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Behavioral Threat Assessment of Austin William Lanz

Updated: Sep 2

POI: Austin William Lanz

Beatriz Adell Quesada, Kayla Barnes, Jasmin Saarijärvi, Angeliki Siafaka, Behavior/Leadership (B/L) Team

Austin William Lanz[1]


Summary


On Tuesday, August 3, 2021, 27-year-old Austin William Lanz traveled to the Pentagon, stabbing one officer and shooting another. Lanz had previous negative interactions with law enforcement and the military, possibly leading him to identify the United States Department of Defense’s Pentagon facility as a symbolic target. We assess that with the available open-source information, this attack was highly likely to be an isolated revenge attack, partially motivated by declining mental health. After conducting an analysis on the perpetrator, Austin William Lanz, we have reached the following assessments:

  • Based solely on current information that is publicly available, it is not yet appropriate to classify Lanz as a terrorist, but if more information regarding his beliefs and his motivations behind the attack becomes available we may be able to classify this attack as an act of terrorism.

  • It is likely that Lanz acted alone and his goal was revenge against the U.S. security complex and more broadly, the U.S. authorities.

  • It is likely that both Lanz’s administrative separation from the U.S. Marine Corps and his mental health problems motivated his attack on the Pentagon officer.

  • While the likelihood of an emergence of a copycat attacker is possible, as there are increasingly public grievances against law enforcement and the U.S. government at the time of this report, his lack of a clear ideology makes the degree of this likelihood low.

Alternative assessments may indicate that this was an act of terrorism that was ideologically or politically motivated. As more information is released from the police pending their investigation, it is possible that emerging data will indicate that Lanz was in fact motivated by a particular ideology. In this case, the Behavior/Leadership Team will update our analysis.


Event Overview


At 1040 local time on Tuesday, August 3, a 27-year old man stabbed a Pentagon police officer in the neck at the Pentagon Transit Center in Arlington, Virginia, United States (U.S.). The suspect had just exited the bus when he attacked the officer. He then used the officer’s service weapon to shoot him in the head. An exchange of fire ensued between the suspect and Pentagon Force Protection Agency (PFPA) officers. The suspect used the deceased officer’s gun to shoot himself, dying at the scene. Chief of Pentagon Force Protection Agency Woodrow Kusse said that the incident resulted in “several casualties”, but provided no further details. A bystander was also injured and taken to hospital, but his injuries were not life-threatening according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Following the attack, the Pentagon was placed in lockdown for two hours.


POI Overview - Items of Interest


The FBI identified Austin William Lanz as the attacker on Wednesday, August 4.[2] Austin Lanz was from Acworth, Cobb County, Georgia and he was 27 years old at the time of the attack. Below are some areas of interest that will help identify observable indicators and characteristics that can shed light on Austin Lanz’s behavior and mental state and determine if there was any chance for this attack to have been prevented.

  1. On October 9, 2012, Lanz enlisted in the Marine Corps but was administratively separated less than a month later and never earned the title of Marine.[3]

  2. In July 2020, Lanz started a lengthy harassment campaign against his neighbors that involved sexually explicit messages, pornography, and threatening notes which he was leaving in the mailbox of the neighboring home.[4] The neighbor, Phillip Brent, described that Lanz had repeatedly harassed him as well as his then-fiancee, Eliza Wells; he was reportedly entering their property, leaving items on their doors, and watching them.[5]

  3. In February 2021, Lanz continued to harass his neighbors Phillip Brent and Eliza Wells even after the police confronted him and gave him a warning.[6]

  4. On April 24, 2021, Lanz was arrested on charges of burglary and criminal trespassing in Cobb County, Georgia, after he broke into the neighbor’s home in the middle of the night with what police said appeared to be a crowbar; he searched through the residence for something or someone but left without taking anything.[7]

  5. While being processed at the county jail after his arrest, Lanz attacked two sheriff’s deputies without provocation or warning.[8] During the attack, Lanz tore one deputy’s anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and chipped a bone in her knee, he dislocated another deputy’s thumb and destroyed one of the deputy’s tasers.[9] He had to be restrained by multiple deputies following the attacks and after he was restrained, he accused the officers of being “gay” for teaming up on him and challenged the deputies to remove his restraints and fight one-on-one.[10] A separate set of charges was filed against him due to that incident, which included two counts of aggravated battery on police, a count of making a terroristic threat, a charge for rioting in a penal institution, and one charge of criminal damage to property.[11] The judge on the case released him but imposed several conditions that required Lanz to undergo a mental health evaluation and substance abuse evaluation.

