One Woman’s Mission
August 8, 2019 5:48 AM   Subscribe

They Call Her The Savant Is It Possible to Stop a Mass Shooting Before It Happens? [cw: descriptions of crime / violence / sexual assault]

You’ve never heard of her, but somewhere in America, a top-secret investigator known as the Savant is infiltrating online hate groups to take down the most violent men in the country. Cosmopolitan goes undercover as she races to get ahead of the next large-scale attack.
posted by hilaryjade (37 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Jesus Christ. I can't imagine how she manages to cope with the shit she sees every day. I weep for humanity.
posted by widdershins at 6:38 AM on August 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm afraid she'll be identified after reading that article. It has so many personal details.
posted by schroedinger at 6:54 AM on August 8, 2019 [21 favorites]


There are absolutely too many identifying details. I can't believe this was printed.

Also horrifying af.
posted by the webmistress at 6:58 AM on August 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


Fortunately, this type of perpetrator does not read Cosmopolitan.
posted by Melismata at 7:00 AM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


That was my thought, too. They all seemed very vague individually but taken together, I dunno.

Especially since it mentions she works for the Anti-Defamation League. It's not that big of an organization.

Fortunately, this type of perpetrator does not read Cosmopolitan.

I would put money on the likelihood that somewhere in the Nazisphere, there are people who monitor all media for mentions of stuff like this, even if it's just a Google Alert on the name "Elliot Rodger".
posted by jacquilynne at 7:03 AM on August 8, 2019 [16 favorites]


Why is a private citizen doing this more effectively than the FBI?

And why did that editor allow details about her house, her hobbies and high school sports, her military service and career history, a photo with a scrambled face that could easily be matched to the original, which serve no purpose other than endangering her? I hope to god they are red herrings designed to disorient the wretched dox monsters of 8chan. I'm going to tell myself that until she turns up dead.
posted by xylothek at 7:10 AM on August 8, 2019 [40 favorites]


I agree that printing this seems unwise. As comforting as it will be to read that efforts are being made to intervene before mass murders happen, it's also obvious that the bad guys now know what behavior might be flagging them and they will become even more careful in their paranoia.

Why make this woman's job harder just for a by-line?
posted by OHenryPacey at 7:11 AM on August 8, 2019 [6 favorites]


There were such a huge number of identifying details here that I choose to believe the entire article is part of an elaborate sting operation, because honestly!
posted by the latin mouse at 7:23 AM on August 8, 2019 [11 favorites]


I share everybody else's concerns. I was also concerned about the little dogs. If I was in a dangerous line of work, I don't think I could bear to have pets. I would be too worried about a John Wick situation.

Still, this would make an amazing movie, starring somebody like Melissa McCarthy or Frances McDormand, someone who would be totally invisible to anyone looking for a deadly intelligence analyst because they are just too female and middle-aged and suburban for a second look. In any case, it's time enough for an action movie with an incel as the villain. (The 2016 Ghostbusters had this, and I don't care what anyone says, it was huge fun.)
posted by Countess Elena at 7:33 AM on August 8, 2019 [12 favorites]


(Also, it's kind of amazing that she can do this work all day, after living the life she has led, and still be somebody who says "oh, I'm not really a feminist." Cognitive dissonance comes for the smartest of us.)
posted by Countess Elena at 7:37 AM on August 8, 2019 [11 favorites]


I just hope she uses a VPN and a computer dedicated to only that work.
posted by hypnogogue at 7:39 AM on August 8, 2019


Why is a private citizen doing this more effectively than the FBI?

Private citizens have a vested interest in preventing crime.

Professional "crime fighters" have a vested interest in seeing crime perpetuate, and punishing criminals.

It's the same mindset that explains why our infrastructure is crumbling. Prevention and maintenance doesn't make headlines, doesn't win elections, doesn't get budgeted.
posted by explosion at 7:44 AM on August 8, 2019 [14 favorites]


Why is a private citizen doing this more effectively than the FBI?

