Mass Shootings And Extremism Are Top White House Concerns : The NPR Politics Podcast Vice President Harris is in California after a number of mass shootings in the state. The US Secret Service is out with a report documenting trends in attacks resulting in mass violence. And details on how one Nazi extremist group is recruiting new members in Florida.

This episode: White House correspondent Scott Detrow, politics reporter Deepa Shivaram, and domestic extremism correspondent Sergio Olmos.

This episode was produced by Elena Moore and Casey Morell. It was edited by Eric McDaniel. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi. Research and fact-checking by Devin Speak.

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Mass Shootings And Extremism Are Top White House Concerns

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SCOTT: This is Scott (ph). And I'm here with my son...

KURT: Kurt (ph). We are currently at Sydney International Airport...

SCOTT: About to start our 16-hour flight back to the USA to visit family and friends in Florida, Tennessee and New York City. This podcast was recorded at...


Scott, among many other things, I want to congratulate you on achieving the ability to take a 16-hour plane flight with your kid. Congratulations. Incomprehensible to me...


DETROW: ...But I believe in you. It is 1:06 Eastern on Thursday, Jan. 26.

KURT: Things may have changed by the time you hear it. OK. Here's the show.


SHIVARAM: Nothing like some good airport ambient sound, am I right?

DETROW: We've been - everyone's moving around this week in the time stamp. We've got ships going through the Arctic and people cross-country skiing and flights to Australia. It's all over. I'm just sitting in my basement right now. What am I doing wrong?

SHIVARAM: (Laughter).

DETROW: Hey, there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

SHIVARAM: I'm Deepa Shivaram. I cover politics.

DETROW: And NPR's Sergio Olmos is here, as well. Hey, there.


DETROW: Vice President Kamala Harris is in California today, visiting a state which has experienced mass shooting upon mass shooting in recent days. Sergio, before we get into our broader conversation today, just give us the latest on those horrible, back-to-back shootings, what we know at this point in time.

OLMOS: Yeah, I went out to Monterey Park a couple of hours after the shooting was reported. There were - now 11 people have been killed in that mass shooting in Monterey Park. There was another mass shooting in Half Moon Bay, where seven people have now been reported dead. Vice President Harris visited on Wednesday to pay respect to the victims of the Monterey Park shooting. This year, there's been 40 mass shootings, as reported by the Gun Violence Archive. That's the largest number at any point in the year to date.

DETROW: And as we shift into the broader conversation here, it is important to say there's a lot we still don't know about these shootings, right?

OLMOS: That's right. In the early hours, there was a lot of fear, especially people I talked to who went out to the crime scene, that this was a hate crime. And police were quick to say that it's going to take some time to try to discover the motive.

DETROW: Deepa, you just wrote on a big new report from the U.S. Secret Service that unfortunately is now well timed to two more high-profile mass shootings. And that is a close look and an attempt to analyze trends at five years' worth of these mass killings.

SHIVARAM: Right. So this is a report, and this is something the Secret Service has been releasing on a year-by-year basis for a while. They've done reports on, like, looking at mass attacks in 2017 and 2019, things like that. But this is the first time the Secret Service has released a report with five years' worth of data. So this looks at 173 mass attacks that took place in the country from 2016 to 2020. And the Secret Service defines a mass attack as an incident where three or more people were harmed. That's either injured or killed, and those three people do not include the attacker or attackers themselves.

And so this is really the first time that we're seeing trends in a larger picture of, like, a five-year period of time to see everything from where these attacks took place - was it in a business? Was it in a school? Was it in another personal setting? They also examined everything from, you know, what kind of weapon was used? Was the weapon acquired illegally? Did the person already have that weapon on them? And then also big things, like behavioral changes. Did people close to the attacker report those kinds of concerns about change in behavior?

They looked at the online presence of these attackers. Were they posting online? Did they have a large online presence? So basically, everything that they can kind of gather on these incidents - the 173 mass attacks that they looked at - to sort of try to put together some trends in hopes that, you know, maybe it provides enough data to sort of track these things to prevent future mass attacks.

