On Thursday afternoon, Gizmodo Media Group’s corporate parent Univision asked Gizmodo Media employees, which includes Jezebel’s staff, to attend an “active shooter training” conducted by a Department of Homeland Security official named Kevin Peterson. It’s no mystery why any responsible employer would want to prepare its employees for what is unfortunately becoming an increasingly routine workplace hazard. It’s also no mystery why the Department of Homeland Security would make its staff available for such briefings.
What is worth asking, though, is why DHS is using workplace trainings to promulgate false accounts about prior terror attacks and to decry “political correctness” as an impediment to workplace safety. (Of the training and employees’ reactions to it, Gizmodo Media Group CEO Raju Narisetti said, “Like everyone at [Gizmodo Media Group], I got the training email and then sign[ed] up. We were not involved in the design or content of the training itself.”)
According to his LinkedIn profile, Kevin Peterson, the man who led the training at Gizmodo Media, is a DHS Protective Security Advisor (PSA) for the New York District. He visits companies and institutions around the city to deliver active shooter trainings. That presumably means that workplaces besides ours have been exposed to this advice, some of which can be accessed by anyone on the DHS’s website, and included the following:
Don’t Be Afraid to Racially Profile Your Friends, Neighbors and Coworkers
Peterson opened his remarks with an anecdote about the San Bernardino shooters, who you’ll recall were a married couple. He noted that a neighbor failed to call the cops on the pair before the shooting, despite seeing them in their garage doing something murky. She feared being thought of as “racist,” Peterson said.
Peterson described this as an example of “political correctness run amok.” He encouraged us not to let a distaste for treating people differently based on their race or ethnicity prevent us from alerting the police to behavior like spending time in a garage with your spouse.
During the question and answer portion of the training, Special Projects editor Kelly Stout asked, “You advised us to dispense with political correctness when dealing with potential threats. Is that DHS policy or your personal opinion?”
“It’s both, I would say,” Peterson responded. “It’s a common sense thing.” Perhaps sensing the nonplussed mood in the room he added a caveat that he had not when he first told the story: “That shouldn’t be the determination as to why you make a phone call. You don’t make a call because someone is a certain ethnicity or religion or from a certain area of the world. The reason to make the call is that you’re suspicious of some activity that person is doing.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Use Fake Stories to Back Up Your Point
That story—about a neighbor lady who knew the shooters were plotting, could have stopped the shooting, and did not—was told by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Fox News. It’s not true. There’s no evidence for it besides extremely thin reports on right-wing websites.
Politifact rated it “False”:
The most that was reported is that a neighbor of a neighbor of one of the shooter’s mother said there was suspicious activity. There was no mention that a neighbor of the shooters themselves was suspicious, much less that a neighbor thought an attack was being planned.
Factcheck.org concurred, finding a single local news report with a friend of a neighbor describing saying she didn’t alert authorities to innocuous behavior—“receiving quite a number of packages” and “working a lot in their garage”—because she didn’t want to “do any kind of racial profiling.”
During a question-and-answer session, Special Projects Desk reporter Brendan O’Connor asked where Kevin got that story: “I’m wondering what your source of information is on that?”
“My understanding is that came from the woman herself,” he responded. “And that was given to local law enforcement in San Bernardino. That’s what she said. In the aftermath of the investigation.”
It didn’t. When O’Connor pointed out that the story was false (“That’s simply not true”), Peterson replied: “I don’t know that what you’re saying is true either.”
A few moments later, he said “I want to return to the gentleman here,’ he said, pointing to O’Connor. “Whether what the woman said is accurate or not—” he paused here to let the laughter subside — “The point is, the point I was trying to make, is don’t let that stop you from making the call if you think something is suspicious.”
Make Sure to Snitch on Depressed People
Peterson also showed this slide, which advised viewing people who seem depressed as potential threats. Some of these points are worthwhile—a hostile person with a new fixation on weapons might be a concern—but “depression or withdrawal” is not, on its own, a good indicator of a future workplace shooter. (Especially in this business.) Nor is absenteeism or failure to comply with company policies.
Peterson allowed that one or two of these things are, on their own, not an indicator of violent plans. But, he added, “If you notice somebody who’s got five or six of these, you need to pick up the phone and let somebody know.” He didn’t say which five or six.
Don’t Pay Attention to the Key Traits That Mass Shooters Have in Common
Peterson spoke extensively about the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which were carried out by an Islamic militant organization based in Pakistan. That was an act of terror, and differed substantially from workplace shootings, his area of expertise.
Since 1982, at least 64 percent of mass shootings have been committed by lone white men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in the workplace are most likely to be killed by someone they know; men are most likely to be killed during the course of a robbery, and make up the bulk of victims of workplace homicides:
About 4 out of every 5 workplace homicide victims in 2010 were men. The type of assailants in these cases differed, depending on whether the victim was a man or a woman. Robbers and other assailants accounted for 72 percent of homicides to men, for example, and only 37 percent of homicides to women. A substantial difference exists when relatives and other personal acquaintances are the assailants: only 3 percent of homicides to men, but 39 percent to women. Assailants with no known personal relationship to their victims accounted for about two-thirds of workplace homicides.
Kevin did not tell us what stopping political correctness in its tracks might do about mass shootings perpetrated in the workplace or homicides committed during the course of robberies.
Peterson also advised us to think about improvised weapons, like fire extinguishers, potted plants, or our backpacks. That’s probably helpful advice, or, at least, more helpful than watch out for Muslims. He showed us this video:
“I see some of your faces like, ‘It can’t happen to me,’” Peterson told us at one point. “But it can happen.”
That’s not what was going on with our faces.
Update, March 24, 8:25 a.m.:
The safety and security of our staff is of utmost importance and we want to ensure our employees are best prepared for a range of circumstances that could arise. The overriding goal of the recent training at Gizmodo Media Group was to inform employees on how to manage dangerous situations, especially given the timely and frequent nature of incidents today. We have noted staff comments regarding certain statements made during the session and we take such feedback seriously. As a company committed to serving diverse audiences, our goal is to foster an environment of tolerance and inclusion. Our Global Security team has taken into account this feedback and will work to continually improve future training sessions.