isolated lifestyle.
For Robert Bowers, living alone with his grandmother as a 40 year old man seemed to be one of the additional factors that pushed him to commit this violent act. In addition, although his childhood friend Jim Brinsky never met Bowers’ parents — he got the impression that Mr. Bowers had a difficult home life. Fast forward to the present day, and he lives in an apartment complex and had no guests, lived alone, and watched television late into the night by himself. According to his neighbor Chris Hall, there was nothing about him, not even a bumper sticker on his car. According to the sentiments of Brinsky, he was pretty much a ghost.
Now, this paper will seek to develop a psychological profile for Cesar Sayoc — the man who was charged by the FBI for sending 13 mail bombs to prominent politicians and other figures in the Democratic party. Below are the specific characteristics of Sayoc’s psychological profile. 1. He was an avid Trump supporter and had (as well as broadcasted) extremely bigoted views. For the two months prior to mailing the package bombs, Sayoc parked his van (plastered with Trump supporter stickers) outside of the Ultra Gentlemen’s Club in West Palm Beach where he worked. Some of the stickers on his van depicted some of Trump’s critics with targets over their images. Although he was not known to his colleagues as having been involved with politics, Sayoc registered to vote as a Republican in 2016, and he posted prolifically on his two Facebook accounts and three Twitter feeds — often making the subject of his posts about attacking liberals and posting videos from Trump rallies he attended. He regularly posted about Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (the Democratic nominee in the Florida governor’s race) — attacking the politician more than 80 times in October alone. Not only was Sayoc obsessed with Donald Trump, but he also broadcasted his bigoted views widely to anyone who would listen. Although he didn’t make use of the same Gab online platform that Bowers did, Sayoc regularly told his employer about his views. According to Debra Gureghian, Sayoc’s manager at New River Pizza, he hated the Obamas. He called him a monkey and the n-word. He hated Hillary Clinton. He called her a lesbian And Adolf Hitler, he loved. Adolf Hitler he couldn’t say enough about. On social media, Sayoc even went on to explicitly threaten the politicians he so despised. On Twitter, Sayoc said Go Trump Trump Trump hey Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. And Eric Himpton Holder Sr. Stick your BS all crap you talk where sun doesn’t shine . We will meet your threats right to your face soon.Not option we will see you soon .Hug loved ones real close we aren’t ones. Although the tweet is barely legible, it’s clear that Cesar Sayoc admired Trump and hated every other politician and racial group in the Democratic party — and made explicit threats towards them online. 2. He had limited to no higher education.
Although Sayoc attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte from 1983 to 1984, he never graduated. He was an undeclared major who played on the school’s soccer team. Additionally, Sayoc went to Brevard College in North Carolina in 1980 but only attended classes there for three semesters (and did not ultimately graduate). 3. He was estranged from his family and lived alone. According to police reports, Sayoc appeared to be living in his van — and had been estranged from his family for several years. 4. He had issues with mental illness. When they first recognized Sayoc might have some difficulties with mental illness, his mother and sisters had urged him to seek medical treatment because he struggled with a lack of comprehension of reality, according to his attorney Ronald S. Lowy. Lowy added in a telephone interview that [Sayoc] thinks there’s nothing wrong with him. In addition, Lowy stated that as Sayoc’s condition worsened when he became estranged from his family, Sayoc had been looking to fill the void his father left and found it in 2016 when Donald Trump ran for President. In other words, Sayoc believed that his father had abandoned him in early childhood when he decided to return to his native Philippines — and looked to Donald Trump as a father figure. According to a cousin of Sayoc’s, he’s always been a little bit of a loose cannon. He’s always been a lost soul — too many steroids in his day. That stuff will melt your brain. Additionally, while on Good Morning America Sayoc’s lawyer said that although Sayoc was charismatic, he also seemed very immature and exhibited childish behavior, overall seeming like someone who was emotionally out of control. 5. He had a lengthy criminal history.
Police records indicate that Sayoc had an extensive criminal past. He was first arrested for a violent crime in 2002 when he threatened to throw a bomb and claimed that it would be worse than 9/11. For this crime, he ultimately pleaded guilty and was given a special sentence for which a formal conviction was never made (but probation was ordered). He was also arrested for theft in 1992 and 2014. This history stands in stark comparison to Bowers, who had never committed any violent crimes which resulted in an arrest — indicating that a violent act is not always indicative of a criminal history. Analysis and Concluding Thoughts After having made an evaluation of Bowers and Sayoc, there are some important differences to note. The first is that the criminal histories of the two attackers were completely different — Bowers had no arrests with the exception of a minor traffic citation and Sayoc had been creating bombs since at least 2002. Thus, criminal histories are no clear indication of any future acts of terror. Additionally, both attackers had different motives for committing their crimes — Bowers’ attack on the Pittsburg synagogue was religiously and ideologically motivated, whereas Sayoc’s attack on prominent Democratic politicians possessed more of a twinge of political motivation. Although these were some of the major psychological differences between the two attackers, they also possessed many similarities. Both men were living isolated lifestyles estranged from family members, both had a lack of formal to higher education, and both seemed to be radicalized online. According to Joe Navarro, a former FBI agent with the agency’s Behavioral Analysis Program has described the psychological profile of terrorists as wound collectors, in that you have individuals who are collecting wounds, they’re looking for social ills or things that have gone wrong, and they are nourishing these things that they’re ideating […] the solution for them is violence. Although the many attackers/terrorists the United States have had varied and complex backgrounds (with each one fitting a different set of characteristsics than the next), this psychological assessment seems to ring true as one of the unifiers for suspects of terrorism. That and the fact that most if not close to all terrorists are male. These kinds of psychological assessments are vital for rooting out future terror attacks from occurring, and for preventing as many unnecessary fatalities as possible.
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