Also, I 100% believe her that she has tried and failed to train people in what she's doing. It sounds a very great deal like the set of skills that leads people to be good online moderators - it's a knack, an instinct, not particularly subject to being broken down to a decision tree except at the least subtle level. I've tried to train that and I can't, even in people who have a good general understanding of the goals and systems involved and, in some cases, a lot of experience being bad-to-barely-mediocre moderators. I'm not in the least surprised that the pipeline into the FBI is not looking for this kind of skillset.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:48 AM on August 8, 2019 [7 favorites]


Why make this woman's job harder just for a by-line?

There's nothing that says that the supposed details that might make it easy to identify her are actually real. She also had to agree to do the story in the first place, and definitely had to work closely with the writer. I suspect that everything has been well-groomed and vetted so as to thwart or deflect any attempts at tracking her down.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:04 AM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


I really really hope they were smart enough to seed this with fake info to throw off anyone looking for her. Because if not, they’re gonna find her. There’s way way too much in there that could be used to ID her. Heck, I even recognize the background in one of the pictures.
posted by joedan at 8:04 AM on August 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


Why is a private citizen doing this more effectively than the FBI?

Because this is the kind of stuff, no matter what idealists within the FBI think, not that the FBI exists to oppose but that it exists to support and legitimise.
State security organisations have no real interest in combating reactionary violence, except perhaps from the perspective of unpaid volunteers undercutting work they want to be paid to do.
posted by Acid Communist at 8:05 AM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


Heck, I even recognize the background in one of the pictures

It's impossible to do that work without having extremely good op-sec skills. I think ALL details about this person are misleading. And some of them probably well crafted and targeted for a specific take down currently in progress.
posted by DreamerFi at 8:14 AM on August 8, 2019 [11 favorites]


I would love for this whole piece to be a honeypot used to draw some of these people out of their spider holes; like the rest of you I'm afraid that the writers were either cocky or stupid enough to endanger an actual person. Fingers crossed.
posted by emjaybee at 8:25 AM on August 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


I think, considering her expertise deciphering precisely this sort of information online, we should not only give her the benefit of the doubt, but should assume she was able to preview the article before print and that no identifying details were published.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 8:27 AM on August 8, 2019 [16 favorites]


should assume she was able to preview the article before print and that no identifying details were published.

Yeah, I'm hoping stuff like this
Her house is a six-song-playlist’s drive outside of town. When I land on a Monday morning, I head north and west into a flat horizon in a rented silver Kia, passing a Target and a Texas Roadhouse.
means the reporter arrived on a Friday evening in a town with no Target or Texas Roadhouse and walked from her hotel to a downtown apartment with a mountain view. And maybe the subject doesn't actually live there anyway.

Meanwhile, someone is watching to see who searches on all those misleading details and posts their results to one of the sites they monitor. "Hey, guys! I think we've found the target... hang on, there are people at my door from... I'm guessing Free Beer, Inc.? It's my lucky day!"
posted by pracowity at 8:35 AM on August 8, 2019 [8 favorites]


She is a hero. And she's not the only one doing work like this in secret, but it sure sounds like she is perfect for the job.
posted by captain afab at 8:41 AM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, someone is watching to see who searches on all those misleading details and posts their results to one of the sites they monitor.

Ha, now I want to search to see if there's a zip file out there like, "download your handy map of all Texas Roadhouse locations HERE."

I fear we're giving someone too much credit, but the purpose of the article really did seem to be to drop a bunch of identifying details. They described her neighborhood and even her home for God's sakes.

So I'm going to choose to believe that there's some sting operation all set up somewhere in suburban (Dallas? Indianapolis?) 12-30 minutes from the airport, or that the baddies were starting to get a little too close to the ADL's man out in Santa Monica.
posted by salvia at 11:16 AM on August 8, 2019


WTF? Why is this in Cosmo?! Have I been missing out on interesting stories for years, scared away by their "10 Tips to Drive Your Man Wild" cover teasers?
posted by dobbs at 11:50 AM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


Maybe? But after reading this article I clicked on a sidebar link to a story explaining what Rainbow Kisses are, and now I feel pretty okay with only ever seeing those Cosmo stories that show up here on MeFi.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:59 AM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


I fear we're giving someone too much credit, but the purpose of the article really did seem to be to drop a bunch of identifying details. They described her neighborhood and even her home for God's sakes.

