Pub. Date:
Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance

Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance

by George Michael


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Thursday, October 28


On July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik detonated a car bomb in downtown Oslo, Norway. He didn't stop there, traveling several hours from the city to ambush a youth camp while the rest of Norway was distracted by his earlier attack. That's where the facts end. But what motivated him? Did he have help staging the attacks? The evidence suggests a startling truth: that this was the work of one man, pursuing a mission he was convinced was just.

If Breivik did indeed act alone, he wouldn't be the first. Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City based essentially on his own motivations. Eric Robert Rudolph embarked on a campaign of terror over several years, including the Centennial Park bombing at the 1996 Olympics. Ted Kaczynski was revealed to be the Unabomber that same year. And these are only the most notable examples. As George Michael demonstrates in Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance, they are not isolated cases. Rather, they represent the new way warfare will be conducted in the twenty-first century.

Lone Wolf Terror investigates the motivations of numerous political and ideological elements, such as right-wing individuals, ecoextremists, foreign jihadists, and even quasi-governmental entities. In all these cases, those carrying out destructive acts operate as "lone wolves" and small cells, with little or no connection to formal organizations. Ultimately, Michael suggests that leaderless resistance has become the most common tactical approach of political terrorists in the West and elsewhere.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780826518552
Publisher: Vanderbilt University Press
Publication date: 09/14/2012
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 7.10(w) x 10.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

George Michael is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Westfield State University. He is author of The Enemy of My Enemy and Willis Carto and the American Far Right.

Read an Excerpt

Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance

By George Michael

Vanderbilt University Press

Copyright © 2012 Vanderbilt University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8265-1857-6


The Evolution of Warfare, Conflict, and Strategy

To place leaderless resistance in context, a discussion of previous generations of warfare and conflict is instructive. To be effective, strategy must evolve to reflect the current operational environment. Throughout history, modes of warfare have been influenced by a number of social, political, economic, and technological factors. Earlier observers of warfare, such as Marquis de Vauban (1633–1707), understood the importance of science and technology and their implications for warfare. Likewise, in his Art of War, Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) observed the links between changes in military organization and developments in the social and political spheres. Such trends transformed warfare.

In a seminal 1989 Marine Corps Gazette article, "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation," William S. Lind and others identified four generations of warfare. The advance from one generation of warfare to the next requires changes in various aspects of society, including politics, economics, and technology. The starting point for Lind's schema was the era of the Napoleonic Wars in the early nineteenth century, during which first-generation warfare came into being.

First-Generation Warfare

Several developments allowed first-generation warfare to develop. The wealth of nations increased, which meant more resources for war were available. Improvements in agriculture freed up more farmworkers to be used as soldiers. The emergence of nationalism led to the mobilization of entire countries, and patriotism became a potent force that instilled greater enthusiasm in national armies. The increasing power of the state enabled the administration of such an ambitious undertaking. An innovation in communications introduced in 1794—the optical telegraph, or the semaphore—meant that messages could more quickly cross great distances, which let Napoleon keep in touch with Paris when he was in the battlefield.

The Napoleonic Wars were characterized by a near-total mobilization of the resources of France. In 1793 the Committee of Public Safety, led by Robespierre, issued a decree—the levée en masse—which conscripted all human and material resources. In the face of the collapse of the Old Royal Army, the French Assembly made the bold decision to permanently requisition all citizens for national service. This monumental action transformed the nature of war by involving an entire nation. With the entire economic and human resources of France behind him, Napoleon was able to wage a new style of warfare: total war. Previously war had often been considered the "sport of kings," and usually aroused little interest in the majority of the population.

The son of a minor Corsican noble family, Napoleon Bonaparte rose to high command while still in his twenties, because of the French Revolution. As a citizen army replaced the professional army, the morale of the French soldier added a new element that Napoleon fully understood and cultivated. To inspire his army, he effectively united his men around a cause, the principles of the French Revolution, and later the glory of France as a growing empire.

One of Napoleon's major innovations was the separation of field troops into self-contained divisions. Napoleon divided his army into corps, which were further subdivided into divisions, brigades, regiments, and battalions that operated as autonomous units, but moved and fought together as a single entity. He combined military leadership with political leadership, thus eliminating friction at the top and attaining a unity of command. An absence of checks and balances in this one-man rule, however, resulted in critical errors that ultimately brought down Napoleon's empire.

Tactically, in first-generation war, adversaries sought to amass huge armies that confronted each other on the battlefield, each attempting to win a decisive victory. In battle Napoleon always favored the offensive, with the central objective of annihilating an enemy's field forces. Everything else was secondary. To that end, he emphasized firepower. France's industrial and scientific infrastructure allowed the creation of heavy artillery, and Napoleon once opined that "God is on the side with the best artillery." Having little respect for the sensibilities of European royal dynasties, he was not loath to annihilate opposing forces, fully understanding that the currency of politics is power.

