Bergen: Domestic abuse can portend terror violence

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Story highlights

  • Domestic abuse common among those behind political violence in US, authors say
  • They say linkage is a promising area of research to help understand radicalization

Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of "United States of Jihad: Investigating America's Homegrown Terrorists." David Sterman is a policy analyst at New America's International Security Program.

(CNN)James T. Hodgkinson, the man who carried out Wednesday's shooting at a baseball practice by congressional Republicans, was a small-business owner from Illinois. He also was charged 11 years ago with domestic abuse.

Peter Bergen
David Sterman
In 2006 Hodgkinson was arrested on charges of domestic battery after, according to a police report, he went into a neighbor's house to find his daughter, used bodily force to damage a door, grabbed his daughter by her hair, and when she escaped him and ran to a car, used a knife to cut her seat belt. He punched the neighbor, and brandished a shotgun, firing one round, the police report said.
The charges against Hodgkinson were later dismissed, but the allegations have a new resonance after Wednesday's shooting attack. A history of association with domestic violence is relatively common among those who have committed political violence in the United States.
    Of the 48 perpetrators of lethal political violence in the United States since 9/11 -- whether they were motivated by jihadist, far right or black nationalist ideologies -- 11, or almost a quarter, had allegations or convictions of domestic violence or sexual crimes in their past, according to an analysis of New America's research.
    While there are quite a number of domestic abusers and sexual predators in the United States -- and there are, relatively speaking, few terrorists -- it is striking how many domestic terrorists have had an earlier brush with domestic violence or sexual crimes before they have gone on to carry out significant terrorist acts.
    Take Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016 -- the most deadly terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. His first wife, Sitora Yusufiy, told reporters he had abused her.
    Or Joshua Cummings, a former soldier and convert to Islam, accused of killing a transit guard in Denver in January, and who claimed to have done so for ISIS. Cummings reportedly was charged with domestic violence in 2010, though the case was eventually dropped.
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    Kori Allen Muhammad, charged with killing three people in an April attack reportedly motivated by black nationalist ideology, was also previously arrested for domestic violence.
    Similar cases can be found among the far right. Robert Dear, for example, accused of killing three people in a 2015 attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, had a history of run-ins with police over domestic violence.
    Terry Smith, an anti-government militant and so-called "Sovereign Citizen," who was convicted for his role in the murder of two police officers in Louisiana during a shootout in 2012, was also convicted of the aggravated rape of a child relative.
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    Domestic violence among perpetrators of deadly political violence should not be surprising: It is also common among perpetrators of mass violence more generally. According to the gun safety research group, Everytown, data analysis of FBI and media reports reveal that "the majority of mass shootings in the U.S. are related to domestic or family violence."
    More research remains to be done on the nature of the linkage between domestic violence and sexual crimes and acts of political violence. But the frequency of the association reveal this as quite a promising area of research -- particularly as law enforcement officials try to understand how someone who is known to be radicalizing might eventually go on to commit a violent act in the name of whatever twisted radical ideology he or she has embraced.