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Mass School Shootings – A Framework for Prevention and Change

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

[The following post was re-edited on 2/24/18, mostly to shorten and improve readability]

There have been at least seven school shootings during school hours so far this year where children have been killed or injured.  This includes 17 students recently killed in Parkland, Florida. We can’t normalize this. Mass casualty shootings are a public health crisis.

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ABC News

We don’t really know much about what triggers a young person to start shooting his peers. Part of the reason we don’t know is that the shooters don’t always live to tell their story. But there are also “don’t ask, don’t tell” government policies surrounding gun violence. The NRA has gotten the US Congress to block the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) from collecting data on gun violence or from studying the problem.

What we know is that these mostly young male assailants are not terrorists in a formal sense. Terrorists are motivated by politics and oppression. They commit horrible acts against soft targets to draw attention to their views. Sometimes terrorists do act out of vengeance while hiding behind politics or religion.

Tentative Profile of the Shooters

School shooters like Nikolas Cruz in Parkland seem to be motivated by internal fantasies that stem from a social pathology. They have troubled histories with symptoms of odd behaviors and emotional disturbances that are not clearly tied to a specific underlying mental illness.  For example, they have no brain-chemical imbalance, no obvious thought disorders or don’t hear voices telling them to do these things.  As a result, they often aren’t diagnosed as “mentally ill” in a strict clinical sense. This diagnostic ambiguity complicates their interactions with mental health systems and the law, and parents find it difficult to get effective help.

Instead, these loners become increasing self-isolating. They have weak social relationship and poor social skills. They may have a history of been shunned or bullied by peers, perhaps because they act so differently. They can appear passive or unpredictably aggressive. They excessively engage in solitary activities such as video games or social media. Some come to feel powerless and insecure on many levels and may then develop an active inner fantasy life to help them cope with their short comings.

A percentage of these socially troubled youth may become fascinated with military style assault weapons for several reasons. These weapons look “cool” and powerful, like the military hardware they see on TV and in their video games. They develop a strong desire to own these weapons. and owning them makes them feel powerful, more in control and perhaps more manly. By contrast, their actual cross-gender relationships are often either absent or very dysfunctional. Once they own these weapons their inner fantasies begin to evolve around the weapon and how they might use them.

This probably describes a large group of cohorts of youth. Most don’t become a mass murderers. Why a few flip is anyone’s guess. Was Cruz’ expulsion from school a triggering event for him?  We shall see.

In all cases, young people who exhibits these sort of histories and behaviors are seriously in need of help. Current mental health screening protocols, treatment methods, treatment accessibility and mental health laws are not adequate to identify and help this population. The efforts needed to identify and treat potential mass shooters will take time. If we started today to study, identify and treat these kids it might take a years to bring the present crisis under control.

Guns and Gun Culture Factors

A much faster, direct way to curb the violence would be take these murderous military style weapons out of the hands of civilians, and young people in particular. A key concept here is  “style”,  as in fashion. It isn’t the technical capability of an AR-15 that attracts these kids, but it’s looks.

Gun enthusiasts will tell you the AR-15 is semi-automatic and therefore it isn’t an assault weapon. This definition is a distinction without a difference.  The design is such that a large magazine clip and a bump stock is all it takes to turn them into fully automatic assault weapons. Moreover, they have three times the muzzle speed of a handgun which gives their small bore bullets more kinetic energy and much greater killing power.

More importantly, the perception of the AR-15 as a military style assault style weapon is very powerful. It impacts the attitudes and behaviors of everyone who owns them and this has an especially powerful impact on socially vulnerable youth. And as we know, what is real in its perception is real in its consequence.

Below is a picture of two rifles with almost identical capabilities. In both models, a bump stock and a large capacity magazine would turn either into an assault weapon.

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It is obvious from the captions that this comparison is used by gun rights advocates, but just consider the visual impact. The Ruger Mini looks like a regular hunting rifle. The AR-15 stands out. It looks the military grade hardware depicted in Hollywood movies and just about every video game kids play. What child would prefer the Ruger Mini to an AR-15?

Perceptions matter. Perceptions alter behavior and cultural. The advertizing impact of these weapons in games and movies is a powerful force in a developing mind. It’s a marketers paradise.

Along with there, there is an overall militarization of our culture in recent times. Police training is being turned over to companies that also train our solders. A government program sells excess military equipment (initially set up in the 1990’s by Dick Cheney) to local police departments who are trained in their use. This alters the culture of our domestic police forces and creates an “us vs. them” militia mindset. And a growing fervency in patriotic adulation for our soldiers and police officers, (as opposed to the due respect and appreciation they deserve) has an impact on our children’s cultural development and values. We are all blurring the lines between military culture and a more peaceful minded civil society.

