Skip to content

Illustration by Security Management

FBI's Lone Offender Terrorism Report

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation released a report on domestic lone offender terrorism, finding that there have been 52 attacks between 1972 and 2015. The report, which was released on 13 November 2019, specifically studied attackers who operated independently of a terrorist organization.

The Lone Offender Terrorism Report analyzed the perpetrators of these attacks, looking into their backgrounds, behaviors, and the events that occurred in their lives leading up to the incidents. The report also studied bystanders of the attacks, who may have noticed something was amiss but failed to act.

“Prevention efforts are greatly enhanced by the early recognition and reporting of suspicious behaviors by those individuals around a person of concern,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in the report. These individuals could include family members, peers, and community members. Ultimately, such acts “may be preventable through early recognition and reporting of concerning behavior,” Wray said.

According to the report, the notably singular demographic trend among the study sample of offenders was that all were male. “Although women can and have engaged in acts of targeted violence, all 52 offenders in the lone offender terrorism study sample were men,” the report said. It also found that the majority of attackers (21 percent) were 30 to 34 years old. The youngest terrorist included in the report was 15 years old while the oldest was 88.

The study included information from FBI case files, police reports, academic research, and media reports. The results showed that 90 percent of the offenders were born in the United States, and 65 percent of the study sample were white/Caucasian. The other 18 attackers, or 35 percent of the study, pertained to five different racial demographics.

Also, the majority of these persons (70 percent) were arrested at least once as an adult prior to their lone attack. Of that group, at least 15 of the men were arrested for one or multiple violent offenses. Besides arrest records, the study looked into other indicators of violence and aggression, including interviews with people who knew the attackers.

Using the combined data, the report determined that at least 30 attackers had previously exhibited or participated in violence.

As for how the terrorists attacked their targets, the study found that the majority of the perpetrators (67 percent) used firearms. Of this group, 69 percent of the attackers legally bought the firearm; 19 percent illegally purchased the weapon; 15 percent borrowed a firearm; and 12 percent had stolen the weapon.

You can read through a full copy of the report, which was led by the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime and Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), and its findings here.