Lafayette Shooter Fits Profile Of American “Lone Wolf” Terrorists

Study finds a domestic terrorist attack like the one in Lafayette, Louisiana, is either successfully carried out or thwarted by law enforcement every 34 days

Jul 24, 2015 at 4:57 PM ET

The man who authorities say killed two people before turning the gun on himself at a movie theater in Louisiana this week fits the mold of a typical domestic terrorist in age, race and gender.

Earlier this year, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a study on domestic terrorist attacks that were either carried out or were thwarted by law enforcement between 2009 and February of 2015. According to the study, the majority, 74 percent, were carried out by “lone wolf” attackers—domestic terrorists who may share an ideology with a certain group, but did not plan the attack or commit it on behalf of a specific terrorist organization or hate group. The study found that 90 percent of the attacks were planned by fewer than two people.

The profile of the typical lone wolf attacker in the U.S. is very different than that of the typical criminal. The age range of most people who commit violent crimes in the U.S. is between 15 and 24 years old. For lone wolf terrorists, however, the average age falls out of that range—77 percent of the 63 lone wolf terrorists since 2009 have been over the age of 30. Lone wolf terrorists, the study found, are typically clustered in the 30-to-49 range—although “a surprising number were older than that,” the SPLC says. Only seven of the 63 domestic terrorists identified in the study were women.

According to the SPLC, right-wing extremists tend to be older when they commit their crimes because they “spend many years on the radical right, absorbing extremist ideology, before finally acting out violently.

John Russel Houser, who had neo-Nazi, anti-government leanings, was 59 when police say he entered a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, on Thursday night and opened fire. In addition to the two people killed, nine others were injured. Houser then turned the gun on himself.

“A little over a month since the horrific Charleston shootings, we once again have an apparent lone wolf who harbors extremist ideas committing a deadly act of violence,” said Heidi Beirich, the SPLC’s director of the Intelligence Project. “John Russel Houser’s attack reminds us again that domestic terrorism from the radical right is a real and present threat.” At 21 years old, Dylann Roof, the suspect in the Charleston shooting, would be younger than the typical domestic terrorist.