In May 2017, the US Department of Homeland Security’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a warning to truck and bus companies urging them to watch out for potential terrorist attackers using vehicles and listed more than a dozen cars – ramming attacks in the United States that killed more than 170 people in total. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and the terror group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has long claimed responsibility. Vehicle attacks are not a new phenomenon, however, as they have long been referred to as “veteran terrorist attacks.”
Terrorism researchers have observed an increase in so-called Vehicle Ramming Attacks (VRA) in the United States in recent years. In October 2010, the US Department of Homeland Security’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published an article describing vehicle attacks as “one of the most dangerous aspects of terrorist attacks” and describing pickup trucks as “potential mowers” capable of mowing down “the enemies of Allah.”
The current wave of attacks follows the death of Heather Heyer, who was killed by a neo-Nazi driver after he lashed out at protesters opposed to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Of the deadly cars rammed in 2017, nearly three dozen have occurred since the protests began, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Terrorism researchers have seen an increase in what they call vehicles ramming attacks on protesters in recent months. It is too early to say whether the vehicle attacks now taking place can be linked to white supremacist propaganda, as few attackers have been caught, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Since the protests began in August 2017, there have been repeated VRA attacks and vehicle attacks, most recently in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Since the protests erupted, there have been nearly three dozen in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The number of fatal cars rammed by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and white nationalists in 2017 has increased. The ranks share a growing belief that many of the drivers base their actions on a racist intent to kill another. That suspicion stems from the account of Alex Jones Jr., who last month shared a video on his Facebook page of himself plowing his car into protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Weil is an associate professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism in the School of Public Policy. Weil has been an expert on white and neo-Nazi violence in America since the 1970s.
In a revealing Twitter thread on Sunday night, Weil explained that the increase in the number of protesters running over vehicles dates back to at least 2015, when protesters began blocking the roads in response to the fatal shooting of unarmed black protesters at the Dakota Access Pipeline. Activists cautioned presciently that tacit support from law enforcement would encourage groups of white supremacists to use violence the next day. In response, those who disagreed with the movement decided to go into the protesters “lives to kill them.
When two police officers were questioned about the car crash and the incident, they told reporters the driver acted out of frustration, not malice, and “not out of malice of any kind,” Weil said. The reporter shared the police statement on Twitter, fueling speculation that it was an accident. He later deleted the tweet and admitted that the quoted official knew nothing firsthand about the incident.
In Detroit, a driver was arrested for attacking a police officer with his car, and another was behind the wheel of two police cruisers that raced into a crowd of protesters in Brooklyn. Both incidents, Weil said, suggest that the ramming tactics may be the result of frustration rather than the driver’s malevolence. The bike has been at the center of a series of other incidents in recent weeks, including a car crash in New York City and two car crashes in Chicago, both of which saw crowds of protesters running.
The use of cars and trucks as instruments of terror is already a technique widely used worldwide by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and al-Qaeda.
While it is impossible to prevent all vehicle-based terrorist attacks, much more should be done to reduce the threat, and technology companies like this can and should do much more to prevent groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Hamas from using their vehicles to recruit new members and achieve their goals. Businesses can also be part of solving the problem of vehicle-to-vehicle terrorist attacks in the United States.
Read more research about Vehicle Ramming Attacks at NPR Here.