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The Lone Nuts

There have been three acts of domestic terrorism this month alone. And all have a single, unifying element.

In  Kansas, Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who specialized in late-term abortions, was shot and killed in his church on June 1.

The very next day, in Arkansas, two young soldiers working with Army recruiters were shot. Private William Long was killed, while Private Quinton Ezeagwula was wounded.

And this week, a security guard at the National Holocaust Museum was shot. Stephen Tyrone Johns was fatally wounded by the attacker, who in turn was wounded by John’s fellow guards.

The shooters’ motives all differ. In Kansas, it was apparently done by a radical anti-abortion nutcase. In Arkansas, the accused shooter is proclaiming jihad. And in Washington, D.C. the suspect is an octogenarian with a decades-long background of violence and hatred — of Jews, blacks, “neo-cons,” liberals, those not sufficiently right-wing, and so on.

Two of the suspects were apparently already on the radar of law enforcement. The Arkansas shooter had recently returned from Yemen, where he is suspected of having sought training from Islamic terrorists. And the D.C. shooter had served six years for attempting to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve in 1981.

But the single unifying element of the three is that they all apparently acted alone.

The “lone nuts” are notoriously the hardest to catch. Most conspiracies are broken when one of the conspirators — for whatever reason — lets crucial information slip. It can be an accident, an attack of conscience, or simple self-interest, but it almost always takes an informant to break such cases.

In these three shootings, though, that was never a possibility. Each was a “conspiracy of one,” confiding his plans in no one.

This should come as no great surprise. Often the most successful acts of violence are carried out by a single individual, acting alone. The men who shot Presidents Reagan and Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, and George Wallace, were acting alone. The Unabomber had no assistant. The Oklahoma City bombing and the D.C. Sniper attacks were carried out by two people each.

There’s a reason government targets groups prone to acts of violence. Intervention among those groups may prevent predictable outbursts of crime.

The Unabomber was caught after a tip from his family. The D.C. Snipers were caught due to the actions of concerned private citizens. And the Oklahoma City bombers were caught by a small-town cop during a traffic stop.

The unlimited access afforded by interconnectivity means that the power of a single individual to affect the course of history has never been greater than it is today. And in these past few weeks, we have been starkly reminded of the fact that the effect can be at least as negative as it can be positive .


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