New FBI Report Analyzes Domestic Terrorist Attacks Since 1972

Published by Matt Fishman on

A new FBI report of lone offender domestic terrorist attacks in the U.S. takes a comprehensive look “at the backgrounds, behavioral characteristics, and circumstances surrounding 52 attacks since 1972”. Domestic terrorist attacks where “the offender was primarily radicalized within the United States and carried out the attack against targets within the United States” was the report’s main focus. The “FBI definition of terrorism [highlights] attempts to influence change in furtherance of extremist ideologies of a social, political, religious, racial or environmental nature.” Additionally, the study centered around “offenders who carried out their attacks independent of any direction from a terrorist group or organization.” The report revealed the following findings:


  • All 52 offenders in the sample study were men.
  • 90% were born in the US.
  • 65% were white.
  • 50% identified as religious. Of the religious, 50% were Christian and 35% were Muslim.
  • 37% had previously served in the military.
  • 70% had been arrested at least once before their attack.
  • 38% were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, however, researchers posthumously determined 62% suffered from paranoia and 44% from delusions.
  • 25% of the attacks were motivated by anti-government ideology, 23% were racially motivated, 19% were from radical Islamist motivations, and 10% were pro-life motivated


  • “A total of 258 victims were killed and 982 victims were injured.”
  • 73% selected their target because it was instrumental to their goal or ideology.
  • 42% selected their target to attract media attention.
  • In 79% of cases offenders attacked targets that had no or minimal security.
  • 67% of the attacks used firearms as the primary weapon, followed by 27% who used explosives. Of the offenders who used firearms, 77% used a handgun, and 69% legally purchased their weapon(s).

The FBI concluded that domestic terrorism “continues to pose a threat as violent ideological groups and terrorist organizations place emphasis on inspiring lone offender-style attacks”. Although predicting the incidents “is not possible”, the research supports the conclusion that “lone offender terrorist attacks, may be preventable through early recognition and reporting of concerning behavior.” In support of this, the FBI says “most offenders were not truly isolated and had family, peers, or online contacts who were in a position to notice troubling behavior.” Therefore, it is crucial to “emphasize the importance of educating potential bystanders of warning signs and providing individuals with tools or mechanisms that enable them to report or otherwise address concerns.”

The report authors did acknowledge that the “small sample also means that care should be taken before making broad generalizations from the data, as any extreme example could skew the data in a particular direction.”


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