  6. When in custody, Lanz made statements to a police officer about how planes had been flying over his neighborhood and tracking his cell phone.[12]

  7. Lanz’s neighbors gave several accounts of his recent menacing behavior.[13]

  8. Lanz’s lawyer was seeking a bond modification that would permit Lanz to travel to the Washington, D.C. area to work with his father.[14]

  9. Lanz was in the Washington, D.C. area to work and undergo a mental health evaluation and had been in the area near the Pentagon a few days before the attack.[15]

  10. His family said that the last few months of Lanz’s life were overcome with many mental health challenges, that he had hospital stays, and numerous professional mental health evaluations, although he did not receive an official diagnosis.[16]

Observable Indicators and Characteristics


To indicate whether this event was a lone-actor terrorist attack, we have assessed Austin Lanz using the Terrorist Radicalization Assessment Protocol (TRAP-18), a structured professional judgment instrument for those engaged in risk assessment of persons of concern for acts of terrorist violence. The TRAP-18 consists of 8 proximal warning behaviors and 10 distal characteristics which have been displayed throughout past terrorist attacks (for more information about the scientific method, validity, current usage of the TRAP-18, and definitions of the behaviors and characteristics, see the provided source).[17]


Only the evidence which has been proven and confirmed using open source intelligence is checked on this list. Unchecked boxes may or may not have been exhibited by the POI but are, for now, unknown.

Classification as Terrorism


According to the creators of the TRAP-18, the majority of lone actors were positive on 13 of 18 TRAP-18 variables (72%).[18] These individuals showed a frequency of >70% on the distal factors of personal grievance/moral outrage, framed by an ideology, thwarting of occupational goals, and changes in thinking and emotion, and 77% or more on the four proximal warning behaviors, namely pathway, fixation, identification, and leakage.[19] This means that lone-actor terrorists tend to display a pattern of common pre-attack behaviors that distinguish them from other criminals. While this is not a fool-proof method, using the TRAP-18, we can compare Austin Lanz’s traits to those of known lone-actor terrorists to help us determine whether this attack was a terrorist act or simply motivated by a personal grievance.


Based on the available information, Austin Lanz displayed 7 total indicators which align themselves with other lone-actor terrorists. Therefore, there are a few similarities between Lanz and the behaviors displayed by terrorists, and as more information reaches the public, we may be able to characterize him as such. At the moment, law enforcement officials have declined to rule out terrorism or provide any other potential motive behind Lanz’s attack.[20] While it is easy to make the assumption of this being an act of domestic terrorism due to the significance of the selected location for the attack, we assess that there is not enough evidence to label this attack as an act of terrorism. An act of terrorism aims to serve political objectives, but from analyzing the available information, it appears that Lanz’s attack was perpetrated due to personal grievances, his declining mental health, and the pressure caused by the pending charges against him. The fact that Lanz was administratively separated less than a month after he enlisted in the Marine Corps likely played a role in his motivation behind the attack. Even though that happened in 2012, it was likely a major failure in his planned life course. The choice of the location is significant as the Pentagon is a symbol of the U.S. military, although it is unclear whether Lanz intended to make a political statement and express his contempt for the U.S. military. It is likely that Lanz was motivated by his personal grievances but if more information regarding his beliefs and his motivations behind the attack becomes available we may be able to classify this attack as an act of terrorism.


Target and Goal


The target was a police officer at the Pentagon and it is likely that Lanz chose the target due to his prior negative experiences with law enforcement. Lanz stepped out of the bus at the Pentagon Transit Center and immediately headed towards police officer George Gonzalez. He then stabbed police officer George Gonzalez in the neck with a knife and grabbed Gonzalez’s gun, which he used to shoot himself right after.[21] Lanz had a complicated relationship with the U.S. authorities, which is likely to have affected his choice of target. The Pentagon and police officer target likely symbolize the frustrations with law enforcement and the military Lanz experienced due to his past criminal activities, arrests, and dismissal from the U.S. Marine Corps.[22] Lanz’s apparent aspirations to be a part of the U.S. Marine Corps and belong to the military and intelligence community likely led him to choose this particular target. The eventual separation from his military aspirations was highly likely to turn him to despise the U.S. military, which can be seen in the choice of target. Lanz likely acted alone and his goal seems to have been revenge against the U.S. security complex and more broadly, the U.S. authorities. This can be seen in his previous behavior of aggravated assaults of police officers which in turn, demonstrates his continued aggression and sense of revenge against U.S. authorities.


Motive


While the motive behind the attack is not yet known, it seems likely that his administrative separation from the U.S. Marine Corps had some input into his decision to stab a Pentagon police officer. Austin William Lanz was ousted from the U.S. Marine Corps in November 2012. Having only enlisted in October 2012, his swift administrative separation probably triggered in him a sense of shame which seemingly created a desire for revenge against the U.S. military and security complex. This would explain why the attack was carried out against an on-duty police officer at the headquarters building of the U.S. Department of Defense. It also helps make sense of his two-fold charge with aggravated battery on police in April this year. The incident revealed a raged and visceral modus operandi similar to his stabbing of the Pentagon police officer, a behavior compatible with the revenge hypothesis.


In a statement released by the Lanz family in the aftermath of the attack, the family spoke of several “mental health challenges” which rendered him “desperately” in need of help.[23] In addition, while Lanz’s professional mental health evaluations had so far arrived at no official diagnosis, his neighbors, Phillip Brent and Eliza Wells, had reportedly experienced a long campaign of harassment perpetrated by the suspect. Austin William Lanz reportedly participated in a range of “bizarre” and “highly disturbing” incidents, including putting an image of a woman in a tiara, accompanied by an actual toy tiara, in his neighbor’s mailbox.[24] His unsettling past behavior, coupled with the unprovoked nature of the Pentagon attack, would suggest that despite never being diagnosed with any mental health condition, his stabbing of George Gonzalez was at least partly triggered by his troubled mental health. Therefore, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that his administrative separation from the U.S. Marine Corps and his mental health problems both motivated his attack on the Pentagon officer; the former created an underlying source of resentment, while the latter took on an enabling role that turned resentment into unprovoked violence.


