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Talbot County Sheriff Office/AP
James von Brunn

“Lone Wolf” Violence Presents Special Concern for FBI

June 15, 2009 06:00 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
The killings of an abortion doctor and a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum guard, as well as the shooting of two soldiers in Arkansas have drawn attention to the FBI’s efforts to stop such isolated acts from occurring.

Problems Stopping One Person

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In 2008, the FBI launched an initiative called “Operation Vigilant Eagle” as a means of guarding against domestic terrorism conducted by individual people, according to The Wall Street Journal.

But recent shootings around the country highlight just how difficult that task can be, the Associated Press noted.

The Wall Street Journal reported that James von Brunn, the man charged with a shooting at the Holocaust Museum and Scott Roeder, who was arrested in connection with the killing of abortion doctor George Tiller, posted “their extremist views” on Web sites and expressed them to others.

The Christian Science Monitor writes that “it’s hard for law enforcement to filter anger from murderous intent,” and stopping crimes committed by a “lone wolf” like von Brunn or Roeder has proven difficult.

John Perren, who leads the counterterrorism branch at the Washington FBI field office, told the AP, “The lone wolf is what concerns the Washington field office, what concerns the FBI the most.” Perren noted, “It could be anyone. It could be the guy next door, living in the basement of his mother’s place, on the Internet just building himself up with hate, building himself up to a boiling point and finally using what he’s learned.”
 
“How do you get into the mind of a terrorist?” The Wall Street Journal quotes Mike Rolince, a former FBI official who dealt with domestic extremists, as saying, “The FBI does not have the capability to know when a person gets up in middle America and decides: ‘I’m taking my protest poster to Washington or I’m taking my gun.’”

Opinion & Analysis: The FBI and civil liberties

According to the Christian Science Monitor, law enforcement can track people who post “hate-filled commentary” on the Web as did von Brunn, however arresting or prosecuting someone “preemptively” isn’t permitted. The paper quoted Joseph Persichini Jr., an assistant director in charge at the Washington field office, as saying, “Law enforcement’s challenge every day is to balance the civil liberties of US citizens against the need to investigate activities that might lead to criminal conduct.”

The FBI's Web site explains, “Intelligence collection is done only in accordance with the intelligence priorities set by the President, and is guided at every step by procedures mandated by the Attorney General.” The Patriot Act requires that a federal judge approve search warrants and wiretaps for certain investigations.

In 2008, the U.S. Justice Department proposed new rules for conducting FBI investigations, but the American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern about the possible changes that could be made. According to Reuters, the ACLU said that the new guidelines would have allowed the agency to use a person’s race or ethnic background as reason to conduct an investigation. The group worried that the changes would “institute racial profiling as a matter of policy.”

Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse was quoted as saying by Reuters that the department takes caution in using race or ethnic background when conducting investigations “but it is simply not responsible to say that race may never be taken into account when conducting an investigation.”

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Reference: Freedom of speech

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