John Horgan, Professor at Georgia State University, discusses the types and ideologies of lone-actor terrorists and how the bystander effect creates challenges to preventing and intervening on possible domestic radicalization situations early.
HORGAN: My background is in psychology. I am a forensic psychologist. I’ve been studying terrorism for some 20 years now and the study I presented today is an NIJ-funded piece of research in which we are comparing lone-wolf terrorists, or what we call lone actors, with other kinds of mass murderers. And what we are finding in that research is not only is there no profile of lone-actor terrorists but there are actually three specific different groupings that emerge from the lone actor category. In a nutshell we’re finding they are a lot more diverse than we might like to think. The really significant finding from some of the early work we’ve done on this topic, however, suggests that this idea that we never see it coming, that we never really see the lone wolf coming until it’s too late, that’s a myth.
Do lone-actor terrorists have similar ideologies?
HORGAN: We looked at about 119 lone-actor terrorists and found that they are quite a diverse bunch, and we found that they break down into three main categories. We have religious lone wolves, we have extreme right-wing lone wolves, anti-government types essentially, and then of course we have what we refer to as single-issue terrorists. These are people who might be violent extremists associated with an environmental cause or animal protection, for example, so the ideology, actually, is quite diverse. I think when most people think about a lone-wolf terrorist they think about the Unabomber-type scenario, someone who’s living alone in the woods and isn’t really connected to anyone. I think that’s an old characterization. We’re seeing now a far more diverse, ideologically oriented and ideologically diverse profile then we’ve ever seen before.
How does the bystander effect contribute to acts of lone-actor terrorism?
HORGAN: The bystander effect is a major problem when it comes to lone-actor terrorism because there are friends, family members, and coworkers who are all aware, in 80 percent of cases, of what this individual intends to do. The problem is that it’s not being reported and for the next step in our research we want to try to find out how do we essentially reduce the bystander effect. How do we encourage more people to reach out to law enforcement to say, hey, I’m not quite sure about this but I am worried about this individual. I think he might do something.