The little tidbit about someone on her watchlist living less than a mile from her just seems like outright provocation.
posted by joedan at 12:32 PM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


I wanted to contact the woman that wrote this to ask if the identifying details are real or fake but you can only contact her on Twitter or IG. And Twitter is the last place that you'd want to discuss this. Auuuuuuugh.

I wish there was a way I could help this lady do what she does. Donate or something
posted by pelvicsorcery at 12:36 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


WTF? Why is this in Cosmo?!

There's a certain genius to it. Say the guys in question want to zero in on the identifying information--they have to admit to their toxically masculine community that they read about it in Cosmo. And I bet a big fat NONE of them are going to be willing to do that. Publishing in Cosmo might keep her safer than anything else.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:36 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


And when 8chan mobs think they've "nailed it" based on the details – real or fake – and go after the wrong person? A friend of mine was incorrectly identified as the author of a lulzy tweet condemning Jordan Peterson, and was doxxed, had his employment threatened, etc. And he's a white guy. I'm nervous about the details.
posted by avocet at 1:27 PM on August 8, 2019 [10 favorites]


and go after the wrong person?

They always go after the wrong person, because there is no right person to be targeted by their ridiculous overreactions.

This is a story that should be told, both to celebrate her work, and to inspire others. Refusing to tell it simply because the trolls and terrorists may be upset is ceding exactly the sort of power they wish to wield when threatening people.
posted by explosion at 1:55 PM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


I wish there was a way I could help this lady do what she does. Donate or something

Your wish is granted!

(Link goes to the ADL, for whom she works.)
posted by salvia at 2:08 PM on August 8, 2019


Have I been missing out on interesting stories for years, scared away by their "10 Tips to Drive Your Man Wild" cover teasers?

Depends. Have you kept your subscription to Teen Vogue up to date?
posted by stet at 3:50 PM on August 8, 2019 [5 favorites]


Teen Vogue already went out of print.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:27 PM on August 8, 2019


WTF? Why is this in Cosmo?! Have I been missing out on interesting stories for years, scared away by their "10 Tips to Drive Your Man Wild" cover teasers?

You have!! They’re not Teen Vogue, but Cosmo is unapologetically pro-choice and progressive, and has published a lot of great stuff within the last two to three years that has surprised me. Here’s a link to their recent politics articles, and they also regularly have great content about relationships, work, money, and their health content is amazing; they just finished a series about if you’re an addict, selecting a rehab program, how to pay for it, and then increasing your odds of success when you get there!
posted by stellaluna at 9:06 PM on August 8, 2019 [7 favorites]


They described her neighborhood and even her home for God's sakes.

If you've seen one US suburb you've seen them all. None of that seemed to me to be identifiable at all.
posted by bendy at 1:59 AM on August 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


Private citizens have a vested interest in preventing crime.

Professional "crime fighters" have a vested interest in seeing crime perpetuate, and punishing criminals.
I took a second to moderate my language here but: you are utterly, completely, absolutely wrong. Your incorrect assumptions are borne out of ignorance. The question you're responding to extends from a fundamental misconception also borne out of ignorance.

I have watched people die and handled crime scenes in all their varieties of blood and chaos. I have also made proactive arrests, pulled guns off people, interrupted arguments and fights as the knife or the gun comes out, etc. I MUCH prefer the latter. Because, you know, I'm a human being instead of an abstract figure you conjured out of mist so you can hate it safely.

I mean think about what you're saying. You are actually literally saying that the cops that respond to these scenes would PREFER to walk through piles of dead bodies, cell phones buzzing and chiming with texts from panicked family members and friends, instead of prevent the incident. What a completely inane thing to say, to put it mildly.

When I prevent a crime, that I have done so is invisible to you. Just like everything in this article was invisible to you before you read it.

I do not work for the FBI. I have no knowledge of their processes. I do know that my agency cooperates with numerous neighboring agencies and the local FBI office. We have a few civilian and a few sworn who monitor social media on a few different vectors. Most of that intelligence effort is directed towards gangs because they generate hundreds of shootings annually in my city alone (our population is a few hundred thousand people). It's also the case that (as ever) our patrol and investigative bureaus are swamped and unable to keep up with their workloads. Our dedicated shooting investigations team is all carrying 10-15 active cases at any time, which is insane, unsustainable, and unavoidably reduces the solve rate.

