Having spent my adult life examining terrorism and crime in the United States and Afghanistan, I do not use the terms domestic terrorist or foreign terrorist when I think about the problems or solutions. While not all mass murderers in America are conducting their crimes to further a political or social agenda (often the key to defining terrorism), many are. Those who are not committing terrorism are still terrorizing their community, even if they are motivated to kill other humans for non-terrorist reasons.

This recognition that terrorists and mass murderers (and serial killers) are all capable of traumatizing a community, and often target the most innocent among us should lead solution-seekers to make smarter policy decisions at the local, state, and federal levels.

Understanding Terrorism a Key to Keeping People Safe

There are a few areas to examine and take action on. First, there needs to be a focus on the ideological radicalization of killers. Second, leaders must make sure that the likely targets are better protected. Finally, the nation must move beyond old ideas and debates and look for workable solutions.

The reason(s) why people murder is something I have examined all my life. I was thankfully spared being a victim of a mass murder in three places I frequented within just one decade of my life where I worked, ate, and conducted physical training. That led me to major in criminology in college and focus on mass murderers and serial killers. These insights into why people kill were helpful for me as a soldier assigned to operations in Afghanistan after September 11. To start decreasing mass murders, we need short-term and long-term approaches. Studying how murderers are indoctrinated and radicalized up until the moment they take action is critical to both.

Knowing what is driving people to kill, and then stopping that recruiting process is vital to the solution. To blindly await the next mass murder because preventing them seems too difficult is not a plan – that is admitting defeat. The recruitment of youth into deadly organizations or to commit mass murder for their ideals is a global problem; it demands a big focus.

Near-Term Actions to Take

The more near-term actions for slowing the pace of mass murder events include various ways to make soft-targets more difficult to attack. Mass murderers generally plan for their attacks carefully; they know where to strike and when. Often motivated by outdoing a previous killer’s death-count, mass murderers are seeking an easy location to reach their twisted goals. This is why schools, theaters, religious centers, and shopping venues are often targeted. They seek large crowds that will be distracted from what is happening and are likely ill-prepared to stop it.

To make it harder for mass murderers to choose a target in a community, police, security companies, and likely-target location, owners must act as one. They need to admit their flaws and weaknesses and find ways to fix them. This might include more patrolling, better technological warnings, better sharing of human intelligence on the threats, and better preparedness of first responders in those locations. The days of waiting for the police to arrive to stop a modern mass murderer are over. Minutes can mean dozens of lives regardless of the tool used to kill.

Decreasing the Impact and Keeping People Safe

As politicians debate current laws, it’s important to assess what every workplace can do within their current constitutional rights to decrease their chances of being attacked. The fight against the enemies inside our borders has to be addressed, and we need stronger measurements in place that more effectively protect all people inside the U.S. borders.

We can learn a lot from our decades-long battles with terrorists. We don’t have time to wait for constitutional amendments. Now is the time for new ideas and long-term activities to help decrease the radicalization of people that turns them into cold-blooded killing machines.


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Jason spent 23 years in USG service conducting defense, diplomacy, intelligence, and education missions globally. Now he teaches, writes, podcasts, and speaks publicly about Islam, foreign affairs, and national security. He is a member of the Military Writers Guild, works with numerous non-profits and aids conflict resolution in Afghanistan.