The federal government on Tuesday released a study on the growing terrorism threat – men who call themselves “anti-feminists” or “involuntary celibates” and draw motivation for violence from their inability to develop relationships with women. Since 2014, attacks inspired by the “incel movement” and spanning the U.S. and Canada have left dozens dead.
Early intervention and behavioral threat assessments could be the difference between life and death for women targeted by the growing ideology, according to the 26-page report. The report concluded that while “there is no one profile of an individual who plans or executes an act of targeted violence,” investigators must consider potential targets when seeking to thwart attacks, as suspects routinely “explore multiple targets during the planning process, before making their final selection.”
The U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center took a deep dive into a series of red flags predating a shooting at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida, to determine how early intervention could save lives in the future. The NTAC routinely publishes research based on assessment of the current threat environment.
In the case of 40-year-old gunman Scott Paul Bierele there were countless warning signs. The man who opened fire inside Hot Yoga Tallahassee – killing two women and injuring four more before committing suicide – had previously been fired from multiple teaching jobs, barred from bars and apartment buildings, and once authored an 70,000 word revenge fantasy about a boy turned serial killer, according to the report.
“During his teen years, the attacker was accused of stalking his classmates, and he wrote stories that centered around violent themes,” said Steve Driscoll, lead research specialist at NTAC, in a briefing with reporters on Thursday. “One of those stories was 81 pages long and involved the protagonist murdering several girls before committing suicide. The female characters in the story that were killed, represented the attacker’s actual classmates from his high school, but he slightly changed the names in his writing.”
He was arrested three times for incidents of groping women in public. His roommates called him Ted Bundy, though social media users often referred to him as “Nazi.” His parents reported sleeping with their door locked and removing him from his niece’s birthday party after he touched young girls.
On the day of the shooting, Bierele uploaded a self-written song entitled “F*** ‘Em All”, describing his frustration with personal failures, to a public music-sharing website online. Before departing for the yoga studio, he left behind a note, reading in part: “If I can’t find one decent female to live with, I will find many indecent females to die with.”
According to the U.S. Secret Service’s analysis, Bierele was motivated to carry out violence by his inability to develop or maintain relationships with women. Although the origins of “anti-feminist” and “incel” movements vary, the shooter’s final crime in 2018 is part of a string of gender-based ideology-driven attacks calling for violence against women.
The report also investigated other recent incidents of violence linked to misogynistic extremism. In July of 2020, Roy Den Hollander, a self-described “anti-feminist” lawyer and fervent men’s rights advocate killed the son of U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas, motivated by a belief that “manhood is in serious jeopardy in America.” Itn dossiers later found by law enforcement, the 72-year-old called for a “revolution.”
Salas told CBS News’ 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker that the FBI determined her son’s attacker had been stalking her family. “He knew where obviously where I lived. He knew my routes to work. He knew the church we attended. He had Daniel’s school. He knew baseball games. Just a complete work up on me and my family,”.
The FBI also told Salas that the wounds sustained by Daniel appear to indicate he was trying to block Hollander from getting to her.
That same year saw a handful of incidents linked to “incel” terrorism: a shooting at an Arizona mall targeting couples, a machete attack at a Toronto massage parlor and a 23-year-old Virginia man who blew his hand off while tinkering with a bomb that federal authorities believe was meant to target a cheerleading performance.
In the case of the 2014 Isla Vista killings, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured fourteen others in a shooting, stabbing and vehicle ramming spree near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Three women were shot outside of a sorority house. Before executing his deadly attack, Rodger bemoaned not being able to find a girlfriend on social media, documenting his hatred for women, interracial couples and planed retribution.
A 2018 van attack in Toronto, left 10 people dead and 16 injured – the deadliest incident linked to the incel movement. Witnesses saw 28-year-old Alek Minassian plow into pedestrians, ranging from 22 to 94 years old, minutes after posting on Facebook: “the incel rebellion has already begun.” The attacker, convicted on 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder, had a history of praising Elliot Rodger online.
While the U.S. Secret Service may be known for their protection of presidents’ past and present, the agency has long studied and implemented behavioral threat assessment programs designed to identify potentially dangerous or violent situations that do not meet criminal thresholds. Tuesday’s report is intended to identify early warning signs of misogynistic extremists, with the goal of early intervention.
“Traditionally law enforcement and other public safety officials focus on crimes,” Dr. Lina Alathari, Director of NTAC said. “And so, if there’s no ‘direct threat’ or a criminal statute violated, they often feel that they can’t do anything. But what we know from the research and what we know from communities doing this successfully is that if you have a trained professional in threat assessment, in identifying warning signs and knowing what the proper resources are available… that’s when you have success stories.”
Behavioral threat assessment programs can be developed in any environment: workplaces, college campuses, state and local police. According to the U.S. Secret Service, recent success stories include comprehensive initiatives developed out of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and Pinellas County, Florida.
“It’s a growing field,” Driscoll said. “There’s more work to be done, but there are success stories, and there are programs being implemented specifically to identify and assess and intervene with individuals like this one,” he added, referencing Bierele.
NTAC trained over 26,000 individuals in 2021, with the goal of expanding even further in the year ahead. According to Alathari, participation in trainings have increased by 400% within the last four years.