Did police miss a chance to head off yesterday’s shooting at YouTube’s HQ? Police have identified the now-dead assailant as Nasim Najafi Aghdam, an animal-rights and vegan vlogger with a deadly grudge against the platform, whose parents tried to warn law enforcement that she might have disappeared in order to settle scores. “She might do something,” they said, which is why police tracked her down hours before the shooting:
Police are honing in on the motive of the 39-year-old woman who opened fire at YouTube's California headquarters on Tuesday. She wounded three people with a handgun before apparently killing herself https://t.co/gBabtlcKj5 pic.twitter.com/Qv7LZvvYtt
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 4, 2018
Californian media reported that Aghdam’s family had warned the authorities that she may target YouTube prior to the shooting. Her father Ismail Aghdam told The Mercury News that he had told police that she might be going to YouTube’s headquarters because she “hated” the company.
Police said they were still investigating possible motives but Aghdam’s online activities show that she believed YouTube was deliberately obstructing her videos from being viewed.
“YouTube filtered my channels to keep them from getting views,” she wrote on YouTube according to a screenshot of her account. Her channel was deleted on Tuesday.
Aghdam was no stranger to activism. Nine years ago, the San Diego Union-Tribune featured her in a report on a PETA protest at Camp Pendleton over the use of pigs in Marine Corps medic training (via Instapundit):
More than two dozen protesters gathered outside Camp Pendleton’s main gate yesterday afternoon to denounce the use of pigs in military-trauma training. …
Nasim Aghdam, 29, a San Diego animal rights activist, dressed in a wig and jeans with large blood drops painted on them.
“For me, animal rights equal human rights,” Aghdam said.
So much for human rights, eh? The paper used a picture of Aghdam in their story, which is certainly a little unnerving under the circumstances. Don’t be surprised if more of these stories start emerging from newspaper vaults. Aghdam appears to have had a flair for the dramatic and the need for notoriety for some time, which might explain why she reacted so violently to getting demonetized.
The family had hoped that police intervention early that morning might have been enough to stop whatever she had planned. Police had told the family that they would watch her after being alerted to her potential threat:
The father of Nasim Aghdam, the woman who went on a deadly shooting spree at YouTube’s headquarters in Northern California Tuesday, says his daughter became upset with the streaming video company when they stopped paying her.
Aghdam’s father was too emotional to go on camera, but told CBS2 News’ reporter Tina Patel that his daughter had gone missing for a few days. He said he had called law enforcement in the San Diego area because he was concerned about her recent ire towards YouTube.
He said law enforcement authorities contacted him Tuesday at 2 a.m., telling him they had found his daughter safe in her car in Mountain View in Northern California. When the family realized that was near YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, they told police about her recent complaints about how the company was “ruining her life.” They claim police told them they would be keeping an eye on her.
Clearly that didn’t go well, but it might be tough to fault police. Without having evidence of a threat, they could hardly detain her. Aghdam was not a teenager — she was almost 40 years old, and there’s nothing illegal about getting away from one’s family for a couple of days. Sleeping in one’s car might have been a red flag that something more significant was going on, especially with its proximity to YouTube HQ and the parents’ warnings about her grudge against the company, though. Expect some focus to fall on that series of decisions over the next few weeks.
Why did YouTube demonetize her accounts? It’s tough to say without looking through the videos themselves, and YouTube canceled her accounts yesterday. A look at her independent website (still up) shows headlines for at least one animal-rights video with some gruesome imagery, but that was on someone else’s account. Most of the commentary on the home page consists of angry rants about corporate despotism in general and YouTube in particular, along with an accusation about a conspiracy to kill her over her animal-rights activism. Aghdam also complained on Facebook (account now suspended) about one of her exercise videos getting age-restricted, even though she appears to be dressed relatively modestly in a screen-cap by Buzzfeed:
She said the video had “nothing bad in it — nothing sexual” and alleged YouTube restricted it because “it got famous and was getting many views, so they age-restricted that video to keep it from getting views.” …
Aghdam compared her “workout video” to videos by “Nicki Minaj, Miley [Cyrus] and many others that have sexual things so inappropriate for children to watch,” but they “don’t get age-restricted.”
In other words, it appears from her online media that Aghdam had worked up quite a persecution complex by the time she drove up to Mountain View. One might think that the police could have dug a little more deeply into her personality under the circumstances before letting her go.
It’s clear that Aghdam had a grudge against the company, not any one employee in particular, and that she was a disturbed individual whose anger had gotten out of control. Her family knew it and tried to intervene, but to no avail.
What happens after this? Media outlets seem to be prioritizing reports of Aghdam’s motives and mental illness today, and even her animal-rights extremism, which is a hopeful sign that we may focus on the real and solvable issues in the longer run. But will that get more attention on threat mitigation processes, or will we focus on the gun instead again? Will Aghdam’s crimes fade from the headlines when they don’t serve a particular narrative?
Update: A fair point from Chris Hayes:
When people raise this they need to be far more specific about what exactly the police should have done or had the legal and constitutional right to do.
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) April 4, 2018
In the post, I refer to the tension of limits on police action and public safety, but it’s worth being a little more explicit. Police can’t simply arrest everyone that sleeps in their cars, even when families suggest that they may be a threat. Their range of potential options also depends on the specificity of the warning provided by her family too, which we do not yet know, and the constitutional requirement of probable cause before arrest. If they warned that Aghdam might be planning to attack YouTube’s offices, though, would the police have had the option of requesting her to come to the station for an interview? Should they have gotten a search warrant for the car and detained her at the scene until they got one, if the warning was specific? That could be a fruitful discussion in the aftermath of this shooting.