Lone wolf (terrorism)
A lone actor, lone-actor terrorist, or lone wolf is someone who prepares and commits violent acts alone, outside of any command structure and without material assistance from any group. They may be influenced or motivated by the ideology and beliefs of an external group and may act in support of such a group. In its original sense, a "lone wolf" is an animal or person that generally lives or spends time alone instead of with a group.
Observers note that lone wolf attacks are a relatively rare type of terrorist attack but have been increasing in number, and that it is sometimes difficult to tell whether an actor has received outside help and what appears to be a lone wolf attack may actually have been carefully orchestrated from outside.
Origins of the term
The term "lone wolf" was popularized by white supremacists Alex Curtis and Tom Metzger in the 1990s. Metzger advocated individual or small-cell underground activity, as opposed to above-ground membership organizations, envisaging "warriors acting alone or in small groups who attacked the government or other targets in 'daily, anonymous acts.'"
Terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Corporation prefers the term stray dog to lone wolf. According to Jenkins, most individuals involved in such attacks "skulk about, sniffing at violence, vocally aggressive but skittish without backup". Though these individuals seem to be acting alone, there are often ties between lone wolves and terrorist organisations for example, terrorist backed online content.
The term "lone wolf" is used by US law enforcement agencies and the media to refer to individuals undertaking violent acts of terrorism outside a command structure. The FBI and San Diego Police's investigation into the activities of a self-professed white supremacist, Alex Curtis, was named Operation Lone Wolf, "largely due to Curtis' encouragement of other white supremacists to follow what Curtis refers to as 'lone wolf' activism".
The term lone wolf is used to distinguish terrorist actions carried out by individuals from those coordinated by large groups.  Terrorist attacks that are carried out by small cells are not classified as lone wolf attacks. Lone wolf attacks are far more rare than attacks carried out by groups. Since 1940, there have only been around 100 successful lone wolf attacks in the United States. The number of attacks is increasing, however, and has grown each year since 2000. Lone wolves generally come from different demographics than far right attackers as well. As compared to those on the far right, lone wolf attackers who become inspired by al-Qaeda and ISIS tend to be younger and better educated. According to studies, lone wolves have more in common with mass murderers than they do with members of the organized terrorist groups that often inspire them.
While the lone wolf acts to advance the ideological or philosophical beliefs of an extremist group, they act on their own, without any outside command or direction. The lone wolf's tactics and methods are conceived and directed solely on their own; in many cases, such as the tactics described by Curtis, the lone wolf never has personal contact with the group they identify with. As such, it is considerably more difficult for counter-terrorism officials to gather intelligence on lone wolves, since they may not come into contact with routine counter-terrorist surveillance.
Recent scholarship and news reports have used the terms stochastic terrorism and scripted violence to describe how Lone Wolf Terrorism functions as a way to mobilize an attack with no direct connection between the rhetorical call to action and the date or time of the act of terrorism.
A 2013 analysis by Sarah Teich, a research assistant at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, found five emerging trends in Islamist lone wolf terrorism in North America and western Europe between 1990 and 2013:
- An increase in the number of countries targeted by lone wolves from the 1990s to the 2000s.
- An increase in the number of people injured and killed by lone wolves.
- Increased effectiveness of law enforcement and counter-terrorism.
- Consistency in the distribution of attacks by "actor types" (loners, lone wolves, and lone wolf packs).
- An increase in the number of attacks against military personnel.
In the United States, lone wolves may present a greater threat than organized groups, and terrorists have not been limited to Muslims.
Some groups actively advocate lone wolf actions. Anti-abortion militant terrorist group The Army of God uses "leaderless resistance" as its organizing principle. According to The New York Times, in news analysis of the Boston Marathon bombings, the Al-Qaeda activist Samir Khan, publishing in Inspire, advocated individual terrorist actions directed at Americans and published detailed recipes online.
Lone Wolf terrorists may sympathize with and consider themselves part of larger groups, but they are not active participants. Often, the attacks are attributed to people who have a mixture of political and personal grievances. However, Lone Wolf terrorists have no actual affiliation to the group that claims them, but instead become radicalized online and through external media outlets.
A large number of terrorists initially claimed by authorities and reporters to have been Lone Wolf attacks inspired by ISIS and/or its ideology, were later found to have been recruited, trained and directed remotely by ISIL to carry out the attacks. This would mean they were technically not "Lone Wolves."
Mental health factors
Lone wolf terrorists are highly likely to be afflicted by a mental illness. Studies have found that more than 40% of lone wolf terrorists have been diagnosed at some point in their life with a mental illness. This puts lone wolves as being 13.5 times more likely to suffer from a mental illness than a member of an organized terrorist group, such as al-Qaeda or ISIS.
Mental health challenges are thought to make some individuals among the many who suffer from certain "psychological disturbances," vulnerable to being inspired by extremist ideologies to commit acts of lone wolf terrorism.
Forms of indirect incitement
"Stochastic terrorism" is a recent term describing public speech that can be expected to incite terrorism, without a direct organizational link between the inciter and the perpetrator. The term "stochastic" describes the random, probabilistic nature of its effect: whether or not an attack actually takes place, when, and by whom is not under the control of the stochastic terrorist, but their actions serve to increase the probability that it will. The "stochastic terrorist" does not direct the actions of members of a group, rather, they are an ideologue speaking over mass media to individuals with whom they are not affiliated as part of any form of organization. According to an anonymous blogger posting on the Daily Kos, the speaker, whether intentionally or not, incites those with a combination of personality traits that leads them to violence. Since the speaker only focuses animus towards the victim instead of directly participating, they may escape culpability and the perpetrator may be labeled a lone wolf by law enforcement.[unreliable source?] The term has mostly been applied to domestic American incidents of violence.
In their 2017 book, Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism, criminologist Mark S. Hamm and sociologist Ramón Spaaij discuss stochastic terrorism as a form of "indirect enabling" of terrorists. They write that "stochastic terrorism is the method of international recruitment used by ISIS", and they refer to Anwar al-Awlaki and Alex Jones as stochastic terrorists.:157
Hamm and Spaaij discuss two instances of violence. In the 2010 Oakland freeway shootout, Byron Williams was said to be en route to offices of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Tides Foundation, planning to commit mass murder, "indirectly enabled by the conspiracy theories" of Glenn Beck and Alex Jones. As a left-wing example, they cite the 2012 shooting incident at the headquarters of the Family Research Council.
The "stochastic terrorism model" is a stochastic process, a random, model of those terror attacks intended by the random nature of their timing and targets to excite a generalized fear. Nonetheless, lone wolf terrorists are "indirectly enabled by the conspiracy theories" circulated in the mass media, especially by high status political or religious leaders.
The phrase "scripted violence" has been used in social science since at least 2002.
Author David Neiwert, who wrote the book Alt-America, told Salon interviewer Chauncey Devega:
Scripted violence is where a person who has a national platform describes the kind of violence that they want to be carried out. He identifies the targets and leaves it up to the listeners to carry out this violence. It is a form of terrorism. It is an act and a social phenomenon where there is an agreement to inflict massive violence on a whole segment of society. Again, this violence is led by people in high-profile positions in the media and the government. They’re the ones who do the scripting, and it is ordinary people who carry it out.
Think of it like Charles Manson and his followers. Manson wrote the script; he didn’t commit any of those murders. He just had his followers carry them out.
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