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COMMENTARY: The Alexandria Factor – A New Look at Lone Wolf Terrorism    

Can Law Enforcement PREVENT Lone Wolf Attacks?      

The term, Lone Wolf Terrorist, has primarily been associated with radical Muslims. But the attack of Congressman Scalise in Alexandria has forever changed that narrow definition. James Hodgkinson isn’t a Muslim and wasn’t motivated by religion, but, he is a lone wolf terrorist.

Individuals with classic symptoms such as psychosis, exhibit identical behavior patterns as those who radicalize on ideologies. Dylann Roof, who killed 9 African Americans at Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina had a long struggle with mental health issues, and, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim Army psychiatrist, killed 13 people at Ft. Hood in the name of Allah. Both Roof and Hasan gave plenty of indications that they were ticking bombs though the public believed Roof ‘crazy’, but Hasan radicalized by ideology.”  So, what’s the common thread?

Hodgkinson, Roof, Hasan and Boston bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were all driven by ideology, and whipped up into a violent frenzy by like-minded folks. The press labeled Hodgkinson as mentally unstable but didn’t paint Tamerlan with the same diagnostic brush. The Alexandria shooting has demonstrated that lone wolf terrorist come in different flavors. The fact that Hodgkinson had a political agenda does not place him in a separate category.

These types of attacks will continue indefinitely unless we prevent rather than react to lone wolf attacks. Our mentality should no longer accept a low body count with the rationalization of, “It could’ve been a lot worse.”  So, how does law enforcement identify the attacker prior to the bullets and bombs? The easy answer is that we’ll have to hurt some feelings.

After every lone wolf attack special interest groups, politicians and the media blame law enforcement. They wonder why we didn’t prevent the attack since the attacker was a known entity. They feign outrage that the subject wasn’t under surveillance. It requires 12 agents per 24-hour shift, to surveil one suspect. America has thousands of terrorist suspects so the math makes it impossible. But if a cop or FBI agent ever snatched up a lone wolf suspect, minus an arrest warrant, the same groups would scream 4th amendment violations. If America truly wants to prevent lone wolf attacks, then something has to change. As you’re reading this, lone wolf terrorists are planning to kill you and your family.

Here’s the simple solution to significantly mitigate lone wolf attacks in America.

  1. Profile – A dirty word to many but a very successful investigative technique.
  2. Increase involuntary commitments to psychiatric units. This involves a 96 hour period of observation and evaluation. Only very specific facts should trigger the commitment such as irrational behavior coupled with a history of violence, verbal or written threats, and combined with assault, drug and weapons convictions. Also, this individual should not be allowed to purchase or own a firearm.
  3. Enforce laws that have penalties for, “Incitement to Violence.” Individuals who communicate real threats to groups or individuals and encourage others to join them in violent acts should be immediately questioned by police. There is a recent precedent case in the US where Michelle Carter was convicted of manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide via texts.
  4. Make the WATCH list a STOP list. There are a few hundred thousand people on our Watch List. They land on the list by having suspected terrorist ties but every day at our ports of entry, thousands of watch list designees are waived though customs, with a, “Have a nice day.” And no one is watching them.
  5. Eliminate the restrictions on mosque surveillance. President Obama has placed mosques off limits to law enforcement. Many lone wolf terrorists are radicalized at US mosques.
  6. Develop human intelligence. Lone wolf terrorists do not operate in a vacuum. They provide clues to their intentions on social media and to friends and family members. It’s only AFTER victims lay in the street that these individuals admit that they “knew this would happen.”
  7. Allow law enforcement to follow suspects to encrypted sites. Law enforcement monitors open social media and follow individuals who are espousing violence against the country or members of the Republican party, but a warrant is required to follow suspects to the dark web.

If America doesn’t take aggressive action on lone wolf terrorism, then we’ll eventually have checkpoints on our highways, barbed wire around our schools and empty malls and sports stadiums.


John Ligato

John Ligato (USMC-retired), is a former deep cover FBI Special Agent and author of the new book, The Near Enemy: A John Booker Thriller. Ligato has been an adjunct college professor, teaching counter-terrorism and international security at Campbell University at Camp Lejeune, NC. John is a South Philly native who found himself with the lead contingent of Marines into Hue' City during the 1968 TET offensive in Vietnam. He captured the 6th NVA flag at the St. Joan of Arc school, which was displayed in the Marine Corps Museum. John was awarded three Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam in addition to other valor awards. The American Hero channel recently featured John in a documentary titled, Against the Odds. For 10 years, John worked with developmentally disabled children before joining the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where he infiltrated the Italian Mafia and spent 8 years in deep cover. The 2006 movie 10th and Wolf is a loosely based bio of his life. In 1999 John received the Attorney General's and Director's award for investigative excellence.

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