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Why the Highland Park suspect represents a different kind of violent extremism


(NPR) -Moments after law enforcement authorities disclosed the name of a “person of interest” in the deadly shooting at a July 4th parade in Highland Park, Illinois, extremism researchers, journalists and some members of the public rushed online. They discovered an extensive trail of digital activity believed to be linked to Robert “Bobby” Crimo III, now the named suspect in the mass shooting. But sifting through the trove of memes, photos, music, rap videos and more, extremism experts agree: There is no clear political or ideological motivation.

Instead, many experts on extremism and technology say this suspect’s activity fits with a still-emerging profile of mass shooter. Rather than falling neatly into categories familiar to law enforcement and the public, such as white supremacists, radical Islamists or antigovernment militants, it requires an understanding of dark, online subcultures that overlap and feed into each other in ways that glorify violence and foster nihilism. Alarmingly, these experts say these online milieus have been tied to an increasing number of mass shootings over time.

“I’ve described this as sort of like a mass shooter creation machine,” said Alex Newhouse, deputy director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “A lot of these communities are designed to spin out mass shooters over time, over and over and over.”

A mass shooter “culture”

Researchers who’ve combed through Crimo’s digital footprint say the content is strikingly unoriginal.

“It’s just like a zoomer spin on zoomer trends and mass murders that have already been done before,” said Sarah Hightower, using a term that refers to members of Generation Z. Hightower is an independent researcher focused on the extreme far right and online cultic movements.

For example, Hightower noted one video that shows a cartoonized version of the suspect with a long gun in a bloody confrontation with law enforcement officers.

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