Eventually Napoleon's adversaries adapted to his strategy by avoiding the decisive battles he so eagerly sought. Although his armies operated on a huge scale with unprecedented speed, his desire for hegemony in Europe led him to a strategic overreach that finally brought about his downfall. The British navy's victory over the French fleet at Trafalgar in 1805 sank Napoleon's plans for an invasion of England. He imposed a European economic blockade of British goods, but England was able to surmount this challenge. Next, in the Peninsular War, Spanish and Portuguese irregulars harassed the French army, forcing Napoleon to deploy a huge French force that was desperately needed elsewhere. Like the British, the Russians refused to meet Napoleon on his terms and even ceded the capital city of Moscow, thus using the strategic depth of Russian geography to wear his army down, which resulted in the disastrous Russian campaign of 1812. Finally, at Waterloo in 1815, the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon. Although Napoleon did not leave a written compilation of his thoughts on warfare, an adversary, a Prussian officer named Carl von Clausewitz, formulated his own strategy in a volume that became a classic text on the art of war.

Carl von Clausewitz

Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz was born at Burg, near Magdeburg, in 1780. Having entered the army in 1792 as a Fahnenjunker (ensign) when he was only twelve, he had his baptism of fire the next year as part of a coalition of forces in a campaign that drove the French out of the Rhineland. Clausewitz attended the Prussian Military Academy (Kriegsakademie) in Berlin from 1801 to 1804, graduated at the top of his class, and captured the attention of General Gerhard Johann David von Scharnhorst (1755–1813). An astute officer, Clausewitz went on to serve as aide-de-camp to Prince Augustus of Prussia in the Jena campaign of 1806, during which he was wounded and taken prisoner. Sent to France, he stayed there for the remainder of the war, observing conditions in France that allowed him to see Prussia from a different intellectual and emotional perspective. Upon his return home, he was placed on General Scharnhorst's staff and worked on reorganizing the Prussian army, which clearly needed reform, having been swiftly defeated by Napoleon's forces. Clausewitz attributed the army's 1806 defeat to Prussia's adherence to outmoded methods of warfare. Its opponent had been emancipated from such limitations.

Appalled in 1812 by King Frederick William Ill's decision to join Napoleon in the fight against Russia, Clausewitz, along with several other Prussian officers, joined the so-called German Legion, a unit that fought alongside the Russian army. In 1815 he reentered the Prussian army, and in 1817 he assumed the directorship of the Kriegsakademie. During his tenure there, Clausewitz attained the rank of general and produced his most important work, On War. In 1831 he was appointed chief of staff to the Prussian army, deployed to observe the Polish rebellion against Russia, and he died after contracting cholera that same year.

Edited by his widow, On War was published posthumously in 1832. In it Clausewitz defines war as an act of violence "intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will" and asserts that war is "not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means." He viewed war as a legitimate instrument of national policy when waged for rational reasons. For Clausewitz, war was a serious means to a serious end and should thus be always subject to political design and oversight by the state.

Seeing war as an instrument of policy, Clausewitz believed its ultimate prosecution should be carried out by political leaders, not the military. The effective statesman, he believed, encompassed the gamut of power relations, political and military. He also thought that soldiers should be allowed, even encouraged, to participate substantially in planning and conducting operations. To be clear, Clausewitz made an important distinction between tactics—the art of winning battles—and strategy—the use of battles to obtain the objectives of a campaign.

Military institutions, Clausewitz posited, depend on the economic, social, and political institutions of their respective states. The Clausewitzian trinity, as it came to be known, consisted of interlinked citizens, army, and government. An important lesson he learned from observing Napoleon's campaign was that an entire nation should be mobilized in the service of a military objective. Prior to Napoleon, European monarchs feared that an armed citizenry could be destabilizing. Although Clausewitz was essentially conservative in outlook and aware of the potential danger of a mass army, he still favored this arrangement because he saw a strong, monolithic military and total mobilization of its power as necessary to exert the national will. Believing that the revolutionary fervor of the French armies had accounted for many of their victories, Clausewitz embodied this and other principles in a theory of warfare.

Like Napoleon, Clausewitz emphasized the significance of the decisive battle. Rather than focusing on territory, he believed it was more important to destroy an opponent's military power. Thus an effective strategy concentrated forces at a decisive position. The "culminating point" was the moment when the chief objective of the campaign was accomplished.

Clausewitz's model accounted for many intangible factors as well. He believed that a theory of war must consider the human element, including leadership, morale, perseverance, faith, zeal, courage, and boldness. And discipline was essential: he cited obedience as the most important factor in war. To Clausewitz, when "genius" was combined properly with the emotional component of intuition, a commander in chief could attain preeminence on the battlefield.

Clausewitz recognized that war had a high degree of uncertainty, or "friction." Like the great Chinese war strategist Sun Tzu, Clausewitz knew the importance of surprise. As he explained, the stratagem implied a concealed intention. Although he conceded that troop deployment, surprise, and other tactics could affect the course of battles, he counseled that trying to achieve victory by such means was fanciful, especially the higher the level at which a war was waged, as between large armies, and the greater the number of people involved. Experience, Clausewitz counseled, was one factor that could help an army overcome friction.

