Murder, Social Media and Moral Culpability

“This Was Not A Surprise.”

Handout of Matthew Eric Frein, 31, of Canadensis, Pennsylvania

Eric Matthew Frein is the chief suspect in the assassination of Pennsylvania state trooper Byron Dickson last Friday night.

The shooter ambushed the Blooming Grove Barracks at shift change also critically wounding trooper Alex Douglass.

Pennsylvania State Police have referred to Frein as “an anti-law enforcement survivalist.”

Police also reported that family and friends stated that he hated police and “expressed an interest in mass murder.”

Lt. Col. George Bivens said that Frein’s views were revealed “online and to people who knew him.”

“This was not unexpected,” Bivens said. “As we’ve interviewed a number of people, that’s been the common theme. This was not a surprise.”

Public Safety Targets

Both fire fighters and police officers have been targeted by shooters.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says that “this is the third deadly assault on police by anti-government extremists since the beginning of the summer.”

These are targeted acts of terror designed to destabilize communities and incite fear.

Without exception they are premeditated ambushes where the attackers choose the time, place and method.

A Killer’s Community?

The intelligence and law enforcement communities have long since concluded that the internet is a fertile place for radicalization up to and including the propagation of violence and murder.

People with extremist and lethal views can easily connect with others of a like mind and share their venom and lust for revenge in a way that was never possible before.

Though much of it is website specific and confined to chat rooms it seems that inevitably some of it spills over into social media and other contacts where those closer to the extremists know of their violent intentions.

Indeed, they express no surprise at their mayhem after the fact.

When are We Complicit in an Act of Terror?


If our social network, online or off, reveals murderous intention how can that not be provided to those who can stop it?

If you saw a masked man walk into a bank with a shotgun would you call 911?

Same thing.

Whether or not a grand injury would indict someone over their “social” knowledge of violent intent, surely we are morally responsible when we take a pass and death is the result.

There is precious little difference between the ghastly work of ISIS’s “Jihadi John” and what happened in Blooming Grove last Friday night.




  • Victoria Huckenpahler says:

    I agree, Eric, but am uncertain whether it would do much good. If we see a gunman enter a bank, it’s pretty clear he has evil intent, not to speak of probable illegal gun possession, and the police can arrest him asap. But if you report someone making threats online, can an investigator discern if that person is an immediate danger or just a misfit mouthing off? As we know from domestic violence cases, there’s precious little the police can do unless a provable attack has already occurred. Threats, however real, don’t count for much.

  • John Davids says:

    It is a fine line between freedom of speech and potential deadly threats. The Secret Service receives thirty treats against POTUS everyday, resonds to all of them.

    I agree Eric we as citizens, must begin to police ourselves. We in Law Enforcement must begin to find a way to address these threats seriously without violating freedom of speech.

  • R.L. Jordan says:

    I struggle with the ever present freedom of speech concern and lean more towards the freedom of living, probably like the slain officers family believed in.

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