James Alex Fields Jr., the young man accused of ramming his car into a crowd of protesters at a white nationalist rally in Virginia and killing one woman on Saturday, has a history of violent behavior.
In 2010, his mother, Samantha Bloom, told police that her then-teenaged son hit her in the head, covered her mouth with his hands and threatened to assault her after she told him to stop playing video games, according to The Washington Post.
The following year, the police were called to their home twice. In October 2011, Bloom, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair, called 911 to report that Fields was “being very threatening toward her,” the dispatcher wrote. The next month, police were again called to the home after Fields allegedly spat in his mother’s face and stood behind her with a 12-inch knife.
On Saturday, Fields, 20, of Maumee, Ohio, drove his car into the crowd at a high rate of speed, then put it in reverse and sped back down the street in an attempt to quickly get away. Police reportedly captured the young man not far from the crash site and took him into custody.
He currently sits in the Albemarle-Charlottesville County Regional Jail.
Fields’ history of domestic violence is a common theme in the lives of many mass killers and violent terrorists.
According to CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, it is quite common for people who commit acts of politically-inspired violence in the U.S. to have a history of domestic violence. As he wrote in a CNN op-ed, “of the 48 perpetrators of lethal political violence in the U.S. 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.”
Here is a list of examples:
- Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who drove his truck into a crowd gathered for a Bastille Day fireworks display in Nice, France, last year, had been accused of abusing his mother, as well as his wife.
- Omar Mateen, the man who opened fire in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida last year also allegedly beat his former wife, and his widow says he physically abused her, too.
- Robert Dear, the man accused of shooting up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and killing three in 2015, also had a history of abusing his multiple wives.
- Esteban Santiago, the man charged with killing five unsuspecting travelers in a mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January, was previously accused of assaulting and strangling his girlfriend.
- James T. Hodgkinson, who opened fire on Republican politicians at a congressional baseball practice this summer and wounded five people, had been accused of strangling and beating his foster daughter.
Most mass shootings in the U.S. constitute domestic violence, to some degree.
Family or domestic violence played a role in at least 54 percent of mass shootings between 2009 and 2016, according to an Everytown for Gun Safety analysis. It defines a “mass shooting” as an incident in which at least four people were fatally shot, not including the perpetrator. In these cases, it’s not uncommon for friends, neighbors, and even strangers to be killed alongside an abuser’s family members.
The analysis notes, however, that domestic violence occurs too frequently in the general population to make it a reliable indicator of a person’s likelihood to eventually commit acts of mass carnage. Millions of abusers across the U.S. terrorize their families, and very few will graduate to attacking others.
Researchers are now working to figure out how to identify which abusers are at risk of committing murderous acts on others, and a growing number of jurisdictions now screen abused women for those warning signs.
Domestic violence needs to be addressed if we are to have any hope of actually reducing the level of violence in today’s society.
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