Researchers have found that ex-soldiers have a propensity to launch mass casualty attacks FILE PHOTO: Oath Keepers members provide security at an August 2015 protest in Ferguson, Missouri. © Getty Images / Scott Olson
A newly released US study has branded military veterans as the people most likely to carry out terrorist attacks, as well as the perpetrators with the best chances of being successful in causing mass casualties.
Former soldiers are 2.41 times more likely than extremist offenders at large to become mass casualty attackers, according to a report released this week by terrorism researchers at the University of Maryland. By comparison, people who had criminal records prior to being radicalized were only 1.26 times more likely than average to commit extremist attacks.
“Having a US military background is the single-strongest individual-level predictor of whether a subject . . . is classified as a mass casualty offender,” the study by Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) said. The group added that veterans are far more prone to violent extremism than potential offenders with more commonly discussed traits, such as a history of mental illness or being a “lone wolf.”
The study was based on data from thousands of extremist crimes and plots in the US between 1990 and 2022. Researchers found that 170 people with military backgrounds committed or attempted 144 mass casualty attacks in the US during that period.
Although about three in four terrorist plots were foiled by law enforcement before anyone was harmed, veterans had much better odds of success, the study showed. Perpetrators with a military history achieved their intent of killing four or more people in 9% of cases, compared with a 5.2% success rate for other types of offenders.
US Representative Mark Takano, a California Democrat, claimed earlier this year that the number of extremist crimes committed by former service members had quadrupled since 2010. A report released last October by the House Veterans Affairs Committee found that violent extremists with a history of US military service had killed 314 people and injured nearly 2,000 in the past 30 years. “Now, these are facts we simply cannot ignore,” Takano said.
START researchers found that US troops and former service members are not more likely than Americans at large to become radicalized, but once they take that step, they have a higher propensity to plot mass casualty attacks, “thus having an outsized impact on public safety.” The study linked more than 70% of the offenders with military histories to far-right extremism.
President Joe Biden and other Democrat politicians have hyped right-wing extremism as the nation’s biggest terrorist threat, partly by touting the January 2021 US Capitol riot as a racially motivated “insurrection.” Many current and former US troops were among the more than 1,000 people charged with crimes stemming from the Capitol breach.
Stewart Rhodes, the leader of a veterans group called the Oath Keepers, was sentenced last month to 18 years in prison after being convicted of seditious conspiracy for his role in the riot. He has called himself a “political prisoner,” vowing to become an “American Solzhenitsyn to expose the criminality of this regime.”
START recommended that the Pentagon provide “inoculation training” to prevent troops from becoming extremists.