CBRNE Incidents Following Portrayal in Media

Updated: May 8, 2019

Media-inspired chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) incidents are likely to continue as long as television shows, movies, and novels feature these plots. An NTIC review of nine currently airing television series on a single broadcasting network found 17 episodes that aired in 2017 and 2018 featuring a CBRNE plot. Research shows attackers copy real plots shown in the news and fictional plots portrayed in entertainment media.

  • In 2018, an Arkansas resident, Alexander Jordan, made and ingested ricin after “Breaking Bad”—a television series which features ricin in three seasons—inspired him. Authorities confiscated two mason jars and a blender allegedly used to extract the toxin.

A "Breaking Bad" Ricin Scene (Source: WordPress)

  • In 2017, Daniel Milzman, a Georgetown University freshman, confessed to producing a quantity of ricin that could kill a person weighing 220 pounds—an idea he gleaned from “Breaking Bad,” where the biotoxin is used as a weapon. Authorities believe Milzman intended to use the toxin to commit suicide.

  • Kyle Shaw was arrested in 2009 for setting off a homemade bomb at a Starbucks in Manhattan over Memorial Day weekend. Shaw reportedly was mimicking a plot against corporate America—dubbed “Project Mayhem”—portrayed in the novel and film “Fight Club.” Shaw reportedly created his own fight club and told his friend to watch the news because he was going to launch his own version of “Project Mayhem.”

The Phenomena of Copycat Cases

A Mother Jones investigation cited 74 known copycat cases following the 1999 Columbine shooting. San Diego University researchers found Internet searches for the term “suicide” increased 19 percent in the 19 days following the release of 13 Reasons Why, a Netflix series that graphically depicts the suicide of a high-school girl. Nefarious individuals may be more likely to conduct an attack after news or entertainment media have demonstrated the technical know-how required to carry out a CBRNE attack.

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