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From Anders Breivik in Norway, who murdered scores of young people in a bombing and mass-shooting attack, to Omar Mateen, the Orlando killer who perpetrated the worst mass shooting in American history, lone wolves have demonstrated that they can be as dangerous as organized terrorist groups. Who are these terrorists and what can be done about them?
An internationally renowned terrorism expert presents the first comprehensive treatment of this important issue. After delving into the diversity in motivations and backgrounds of lone wolf terrorists, Simon makes the following key points about this growing threat: lone wolves have proven to be more creative and dangerous than many terrorist groups; lone wolves are not just Islamist extremists but can be found among all types of political and religious ideologies; the Internet has provided the perfect breeding ground for isolated individuals with terrorist tendencies, but it may also prove to be their undoing; there are few women in this category, but this is likely to change in the coming years; and the common perception that nothing can be done about lone wolves is wrong. In fact, innovative strategies and policies can be developed to both prevent and respond to this type of terrorism.
Drawing on his more than twenty-five years of experience studying terrorism, Simon has produced an insightful book that is essential reading for anyone concerned about the potential terrorist threats from violence-prone individuals in our midst. This paperback edition contains a new preface by the author, which reviews lone-wolf incidents since the publication of the original edition.
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About the Author
Jeffrey D. Simon, Ph.D. (Santa Monica, CA), is president of Political Risk Assessment Company, Inc. and a visiting lecturer at UCLA. A former RAND Corporation analyst, he is the author of The Terrorist Trap: America's Experience with Terrorism, which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. His writings on terrorism have appeared in many publications, including the Journal of the American Medical Association, Foreign Policy, and the New York Times. Dr. Simon is also on the editorial board of the Journal of Terrorism and Political Violence.
Read an Excerpt
Lone Wolf Terrorism
Understanding the Growing Threat
By Jeffrey D. Simon
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2013 Jeffrey D. Simon
All rights reserved.
THE GROWING THREAT OF LONE WOLF TERRORISM
The biggest concern we have right now ... is the lone wolf terrorist," President Barack Obama said in 2011. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Leon Panetta told Congress a year earlier that "it's the lone-wolf strategy that I think we have to pay attention to as the main threat to this country." India's home secretary, G. K. Pillai, echoed those sentiments, warning that "terrorists can be anywhere. The real challenge is the lone wolf, someone who is not known." Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith joined the list of concerned public officials when he said in a radio interview that "we are now seeing emerging the potential so-called lone wolf escapade where we don't have sophisticated planning but an individual is seduced by the international jihad and as a lone wolf does extreme things." Whether it is homegrown terrorists influenced by jihadist websites and chat rooms or individuals bent on terrorist activity for a wide range of causes or issues, the threat of lone wolf terrorism is growing around the world.
It is understandable, however, if one is skeptical of anybody who writes that the terrorist threat is "growing" or "increasing" in any shape or form. Haven't we had enough warnings about terrorism over the years, often fueled by self-interested politicians, government officials, terrorism experts, and others? The Department of Homeland Security's ill-conceived "color-coded alert" system is still fresh in many minds, and its only effect was scaring people about terrorist threats that never materialized. Keeping the terrorist threat high in the public's mind and on the government's agenda is good for business, both for terrorists, who thrive on the psychological fear that terrorism evokes, and for those who talk, write, or consult about terrorism. But there is enough evidence to indicate that the lone wolf threat is real and is not likely to fade away anytime soon.
