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Targeted violence toward political figures: Identifying violence risk factors through thematic content analysis

Katherine A Schoeneman, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Research on targeted violence and threat assessment has begun to explicate risk factors for problematic approach behavior toward public figures. Law enforcement and security professionals charged with assessing and managing threats posed toward political officials must utilize risk factors that are behavioral, operational, and reasonably attainable during investigations. There has been considerable increase in the amount of written correspondence being sent to Members of Congress, especially email and Web-based mail. Thus, the aims of this study were two-fold: to compare letter writers, emailers, and Internet posters to identify behavioral differences across correspondence groups; and to evaluate subjects who engaged in problematic approach behavior to identify risk factors predictive of future approach. This project examined 326 written correspondence cases of an inappropriate, disruptive, or threatening nature that targeted U.S. Congressional Members. Results regarding correspondence group differences revealed that both letter writers and Internet posters tended to demonstrate past threat assessment activity, serious mental illness, target dispersion, and negative approach. Letter writers had more criminal history and displayed more disorganization during their contacts. Internet posters were inclined to utilize multiple contact methods, reference specific events, focus on government themes, and use harassing and insulting target-oriented language. Internet posters and emailers were most likely to use threatening language. These results suggest that Internet posters engaged in higher risk behavior toward their targets than originally hypothesized. Results regarding risk factors for approach behavior revealed that approachers had more criminal history, past threat assessment activity, familiarity with firearms, past substance use, and serious mental illness. Approachers were inclined to engage in multiple contact methods, target dispersion, more overall contacts, and prior contact with their target. Approachers also wrote longer handwritten correspondence, displayed disorganization, wrote in the margins, referenced specific events, made demands, mentioned stressors, focused on personal themes and government themes, and expressed intent to approach. Harassing, insulting, and threatening language was not related to approach behavior. Implications of the findings for threat assessment and protective security are discussed. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical|Sociology, Criminology and Penology

Recommended Citation

Schoeneman, Katherine A, "Targeted violence toward political figures: Identifying violence risk factors through thematic content analysis" (2008). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3341672.