Background information on Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the married perpetrators of the tragic mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, is still sparse, as is clarity concerning the motive behind the vicious attack that left 14 dead and 21 wounded.
However, according to media reports from the in-progress investigation, there is growing concern among law enforcement officials that the shootings may have had a connection to Islamic extremism or that there might have been a mixed extremist/workplace motive behind them. The FBI has said that it is now treating its investigation of the killings as a counter-terrorism investigation.
One thing that is exceedingly rare in traditional workplace shootings is for there to be multiple perpetrators, as there was in this case. As one law enforcement official told The New York Times, “You don’t take your wife to a workplace shooting, and especially not as prepared as they were. He could have been radicalized, ready to go with some type of attack, and then had a dispute at work and decided to do something.”
Multiple perpetrators are certainly common in extremist-related crimes, of course, despite the existence of the “lone wolf” phenomenon. Women are also frequently involved in extremist-related criminal activity in almost every extremist movement in the United States.
However, when one examines recent criminal cases in the U.S. involving domestic Islamic extremists, one finds that female partners of male perpetrators—even when themselves involved in criminal activities—have not typically engaged in violence. Overseas, women have sometimes taken on more violent roles, including as suicide bombers.
If an Islamic extremist motive is confirmed in the San Bernardino shootings, the fact of husband-and-wife shooters would be a new wrinkle in the history of the violent tactics of that movement in the United States.
Extremist-related violence involving husbands and wives—or non-married partners—is actually not unheard of in the United States, but it tends to come from a very different source: right-wing extremism. Though not what one could call a common phenomenon, such violent “Bonnie and Clyde” couples do emerge with regularity from within both the white supremacist and anti-government extremist movements in the United States.
In fact, right-wing extremism even produced an example of the exceedingly rare phenomenon of a married couple both of whom were on death row: anti-government extremists Linda Lyon Block and George Sibley. In 1993, the two sovereign citizens non-fatally stabbed Block’s ex-husband, then while on the run murdered an Alabama police officer in a shootout. Both were executed in the 2000s.
In more recent years, extremist couples have been involved with everything from standoffs with police to hate crimes to terrorist conspiracies. But some of the most shocking “Bonnie and Clyde” incidents have involved multiple homicides committed by white supremacists and anti-government extremists:
- Jerad and Amanda Miller, a young married couple who adhered to the anti-government ideology of the militia movement, targeted two Las Vegas police officers for assassination in June 2014, killing them at a pizza restaurant as they ate their Sunday lunch. The couple crossed the street to a Wal-mart in anticipation of a final shootout with first responders, where Amanda killed an armed civilian trying to stop them. As they had intended, they did both die during a shootout with law enforcement at the store, with a wounded Amanda killing herself after Jerad was shot.
- Jeremy and Christine Moody, white supremacists from Union County, South Carolina, killed a nearby married couple in July 2013 in a particularly grisly double homicide in which both victims were shot and stabbed. The Moodys had targeted the victim because they wanted to kill a registered sex offender and found the male victim’s name and address on the Internet. They killed his wife because she had married a sex offender. Both pleaded guilty to murder in 2014, receiving life sentences with no parole, but were unrepentant, with Christine Moody calling the day of the murders “the best day of my life.”
- Holly Grigsby and David Pedersen, a white supremacist couple from Oregon, embarked upon a multi-state murder spree in 2011 that totaled four killed before police could find and stop them. The pair traveled to Washington to murder Pederson’s father and stepmother, each killing one victim, then killed a young man in Oregon to steal his car and because they thought he might be Jewish. They killed an African-American man in northern California in another carjacking attempt, though they did not end up taking the vehicle, then were finally apprehended by the California Highway Patrol. Grigsby told the arresting officers that they were to Sacramento to “kill more Jews” when they were stopped. Both pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes and received life sentences.