A General Framework for Action

There are at least two main, interdependent parts to the mass school shooting problem. One is the increased proneness of certain children towards gun violence, and the other is the ready availability of highly lethal assault weapons that play into their fantasies. The first part is complex and difficult to change quickly. The second part can change quickly but for strong political and cultural opposition. The parts are interdependent steps take in each can have an effects on the other. For example, changes in the prevalence of assault weapons can impact the gun culture and how guns are perceived by children. Conversely, detection and interventions for socially at risk children in eliminate violence incidents and improve the overall milieu and learning environment, in schools. A healthy child in a healthy environment is a more responsible gun owner, if they choose to own a gun.

What can politicians do to end these mass casualty episodes?. What can parents do to help their children who get caught in a web of social failure?

A Public Health Emergency

The most immediate actions we can take on the mental health side is to untie the hands of the NIH and the CDC. Let them do their job. For too long Congress has tied our hands so that the gun industry won’t be encumbered by inconvenient truths. The NRA has blocked gun violence research for over 20 years. Congress won’t even let the CDC collect data on gun violence. This is not acceptable.

Let our public health institutions treat gun violence and gun deaths is a public health crisis. Give them the funding they need bring science to bear on the issues. Make mass shootings at our children’s schools a national emergency. Set up task forces to study the issue. Let them identify better screening protocols and intervention strategies that can be introduced at the local level so parents have the help they seek. Provide community based strategies to help communities prevent these children from falling between the cracks. We need healthier social environments in our schools and our communities. For that we need stronger national leadership. We have a significant public health  crisis and the champions in the best position to help us with it have been sidelined.

Gun Control and Changing Gun Culture

The quickest way to curb mass shooting episodes by socially dysfunctional students is to simply make ownership or possession of military style weapons illegal. These weapons are the objects of their murderous fantasies. Take them away.

High velocity, rapid fire weapons with large magazines are not appropriate for hunting game. They are killing machines of war. Banning them is also a step towards reestablishing a cultural separation between weapons of war and a more wholesome respect for guns in a peaceful society.

Current marketing forces are at work to make military hardware sexy and desirable to boost profits, but this campaign has negative impacts on children who are culturally developing. The proliferation of ultra lethal weapons, even among local law enforcement and criminal, foster a more aggressive militancy. Nobody wants this. The Ruger Mini 14 (above) has all the same capacity and a higher muzzle velocity than the AR-15 but it doesn’t convey the same messaging. Perceptions matter especially for the young. Maintaining a distinction in weapons of war and peace doesn’t violate a person’s right to bear arms. It sets reasonable limits on that right, as is true with every other constitutional right. It sends a cultural message.

Making all weapons less lethal should be part of the strategy to curb mass gun violence. Bump stocks and trigger cranks easily turn any semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic killing machine. Banning them should be the message our cultural heritage conveys. And we should limit the size of a magazines capacity for semi-automatic weapons. Comprehensive background checks, ending gun show loopholes and all the rest of the other standard fixes that are offered after horrendous shooting incidents are all worthy considerations as well. They convey the message that gun ownership is a serious business and is not every member of society can be trusted to own a gun.

We are in the midst of a public health crisis and we have to do whatever it takes to prevent further tragedy. We should stand up with the students and parents of Parkland, and New Town and Columbine and everywhere these events have taken place. We have to come together as a country, find our compassion and make whatever sacrifices are necessary to end gun violence in our schools and communities. I welcome anyone who reads this to offer their own comments and perspectives.

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Mueller’s Russia Indictment – a condensed summary

Case 1:18-cr-00032-DLF Document 1 Filed 02/16/18 Page 1 of 37

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

[The following is a six page summary of highlights of the 37 page Mueller Indictment of  thirteen Russian nations and the organizations they worked for to interfere with our public elections. It was prepared by me, Brian T. Lynch, MSW, to condense the facts related to Russia’s criminal interference in our elections. The full document is here: https://www.justice.gov/file/1035477/download %5D

Defendant INTERNET RESEARCH AGENCY LLC (“ORGANIZATION”) is a Russian organization engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes.

3. Beginning as early as 2014, Defendant ORGANIZATION began operations to interfere with the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

4. Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and creating false U.S. personas, operated social media pages and groups designed to attract U.S. audiences… Defendants also used the stolen identities of real U.S. persons to post on ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts.

6. Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton… Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.

The ORGANIZATION employed hundreds of individuals for its online operations, ranging from creators of fictitious personas to technical and administrative support.

The ORGANIZATION’s annual budget totaled the equivalent of millions of U.S. dollars.

The ORGANIZATION was headed by a management group and organized into departments, including: a graphics department; a data analysis department; a search-engine optimization (“SEO”) department; an information-technology (“IT”) department to maintain the digital infrastructure used in the ORGANIZATION’s operations; and a finance department to budget and allocate funding.

The ORGANIZATION sought, in part, to conduct what it called “information warfare against the United States of America” through fictitious U.S. personas on social media platforms and other Internet-based media. (emphasis mine)

By in or around April 2014, the ORGANIZATION formed a department that went by various names but was at times referred to as the “translator project.” This project focused on the U.S. population and conducted operations on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

By approximately July 2016, more than eighty ORGANIZATION employees were assigned to the translator project.

By in or around May 2014, the ORGANIZATION’s strategy included interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with the stated goal of “spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.”

Defendants CONCORD MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING LLC (Конкорд Менеджмент и Консалтинг) and CONCORD CATERING are related Russian entities with various Russian government contracts. CONCORD was the ORGANIZATION’s primary source of funding for its interference operations. CONCORD controlled funding, recommended personnel, and oversaw ORGANIZATION activities through reporting and interaction with ORGANIZATION management.

CONCORD funded the ORGANIZATION as part of a larger CONCORD-funded interference operation that it referred to as “Project Lakhta.” Project Lakhta had multiple components, some involving domestic audiences within the Russian Federation and others targeting foreign audiences in various countries, including the United States.

By in or around September 2016, the ORGANIZATION’s monthly budget for Project Lakhta submitted to CONCORD exceeded 73 million Russian rubles (over 1,250,000 U.S. dollars), including approximately one million rubles in bonus payments.

Starting at least in or around 2014, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to track and study groups on U.S. social media sites dedicated to U.S. politics and social issues. In order to gauge the performance of various groups on social media sites, the ORGANIZATION tracked certain metrics like the group’s size, the frequency of content placed by the group, and the level of audience engagement with that content, such as the average number of comments or responses to a post.

For example, starting in or around June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, posing online as U.S. persons, communicated with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization. During the exchange, Defendants and their co-conspirators learned from the real U.S. person that they should focus their activities on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia & Florida.” After that exchange, Defendants and their co-conspirators commonly referred to targeting “purple states” in directing their efforts.

32. Defendants and their co-conspirators, through fraud and deceit, created hundreds of social media accounts and used them to develop certain fictitious U.S. personas into “leader[s] of public opinion” in the United States.

33. ORGANIZATION employees, referred to as “specialists,” were tasked to create social media accounts that appeared to be operated by U.S. persons… Specialists were instructed to write about topics germane to the United States such as U.S. foreign policy and U.S. economic issues. Specialists were directed to create “political intensity through supporting radical groups, users dissatisfied with [the] social and economic situation and oppositional social movements.”

34. Defendants and their co-conspirators also created thematic group pages on social media sites, particularly on the social media platforms Facebook and Instagram. ORGANIZATIONcontrolled pages addressed a range of issues, including: immigration (with group names including “Secured Borders”); the Black Lives Matter movement (with group names including “Blacktivist”); religion (with group names including “United Muslims of America” and “Army of Jesus”); and certain geographic regions within the United States (with group names including “South United” and “Heart of Texas”). By 2016, the size of many ORGANIZATION-controlled groups had grown to hundreds of thousands of online followers.

35. Starting at least in or around 2015, Defendants and their co-conspirators began to purchase advertisements on online social media sites to promote ORGANIZATION-controlled social media groups, spending thousands of U.S. dollars every month.

36. Defendants and their co-conspirators also created and controlled numerous Twitter accounts designed to appear as if U.S. persons or groups controlled them. For example, the ORGANIZATION created and controlled the Twitter account “Tennessee GOP,” which used the handle @TEN_GOP. The @TEN_GOP account falsely claimed to be controlled by a U.S. state political party. Over time, the @TEN_GOP account attracted more than 100,000 online followers.

39. To hide their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, Defendants and their coconspirators—particularly POLOZOV and the ORGANIZATION’s IT department—purchased space on computer servers located inside the United States in order to set up virtual private networks (“VPNs”).

