I was particularly interested in the lone terrorist because I was in Phoenix this January visiting friends when Jared Loughner shot and killed six people, injuring 19, in nearby Tucson. There has to be a way for mental health professionals to see this coming. I wanted to look into the phenomenon of the lone terrorist for this blog and decided to start with a person who is part of The Society and has defined the lone terrorist, Dr. Kathleen Puckett. Here are some interview questions I asked.
Gary: How did you get into this study of the lone terrorist?
Kathleen: I was working for the FBI and they had hit a dead end with trying to locate the Unabomber so they decided to give up on the profilers and called my partner and I in to start a new task force and take a fresh look at the situation. The Unabomber went underground for almost six years and didn’t kill anyone so he was not fitting the patterns of a serial killer. The people working on the case said he was either in prison or dead, but then he showed up again.
Gary: That sounds like a pretty daunting task. How did you approach the project at that point?
Kathleen: We figured that everything they were doing up to that point was leading them no place so we had to go in and do things differently. We got carte blanche from the Director of the FBI, and we went back and looked at all the scenes, all the victims and everyone involved. What we realized were the victims were totally unrelated and symbolic of something or some institution.
Gary: The Unabomber was given up by his brother, was your investigation successful?
Kathleen: We had thousands of leads that we were looking into and Kaczynski was on the list. We would have gotten to him, it just steered us there quicker when we got the leads from his relative. As soon as we saw the writings, it just popped in us.
Gary: What else did you do to study the lone terrorist? I saw you on a TV show for McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing? Did you study others?
Kathleen: I took to studying the ten biggest lone terrorists in the past years. Kaczynski, McVeigh and Nichols, Eric Robert Rudolph…
Gary: The Olympic Bomber?
Kathleen: Yes. And a number of other facilities for abortions in the south. I studied the lone terrorists and found some very common attributes. First, all had desired to leave a mark on the earth. They wanted to make an impact. Their victims were symbolic, not individuals to them. None really resisted arrest, yet they did work for escape.
Gary: McVeigh was driving away in a car without a license plate?
Kathleen: But he was driving away. He would have escaped and probably killed again if the cop didn’t see he lacked a license plate. He wanted the death penalty. He didn’t care what the victims thought about the bombing, in fact told them to “get over it” instead of showing empathy.
Gary: Real psychopathic response.
Kathleen: More than psychopathic. The lone terrorist has no social connections. Not like Bin Laden who is the most well known terrorist with a purpose, these people have no social connections. In fact, many of them were turned down by radical right wing groups because the groups felt they were crazy. I remember McVeigh was look for friends and tried to join with the Michigan Militia and they thought he was too nuts and didn’t want to have anything to do with him.
Gary: Interesting. So these people are really disconnected? What about the Arizona killer, Loughner? He was disconnected from everyone.
Kathleen: But he had a definite target person and he believed the government was controlling the world through the use of grammar. Notice he was found incompetent to stand trial. The lone terrorists tend to be able to help in their defense. They may be crazy, but they are competent and there is sort of a logic to their thinking. It is a small distinction, but one that need to be made. Loughner actually knew who his target was in advance. The lone terrorist doesn’t care who his target is as long as they are symbolic.
Gary: And what about school shooters. Can they be seen as lone terrorists?
Kathleen: Most school shooters identify their targets and even know some of them, so they really don’t fit this pattern.
Gary: Wow. It is a whole new way of thinking about terrorism. I understand you went to an auction of the Unabomber stuff?
Kathleen: Yea. He was ordered to give restitution to his victims so they auction off his stuff online. Do you realize the hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses are now at $20,000 and the auction isn’t over yet? I guess people collect all kinds of things.
Gary: Could be a museum of the macabre, also. Kathleen, where can people get more information on this fascinating distinction? You have a book somewhere, right?
Kathleen: Yes. It’s called Hunting the American Terrorist: The FBI’s War on Homegrown Terror. I wrote it with Terry Turchie in 2007. It is published by History Publishing Company and it is in digital format also.
Gary: Thank you very much Kathleen.”
If you enjoyed this interview, sign up to receive updates for more posts on the latest in police psychology and stress management.
Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
For books by Dr. Gary Aumiller go to www.myherodad.com or www.myheromom.com