Clausewitz effectively built on the fundamental concepts of eighteenth-century warfare and constructed much of the conceptual edifice that dominated the nineteenth century. The Prussian army's victories of 1866 and 1870–1871 ensured that his thought would have a great influence on German foreign policy for years to come. In his paradigm, the statesman appears as a supergeneral who possesses the final authority over his generals in the same way that the generals possess authority over lower-ranking officers and enlisted men. This concept came into great force during World War II, when Germany's chancellor, Adolf Hitler, assumed control over all the country's military decisions. In American military academies, Clausewitz has attained preeminent status and On War is treated as a quasi-sacred text. But his twentieth-century influence, according to some of his detractors, contributed to the calamity of World War I, during which second-generation warfare came to fruition.

Second-Generation Warfare

Several innovations made second-generation warfare possible. The increasing wealth generated by industrialization, concomitant with the sheer volume of industrial output, provided the wherewithal to raise, support, and transport huge armies. After the Napoleonic Wars, the power of the state continued to increase in Europe. Better systems of public administration enabled governments to improve tax collection and raise the money for ambitious undertakings. New technology was brought to bear too. Steam power revolutionized transportation and logistics, making it much more efficient to transport personnel and materiel: armies and supplies could be moved by steamship and railroad. The telegraph, developed by Samuel Morse, allowed for rapid communications and made possible the greater coordination of forces. The new system allowed the micromanagement of wars from capitals, heralding centralized command and control. With enhanced communications, commanders could now organize huge troop movements at critical points on the battlefield, and the operational, or theater, level of war was born. As nations became more interconnected by technological developments, they became ripe for world wars.

Much had changed at the doctrinal level as well. The Napoleonic Wars served as a catalyst for Prussian military reforms, and other European armies were quick to follow. Perhaps the most important innovation was the creation of the German general staff, which became the brain of the army. The chief of staff was expected not only to implement his commander's orders, but also to serve as a full partner in command decisions. Furthermore, a new war academy, the Preußische Kriegsakademie, was created to train officers. After the reforms, the new Prussian army was much more flexible and responsive than its predecessor.

An important innovation was the doctrine of Auftragstaktic (mission-oriented command), a new German philosophy of warfare emphasizing speed and the need to take the offensive. Officers were encouraged to respond to circumstances of the moment and take advantage of them. The key was an overall mind-set that allowed a unit to be built around a particular goal. General Helmuth von Moltke (1800–1891) expanded on Napoleon's decentralized command structure, in which senior commanders were given considerable authority, but followed the general direction of his military doctrine. Moltke's version encompassed every element of war from mobilization to battle, enhanced by meticulous central planning by the general staff. So decentralization of execution was combined with a centralized direction of purpose. With these reforms, the German army was a flexible, cohesive war machine that was the envy of the world.

Prior to World War I, war had consisted primarily of the employment of force against force. However, this epic conflict—the so-called Great War—turned into a vast exercise in the coordination of national resources, including factories, labor, and raw materials. French military planners believed that heavy artillery and a large standing army would assure victory. But the tactic of amassing huge columns of soldiers on the battlefield, standard during the Napoleonic Wars, proved unfeasible during World War I. Troops had formerly congregated for protection, but increased firepower and greater accuracy demanded that armies disperse. As a consequence, stalemate ensued and resulted in trench warfare. Thus second-generation warfare favored defense over offense, and machine guns, magazine-fed rifles, rapid-fire artillery, and barbed wire were developed or put to use.

Patriotism became increasingly important and brought together millions of men under arms whose enthusiasm was sustained despite the horrific battlefield casualties in World War I. Militarism suffused the Zeitgeist, as writers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Georges Sorel, Charles Péguy, and Gabriele D'Annunzio extolled elementary, even nonpolitical, bloodshed as a way to cleanse the world, which they saw as drowning in materialism and feminism. Arguably, politics played little part in World War I. As war hysteria swept over Europe, people entered into the conflagration largely for the sake of fighting. Political restraints were overwhelmed, and politicians who resisted the tide were execrated.

Between the two sides, over sixty-five million men were fielded—42,188,800 by the Allies and 22,850,000 by the Central Powers. Fifteen million people lost their lives in the war: more than 8.5 million soldiers and approximately 6.5 million civilians. Air warfare notwithstanding, World War I did not involve much in the way of new military techniques. Rather it demonstrated the war-making value of massive industrial output. Ultimately Germany was defeated in a war of attrition because of the superior manpower and resources of its adversaries. Despite its desperate situation, Germany persisted and incurred a staggering loss: more than two million of its citizens dead (nearly 3 percent of its population). This high cost left an abiding sense of grievance on which Hitler was able to capitalize.


Excerpted from Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance by George Michael. Copyright © 2012 Vanderbilt University Press. Excerpted by permission of Vanderbilt University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 The Evolution of Warfare, Conflict, and Strategy 7

2 Leaderless Resistance and the Extreme Right 29

3 Ecoextremism and the Radical Animal Liberation Movement 61

4 The Strategic Implications of the New World Order 79

5 The Wiki Revolution and the New People Power 89

6 Weapons of Mass Destruction and Leaderless Resistance 101

7 The Global Islamic Resistance Movement 119

Conclusion: Fifth-Generation Warfare and Leaderless Resistance 155

Notes 173

Selected Bibliography 225

Index 239

Customer Reviews