In the middle of all that, how much time, staff, and money do you think my city has to spend on monitoring the unceasing torrential firehose of the hate-net to try to pluck out the guy that might do a shooting here? When we're already falling behind on the (again) hundreds of shootings we're already handling? And again, in spite of all that, we DO have people doing their best to provide intel on what might be coming down the pike, violence wise. As an agency we work really hard to prevent as much as we can, but we simply can not be everywhere. Multiple times I've been standing on a shooting scene and someone else gets shot around the corner. Multiple times I've been 20-30 feet away and just looking the other way when someone gets shot.

Places like 8chan are inherently anonymous and there is SO MUCH of this stuff posted there every minute of every day. I'm glad that this lady is doing what she's doing, but do we know for a fact that any of the convictions she's assisted in would have gone on to be the next Paddock, Mateen, etc? We don't. If it's not reported in the news do we have any idea what the FBI or other agencies have prevented? No. And even in this article - the person profiled is concentrating on a specific subset. Which is fine and sensible! You can't be everywhere! But she didn't see Dinton coming and she REALLY didn't see Betts coming since he operated in the leftist/antifa section of the hate-net (his misogyny is consistent with what she's looking at, but it seems like that was kept mostly offline). It would not be possible for her to see Paddock coming because he didn't do any internet stuff at all and to this day has no discernible motive. Nothing!

I also doubt that too many people on mefi would be really excited for widescale government monitoring and sifting of social media in an attempt to prevent future crime. Which is, of course, one of the biggest hurdles with preventing crime. I can't arrest someone because I think they're GOING to commit a crime. I can basically just be present and hope they decide it's not worth the risk. Or, as in the case of Betts, be right there and put a stop to it as quickly as possible.

Sigh.

This was an interesting article although I skipped over most of the biographical stuff. It's comforting to think that we could theoretically detect and prevent these events this way. I don't think we can. We may get in front of some of them but without telescopes to peer into alternate universes there's no way to know which of these people will act on their fantasies. There was an article posted here a while ago about potentially using data on the sudden acquisition of a lot of credit card debt sunk into firearms and ammunition. I think it would potentially be really valuable to do a comprehensive study on all the shooters in the past 10 years ago and see if that's an useful pattern that could potentially be used as a factor along with internet activity. I don't think it's personally sustainable for one person to try to feel responsible for a nation of hundreds of millions. And who knows what's going on in some private discord she doesn't even know exists. It's just not humanly possible to track everything and be everywhere.
posted by firebrick at 2:44 AM on August 9, 2019 [4 favorites]


You are actually literally saying that the cops that respond to these scenes would PREFER to walk through piles of dead bodies

No, I'm saying that they have a vested interest in crimes existing and being punishable.

Yes, every individual officer wants to have a safe, incident free shift. Every officer wants to believe they've made their neighborhood safer. But if there's no crime, there's no justification for a force of that size, and the citizens will question the budget.

Therefore, the police must justify themselves. Some straight-up invent crimes, or arrest citizens for non-crimes. Sometimes they petition the government to create crimes, like the NYPD currently pushing for "throwing water" to become a felony. They generally sow fear by reporting on crimes in hyperbolic manners.

Think about it. America is safer than it's ever been, and people think it's dangerous. The question is always, "who benefits from this?" and the answer is the police and those who sell to police.

Again, it's not each and every individual, but as a group, police officers do have an interest in crime existing. Many jobs have at least some inherent conflict of interest. The key is acknowledging it, not denying it.
posted by explosion at 4:57 AM on August 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


No, I'm saying that they have a vested interest in crimes existing and being punishable.

Well, that and perpetuating white supremacy and fascism. A sampling of headlines from the just the last couple of months (cw/tw for bigotry, police brutality, attempted murder, etc): And we haven't even gotten to the almost daily reports on police brutality and murder against marginalized people.

So yeah, I'd say cops and the FBI are very much part of the problem, not so much part of the solution. I mean, the last one is straight-up a member of a modern-day Gestapo running over a group of Jewish and Latinx folks (including children, the elderly, and the disabled) that were protesting a concentration camp. That's the kind of thing that doesn't exactly inspire confidence that police are really serious about stopping white supremacists and/or Nazis from infiltrating their ranks, let alone going after them in a meaningful way.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:57 AM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


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