The Problem of Lone Wolf Terrorism in the US Research Paper

  • Length: 12 pages
  • Sources: 12
  • Subject: Terrorism
  • Type: Research Paper
  • Paper: #42702873
  • Related Topics: Violence, War, Attack, Government

Excerpt from Research Paper :

Impact of Lone Wolf Terrorists


The recent terrorist episodes in the US have all been incidents of Lone Wolf terrorism. From the bombing of the Oklahoma City Building in 1995 by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to the Charlottesville attack in 2017 by neo-Nazi James Fields, Lone Wolf terrorists exist in this country and their presence is the most important current domestic security concern. This paper will explain why Lone Wolf terrorism is a most important security concern for the US and how Internet recruitment is playing a part in the spreading of violent actions by extremists.

Defining Lone Wolf Terrorism

Lone Wolf terrorism is hard to define because of the complicated nature of what makes one a lone wofle. The theory of lone wolf terrorism is that lone wolves are terrorists who act alone without any support group, network and assistance from a terror cell or organization. Lone Wolfs may be motivated by ideology that is shared by other people and groups, but they are not supported by these groups or given orders to act. They are not part of an overall infrastructure and do not take commands from anyone. They do not take orders from anyone and act on their own directive (Beydoun, 2017).

An example of a Lone Wolf terrorist would be Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, whose manifesto revealed the extreme Right ideology that prompted his actions. Another example would be the New Zealand mosque shooter, who left behind ample evidence of his inspiration for mass murdering Muslims at their place of prayer. McVeigh and Nichols can be considered Lone Wolves, and the Orlando night club shooter could be considered a Lone Wolf as well. What they all have in common is that they were operating on their own, outside of any organized terrorist cell. Their actions were directed solely by themselves.

Yet they are not created in a bubble—particularly today. Lone Wolf terrorism is as much a reaction to the Left-Right paradigm that has spread across the world as it is to social media influence, where extremist ideologies are communicated and fuel individuals focused on taking violent action. Yet, as Weimann (2016) notes, Lone Wolves actually hunt in packs and their hunting ground is cyberspace: “They are recruited, radicalized, taught, trained and directed by others” (p. 1). From Facebook to YouTube to Twitter, social media platforms are places where Lone Wolf terrorists can be formed in cyberspace and unleashed onto the real world.

Three Immediate Threats Posed by Lone Wolves to US National Security

Three immediate threats posed by Lone Wolves to US National Security are: a threat to infrastructure, a social threat in that they can inspire other Lone Wolf terrorists, and an economic threat in that they can destabilize the country’s ability to hold events and have mass gatherings out of fear a Lone Wolf might strike. To address these threats, clearly some kind of content control is required online in order to prevent recruitment and proliferation of radical ideas that could potentially lead to the development of more Lone Wolf terrorists in society. Yet this very idea creates conflicts within the realm of American notions of freedom, especially as people enjoy socializing with one another online. The irony is that Lone Wolfs can be recruited and radicalized online and their activities can lead to the loss of socialization activities for all. It is like allowing freedom to a group of adolescents and when one breaks the rules he ruins it for everyone as their freedom is taken away. The government is faced with making decisions about how much freedom to allow Americans since Lone Wolf terrorists use that freedom for bad ends and end up ruining it for everyone.

Americans are not quite comfortable with the idea of their online activity being monitored or their words being assessed by government agents. Some Americans feel that if their words and content online are judged incorrectly they could be harassed by the government, arrested or charged with trying to incite violence or hate crimes or terrorism. Monitoring the Internet and attempting to implement controls on social media has been a complex problem for companies like Facebook and Twitter. Social media becomes a dominant place where individuals can reinforce an increasingly radicalized view of the world even if they are only communicating with other people who may not share their intentions towards violence at all (Chatfield, Reddick & Brajawidagda, 2015). Does the fact that they are communicating or sharing ideas with the radicalized Lone Wolf make them complicit?

