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Gunman who attacked Florida yoga studio gave off decades of warning signs, Secret Service finds

The Florida man who opened fire inside a Tallahassee yoga studio in 2018, killing two women and injuring five, repeatedly engaged in offensive and criminal behavior for decades, presenting missed opportunities to prevent the rampage, the Secret Service said in a new analysis issued Tuesday.

The agency’s National Threat Assessment Center studied the background of Scott Beierle, the 40-year-old man who walked into Hot Yoga on Nov. 2, 2018, drew a semi-automatic handgun and began shooting. A few minutes later, he shot and killed himself.

But for decades, he gave off warning signs involving inappropriate and criminal behavior toward women and girls, the report found. He was fired from several jobs, banned from some public places, thrown out of the military and even arrested. Friends and family members feared him, and his parents slept with the bedroom doors locked when he lived with them.

“Tragedies like this one are successfully prevented every day with behavioral assessment programs,” said Steven Driscoll, the threat center’s assistant chief. “Nothing about this attacker’s behavior should be considered normal. His misogyny was extreme, and it began at a young age.”

Nov. 5, 201802:39

As a teenager, Beierle wrote an 81-page revenge fantasy about a middle school boy who hated his female classmates because he felt shunned and humiliated by them. In the story, the boy murders the girls, then commits suicide as the police arrive, the report said.

Secret Service researchers found that he touched girls without their consent in high school and openly admired Hitler and the Aryan Nations. After failing in his dream of becoming a screenwriter, he lived with his parents and wrote stories and songs described as “dark, violent and misogynistic.”

He was fired from an insurance call center for harassing a female co-worker, fired from a job as a substitute teacher for using school computers to search for online pornography, discharged from the Air Force for “unacceptable conduct,” arrested after grabbing two women in a college dining hall, and later banned from the campus, the report said.

In 2016, researchers found, he approached a woman sunbathing at the swimming pool of his apartment complex and offered to apply sunscreen to her body. When she declined, he slapped, grabbed and shook her. He was arrested but the charges were dropped after he attended court-ordered counseling. The apartment complex then had him evicted.

His behavior frightened co-workers, roommates and family members, but aside from a few brushes with the law, little was done to intervene, according to the report. 

“One of the things we saw over and over in the history of this attacker was complacency, a tolerance for his objectively concerning behaviors,” said Lina Alathari, the threat center’s chief.

“Early intervention is key, focused on talking about healthy relationships, consent and inappropriate behavior,” she said. “That will give us opportunities to intervene before the person becomes more ingrained and potentially radicalized into this type of behavior.”

The report also highlighted the threat posed by extreme hatred of women, which has been associated with other incidents of mass violence. In 2014, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger killed six people and wounded 14 in a shooting and stabbing spree near the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara after posting a video expressing frustration that he couldn’t find a girlfriend.

In 2020, 72-year-old Roy Den Hollander, who described himself as “an anti-feminist lawyer,” killed the son of a federal judge and wounded her husband. Hollander was a fervent advocate of men’s rights and said manhood is in serious jeopardy.

“Misogynistic violence is not restricted to high-profile incidents of mass violence, appearing frequently in more prevalent acts of violence, such as stalking and domestic abuse,” the report said.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks violent extremism, calls it “male supremacy,” which it defines as a hateful ideology that believes in subjugating women and maintaining rigid gender roles.

“Adherents maintain that women are incompetent yet conniving and manipulative,” the group says in its definition. “Some argue that women use feminism to oppress men, while other male supremacists seek to maintain and exploit existing structural gender inequality.” 

The Secret Service said the history of the Hot Yoga attacker illustrates many of the threat assessment themes it has identified through years of research examining targeted violence. 

“The risk of future tragedies can be reduced if appropriate systems are in place to identify the warning signs,” Alathari said.