40. Defendants and their co-conspirators also registered and controlled hundreds of web-based email accounts hosted by U.S. email providers under false names so as to appear to be U.S. persons and groups.

41. In or around 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also used, possessed, and transferred, without lawful authority, the social security numbers and dates of birth of real U.S. persons without those persons’ knowledge or consent. Using these means of identification, Defendants and their co-conspirators opened accounts at PayPal, a digital payment service provider; created false means of identification, including fake driver’s licenses; and posted on ORGANIZATION-controlled social media accounts using the identities of these U.S. victims.

42. By approximately May 2014, Defendants and their co-conspirators discussed efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants and their co-conspirators began to monitor U.S. social media accounts and other sources of information about the 2016 U.S. presidential election. [Humm, who were these co-conspirators?]

43. By 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used their fictitious online personas to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.

44. Certain ORGANIZATION-produced materials about the 2016 U.S. presidential election used election-related hashtags, including: “#Trump2016,” “#TrumpTrain,” “#MAGA,” “#IWontProtectHillary,” and “#Hillary4Prison.” Defendants and their co-conspirators also established additional online social media accounts dedicated to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, including the Twitter account “March for Trump” and Facebook accounts “Clinton FRAUDation” and “Trumpsters United.”

46. In or around the latter half of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through their ORGANIZATION-controlled personas, began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate.

47. Starting in or around the summer of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators also began to promote allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party through their fictitious U.S. personas and groups on social media. Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased advertisements on Facebook to further promote the allegations…

On or about August 11, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators posted that allegations of voter fraud were being investigated in North Carolina on the ORGANIZATION-controlled Twitter account @TEN_GOP. ..

On or about November 2, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the same account to post allegations of “#VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.”

48. From at least April 2016 through November 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, while concealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation through false personas, began to produce, purchase, and post advertisements on U.S. social media and other online sites expressly advocating for the election of then-candidate Trump or expressly opposing Clinton.

51. Starting in approximately June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators organized and coordinated political rallies in the United States.

53. In or around late June 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “United Muslims of America” to promote a rally called “Support Hillary. Save American Muslims” held on July 9, 2016 in the District of Columbia.

54. In or around June and July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other ORGANIZATION accounts to organize two political rallies in New York. The first rally was called “March for Trump” and held on June 25, 2016. The second rally was called “Down with Hillary” and held on July 23, 2016.

55. In or around late July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other false U.S. personas to organize a series of coordinated rallies in Florida. The rallies were collectively referred to as “Florida Goes Trump” and held on August 20, 2016.

57. After the election of Donald Trump in or around November 2016, Defendants and their coconspirators used false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies in support of then president-elect Trump, while simultaneously using other false U.S. personas to organize and coordinate U.S. political rallies protesting the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

58. In order to avoid detection and impede investigation by U.S. authorities of Defendants’ operations, Defendants and their co-conspirators deleted and destroyed data, including emails, social media accounts, and other evidence of their activities.

76. On or about August 18, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account responded to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 1”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided 27 Case 1:18-cr-00032-DLF Document 1 Filed 02/16/18 Page 28 of 37 Campaign Official 1’s email address at the campaign domain donaldtrump.com. On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, joshmilton024@gmail.com, to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that donaldtrump.com email account, which read in part:

Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida. The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”

85. On or about September 22, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators created and purchased Facebook advertisements for a series of rallies they organized in Pennsylvania called “Miners for Trump” and scheduled for October 2, 2016. All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.

88. The conspiracy had as its object the opening of accounts under false names at U.S. financial institutions and a digital payments company in order to receive and send money into and out of the United States to support the ORGANIZATION’s operations in the United States and for selfenrichment.

89. Beginning in at least 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used, without lawful authority, the social security numbers, home addresses, and birth dates of real U.S. persons without their knowledge or consent. Using these means of stolen identification, Defendants and their coconspirators opened accounts at a federally insured U.S. financial institution (“Bank 1”), including the following accounts: [snip]

92. On or about the dates identified below, Defendants and their co-conspirators obtained and used the following fraudulent bank account numbers for the purpose of evading PayPal’s security measures: [snip]

93. Additionally, and in order to maintain their accounts at PayPal and elsewhere, including online cryptocurrency exchanges, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased and obtained false identification documents, including fake U.S. driver’s licenses. Some false identification documents obtained by Defendants and their co-conspirators used the stolen identities of real U.S. persons, including U.S. persons T.W. and J.W.

95. Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist. All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349.