This week, a reporter, her cameraman, and the woman she was interviewing were ambushed live on-air in Virginia on WDBJ. The suspect, a former employee of the station, was later revealed to essentially be something of a Social Justice Warrior. He was a man who saw racism in everything (even the commonplace use of the phrase “in the field” was taken as racist), who was “looking for people to say things he could take offense too,” according to the station’s GM, and known for filing vindictive but false EEO complaints. He was also known for having no journalistic integrity, which came to a head at the station when he wore an Obama campaign pin at a polling place.
In short, he was a hyper-aggressive, racist, liar. His racist tendencies were something even some in the media could not avoid.
Of course, calls for gun control followed roughly four hours after the news broke, though Friday the White House conceded that new gun laws would not have stopped the shooter.
Predictable politicking aside, this latest incident, as with frankly all high-profile shootings, nonetheless has quite a bit of lessons we can glean from it. Active Self Protection highlighted it by using the footage the shooter recorded. (A questionable move, perhaps, but needed for ASP’s signature clinical breakdown of incidents.) Key among them is situational awareness and what ITS Tactical has called “focus lock.”
Welcome back to the Run. It’s not the best thing to restart on, but it is still worth doing. As with previous Tactics segments, we will be looking at the incident clinically.
1.) Evil. All of the evidence that has emerged; from the profile of the shooter, to his background, his Tweets, and even statements given by WDBJ staff and others; prove one thing beyond any reasonable doubt: all of it was intentional. He knew what he was doing, why he was doing it (in his mind, anyway), and above all, he knew how to do it. There were warning signs dating back years, and even a 20+ page manifesto faxed to ABC News. This man was not irrational, he was not out of his mind. He knew EXACTLY what he was doing.
As ASP notes, evil exists. We can’t wish it away, we can’t legislate it away, and we certainly can’t try to appeal to its better nature since it doesn’t have one by definition. You can only acknowledge it, accept its existence, and prepare for it should you be forced to meet it.
2.) Focus lock. ITS Tactical has a great article from 2013 about improving one’s situational awareness and avoiding what they call “focus lock” (tunnel vision, basically). If you have ever been in a position of interviewing somebody, you know the tunnel vision that can come about from it. It’s natural to be zeroed in on what your subject is saying so that you can respond appropriately. The cameraman, on the other hand, must focus on keeping the shot stable and properly composed. The attacker very clearly knew this (see point 1), and exploited it to the fullest extent. Outside of having a fourth man as a sort of security, preventing this attack in-the-moment would be extremely difficult for all involved.
This is not to say “it’s their fault for getting shot,” since blaming the victim is abhorrent. Merely that what they were doing made situational awareness difficult almost by its nature.
3.) Location. Remote news reports are, by definition, public. It is extremely easy to discern where a reporter is by taking in a few landmarks. Exposing your location to the public is itself risky. Morning news programs will usually cut back to the same reporter several times throughout the block.
While the attacker in this case was a man with an axe to grind, it is worth noting that he used a rather easy tactic to find his targets.
The closest parallel we can learn from it is the uptick in burglars using social media to determine when somebody isn’t home. This was the subject of the 2015 Sugar Bowl commercials for the insurance giant Allstate. Allstate’s VP of integrated marketing communications told Ad Age “We’re not saying don’t use social media. We’re saying use it smartly. There are people out there posting everything about their lives and they leave themselves vulnerable.”
Am I saying someone is looking to harm you by way of social media? No. I am saying that one should not publicize their location if they don’t have to as a matter of security and basic common sense.
4.) Bottom line. There is very little else to say about this incident. It was an innocuous interview, exploited to the fullest by a man with a vendetta against the station as a whole and the reporter and cameraman in particular. It was carried out by an incredibly angry, racist, and dishonest man; but a man who nonetheless knew exactly how to achieve his ends. All that can be done now is to examine it, learn from it, and support those impacted by it.
A few days after this incident, a sheriff’s deputy was ambushed in Texas by a man motivated by what investigators call “absolute madness.” In that situation, however, many are pointing to the media’s “dangerous rhetoric” against law enforcement as another possible motive.
You can’t predict evil. Evil can have any number of motives; hatred, greed, a love of violence, a disregard for human life, even political/social issues can serve as a motivation. The only thing one can do is plan for it and fight it.
As the recent action in France shows us, such behavior can not only mitigate evil, but prevent it outright. (The action in France also shows us that, while you don’t need a firearm, beating the enemy unconscious with his firearm is a perfectly acceptable solution.)
It is, however, worth noting that violence in this instance was prevented only because some people had the presence of mind to get in his way before he got anywhere. Generally speaking, violence cannot be prevented, only mitigated once it is underway. (Regardless, it certainly cannot be prevented legally. No matter how many promises to that effect people make.)
As we have discussed throughout this series, most of these attackers cannot stand resistance. Even a modicum of force makes many of these would-be perpetrators collapse.
You can’t predict evil, but it only takes one person to stand in its way.
Stay informed. Stay alert. Stay free.