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Crime & Justice

The rise of the 'lone wolf' gunman




Ali Breaux, center, sister of Mayci Breaux, is comforted outside the Church of the Assumption, after her sister's funeral in Franklin, La., Monday, July 27, 2015. At right, is their mother Dondie LeBlanc Breaux. Mayci was one of two people killed in Thursday's movie theater shooting in Lafayette, La.  (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Ali Breaux, center, sister of Mayci Breaux, is comforted outside the Church of the Assumption, after her sister's funeral in Franklin, La., Monday, July 27, 2015. At right, is their mother Dondie LeBlanc Breaux. Mayci was one of two people killed in Thursday's movie theater shooting in Lafayette, La. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Gerald Herbert/AP

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The theater shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana last week is just the latest in a series of public killings committed by ‘lone wolf’ gunmen. Just days before that, a gunman killed four Marines at a naval center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Domestic terrorism is now one of the biggest threats to public safety in America.

Heidi Beirich studies lone wolf-style domestic terrorism for the Southern Poverty Law Center. She profiled gunman John Russell Houser for Take Two:

"He basically believed every idea that is propagated by the radical right in this country. He was looking for white power groups, he liked Hitler, he expressed anti-Semitism, he hated the government, and we know there was at least one case in 2005 that he registered for a conference that was being hosted by David Duke, the long-time klansman," she said.

She says Houser may have chosen to attack at the movie “Trainwreck” because of actress Amy Schumer’s outspoken feminist views. "He also did not like liberated women," Beirich explains.

Prior the attack, Duke posted a disturbing message on the website for Golden Dawn, a right-wing neo-Nazi group based in New York. The post has since been taken down. In it, he wrote, "I do not want to discourage the last hope for the best, but you must realize the power of the lone wolf, is the power that [comes] forth in [all] situations." Beirich says this post was particularly disturbing for a number of reasons.

"When he’s talking about the power of the lone wolf, he’s talking about the power of a lone gunman who kills people who are opposed to a political ideology that a lone wolf believes in … The basic idea is [that] it’s easier to commit that kind of violence and have the government not find out about it because you’re not involved in a cell. You’re not part of a group. You can commit the violence you want and basically be successful [with] it," she said.

Beirich says people like Houser frequently use the internet to air grievances and conspire with like-minded extremists. She refers these people as ‘wound collectors,’ for their inability to let go of everyday injustices. She says older gunmen like Houser often carry around anger for decades. "We’re actually seeing that some of these folks, as they approach the end of their lives, may decide to take the route of violence when they become desperate," she explains.

Beirich contends, even though shooters gain infamy in the media, the coverage lends to an ongoing national conversation about political policies, and where the country is focusing its anti-terrorism resources.

"The United States needs to not forget that, until the 1960s, until things like the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, we were basically a white supremacist country by law," she said. "So it’s not surprising that these kinds of beliefs continue, and they’re held by hundreds-of-thousands of people. And that makes it, I think, very important as a part of public discussion."