Conspiracy Theories and Copycats


There is no available information indicating that Lanz was motivated by any believed conspiracy theories. Individuals who have similar grievances against the military or law enforcement due to past experience may see the actions of Lanz and believe that they should engage in similar behavior to exact revenge as well. However, the lack of a prominent ideology or belief system that led to Lanz committing the attack, as this is likely an isolated revenge incident, reduces the likelihood that Lanz will inspire copycats.


Future Implications


The case of Austin William Lanz underscores the importance of indicators regarding personal grievances and outrage as well as mental disorders. This demonstrates how a person’s past behavior could lead up to conducting a violent attack. Lanz had a troubled past, marked by prior criminal activities and negative sentiments towards law enforcement and U.S. security personnel. This coupled with Lanz’s mental disorders should have been noted by the law enforcement which could have prevented collaboration with local mental health social services to closely monitor Lanz. Lanz’s history in the U.S. Marine Corps is an additional reason to increase attention on individuals who have been separated from the U.S. military, especially those who are dismissed, as they may develop negative sentiments toward the respective institutions. Additionally, lone attacks can prompt more hatred and motivate other individuals with grievances to conduct attacks against the U.S. government institutions. Therefore, local, state, and federal institutions should take action in improving the communication of potential persons of interest and the threat they might impose in the future.

[1] El atacante del Pentágono, Austin William Lanz, sufría problemas de salud mental, Twitter, August 9, 2021, https://twitter.com/ImpactoLatino/status/1424731081522262018/photo/1

[2] Suspect in Pentagon attack identified as Austin William Lanz of Georgia, CNN, August 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/08/04/politics/pentagon-attack-suspect/index.html

[3] Suspect in killing of Pentagon officer tried to join Marines, was recently arrested, officials say, NBC News, August 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/suspect-killing-pentagon-officer-tried-join-marines-was-recently-arrested-n1275919

[4] Man who fatally stabbed Pentagon officer had troubled past, The Associated Press, August 2021, https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-business-shootings-violence-851abe71637c16546f2bbe079e445ca5

[5] Pentagon attacker previously targeted couple next door, The Hill, August 2021, https://thehill.com/policy/defense/566890-pentagon-attacker-previously-targeted-couple-next-door

[6] Man who fatally stabbed Pentagon officer had troubled past, The Associated Press, August 2021, https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-business-shootings-violence-851abe71637c16546f2bbe079e445ca5

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid

[9] Assailant in Pentagon police killing was booted out of Marines, recently arrested, CNBC News, August 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/04/assailant-in-pentagon-police-killing-was-booted-out-of-marines-recently-arrested-.html

[10] Ibid

[11] Officer dead, suspect killed in violence outside Pentagon, The Associated Press, August 2021, https://apnews.com/article/pentagon-lockdown-gunshots-846e71a1b78370611ba13beb28aa77a9

[12] Man who fatally stabbed Pentagon officer had troubled past, The Associated Press, August 2021, https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-business-shootings-violence-851abe71637c16546f2bbe079e445ca5

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Pentagon attacker previously targeted couple next door, The Hill, August 2021, https://thehill.com/policy/defense/566890-pentagon-attacker-previously-targeted-couple-next-door

[16] ‘We are so sorry and heartbroken:’ Family of accused Pentagon attacker apologizes, CBS6 News, August 2021, https://cbs6albany.com/news/nation-world/we-are-so-sorry-and-heartbroken-family-of-accused-pentagon-suspect-apologizes

[17] “Assessing the threat of lone-actor terrorism: the reliability and validity of the TRAP-18,” Forensische Psychiatrie, Psychologie, Kriminologie, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7149273/

[18] “Assessing the threat of lone-actor terrorism: the reliability and validity of the TRAP-18,” Forensische Psychiatrie, Psychologie, Kriminologie, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7149273/

[19] Ibid

[20] Officer dead, suspect killed in violence outside Pentagon, The Associated Press, August 2021, https://apnews.com/article/pentagon-lockdown-gunshots-846e71a1b78370611ba13beb28aa77a9

[21] Suspect in Pentagon attack identified as Austin William Lanz of Georgia, CNN, August 2021, https://edition.cnn.com/2021/08/04/politics/pentagon-attack-suspect/index.html

[22] Assailant in Pentagon police killing was booted out of Marines, recently arrested, CNBC, August 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/04/assailant-in-pentagon-police-killing-was-booted-out-of-marines-recently-arrested-.html

[23] Before Austin Lanz killed a Pentagon police officer, he was accused of targeting the couple next door, The Washington Post, August 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/pentagon-police-attack-austin-lanz/2021/08/07/28a3b134-f6ba-11eb-9738-8395ec2a44e7_story.html

[24] Ibid

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