Articles Lone Wolf Terrorism

Lone Wolves: Behind the Curve (by Jeffrey Connor and Carol Rollie Flynn)

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

As the tragic attacks last summer in Charleston, Chattanooga and aborted plots in Boston and other cities demonstrate, the threat of lone wolf terrorism is very real and rising. Yet, the U.S. government is behind the curve in crafting the type of comprehensive and innovative strategy required to counter this threat. Eight years ago the U.S. Congress rejected legislation to study this phenomenon and develop an effective response. This past summer, Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies took on this challenge: and the results and policy recommendations of this task force provide a way ahead for the U.S. to tackle this vexatious—and growing—threat.

The Task Force’s seventeen graduate students and their two instructors identified several salient, troubling trends that surfaced in Chattanooga and recently in Philadelphia. Of immediate importance was the increased targeting of military and law enforcement personnel. In addition, we found the greatly expanded use of social media and the Internet for radicalization, the lone wolf’s preference for firearms because of their ready availability in the U.S., and the declining affinity of lone wolf attackers for established terrorist groups to be alarming. The Task Force further concluded that profiling is not an effective means of detection and that therefore new, novel, alternative approaches are needed.


Lone Wolf Terrorists (Analysis by Bijan Karimi)

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Group Name: Varies

Principal Ideology: Individual hermeneutic

Area of Operation: Global

Leadership: Individually driven

Affiliated Groups: None

Principal Enemy: Those with conflicting ideologies

Tactics: Varies, primarily mass shootings

Overview: Lone wolf terrorists (LWT) are individuals who carry out attacks independent of any organized or established group; instead, they develop their own belief systems and interpret the world around them through their idiosyncratic hermeneutic.[1] Most terrorism research focuses on groups of individuals, their social interactions, leadership, recruitment tactics and target selection. Hoffman states the traditional way of understanding terrorism using organizational definitions may not be applicable to LWT.[2] Spaaij believes LWT should be defined by action and ideology, not necessarily by the desire to have political change.[3] LWT exhibit some behaviors similar to terrorist organizations but by their very nature (i.e. independent, self-motivated) are harder to characterize. So the classification of individuals who commit violent acts becomes blurry – are they terrorists or are they violent criminals? What separates the actions of a LWT from someone who is committing a violent act is the pursuit of a larger political, ideological or religious aim and the individual may cross the boundaries between them.   Analytical frameworks used to study terrorist organization behavior and motivations may be harder to apply to individuals, but they are still useful.