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

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2015
28 pages
Based on direct contact with imprisoned "lone wolf" terrorists and a comparative analysis that distinguishes them from terrorists radicalized by and activated as a result of group planning, this research developed the largest and most comprehensive database ever created on "lone wolf" terrorism, along with a theory-informed case study.
Data show that in terms of lethality, "lone wolf" terrorism in America is not increasing. Still, it is undergoing two important changes in methods used. First, uniformed police and military personnel have become the primary target of lone terrorists. Second, consistent with the relaxation of U.S. gun laws since the 1990s and the recent trend in mass shootings, the lone terrorist's preferred weaponry is now a staggering range of high-velocity firearms. Although there is no standard profile of the lone terrorist, most of them are unemployed, single White males with a criminal record. Compared to members of terrorist groups, lone terrorists are older, less educated, and more prone to mental illness. This study validates a series of common factors associated with pathways to radicalization for lone terrorists. Radicalization begins with a combination of personal and political grievances that become the basis for an affinity with online sympathizers. This is followed by the identification of an enabler and the broadcasting of terrorist intent. A triggering event then becomes the catalyst for a terrorist act. 11 references, case studies, and appended list of cases examined and recommendations for the U.S. Justice Department

Date Published: January 1, 2015