Lone Wolfs, Domestic & Homegrown Terrorism
At the individual level, the radicalization process often involves embracing a terrorist belief system or narrative that identifies particular others or groups as “enemies” and justifies engaging in violence against them. Individuals may also begin to identify themselves as terrorists, as well as to engage in activities that highlight their commitments to their new beliefs, identities, and/or others who hold them. It is, however, important to note that while these beliefs and behaviors may facilitate the movement to terrorism, this outcome is not inevitable.
Lone actor terrorists, also referred to as “lone wolves” in media reports, have raised new concerns about the ability to prevent terrorist attacks when it is an individual seemingly acting on his own. Through a report funded by the National Institute of Justice, researchers sought to examine whether the trajectory toward acts of violence was similar for lone actor terrorists and mass murderers. Researchers found that mass murderers and lone actor terrorists are very similar in their behaviors before committing their crimes, but significant differences exist, including the leaking of intent prior to a violent crime. Overall, the report suggests that similar threat and risk assessment frameworks may be applicable to both types of offenders. While lone actor terrorists and mass murders both commit highly publicized acts of violence, their motivations differ. Whereas terrorists commit acts of violence for political gain, mass murderers lack this ideology. The majority of mass murderers are concerned with personal feelings of having been wronged by an individual or group of people. Researchers compared a number of variables between 71 lone actor terrorists and 115 solo mass murders. Results show that there is little to differentiate the two, in terms of their socio-demographic profiles. However, their behaviors differ with regards to the degree in which they interact with co-conspirators, their antecedent event behaviors, and the degree to which they leak information prior to the attack. Notably, lone actor terrorists were significantly more likely to verbalize their intent to commit violence to friends, families, or a wider audience and have others aware of their desire to hurt others. According to John Picarelli, Program Manager for Transnational Issues, one of the most important findings in this research is this point, that violent extremists are “broadcasting what they’re doing if you’re listening.”
On April 19, 1995, Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh successfully executed a terror attack on Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring more than 680 others (Ratcliffe, 2009). The building that was the target of the bombing was completely destroyed and 324 other buildings in close vicinity were destroyed. The damage caused was estimated to be over USD 652 million worth of property. At that time, the term homegrown terrorism had not been used because the intelligence community believed that terrorism was an external threat. Christopher Dorner shooting which took place on February 3, 2013 resulted in death of 5 people and injury of six others. This was a clear indication that homegrown terrorism was becoming a major problem in the country. Two months later on April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombing occurred. It resulted into death of 6 people while 280 other people sustained varying degree of injuries, including a police officer (Silinsky, 2016). The Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016 killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. A common factor in all these recent terror attacks is that they are organized and executed either by an individual or two to three people (Hartman, 2016). They do not have sophisticated networks and they involve people that in most of the cases are not even under the watch of intelligence community. Currently, the intelligence community in the United States is working closely with the international community to help identify people with criminal backgrounds who might have migrated into the country. The intelligence community also has its officers spread within the country to help identify individuals who could be sympathizing or working closely with the international terror groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda (Gabor, 2016). Since the Orlando nightclub shooting, the intelligence community has been keen on monitoring the kind of communications that people have on their Facebook or Twitter account. The Orlando attack would have been avoided if the intelligence community were to monitor the activities of the attacker on his Facebook account. It was clear that he had planned an attack and was readying himself to execute the plan.
All in all, muslim lone wolf is a terrorist does not only affect the individual culprit, but also stigmatizes Muslim Americans as an entire class and opens the floodgates for private backlash and enhanced state surveillance. Muslim lone wolves, from the vantage point of the state, rise from a flock of rabid and radical wolves, while others, like Stephen Paddock, act entirely alone and apart from the flock they resemble.
Gabor, T. (2016). Confronting gun violence in America. Zürich, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
Goodman, M. (2015). Future crimes: Everything is connected, everyone is vulnerable and what we can do about it. New York, NY: Springer.
Hartman, S. (2016). Fierce hope: Why the only truth worth living for is greater than the empty promises of our chaotic world. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Ratcliffe, J. (2009). Strategic thinking in criminal intelligence. Annandale, VA: Federation.
Silinsky, M. (2016). Jihad and the West: Black flag over Babylon. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press.
Tanenhaus, D. S., & Zimring, F. E. (2014). Choosing the future for American juvenile justice. New York, NY: New York University Press.