Lone wolf attacks at 4th of July celebrations difficult to prevent, FBI says

FBI cited Highland Park, Waukesha parade incidents as examples in threat assessment

ByBarb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Tom Jones and Chuck Goudie WLS logo
Thursday, July 4, 2024
Lone wolf attacks at July 4th celebrations difficult to prevent: FBI
Lone wolf attacks at 4th of July celebrations are difficult to prevent, the FBI said. The agency cited Waukesha and Highland Park as examples.

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- As July Fourth approaches, violence by a "lone wolf" attacker at Independence Day celebrations is very difficult to prevent, according to federal authorities.

It has been years since Chicago held a fireworks show actually on the fourth of July. Navy Pier's fireworks are Wednesday night. But there are dozens of fireworks shows in the suburbs and many city events this holiday weekend that law enforcement agencies have to protect.

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Even though it was a different season, the 2021 Christmas parade attack in Waukesha, Wisconsin, tops the FBI's list of vehicle ramming threats at public events for July Fourth.

Six people were killed, and 62 were hurt.

At Chicago-area parades, Homeland Security officials also point to a growing threat from drones being used as weapons and violent extremists trying to score political or social points.

"I don't know if the presidential election ties into it so much as the Israel-Gaza situation. The Israeli-Palestinian issue, where we've seen discord on college campuses, we've seen a lot of protesting and it seems to be growing violence. I would be more concerned about that aspect of it than anything else," ABC7 Chicago police affairs consultant Bill Kushner said.

Law enforcement concerns are reflected in three recent U.S. threat assessments.

Kushner said the public may be numb from all of the warnings.

"If you remember, six, seven years ago, 'if you see something say something' was a big public relations campaign from the federal government, from local municipalities. That's kind of died off, and that's unfortunate, because, as law enforcement professionals, law enforcement entities rely on the general public as a force multiplier," Kushner said.

The 2022 attack on Highland Park's July Fourth parade is the FBI's top example of "lone wolf" threats. A sniper fired 80 rounds from a perch that day two years ago, killing seven people and wounding dozens of others.

"It will be held up as the main type of concern because it is the most recent one. It's the most recent lone wolf attack," Kushner told the I-Team.

The former Des Plaines police chief and a long-time Chicago police commander said if you're attending a large crowd event this holiday weekend, one thing you can do is to identify an escape route if something does go wrong.

Federal officials are also pointing to a more mundane security threat: cell phone pickpockets. These crimes of opportunity have happened at events such as Lollapalooza in Chicago, where, last summer, a team of 10 people were arrested for stealing cell phones.

In a statement to the I-Team, a Chicago FBI spokesperson said, "While our standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, the FBI regularly shares information with our law enforcement partners to assist in protecting the communities they serve. The FBI encourages members of the public to be vigilant and report anything they consider suspicious to law enforcement by contacting 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or tips.fbi.gov."