(Ken Silva, Headline USA) The FBI and local police have yet to find a motive for the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, but that hasn’t stopped a DHS-sponsored academic organization from deeming the deadly event as anti-government terrorism.
Headline USA discovered this while researching Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock for an exclusive story about his mental illness. As reported earlier this month, newly released FBI records show that Paddock was rumored to be a psych patient—adding to previous reports that he had told people around him he was a “government experiment,” and would often lie in bed “moaning and screaming” in mental anguish.
While these facts indicate that Paddock was driven by severe mental illness—and not political ideology—the University of Maryland’s DHS-sponsored “National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism,” or START, has classified the deadliest mass shooting in American history as anti-government terrorism.
START, which is a DHS “Emeritus Center of Excellence,” maintains the Global Terrorism Database, which tracks more than 200,000 terrorist attacks since 1970. START has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the DHS, including a $750,000 grant last year to study extremism in the military.
In an article explaining its decision about the Las Vegas shooting—which killed 60 and injured 850—START cited two unnamed FBI witness statements about Paddock’s purported anti-government extremism. One of the witnesses was recently incarcerated on a drug possession charge, and another was a woman who did not know Paddock but allegedly recognized him after seeing his picture on the news.
The first witness, the man jailed for drugs, reportedly told the FBI that he or she met Paddock several weeks before the attack. According to this witness, Paddock made some alarming statements, including “Somebody has to wake up the American public and get them to arm themselves… Sometimes sacrifices have to be made.”
Paddock also reportedly “kept carrying on about anti-government stuff…FEMA stuff…and he was saying how Katrina…was just a dry run for law enforcement and military to start kicking down doors and confiscating guns.”
Another witness, again unnamed, reportedly told the FBI that she saw a man resembling Paddock in a Las Vegas diner days before the shooting. The woman told the FBI that the man was accompanied by another person, and was ranting about the government murdering innocent civilians at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and Waco in 1993—events that are said to have radicalized Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
However, unlike the first witness statement, the FBI’s report about the female witness did not include an affirmative identification of Paddock by name.
In its explainer, START also addressed other obvious objections to classifying Las Vegas as anti-government terrorism: Why would an anti-government terrorist shoot at country music fans, instead of government actors? And why wouldn’t Paddock leave a manifesto or any other records about why he committed his attack?
START explained this away by essentially contending that Paddock may have been playing three-dimensional chess.
“Terrorism is a strategic type of violence designed to undermine and manipulate societies and governments … As a result, these tactical decisions may initially seem counterintuitive,” START argued. “With this in mind, it is not as surprising that Paddock would target the group he thinks most likely to take up arms in response to a perceived threat… those he is trying to ‘wake up.’”
START does not address the fact that other FBI records explicitly state that Paddock was apolitical, and seemingly didn’t even own a rifle until the mid-2010s. Nor does the group mention the numerous people who actually knew Paddock and said he wasn’t driven by political ideology.
Paddock had been making money from managing apartment complexes in LA and Texas. Former employee of the IRS and Postal Service. 3 years prior to the incident, only owned a handgun. Was not a political person, mentally ill, or a member of ANTIFA or ISIS. pic.twitter.com/ZM4ruAuTz5
— Tim Tuttle (@JolyonMcVeigh) April 12, 2023
The implication of the DHS-funded classification isn’t clear. Neither the DHS nor START responded to questions about the extent to which the DHS bases its policy decisions on START’s terrorism data.
However, what is clear is that START has major influence on U.S. counterterrorism research. Media outlets have cited the group’s data, and START members have testified before Congress about domestic terrorism matters.
But despite START’s influence, other organizations have yet to agree with it about the Las Vegas shooting. Even groups such as the left-leaning ADL have said that there isn’t sufficient evidence to classify the shooting as terrorism—let alone anti-government terrorism.
“Was Stephen Paddock some sort of right-wing extremist? A sober analysis of the information so far publicly available can only conclude that he remains mostly a mystery,” the ADL said in an article that thoroughly debunks the credibility of the above-mentioned witness statements.
“It’s worth nothing that even if Paddock had ideological ties, that does not mean his shooting spree was necessarily ideological in nature. His spree may have been spurred by mental health issues or other, still unknown, causes.”
Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.