Highland Park shooting highlights FBI’s limitations in finding disturbing content online

WASHINGTON — In the 48 hours since the July 4 parade shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, that killed seven people, a disturbing portrait has emerged of the man now charged with multiple counts of murder in the first degree.

Those who know Robert “Bobby” E. Crimo III, 21, have seen many red flags in his social media presence. However, material currently available is likely protected by the First Amendment, and it’s difficult to find applicable criminal law that would apply to disturbing but unspecific content, experts and former law enforcement officials said. laws.

Chris Covelli, a spokesperson for the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, said Tuesday that Crimo attempted suicide in April 2019 and then, according to family members, threatened to “kill everyone.” world” in September 2019. He said that in that September incident, police removed more than a dozen knives from Crimo’s home and notified state police, but took no further action because there was no probable cause for a criminal charge.

No conviction would have stopped Crimo from buying guns and he got his guns legally. Just months after the September 2019 incident, the Chicago Sun-Times reportedCrimo’s father sponsored his son’s December 2019 firearms license in the state of Illinois, which requires a parent or guardian to co-sign for under-21s. Crimo passed four separate background checks, one in June 2020, two in July 2020 and one in September 2021, state police said, according to the Sun-Times.

Illinois is one of 13 states where the point of contact for licensed firearms dealers performing background checks on buyers under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is state authorities, rather than the FBI. So unlike the 2015 church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, it won’t be an FBI clerical error in a system where a federal judge describe as “hopelessly stuck in 1995” which allowed the alleged shooter to make a purchase that should have been stopped. And unlike the Parkland school massacre in Florida in 2018, there is no indication so far that anyone called the FBI that was not followed up or passed on to the proper authorities.

Even with his disturbing social media presence, there’s no indication that Crimo should have been on the FBI’s radar.

The FBI, relative to the country, is a small organization with about 13,000 special agents, and local law enforcement officials have far more contact with the general public. In the absence of evidence of a specific criminal plan or prior criminal convictions, former FBI officials bristle at the idea that there is anything the bureau could or should have done to prevent individuals disturbed from committing attacks.

“I don’t know of any authority they have to arrest someone for being weird or armed,” a former FBI official told NBC News. “The main thing is that you have the right to be weird and armed.”

Stopping a shooting like the one in Highland Park is not just difficult, but “impossible” for the bureau, the former official said, adding that it was “just incredibly insane” to think the FBI had the hand- he would need to sift through all the disturbing online messages.

“How would you like them to do it?” You can’t sit on TikTok all day and watch crazy videos. They have other things to do,” the former manager said.

Former FBI official Peter Strzok called it “a pretty daunting problem.”

“There is a lot more material than there are federal law enforcement officers, state and local law enforcement officers who are able to look into this,” said he declared. said on MSNBC’s “Deadline: White House” on Tuesday. He noted that even if they had the manpower, this kind of invasive government scrutiny of online activity would not be compatible with the First Amendment.

“This whole discussion is about treating the symptoms,” Strzok said. “Nobody should be surprised and nobody should think it’s hard to do something that this suspect did. In the United States, we made it easier to buy a gun than to go to your shelter to local animals and adopt a pet.

He agreed that stopping disturbed people from getting guns is one of the best points of intervention, but there often isn’t an applicable charge to nab a disturbed person that could stop that person from getting guns. buy a gun in the future.

Law enforcement can talk to family members, urge them to get mental health treatment for the person, or get the guns out of the house. They can document. But if there is no crime, the police cannot be blamed for not making an arrest, the official said.

There are certainly multi-pronged approaches to deter would-be mass shooters. But even in cases where parents do not proactively help their children obtain guns, there are no incentives for parents to take the kind of action that would prevent a troubled young adult from buy weapons: few families want to entrust their offspring to a record criminal who would prevent them for the rest of their lives.

Although the FBI is not the first responder, it frequently comes into contact with disturbed people when there is a more explicit threat and the bureau receives specific advice.

As NBC News reported in May, a New Mexico man convinced the FBI he was not a threat more than a year before killing two high school students and himself.

Katherine Schweit, a former FBI special agent who ran an active shooter program, noted the difficulty of stepping in and opening a criminal investigation in these cases.

“You have to make sure that if you’re going to…invade somebody’s constitutional rights to freedom of association, freedom of speech, you better have a really good idea that there’s something wrong with that. specific that someone really wants to say they’re going to do and it’s not just rhetoric,” she said.

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