What the Secret Service Threat Assessment Ignores

Mental illness isn’t the issue.

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.

The Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) has released its report on mass public attacks in 2017. It mentions, “terrorism” only once and the word “Islam” doesn’t appear in it at all.

That’s strange because two of the attacks, the Lower Manhattan car ramming and the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting rampage, were Islamic terrorist attacks. The perpetrators, Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbeki immigrant, and Aashiq Hammad (Esteban Santiago), both credited ISIS with inspiring their killing sprees. These two Muslim terrorists had managed to kill a combined 13 people while wounding another 18.

And then there was Kori Ali Muhammad who had murdered 4 people in Fresno. Muhammad had shouted, “Allahu Akbar” when confronting the police just like Sayfullo Saipov would 3,000 miles away.

But Muhammad was apparently also a member of the Democrat’s favorite racist hate group: the Nation of Islam.  The NOI combines two favorite topics of the left, Islam and hating white people. Louis Farrakhan, its leader has met or appeared with numerous top Dems, including Obama, Keith Ellison, a former NOI hate group member who is now number two at the DNC, Rep. James Clyburn, the third-highest ranked Democrat in the House, and many other members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

(Muhammad also endorsed Bernie Sanders, like James T. Hodgkinson, the Bernie Sanders supporter who opened fire at a Republican charity baseball practice, who also appears on the Secret Service list.)

Even with 17 victims killed in domestic terror attacks, 2017 was a slow year for Islamic terrorists. But the deadliest mass shooting attacks of 2016 and 2015 were both carried out by Islamic terrorists.

Together the San Bernardino and Pulse terrorists were responsible for 63 dead and 80 wounded.

Since the San Bernardino attack, a year hasn’t passed without a Muslim mass shooting.  Of the 10 major mass shootings in the last decade with double digit death tolls, 3 were committed by Muslim terrorists. Muslims are less than 1% of population in this country, but carried out 33% of the major mass shootings.

Those are trends that the Secret Service ought to be concerned about. But instead it ignores them.

The Secret Service report mentions ISIS only once and equates terrorists with white supremacists and “radical black nationalists”, but emphasizes that mental illness was the real cause, “histories of hallucinations, paranoia, and/or delusions were also present for five of these seven attackers, and for two of them, their particular psychosis played a dominant role in the adoption of their belief systems.”

Mental illness is the overall theme of the report. “Nearly two-thirds of the attackers… experienced mental health symptoms prior to their attacks,” it claims. These included everything from paranoia and hallucinations to delusions and suicidal thoughts. But anyone who launches a suicide attack is likely to have suicidal thoughts. Islam glorifies suicide-murder killing sprees as martyrdom and draws hallucinatory images of a paradise filled with perpetual virgins and endless pleasures of the flesh.

The Secret Service report would have benefited from closing their copy of DSM-5 and opening a Koran.

The average Muslim terrorist is likely to fantasize about his own death, to believe in paranoid conspiracy theories about the CIA, the Jews and the Freemasons, and to be convinced that the infidels are out to get him. That might qualify as abnormal ideation in America, but it’s conventional in Pakistan or Yemen.

We often have no useful way of distinguishing irrational convictions that are utterly alien to our way of thinking from mental illness. Son of Sam thought he was getting orders to kill from a dog. That’s aberrant thinking in our culture. Believing that you will enjoy 72 virgins if you kill non-Muslims is just as foreign to our culture, but has ages of history and theology behind it in Islamic cultures.

The Secret Service report dismisses beliefs while emphasizing psychological and circumstantial explanations. It’s part of a pattern of efforts by the authorities to reinvent Islamic terrorism as mental illness. There’s hardly a terrorist in past decades whose crimes weren’t cloaked in mental illness.

Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood Jihadist, Omar Mateen, the Pulse mass shooter, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, Michael Adebowale, one of the Lee Rigby beheaders, and dozens of others have either pleaded mental illness or had their lawyers and media defenders do it for them.

Between them these named men had murdered 65 people and wounded 306 other victims for Islam.

Were they mentally ill? Doubtfully. But it also doesn’t really matter. Hitler was quite clearly insane. That didn’t change the nature of the problem we faced. Even if some Islamic terrorists are mentally ill, the problem isn’t mental illness. Some of the mass shooters on the Secret Service report’s list might have been helped. But ideological violence can’t be reduced to a mental health issue. Or solved that way.

Some Islamic terrorists, like Hammad-Santiago, might be aberrant members of our culture who are attracted to Islamic terrorism. Most however belong to an entirely different culture with its own national allegiances and religious obligations. They aren’t broken Americans who need to be helped.  Sane or not, they are fighting as part of a religious movement that predates our country and civilization.

The Secret Service report with its emphasis on mental illness and threatening communications treats the Islamic terrorists like all the other broken killers. But it’s exactly this attitude that helps terrorists kill.

Omar Mateen was able to carry out one of the deadliest rampages of the century in Orlando because FBI investigators assigned psychological explanations to his terrorist threats. Had the FBI taken him at his word, instead of letting him convince them that he was being persecuted by Islamophobes, the 49 people whom the Islamic terrorist murdered at the Pulse nightclub would still be alive today.

Hammad-Santiago walked into an FBI field office in Alaska and told agents that he was having “terroristic thoughts”. He blamed the CIA for forcing him to watch ISIS videos. The authorities sent him for a psychiatric evaluation and then let him go. They ignored the evidence that, whatever his mental state, he was actually serious about Islamic terrorism and had built a whole Jihadist identity.

(Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, currently under fire for negligence in the Parkland school shooting, was also criticized for failing to properly admit Hammad-Santiago’s Islamic terrorist motivations.)

The Secret Service report repeats these same errors which led to the deaths of 54 people. In both cases, the FBI dismissed a serious threat because the terrorist’s claims seemingly lacked credibility. Omar Mateen claimed to have family in Al Qaeda while belonging to Hezbollah. Hammad-Santiago blamed his ISIS habit on the voices in his head. But the psychological explanation turned out to be fatally flawed.

Omar Mateen and Hammad-Santiago proved that they were terrorists in a definitive and horrifying way.

Treating Islamic terrorism as a mental or criminal problem gets people killed. The Secret Service’s threat assessment fails to grasp the real threat. Its predictive model ignores what actually makes terrorists tick.

And Islamic terrorists are most dangerous when we don’t see them coming.