You can read the interview via the below magazine pages or the text below:
An IACSP Q&A With Former FBI Profiler John Douglas
By Paul Davis
I’ve enjoyed your books over the years, as well as the films based on your books and cases. I especially liked your current book, “The Killer’s Shadow,” as it was about one person primarily, a white supremacist sniper and serial killer named Joseph Paul Franklin. My first question is why did you become a criminal profiler?
I was recruited by the FBI right out of the Air Force in 1970 at 25 years of age. I worked for seven years out in the field, working in Detroit and then Milwaukee. I was always interested in criminal personalities and understanding the motivation of why. So if I made an arrest, I’d have the guy in the back seat of the car and I’d ask him if he were willing to talk to me.
When I got to Quantico at 32, I was the youngest of all the agents. The Behavioral Science Unit had about eight or nine agents and I was assigned to teaching criminal psychology. We had road schools two weeks at a time going from one city to another. I told my partner, let’s go into the prisons and conduct these interviews of Ed Kempner, Charles Manson and David Berkowitz. We went into the prisons and conducted the interviews as I wanted to be a good instructor.
How did you get involved in the Joseph Paul Franklin case?
By 1980, when the Franklin case was popping up, David Kohl at headquarters in the Civil Rights Division called and said they identified Joseph Paul Franklin as this guy who had been shooting blacks and whites and attacking Jewish synagogues. They didn’t know where he was, so he asked me if the work we do with violent crime and serial killers would apply with a criminal like Franklin. I said I would give it a shot. It is really the criminal personality that you have to understand. There was a lot of pressure. I was trying to develop a new investigative tool, and now the Bureau wanted help on this case, and if I screwed this up, I’m was going to be shipped to Butte, Montana and to work on cattle rustling.
What did you do initially?
: I did an assessment, a profile. In my interpretation, a profile is when you have an UNSUB, an unknown suspect, and you are analyzing the elements of the crime and the victim, getting information from the medical examiner, and demographics from the area where the crime took place. Why plus how equals who when you do an UNSUB case, but here we knew who he was. He was racial, and I was looking for strengths and weaknesses and vulnerabilities he may have. We had no idea where he was and that made it difficult. Criminals have comfort zones. Just as we like going to the same restaurant, a comfort zone for offenders is where they work and live, where they used to live, where there were happy times in their lives, but this guy was traveling around the country. The most difficult killers to capture are the mobile ones. There are more than 17,000 different law enforcement in the United States and there is not always a sharing of information, even from one county to another, no less from coast to coast.
I read that Franklin financed his travels and killing sprees by robbing banks, right?
Yes. Franklin was a successful bank robber. He got his early start in Mobile, Alabama, where he married two different young women and one had a young child. I believed that Franklin would be heading towards Mobile. Franklin did show up in Mobile and he went to a blood bank to make money, as he was afraid we had staked out the banks. He then traveled to Florida where he was apprehended.
What was involved in your profiles of Franklin and others?
We were involved with research with Boston College and we had a 57-page instrument that we used to ask thousands of questions. We saw patterns with them, pre-offense behavioral patterns, post-offense, and a triggering event. We saw an earlier childhood dysfunction in every one of these guys, including Franklin. We saw issues, problems and abuse. Franklin’s mother abused him, and his father really abused him. He was not allowed to socialize. He dropped out of school, started looking at Aryan Nation Brotherhood and Klu Klux Klan pamphlets. And he joined the groups and what he later told me was these guys “talked the talk, but don’t walk the walk.” Franklin believed the groups were infiltrated by the FBI. So he goes from group to another. He has this hatred towards interracial couples, Jews, blacks and his goal was to create a race war and hoped others would follow in his footsteps.
Like Charles Manson?
Franklin really admired Manson and he asked me about my interview with him.
What crimes did Franklin commit in the beginning?
The tipping point was when he was in a shopping mall parking lot and a black and white couple in a car cut him off. The passenger, a black man, got out of the car and Franklin shot and killed him and then killed the girl. It was an impulsive act, and he was surprised he didn’t get caught as there were witnesses. He changed his MO for the future. For the FBI, it became a civil rights case and no longer a domestic police cooperation case. It was going to be a full press to get the guy. I was taking information and analyzing it.
Is there any difference between Franklin and a David Berkowitz or Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber?
You start to see common denominators in the background. There is no mental illness or anything like that. You see early on in their childhood delinquency, signs of animal cruelty as an expression of hate, they are bullied upon and then became bullies. They are isolated and anti-social. Franklin read Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and “The Turner Diaries,” which justifies what he is about to do.
What does Franklin have in common with Timothy McVeigh and other domestic terrorists?
To use an analogy of a gun, the DNA is going to load the gun, but then it is going to be the personal life, the psychological experiences, how this person was raised, that will determine if they are going to pull the trigger. McVeigh’s parents divorced and he began to feel isolated. He gravitates to weaponry. He decided to join the Army. He did well as a sharpshooter, and he was assigned to an armored tank division during Desert Storm. But he became disenchanted in the way the war was being carried out. He wanted to become a Green Beret and he was accepted but he was not in good shape and he lasted only a couple of days and ends up being removed from the program and decides to screw it all. Back home, he saw what happened in Ruby Ridge, where one of our snipers took out Randy Weaver and his child. And then Waco, Texas, where little did anyone know at that time, McVeigh was there when the FBI came in with the tanks.
McVeigh was in the compound?
He was observing from afar and he was in the group of protestors and what he saw was the same tanks that he used in Iraq was now being used against our citizens. So those two actions reinforced his hatred of the government. He too is reading “The Turner Diaries” and other hate group pamphlets. So that was the triggering point for him and he teams up with Terry Nichols and one other guy and they targeted the federal building in Oklahoma City, hoping to take out FBI agents. He doesn’t really care about the children. He called it collateral damage. He hoped to get away, but the stupid ass had a vehicle without a license plate and the police brought him in for questioning and they tied him to the bombing.
Killing the children in the day care in the federal building was truly terrible. What about Franklin?
Franklin wanted to go into the military, and he wanted to be a police officer, but he had that bad eye. He had an accident with an old-fashioned shade with a spring in it and it hit him in the eye. He could have saved the eye had his mother taken him to a doctor. He developed cataracts and ended up being blind in the eye, but because of his over-compensation, he became a great shot and a sniper.
Are the backgrounds of al Qaeda and ISIS terrorists different from someone like Franklin?
There is a sense of alienation, a sense of isolation and they question their identity. You have the ethnicity and religion, and they feel the action of the group is going to empower them. They join the group and get a sense of brotherhood, a sense of belonging. The groups also give them a spiritual type of purpose. With those groups, you know who your enemy is. You know the hierarchy. You know who to target.
How does the FBI deal with domestic terrorism?
If you have a group like the Klan or the Aryan Nation, you have an organization where you can get informants and infiltrate them. Years ago, I worked a case on Los Macheteros, the Machete Wielders, in Puerto Rico. We went down there with a SWAT team and one of our agents got shot. We assessed the organization and thought this one person was the leader, but from our wiretaps, we saw another guy was getting all the calls and he was the actual leader.
How can behavioral analysis aid law enforcement as well as the intelligence community?
They can call upon Behavioral Sciences to do assessments of organizations and of people within the organizations. Also, when interrogating, we can assist with the proactive techniques we use. We can also show how we present information through the media, if you know the adversary is going to be listening. These are some of the tools in the toolbox.
Thank you for speaking to us.