As we learned Thursday that the FBI had been warned in September about Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz, many likely wondered: Why couldn’t they have stopped him?
The FBI acknowledges that 36-year-old Ben Bennight reached out to them on Sept. 24, 2017 after seeing a comment on his YouTube channel from a user named Nikolas Cruz that read, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” Bennight said he often saw disturbing comments on his page, but this one was impossible for him to ignore. The FBI responded to Bennight immediately and conducted an interview the next day.
The FBI now says they were not able to identify the user.
I’m not an expert in law enforcement. I staunchly support the Bill of Rights and Americans’ basic civil liberties and would never want them infringed upon.
This column is not about giving government more power.
It’s about people doing their jobs.
Why were law enforcement officials not able to better follow up on an adult male making disturbing posts on social media (where he also used his name) after being tipped off about a worrisome YouTube user who actually used his real name online, had been suspended from his school for threatening students, and who both teachers and students worried might commit violence? “Everyone predicted it,” said one unnamed student to local media.
This kind of investigation could have been done regardless of whether or not YouTube shared information with the FBI. As a private citizen who is not in law enforcement, if I saw someone posting threatening language on the internet and it appeared they were using their real name, I could also easily seek out their Facebook or Instagram accounts to see if other posts with correlating names were cause for concern (and they were).
Of course many people, particularly young people, say outlandish things online, often things they don’t even mean. Nobody wants a police state regulating high schoolers’ group chats.
But if the FBI receives a credible tip about a particular individual claiming they intend to carry out violence, shouldn’t they be more aggressive in their follow-up? I’m not talking about stepping on constitutional rights, but what about just employing more basic police work?
The Florida school shooting is not the first time authorities have had information prior to a tragedy they could have conceivably helped prevent.
There were FBI failures that paved the path for the mass shooting in Fort Hood Texas in 2009. The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 happened largely due to intelligence failures. A gun store owner reported shooter Omar Mateen to the FBI before he went on killing spree at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida in 2016.
Of course, the FBI or law enforcement can’t always follow up, for a variety of reasons. But in the case of this week’s shooting in Parkland, Florida, it seems like they could have done more.
Look at what government already does: We live in a country where the rights of millions are sacrificed daily without our consent to a mass surveillance state that “catches” innocent Americans. So why not a closer eye on Cruz, who has actually threatened to do harm? Why not Cruz, who had apparently trained with a white nationalist militia? If I call a foreign country, my call can be monitored, but monsters like Nikolas Cruz are still left alone to carry out their evil?
In Florida this week, just how badly did law enforcement drop the ball?
On the day before the Florida school shooting, police arrested 18-year-old Joshua Alexander O’Connor of Everett, Washington after his grandmother called to report what her grandson had written in his journal. According to court documents, O’Connor wrote, “I’m preparing myself for the school shooting. I can’t wait. My aim has gotten much more accurate… I can’t wait to walk into that class and blow all those f**kers away.”
Police said O’Connor had a rifle stored in a guitar case, and written, “detailed plans” of how to kill classmates.
Obviously, this was a clearer case where the threats being made were easier to pinpoint as was the prevention of yet another tragedy.
But is it really a stretch to think that after finding a “Nikolas Cruz” making public threats on YouTube in September, the FBI really should have been looking for other men of the same name exhibiting similar behavior in public social media forums?
On a day where so many are passionately calling for government solutions to prevent such tragedies, is it not also reasonable to ask how law enforcement might have failed? Is it government inefficiency that let this killer slip through the cracks?