As a social science researcher, I study aggression, extreme violence, and mass murder. I believe it is important to document all cases of mass murder. The FBI defines mass murder as the killing of four or more people, in a single incident, with no distinctive time between the killings (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2008). Other respected definitions are similar but with a lower number of victims of three or more. I am interested in commonly occurring patterns or elements existing outside of the norm. Gang-stalking, targeted individuals and their connection to mass murder, meets this criterion.
What Is Gang-Stalking?
Through my research, I've learned that there exists a sizable community of people around the world who sincerely believe that an organized group, typically comprised of government or law enforcement officials, has banded together to purposely and deliberately cause them physical and psychological harm. This perception of an organized group effort is termed “gang-stalking” and its victims refer to themselves as “targeted individuals” or “TIs.” Though exact figures are unknown, The New York Times conservatively estimates that there are at least 10,000 people active in the gang-stalking community. Their number is openly stated to be a conservative estimate and a review of additional relevant materials suggests that the actual number could be much higher.
Gang-Stalking and Mass Murder
In retaliation, for the perception of their being the victims of gang-stalking, some individuals have reacted with extreme violence and have committed or have attempted to commit mass murder. Four high profile cases have thus far been associated with the phenomenon of gang-stalking. These cases include: (1) Gavin Eugene Long, who in July 2016 shot and killed three Baton Rouge Louisiana police officers and wounded (in an attempt to kill) three others; (2) Aaron Alexis, a private security contractor who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013; (3) Myron May, who shot and wounded three people at Florida State University in 2014; and (4) Jiverly Wong, who in 2010, killed 13 people at an American Civic Association in New York state.
My research sought to understand the complex set of circumstances, termed the “path to violence,” that ultimately led to the murders of multiple individuals. The aforementioned individuals had become convinced that they were targeted individuals and as such the victims of a gang of people, who were systematically attempting to hurt them or kill them.
Under extreme duress, they may have felt that they had no choice but to retaliate, or fight back against those whom they perceived were attacking them. Perhaps, in their minds, they needed to preemptively strike against the people whom they saw as the source of their abuse and oppression. Perhaps other factors contributed to the killings, beyond the perception of gang-stalking, but perpetrator materials left behind (such as writings and videos) would suggest that it undoubtedly played a major role in the decision to kill or to attempt to kill.
Gang-stalking is a relatively unexplored phenomenon. I found only one empirical study of gang-stalking (mine would be the second). In 2016, Sheridan and James conducted an Internet survey through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a “marketplace” where volunteers can earn a small amount of money for participating in research studies. They reported that the majority of people in their sample, who considered themselves to be gang-stalking victims, were Caucasian women around the age of 45. Among other things, they described themselves as feeling distrust and aggressiveness toward others. It was the opinion of the study authors that 100 percent of the people in their sample, who identified as gang-stalking victims, were mentally ill.
YouTube and Gang-Stalking Videos
Their finding is anecdotally consistent with some of the many videos that can be found on YouTube about gang-stalking. A YouTube keyword search of the term “gang-stalking” generates nearly 700,000 hits. I have studied many of these videos. They have been informative in understanding the nature of those who are convinced that they are the victims of gang-stalking.
The videos often depict self-identified TIs, actively tracking those who they believe are stalking them. The videos often depict self-identified TIs, waiting in parking lots outside of grocery stores and other business establishments, monitoring “suspicious” people who are "guilty" of making a certain type of gesture, driving certain color cars, wearing certain color combinations of clothing, walking in a particular manner, making eye contact or failing to make eye contact, etc. Ironically, it is the monitoring and tracking behavior of these self-proclaimed targeted individuals that best fits the definition of stalking behavior.
Another noticed trend were the many proffered informational videos uploaded by "targeted individuals." These videos purported to offer "proof" of gang-stalking. Not one of these videos could be characterized as possessing logical internal or external validity.
One noteworthy video about gang-stalking and TIs is a 2017 documentary produced by VICE News. The individuals featured in the documentary seem to be exhibiting classic signs of schizophrenia or associated psychotic disorders. For instance, one woman featured in the film wore an aluminum foil hat and lived in a storage unit to protect herself from radio and TV-type waves. It appeared that her belief of being a TI caused her significant distress and degraded the quality of her life. Unlike the people I've studied, who have committed mass violence seemingly in response to their gang-stalking perceptions, the individuals featured in the VICE documentary did not appear to be aggressive or violent. More research is needed to understand the danger or potential danger associated with this relatively unexplored phenomenon.
If you’d like to read more about gang-stalking and targeted individuals, check out this recent publication:
Sarteschi, C.M. (2017). Mass murder, targeted individuals, and gang-stalking: Exploring the connection. Violence and Gender (advanced online publication).
Christine M. Sarteschi, Ph.D., is an associate professor of social work and criminology at Chatham University.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (2008). Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators. Washington, D.C. U.S. Department of Justice.
Sheridan, L.P., & James, D.V. (2016). Complaints of group-stalking (‘gang-stalking’): An exploratory study of their nature and impact on complainants. Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology, 26, 601-623.
If you have questions about mental health issues, please contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 800-950-6264 or https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-HelpLine. This HelpLine is a free service that provides information, referrals and support to people living with a mental health condition, family members and caregivers, mental health providers and the public.