DETROW: And unfortunately, there's a very large sample size to comb through at this point in time.


DETROW: What jumped out to you among all of the different trends that this report laid out?

SHIVARAM: The thing that always jumps out to me, Scott, is looking at the history of domestic violence amongst attackers who commit these kinds of violent crimes and how much misogyny and violence towards women really does play a factor and is a large trend. In the report, of those attackers, 64% had a prior criminal history. That doesn't include things like minor traffic violations. And 41% of the attackers were found to have a history of domestic violence. And the crazy thing is that only 16% of those individuals had any domestic violence charges. And so we know that violence towards women plays a big role in these kinds of trends that we're looking at.

The other thing that was pretty interesting - and this is something that we kind of talk about often - is the online presence of people who commit these violent crimes. A majority of them did have an identified presence online, and nearly a quarter of these mass attackers were found to have what the Secret Service called, quote, "concerning communication." So those are things like threats that they've said, posting online about ideas of suicide, posting about other mass shootings and then, also, particularly any kind of content that's, like, hatred towards a specific ethnic group.

DETROW: A couple other trends that I want to ask about - but first, a lot of the things that you laid out are clear red flags - right? - and in many cases, repeatedly coming up in these people's history. So did this report have any suggestions on what law enforcement can do to better respond to these red flags, especially situations where people are coming into contact with the judicial system?

SHIVARAM: It's hard to say. There is no roadmap that comes out of analysis like this, where, you know, an organization or an agency like the Secret Service can say, OK, here are the, you know, 173 attacks we've looked at, and this is how we're going to prevent mass attacks in the future. They did make it pretty clear that there are - there is no community, there is no group of people that are immune to facing some kind of mass violence that has occurred at a terrifying rate in this country.

But the thing that is apparent in this report are behavioral symptoms that come up over and over again. So you have these data points like having a criminal history, like having a domestic violence history as well. But then also a good half of the report was talking about how people who surrounded these attackers had flagged concerns. They had flagged concerns to their coworkers, to their employers, to, you know, people who worked in their orbit. Some people - family members - had reported this to law enforcement.

And so the thing that the Secret Service is kind of hammering home now is like, hey, we have all of this data. And now what they're trying to do is push it out into communities. And one of the people who works at the Behavioral Threat Center at the Secret Service who was talking us through all of these data points - was that the biggest barrier that communities face is not simply being able to collect this information, but then being able to talk to each other. What the Secret Service is trying to do now is sort of not only collect that information and get it out into communities, but make sure that they can kind of help train different groups around the country. They said that they were holding a virtual session to kind of talk through this report. And 21,000 people signed up in all 50 states and 80 different countries to kind of help collect the best methods to sort of take this data, and what they can do with it in these communities.

DETROW: Sergio, you cover this world. Is there anything in this report, from what you're hearing from Deepa, that surprises you? Is there anything that you're thinking, oh, yeah, that makes a lot of sense, that's what I see every single time I cover these stories?

OLMOS: Just to not forget the obvious thing is that a lot of this stuff with far-right extremism, with violence, is that it's primarily a men's thing. I spend time with a lot of these far-right groups. It is a big men's problem. And violence against women is, like, the underlying thing that you can connect all of them with. It's obvious, and we forget that it's there, but this is a serious issue that men are primarily responsible for. They're the ones carry out most of these attacks.

DETROW: All right. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to talk some more about some of your reporting, especially from Florida, where you just got back from. We'll be right back.

We are back. And, Sergio, you focus specifically on domestic extremism. And this was a broader report. It didn't signal that as a main driver of these events, though we know it is certainly a big trend line, and it is something that federal agencies are now paying more attention to, especially since Jan. 6.

