Recent events in Nice, Paris, Dallas, Orlando and San Diego have ramped up the media coverage of the “Lone Wolf” attacker. The thing is, this is nothing new. Individuals can be inspired by whatever the inspiration flavor of the month may be. Radical Islamic fundamentalism, anti abortion fanatics, hate inspired violence directed at minorities, the lists go on and on, and individual “lone wolf” attackers have been directing violence towards innocents for a very long time all over the world.
What do we do about it here in the U.S.? Buy guns, arm guards, hire more police, pass laws restricting guns, cut immigration, add metal detectors? Pick your political position and drone on. Adoption of new laws and restrictions, failure to adopt laws and restrictions, more of something and less of another are just attempts to add to our collective comfort level, but none of them address the root cause of the lone attacker nor do they address the simple ingenuity used in these attacks. Our best defense is prior intelligence work in identification, intervention and disruption before anything happens.
The perpetrators of these violent acts are disenfranchised, committed, often disturbed and looking for a way to attract attention to themselves and their cause through their violent outrageous actions. They gravitate to a cause they can identify with and find a community of like-minded people, many of whom have no tendency to act out violently themselves, but who can see the ones among them who would. The members of these groups just choose to say nothing, don’t want to be the ones who point the finger at a fellow believer or just assume it’s all talk. It’s no surprise to some of the people who know or interacted with these individuals that they have strong feelings about a particular cause, paying attention to what these outliers say and do is critical to identifying the potential attacker. Often the trail to the attack is clear in hindsight, but identification and intervention with these ticking time-bombs is really not that tricky. It’s the obligation of the people who don’t agree with our system to identify those among them who are likely to act out with violence. Letting law enforcement and intelligence services have a look at the information and concerns can make a difference, not always, but it’s better than nothing.
Threat assessments of individuals are more art than science, it’s not a perfect world and sometimes law enforcement contact with one of these individuals comes to no end. But, putting someone on notice they have appeared on the radar can sometimes be enough to disrupt their plans or put them on a path to other intervention.
See something, say something is more necessary within the circle of people who associate with these individuals. The people who see the social media posts that make them nervous and don’t say anything are letting us all down. The freedom of speech we all enjoy is where we find the first clues to preventing attacks. If you are a member of a group, friend of someone who starts talking about taking action or who seems to become more intense and focused on radical ideas its up to you to say something.
If there is any comfort we can find in this situation, scary as it is, the fact the attackers are Lone Wolves may be an indication the actual operational reach of organizations like ISIL is limited to the use of proxy’s whom they can inspire from afar, which is better for us than fighting them in large numbers here. Either way is bad, but one at a time we can deal with them. With help from the people who may see it coming, law enforcement can take action and has taken action to prevent, detect and deter these attacks.
Self-defense classes teach action is faster than reaction, this is the advantage of the Lone Wolf attacker. We end up reacting and picking up the pieces, but its too late then. To defend ourselves we need to know the punch is coming. We can only find that out by our intelligence and law enforcement work before the attack. For that, someone has to say something, give the investigators a place to start before the Lone Wolf starts running loose.