Distinguishing ‘Loner’ Attacks From Other Domestic Extremist Violence
Second, although some violent loners during the last 20 years have supported far-left or Al Qaeda-inspired ideologies, examining lethal far-right loners is particularly important.2 In the United States, most violent loner attacks have been committed by far-rightists, and many have argued that such attacks are increasing (Bates, 2012; Damphousse and Smith, 2004; Hewitt, 2003; Michael, 2012). The United States Extremist Crime Database (ECDB) has identified close to 140 ideologically motivated homicides committed by far-rightists between 1990 and 2010. In this same period, the ECDB has documented only 30 total homicide incidents committed by supporters of Al Qaeda or other violent Salafist movements (many committed by the same individual) (Freilich, Chermak, Gruenewald, and Parkin, 2012). In addition, far-right leaders have aggressively promoted the use of such tactics during the past 20 years. Racist leader Louis Beam publicized the concept of “leaderless resistance” widely in the early 1980s. He argued that organizational hierarchies are cumbersome and open to law enforcement infiltration, and that criminal activities need to be isolated from larger organizations to limit the criminal and civil liability of the group (Beam, 1992). He pushed this concept in his writings, interviews, and public speaking engagements (Damphousse and Smith, 2004; Michael, 2012). The idea that loners or small cells can be effective also was popularized by White supremacists Alex Curtis and Tom Metzger as a tactical strategy that would make it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to infiltrate groups and conduct investigations (Bakker and de Graaf, 2011; Kaplan, 1997; Michael, 2012). Findings from one analysis of federal terrorism cases indicated that the number of indictees per case decreased after efforts to publicize the use of leaderless resistance tactics (Damphousse and Smith, 2004). In short, these results and offending patterns identified by the ECDB indicate that advocating for leaderless acts may have been successful.
Third, the public and media are currently interested in extremist loners because of recent cases of self-radicalized individuals with ideological agendas who have committed spectacular acts of violence (Bakker and de Graaf, 2010). Recent loner attacks include the Fort Hood assassinations by Nidal Hassan in 2009 and the antigovernment extremist Joseph Stack’s suicide mission that involved him flying his plane into an office building that housed an Internal Revenue Service office. Other earlier high-profile loner attacks include the abortion clinic and Olympic park bombings of Eric Rudolph and the multiple mail bombing attacks by Ted Kaczynski that lasted more than 20 years. The intense media coverage of these recent events has made it seem as though such attacks have increased, and thus, the public and policy makers have focused more attention on loner attacks. In fact, President Obama stated that the United States is far more likely to be attacked by loners than by coordinated terrorist attacks (see MacInnis, 2011).