When the Gunman’s Motive Remains a Mystery: Does It Matter?

Understanding folks’s motives could also be helpful for growing countermessaging, Dr. Cohen mentioned, nevertheless it has little worth in predicting who will commit future hurt. Though many mass shooters have purchased into extremist views together with radical Islam, misogyny and white supremacy, a overwhelming majority of individuals in any given chat room dedicated to these beliefs aren’t plotting mass homicide.

(By the identical token, a overwhelming majority of individuals with psychological diseases aren’t violent, and analysis suggests that the majority perpetrators of mass shootings had by no means been identified with a psychological dysfunction.)

A 2018 F.B.I. report analyzing 63 mass shootings barely mentions the phrase motive, as a substitute specializing in what specialists name pathways to violence. The report describes stress elements and “pre-attack behaviors,” like signaling an intent to hurt or displaying an uncommon curiosity in weapons. The gunmen in the examine exhibited, on common, between 4 and 5 such behaviors.

“We have a thing called narrative bias where people like to construct a story that they understand, that’s fairly simple and straightforward and they can apply retrospectively,” mentioned J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and F.B.I. guide. “Narrative bias can get in the way of us looking at all the possible motivations or contributions to the risk.”

Decades of knowledge present that the majority lone actor killers aren’t motivated by pure ideology, however are nurturing a private grievance — normally a loss, as of a associate or a job, that’s accompanied by anger, humiliation and blame of a specific group, Dr. Meloy mentioned. Of these folks with grievances, Dr. Meloy mentioned, solely a small subset views violence as a answer, and a fair smaller subset has the wherewithal to hold it out.

When offered with the detritus of a killer’s thoughts, the strands society chooses to extract can inform us much less about the perpetrator than they do about ourselves. The fondness of Timothy McVeigh, who bombed a federal constructing in Oklahoma City in 1995, for “The Turner Diaries,” a e book describing a authorities overthrow and a race warfare, was initially understood as proof of his antigovernment views. More recent accounts have used it to underscore his ties to white supremacy.

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