A dizzying array of recent lone wolf attacks and plots illustrates the diversity of this threat, as noted in the introduction. The twin terror attacks in Norway by an anti-Islamic extremist were among the worst lone wolf incidents in history. In the United States, lone wolf attacks in recent years have ranged from terrorists motivated by single issues and antigovernment ideology to those inspired by Islamic extremism and white supremacy. Britain has also experienced a diverse array of lone wolf incidents. A lone wolf Islamic extremist was arrested in April 2008 before he could carry out a suicide attack on a shopping center in Bristol. Among the items police found in a search of the man's apartment were the unstable explosive hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD), an electrical circuit capable of detonating the explosive, and a suicide vest. Just over a month later, another lone wolf terrorist sympathetic to Islamic extremism was injured in a failed suicide attack in a restaurant in Exeter. He was preparing three nail bombs in the restaurant's bathroom when one accidently exploded in his hands. Lone wolf incidents in Britain also included a plot by a neo-Nazi to wage a violent campaign against "non-British" people using shrapnel bombs. When the man was arrested on the platform of a Suffolk train station in October 2008, police found two homemade explosives in his possession. A search of his home uncovered explosive ingredients and white supremacist and neo-Nazi literature. He also reportedly idolized Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, and David Copeland, another lone wolf neo-Nazi, who became known as the "London Nailbomber."
Lone wolf terrorism is not limited to just a few incidents and places. Rather, it is increasingly occurring in countries throughout the world. How, then, can we explain the rise of lone wolf terrorism? Explanations for any type of terrorism are fraught with difficulties. The study of terrorism is a speculative endeavor at best, with cultural and personal biases potentially affecting explanations as to why individuals or groups may resort to violence against a wide range of targets. There have been explanations posited that range from poverty, alienation, and humiliation as the root causes of terrorism to explanations that focus on foreign state sponsorship of terrorist activity. The diverse nature of terrorism precludes any overall theory from being capable of explaining this phenomenon. It is difficult, for example, to argue that terrorism is due to specific conditions or situations when terrorism exists in virtually every country around the world. As Norwegian scholars Brynjar Lia and Katja H-W Skjolberg correctly point out, "We find terrorists among deprived and uneducated people, and among the affluent and well educated; we find terrorists among psychotic and 'normal' healthy people; and among people of both sexes and of all ages. Terrorism occurs in rich as well as in poor countries; in the modern industrialised world and in less developed areas; during a process of transition and development, prior to or after such a process; in former colonial states and in independent ones; and, in established democracies as well as in less democratic regimes."
One way, however, to explain the rise in lone wolf terrorism is to view it as part of an emerging trend in terrorism that can best be described as the "Technological Wave." This wave permeates all aspects of terrorism and is of immense value to the individual who wants to embark upon a campaign of terrorist violence.
THE TECHNOLOGICAL WAVE OF TERRORISM
The concept of "waves" of terrorist activity was first formulated by pioneering terrorism scholar David C. Rapoport to explain the history of modern terrorism. A wave can be thought of as a "cycle of activity in a given time period — a cycle characterized by expansion and contraction phases. A crucial feature is its international character; similar activities occur in several countries, driven by a common predominant energy that shapes the participating groups' characteristics and mutual relationships." According to Rapoport, there have been four basic waves of terrorism since the late 1880s. The first wave began with the anarchist movement of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The Anarchist Wave was followed by the Anti-Colonial Wave, which began in the 1920s; the New Left Wave, which began in the 1960s; and the Religious Wave, which began in 1979. While there can be overlap in the waves, as one ebbs and another emerges, the lifespan of a wave is a generation, or about forty years, "a suggestive time frame closest in duration to that of a human life cycle, in which dreams inspiring parents lose their attractiveness for children."
If Rapoport is correct, then we can expect the current Religious Wave to end, or at least be overtaken by a new wave of terrorism, by 2020. While it might be hard to imagine religious-inspired terrorism by organized, decentralized, or ad hoc groups not being the main form of terrorism for several more decades, given the numerous attacks perpetrated by Islamic extremists around the world, the history of terrorism has been characterized by the changing of the guard at different periods. Each of Rapoport's four waves, for example, was launched into a global movement by some type of grand event or incident. Rapoport points out that the wounding of a Russian police commander who had mistreated political prisoners in 1878 by Vera Zasulich inspired the Russian anarchist movement, particularly her proclamation that she was a "terrorist, not a killer," after she threw her weapon to the floor. She was acquitted at her trial and treated as a heroine after she was freed. German newspapers reported that the pro-Zasulich demonstrations meant a revolution was imminent in Russia.
The Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, precipitated the Anti-Colonial Wave, as the "victors applied the principle of national self-determination to break up the empires of the defeated states." The third wave, the New Left Wave, found its inspiration in the Vietnam War and the effective role of the Viet Cong in its battles with American and South Vietnamese troops. The war led to the formation of radical groups in the Third World and the West, where "the war stimulated enormous ambivalence among the youth about the value of the existing system. Many Western groups — such as the American Weather Underground, the West German Red Army Faction (RAF), the Italian Red Brigades, the Japanese Red Army, and the French Action Directe — saw themselves as vanguards for the Third World masses. The Soviet world encouraged the outbreaks and offered moral support, training, and weapons."
The fourth wave, the Religious Wave, was launched after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which, along with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that same year, led to religious extremism in many parts of the world. The Iranian Revolution "was clear evidence to believers that religion now had more political appeal than did the prevailing third-wave ethos because Iranian Marxists could only muster meager support against the Shah." The Ayatollah Khomeini regime in Iran "inspired and assisted Shiite terror movements outside of Iran, particularly in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Lebanon."
While terrorist groups with religious agendas will undoubtedly be active for many years to come, a new wave, the Technological Wave, is emerging and making for a more level playing field among terrorists with different ideologies and agendas. No single type of terrorist ideology will dominate this new wave in the same way that anarchism, anticolonialism, "New Left" ideology, and religious fundamentalism dominated the preceding four waves. Instead, technology is there for all to take advantage of, offering any group or individual the opportunity to compete in the world of terrorism. We can see technology's influence in all aspects of terrorism, from the rapid growth in the use of technology by governments and militaries for surveillance, detection of weapons, counterterrorist operations, and other purposes to its use by a wide variety of terrorists.
No one type of terrorist movement has a monopoly on the use of technology. For example, virtually every terrorist group has a website and is utilizing the Internet for recruitment, spreading its message, communications, and a variety of other purposes. In terms of weapons, insurgents in Iraq have used sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in their attacks. The insurgents have proved to be technologically adaptable, as they switched from first using remote-controlled IEDs to then using long wires buried in the ground (also known as "command wires") in order to detonate the bombs after US troops acquired the ability to successfully jam the remote-controlled devices. Another indication of the technological savvy of the Iraqi insurgents is their use of explosively formed penetrators (EFPs). The EFPs "fire a slug of high density metal at between 4,000 and 6,500 miles per hour with much more energy than roadside bombs made from artillery shells. The penetrator's high velocity punches a relatively small hole in a vehicle's armor, then sprays occupants inside with a stream of shrapnel."
IED and EFP technology is likely to be exported around the world as many insurgents leave Iraq and Afghanistan and take their terrorist campaigns to other countries. The Technological Wave will not only witness extremists from Iraq and Afghanistan using sophisticated IEDs and EFPs in different countries but will also include other terrorists, including lone wolves, who have their own agendas and who learn how to make the latest IEDs and EFPs from veterans of the Iraqi and Afghan insurgencies. They may also acquire the knowledge even without the cooperation of the militants from Iraq and Afghanistan, since it is difficult in the world of terrorism for one group or cell to keep weapons technology a secret from other extremists. Furthermore, there won't be the billion-dollar effort in other countries that the United States used in Iraq and Afghanistan to neutralize and defeat the IED and EFP threat. That will make it easier for extremists to use these and other technologically sophisticated weapons in their attacks.
THE INTERNET AND THE LONE WOLF
The most important aspect of the Technological Wave that helps explain the growing prominence of the lone wolf terrorist is the Internet. In fact, the Internet can be considered the grand event that helped launch the wave. The Internet is the "energy" for this new wave, continually revolutionizing the way information is gathered, processed, and distributed; the way communications are conducted and social networks are formed; and the way single individuals, such as lone wolves, can become significant players by using the Internet to learn about weapons, targets, and techniques.