There are ethical questions that have to be asked as well as the government seeks to address this most crucial of points. The security threat to America is clear and present, but at what point can the government actually step in to declare that certain topics and ways of speech are off limits? From a utilitarian perspective, one could argue that for the common good, the government should have the authority to limit free speech on the Internet because of the risks it poses for the development of Lone Wolf terrorists. But from a deontological perspective, one could argue that the government has a duty to uphold the Constitution, which protects Americans’ right to free speech.

The problem is not an easy one to solve considering that the Internet is constantly providing new platforms for users to meet and share views. The big social networking platforms are just a drop in a very large bucket. Numerous platforms exist and just the fact that instant communication is now available as a wide spread technological tool of Web 2.0 indicates that it is not a process that the government can easily monitor. This makes the need to address the issue of Lone Wolf radicalization over the Internet all the more urgent. There is no apparent or ethical solution to the problem.

Thus the threat to infrastructure is apparent, and the economic threat follows. The implicit threat in both is that social relations will deteriorate and American society will become highly tribal. Tribalism can lead to an increase in terrorism as it fosters fringe belief systems and activities that lead to tribes fighting one another and engaging in hostile and violent activities that can be perceived as terroristic. Even tribes posting on social media use memes to provoke and inspire terror (Costello & Hawdon,…

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…in them. With the Las Vegas shooting, no link to terrorism was found, so the connection was never made. Thus, it stands to reason that lone wolf attacks may be linked to larger terrorism circles—but not necessarily.

Can Lone Wolf Attacks be Prevented?

Preventing Lone Wolf attacks may be possible but it depends on how willing

Americans are to work with regulators and how willing regulators are to follow up on warnings. The co-workers of Hasan alerted the FBI about his radicalization but the FBI did nothing. That was one attack that could have been prevented but was not. The agency knew this man was dangerous, yet did nothing to intervene. With the case of Paddock in Las Vegas, he flew under the radar of everyone. Very few people knew him as he was a true loner. He left behind no records of social media comments or Internet clues that would show any red flags. It would have been difficult to prevent his attack, barring some kind of scanning device in the hotel room that would have prevented him from moving so many weapons up to his hotel room. However, that would be a technological preventive measure—different from an agency intervention measure like what was needed in the case of Nidal Hasan.

In the case of the Orlando shooter, a mental health preventive measure might have helped to keep the shooter from acting out on his violent impulses. However, this would have required assistance from his own support network and it is unclear whether or not that could have happened. The fact is that preventive policing is still in its infancy and using algorithms to detect who might commit a crime in the future is a system that is still being worked out (Utset, 2016). The use of technology, the censorship of the Internet, and the screening of all social media posts may be necessary to truly try to prevent Lone Wolf terrorism from taking place—but it must be remembered that Lone Wolf terrorism existed before the rise of the Internet. The Oklahoma City bombers were Lone Wolf terrorists and their actions were not based on Internet or social media activity. They acted on their own. Still, in today’s digital media saturated age, curbing the power of the Internet to operate without regulation may be the best preventive measure that can be implemented at this point in time. Till preventive policing can be shown to work on a grand scale, it is the best option available.


Lone Wolf terrorism is a type of terrorism that is relatively new to the American landscape. It is also a controversial subject as some researchers believe there is no such thing as a genuine lone wolf terrorist. While it is true that some Lone Wolf terrorists do operate independently of any group or leader—like Stephen Paddock did in Las Vegas 2017—many others are inspired by or acting out of allegiance to terror cells or groups, even if they are not formal members. The Boston Bombers and the Orlando nightclub shooter are examples, as is the Ft. Hood shooter. They all were motivated by a sense of belonging to a terror group, which…

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Beydoun, K. A. (2017). Lone wolf terrorism: types, stripes, and double standards. Nw. UL Rev., 112, 1213.

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Chatfield, A. T., Reddick, C. G., & Brajawidagda, U. (2015, May). Tweeting propaganda, radicalization and recruitment: Islamic state supporters multi-sided twitter networks. In Proceedings of the 16th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research (pp. 239-249).

Costello, M., & Hawdon, J. (2018). Who are the online extremists among us? Sociodemographic characteristics, social networking, and online experiences of those who produce online hate materials. Violence and gender, 5(1), 55-60.

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