Earlier this month, the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, or START, released a report with a shocking finding: A military background is the “single strongest individual-level predictor” that an extremist will plan or carry out a mass-casualty attack. From 1990 to 2022, the study revealed, about one quarter of people who plotted a mass-casualty extremist crime — defined as an event in which the perpetrator planned to kill four or more people — had at one point served in the military. The rate at which they successfully carried out such attacks was twice as high as those without military experience.

But before we get too far, let’s contextualize START’s findings: First, the study looked only at a certain set of dangerous extremists, not the military at large. A recent RAND survey found that veterans are no more likely than the general public to support extremist groups or beliefs, and are actually far less likely to support white nationalism — the prevailing ideology behind the greatest number of extremism-related murders most years, according to the Anti-Defamation League — than other Americans. Additionally, most mass killings are perpetrated with guns; former service members are often more receptive to firearm restrictions than civilians.

That said, the RAND survey also found that veterans expressed support for the necessity of political violence at about the same rate as the rest of Americans — that is, almost one in five service members not on active duty agreed on some level that “true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.” And, per Military Times, the overall number of veterans involved in extremist crimes has dramatically increased over the past 30 years. 

Domestic extremist groups — many of which are animated by guns — like the Oath Keepers militia, the Proud Boys, and the Three Percenters often seek out veterans and active-duty service members for their experience with combat and surveillance, among other skills. And while the proportion of veterans who get involved with extremists is relatively small, the START study shows that extremists with military backgrounds pose an outsize threat.

Just as there’s no single reason why Americans at large are radicalized, neither is there one for why a service member who has vowed to protect the country might come to hold extremist sympathies. Some enter the military already holding extremist beliefs. But others might be radicalized while dealing with the unique vulnerabilities that come with being a veteran, like the difficult transition from a regimented lifestyle to the chaos of civilian life, and the identity crisis that comes with it; mental health and substance use with little support from the government; and trouble finding new employment after the military. Extremist groups often target those who appear to be struggling the most for recruitment.

After the January 6 insurrection, in which many veterans participated, the Defense Department indicated that it would undertake a more concerted effort to combat extremism within the ranks. But a year and a half after an agency working group issued six policy recommendations to that end, the Pentagon has essentially abandoned that effort in the face of Republican backlash. Meanwhile, veterans themselves are taking action: They’ve formed groups like Task Force Butler, Veterans for Equality, and Veterans for American Ideals to address extremism at home.

There might be another factor at play. The Intercept’s Peter Maass notes that service members returning from World War I and II, and the Korean and Vietnam wars also turned to domestic terror; the current uptick in veteran extremism aligns closely with the apparent end of the war on terror. But Maass makes the point that veterans aren’t the only ones changed by war, and directs our attention to comments from historian Kathleen Belew: “I think it’s reflective of something bigger, which is that the measure of violence of all kinds in our society spikes in the aftermath of war,” Belew said. “There’s something about all of us that is more available for violent activity in the aftermath of conflict.”

From Our Team

Mr. Dad’s Father’s Club Aims to Build Up Chicago’s Youth: Many young people in Chicago don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods. Through his nonprofit, Joseph Williams is trying to change that — one book at a time.

One Major Factor Missing From the Gun Safety Debate: Alcohol: Regulation around the intersection of guns and alcohol is a patchwork that depends on inconsistent definitions of alcohol abuse.

In Brooklyn, Teens Learn to Treat Gunshot Wounds Before Ambulances Arrive: Young New Yorkers learned how to administer potentially lifesaving care if they encounter a shooting victim.

Bill to Regulate Defective Firearms Is Reintroduced in Congress: This is the fourth consecutive Congress in which Representative Debbie Dingell has introduced her bill.

What to Know This Week

Democrats are moving forward with legislation to change the Supreme Court’s ethics standards. The announcement comes after a ProPublica investigation revealed that Justice Samuel Alito failed to disclose luxury trips paid for by a GOP megadonor who has repeatedly had business before the court. [Politico] Context: Gun safety groups have signed on to a larger progressive effort to expand the Supreme Court and reform its ethics rules.

A 3rd Circuit judge ruled that New Jersey can once again limit where people can carry concealed firearms, the latest development in the court battle over the state’s new gun restrictions. [New Jersey Monitor

The Justice Department released a damning report on racism and brutality within the Minneapolis Police Department earlier this month. But the force’s history of malpractice goes much further back than what’s detailed in the DOJ findings. [The New Republic

President Joe Biden has made a number of claims about guns in speeches and campaign remarks over the past couple weeks. How many of them are true? [CNN

More than a million Americans are violently attacked in the workplace each year, but there are no state or federal standards specifically requiring business owners to protect their employees from such on-the-job violence. In California, that might change — depending on the outcome of a legislative dispute between labor and industry. [Capital & Main]

A Philadelphia high school student was banned from attending prom and graduation after he was shot 10 times. The school’s chief administrator says she worried his shooters could return and endanger the campus. The student feels like he’s been blamed for what happened to him. [The Philadelphia Inquirer]

The number of reports of guns stolen from cars in the Houston area surged between 2021 and 2022 — and 2023 data indicates that the trend is only accelerating. [Houston Landing] Context: In 2016, The Trace reported that privately owned firearms are stolen in America with alarming frequency. Cars and trucks are easy targets.

The shooter who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018 — the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history — was found guilty of all 63 criminal counts he’d been charged with, including hate crimes resulting in death. [CBS

After GOP lawmakers returned from the longest walkout in Oregon history, the state Legislature approved legislation banning ghost guns — part of a larger firearm safety bill that was stripped down in a deal to get the Republicans to come back to work. [OPB

The Maryland Supreme Court ruled that expert witnesses can no longer use firearm identification techniques to testify that a bullet was fired from a particular gun in most criminal proceedings. The opinion cited studies that call the reliability of the practice into question. [The Baltimore Banner

Are police using “stand your ground” laws to justify their hesitation to arrest white shooters of Black victims? [Slate]

In Memoriam

Eina Kwon, 34, and her husband were “getting their feet under them” after struggling to keep up their sushi restaurant, Aburiya Bento House, during the pandemic. Kwon, who was pregnant, was shot and killed in Seattle last week. Friends and patrons alike remembered her for her kindness — the owner of one neighboring business described her as “the most selfless, loving person.” Kwon worked front of house, and she seemingly had no trouble making friends: On a GoFundMe page, multiple restaurant regulars noted that she exuded warmth, and always made time to chat. Michael Bufano, the owner of an art gallery next door to Aburiya, said Kwon taught his father to enjoy sushi. Bufano passed her in the hallway every morning, he said: It was “a great way to start your day, seeing her smile.”

We Recommend

‘You Can’t Pour From An Empty Cup’ : “The work of violence prevention specialists has long gone under the radar. In recent years, however, there’s been more recognition of their work, with the White House praising this model for violence reduction and a growing number of cities investing in it. But as the profile of community violence interrupters grows, these workers say that being on the frontlines can take a similar toll as other first responders — like paramedics or firefighters — as they navigate secondhand trauma, unpredictable hours and the ebb and flow of grant funding that their jobs rely on.” [The Guardian]

Pull Quote

“I was the victim, and I felt like I was the problem.”

— Dashawn Walker, a Philadelphia charter school student who was shot 10 times, on being banned from attending prom and graduation because of the shooting, to The Philadelphia Inquirer