OLMOS: That's right. Federal agencies are paying more attention to domestic extremism. The Department of Homeland Security and the attorney general, Merrick Garland, in 2021 declared that white supremacists were the country's largest threat. We know that since the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, that many more Americans have kind of become aware of how serious this issue is. What we're seeing is that in many ways, some of the big brand names like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, you know, they're facing seditious conspiracy trials.

We know Enrique Tarrio's on trial right now. But there are many far-right groups out there and there, are many people who are not necessarily in a far-right group. We saw that with - again, with Jan. 6 - some of Robert Pape's work on this - that many people that stormed the Capitol were not affiliated with any violent extremist group prior to storming the Capitol. So there are a lot of, primarily, men out there who are being radicalized either online or in groups, and many of them are prone to violence.

DETROW: And I think one of the things that has - at this point, the trend has been happening so long that I don't think surprised people, but certainly one of the most shocking elements of this growing trend, to me and a lot of other people, has been how blatant people have become about it, right? This is not something that happens in the shadows. This is not something that people try and hide. Increasingly, people are blaring hateful symbols that you thought, by and large, had been vanished from society, you know, on buildings all over the place, and I know you were just doing some reporting about Nazi groups in Florida.

OLMOS: Yeah, that's right. We spent some time with this Nazi group, and I won't say their name to just not give them, like, free publicity. But they're a Nazi group. They're kind of like a street gang. I mean, they have an online presence, but they have a presence in real life, and they have an expensive piece of equipment that shines, like, images onto buildings very large. So what they do is they strategize around, for example, NFL playoff football games. There was a playoff game in Jacksonville, Fla., and they shined hateful images onto Jacksonville's tallest buildings - so swastika and other things. They portrayed Jews in hateful ways onto buildings so that thousands of people attending the game could see, but also hoping that the cameras would pick that up and they'd be trending on Twitter.

And you know, we spent the night watching them do this to try to understand how this far-right group - you know, this Nazi group operates. And you should know that while they're shining these images, they have somebody at home tracking Twitter, for example, to see if this is trending. They're trying to get trending. They also talked about how shining these images on buildings is one way, but their biggest way to recruit is to attend some of these more mainstream protests. In Florida, there's a lot of protests against drag shows, and they go to those in the hopes of trying to on-ramp people onto Nazism. They talk to people who are maybe conservative or whatever, and they slowly try to talk them into harder and harder stuff. And even Proud Boys who feel that, you know, Proud Boys are not going as radical as they want - they kind of bring them over to the Nazi side.

So this is a legit, you know, Nazi gang that's operating in Jacksonville, and they work in collaboration with other far-right and Nazi groups. And they have a plan. They're not a big presence, right? But there are lots of these groups like this, and they are serious. And this is a law enforcement issue, you know, specifically, but in the broader context, like, this is a serious political issue that, you know, voters have to think about.

DETROW: And, Deepa, you have spent some time covering the Department of Justice, covering the prosecution of some of the people charged related to Jan. 6. This is very much on the radar of the Biden administration, right?

SHIVARAM: This is something that Biden himself has been, you know, very outspoken on. You remember, he launched his campaign for president in 2020 with the idea of what happened in Charlottesville in 2017 - the Unite the Right rally - the hateful violence that was going on over there. And that was the moment that he himself decided that he was going to run for president. And this has been something that has been a priority throughout his administration so far.

If you guys remember back in September of last year, the White House held a summit on white supremacy, a summit on combating hate, especially hate online. And going back to Charlottesville - Heather Heyer was killed that day, and her mom, Susan Bro, spoke at this summit at the White House, so this is something that the administration has definitely been keeping an eye on, particularly, as you said, from the Department of Justice's perspective as they go through the trials right now for the Proud Boys and all of the insurrectionists that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. It's still very top of mind for this administration.

DETROW: All right. Well, Sergio Olmos, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate your reporting.

OLMOS: Thank you.

DETROW: That story you talked about we'll be posting next week on NPR. Look forward to hearing it and reading it. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

SHIVARAM: I'm Deepa Shivaram. I cover politics.

DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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