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Online extremism and the digital footprint of mass shooters

Brooke and Matt Strauss, who were married Sunday, look toward the scene of the mass shooting in downtown Highland Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb, after leaving their wedding bouquets near the scene of Monday's mass shooting, Tuesday, July 5, 2022. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
Brooke and Matt Strauss, who were married Sunday, look toward the scene of the mass shooting in downtown Highland Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb, after leaving their wedding bouquets near the scene of Monday's mass shooting, Tuesday, July 5, 2022. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Analysts studying recent mass shootings say there’s a previously unrecognized pattern. It begins in the darkest corners of the internet:

“There’s a couple overlapping communities. The one I think is maybe most important is what I’ve kind of just been calling the mass shooter fandom,” Emmi Conley, researcher of far-right extremism, digital propaganda cand online communities, says.

“And it’s a combination of people who are fans of the original Columbine shooters and just a general love of mass violence.”

The young people in these communities build a disorienting world of videos, flashing lights and code words.

“The content is designed to be watched for hours on end, and it is often designed to be watched while under the influence of drugs,” Alex Newhouse says. “And the idea is that they want to literally change the way their brain operates.”

Law enforcement, lawmakers, and parents have no idea what is happening.

“This is the beginning of a trend. It is going to likely get worse before it gets better, in large part because we’re still fighting an uphill battle to educate people on what this is,” Alex Newhouse says.

Today, On Point: The online training ground for mass shooters.

Guests

Alex Newhouse, deputy director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. (@AlexBNewhouse)

Emmi Conley, researcher of far-right extremism, digital propaganda and online communities.

Related Reading

Logically: “Terrorists Read Your Articles, Too: How To Report On Manifestos” — “In April 1995, the New York Times published a letter ostensibly from a group taking responsibility for the bombings in the case that the FBI had been calling ‘UNABOM,’ a contraction of ‘University and Airline Bomber.'”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.