San Bernardino Shooting Mirrors Fort Hood

Russ Read | Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter

Some terrorism and forensic psychology experts are noting San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook exhibited behaviors similar to Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan.

Former NSA operative and current national security columnist John Schindler shared his analysis of the situation on Twitter.

What is known about the perpetrators is limited, however there are some facts and details coming in that allow experts to draw basic conclusions and point to similarities to other events, and some of them may corroborate Schindler’s bold claim.

Dr. Kathryn Seifert, a noted forensic psychologist who specializes in multi-victim killers and terrorism, points out that there are many signs to look for that can help observers get a better understanding of mass shootings like the San Bernardino massacre that left 14 dead and 17 injured.

According to Seifert, there are two types of people who go on to perpetrate mass shootings: disgruntled employees, individuals who tend to be highly narcissistic, and radicalized individuals.

People in the first group — narcissistic shooters — tend to identify themselves based on their jobs. They place extremely high value on their status in the workplace. Seifert claims disruptions to or loss of a job can lead to what she calls a “crisis point,” the instance when a dormant individual makes the active decision to go violent. These perpetrators may have a history of violence or violent rhetoric or criminal activity that in many cases may be very subtle. Seifert points out that such warning signs can be as subtle as dismissively saying “I am going to kill you” or as blatant as physical altercations.

The second type of shooter Seifert outlines — radicalized individuals — has two subtypes. The first subtype mirrors non-radicalized shooters in that these individuals often have a history of criminal activity, violence, and/or tend to get into heated arguments over their beliefs. The second subtype tends to have mental illness or psychological issues making them vulnerable to radicalization.

Seifert points out that, on occasion, a perpetrator can engage in a mass shooting due to both radicalization and workplace issues. In the case of Fort Hood shooter Hassan, there is documented evidence showing he was radicalized and a keen follower of the now deceased radical American imam Anwar al-Awlaki. In addition, Hasan exhibited serious problems with co-workers and issues with superiors. Like Hasan, CNN reports Farook had multiple connections to known international terrorists.

After reaching the “crisis point,” shooters lead up to their decision to engage in a mass shooting in two different ways. Some will be blatant by engaging in increasingly violent rhetoric and behavior and others will withdraw and become loners. These individuals, who at one time may have been gregarious and friendly, will become loners and have subtle warning signs.

“The Navy Yard shooter fired a gun in his apartment ceiling,” notes Seifert, yet the issue was largely dismissed by law enforcement and his employer. According to MSNBC reports, Farook’s friends and colleagues noted he had become reclusive in recent months following his hajj (the mandatory Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslims who are physically and financially capable) to Saudi Arabia approximately two years ago. Farook met his wife, Tashfeen Malik, who was an accomplice in the shooting, while in Saudi Arabia and brought her to the U.S. on a visa as his fiance.

When asked about what can be done to prevent mass shootings, Seifert says “risk assessment needs to be applied more liberally.” According to Seifert, far too many shooters exhibit subtle behaviors that should have been flagged, particularly by human resources departments within the shooter’s place of employment. Seifert says catching a potential shooter as they exhibit potential behaviors can mean the difference between life or death. In particular, Seifert notes “we can longer ignore violent rhetoric… if someone exhibits violent acts or rhetoric, its important enough.”

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