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Lone Wolf Terrorism in America: Using Knowledge of Radicalization Pathways to Forge Prevention Strategies

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Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2012, $247,263)

The purpose of the research is to create a database on lone wolf terrorism, along with a theory-informed case study component and a comparative analysis seeking to distinguish lone wolves from those who undergo radicalization in a group context. Based on a concise four-part definition of the crime, and drawing on open sources, the database will include 69 likely cases of lone wolf terrorism in the U.S. between 1940 and 2012. The 69 cases will be analyzed in terms of 14 variables including background factors, prior criminal history, social and political grievances, locus of radicalization, and a series of empirically-based commonalities regarding external and internal factors associated with pathways to radicalization. The database will produce 966 potential data points, representing the largest database ever created on lone wolf terrorism in the United States. The objective of the study is to validate the commonalities of radicalization among lone wolves using quantitative and qualitative research methods. According to previous case study research in the area, the commonalities are: lone wolves tend to combine personal frustrations with wider political, social and religious agendas; they tend to suffer from psychological disorders and social ineptitude; they are inclined to identify with extremist groups, even though they are not directly involved with these groups; they often broadcast their intent to commit violence; their terrorism may be enabled by leaders of extremist groups; and their violence may be preceded by a personal or political triggering event. The case study component of this research will involve five post-9/11 cases. The commonalities of radicalization will be examined under the lens of criminology life-course theory, thereby assessing the extent to which commonalities constitute "turning points" that enable the transformation of an individual's criminal tendencies into terrorist causes. Last, special attention will be given to previous counterterrorism responses to lone wolf attacks. In so doing, the research will identify the degree to which there are shared strategies to successful investigations. The research has four major policy implications: (1) It will offer a verifiable definition of lone wolf terrorism: something that is currently absent in U.S. counterterrorism policy; (2) It will provide a new way of thinking about radicalization; for lone wolves, radicalization appears to be based on a complex interaction of individual processes, interpersonal relations, and sociopolitical and cultural circumstancesa notion that defies stereotypes about radicalization; (3) It will provide investigators with a set of potential "signatures" that an individual with a terrorist intent will demonstrate in preparing for an attack. These indicators may include such factors as the broadcasting of terrorist intent, sympathy with organized extremists, either face-to-face or Internet contact with enablers of terrorism, and triggering events; and (4) by identifying counterterrorism efforts that have proven successful in the past, the research will demonstrate the extent to which these successes have derived from an operational understanding of the radicalization process. Moreover, the research will show how knowledge about radicalization pathways can be used to forge prevention strategies.ca/ncf
Date Created: September 26, 2012