By the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Internet was an integral part of everyday life for many people. One could find information on virtually any topic and feel connected to the world at large with a laptop computer or a smartphone. For the individual interested in perpetrating a terrorist attack, everything from how to build homemade bombs to maps and diagrams of potential targets were available on the Internet. So, too, were detailed accounts of terrorist incidents around the world, which lone wolves could study in order to determine what might work for them. In addition, the Internet provided a mechanism for lone wolves to become infatuated with extremist ideologies through the reading of websites, blogs, Facebook pages, and other tools available online. Lone wolves could also find other like-minded individuals on the Internet and obtain help from one or two other people in perpetrating an attack.
We only have to look at some of the recent lone wolf incidents to see the significant role that the Internet is playing for the individual terrorist. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian lone wolf who perpetrated the dual terrorist attacks in Norway, posted a fifteen-hundred-page manifesto on the Internet shortly before he embarked on his campaign of terror. The manifesto called for an end to "the Islamic colonisation and Islamisation of Western Europe" and blamed Norwegian politicians for allowing that to happen. He hoped his attacks would bring attention to his manifesto, which it certainly did, as his document suddenly became known throughout the world. Breivik was also influenced by anti-Islamic bloggers and writers in the United States whom he found on the Internet and whose quotations he used in his manifesto.
Another lone wolf who posted a manifesto on the Internet before his terrorist attack was Joseph Stack. After setting fire to his home in Austin, Texas, on the morning of February 18, 2010, Stack flew his single-engine plane into a downtown Austin office building in which nearly two hundred people worked for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). One person besides Stack was killed in the attack. Stack was motivated by a hatred for the IRS, which he blamed for ruining his life. He was particularly upset with a 1986 change in the tax law that prevented contract software engineers like him from taking certain deductions. The new law made it difficult for information-technology professionals to work as self-employed individuals. This forced many of them to become company employees. In his manifesto, Stack wrote about the new tax law, saying that "they could only have been more blunt if they would have came out and directly declared me a criminal and non-citizen slave." Stack's manifesto revealed the frustration that was building up inside him. He wrote, "I would only hope that by striking a nerve that stimulates the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions people wake up and begin to see the pompous political thugs and their mindless minions for what they are. Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn't so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer."
Richard Poplawski, a white supremacist who killed three police officers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in April 2009, used the Internet to frequent a neo-Nazi chat room, "Stormfront," where he shared his racist, anti-Semitic, and antigovernment views with other likeminded individuals. Finding kindred souls on the Internet seemed to embolden Poplawski. His postings from November 2008 until March 2009 revealed an increasingly confrontational nature. He urged other white supremacists not to "retreat peaceably into the hills," but rather to strive for "ultimate victory for our people [by] taking back our nation." He also wrote that he would likely be "ramping up the activism" in the near future. Poplawski surfed the Internet to order the AK-47 assault-style rifle that he used in his attack. The Internet seller delivered the rifle to a store, where Poplawski purchased the weapon.
Excerpted from Lone Wolf Terrorism by Jeffrey D. Simon. Copyright © 2013 Jeffrey D. Simon. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPREFACE TO THE PAPERBACK, vii,
FOREWORD by Brian Michael Jenkins, 7,
CHAPTER 1. THE GROWING THREAT OF LONE WOLF TERRORISM, 23,
CHAPTER 2. WHO ARE THE LONE WOLVES?, 39,
CHAPTER 3. WHY LONE WOLVES ARE SO DANGEROUS, 89,
CHAPTER 4. WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?, 113,
CHAPTER 5. LONE WOLF ASSASSINS, 145,
CHAPTER 6. STRATEGIES FOR DEALING WITH LONE WOLF TERRORISM, 181,
CHAPTER 7. UNCOVERING THE LESSONS LEARNED, 229,
CHAPTER 8. A LOOK TOWARD THE FUTURE, 243,
APPENDIX: DEFINING LONE WOLF TERRORISM, 259,
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