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CHAPTER TWO THE NATURE OF THE BEAST DEFINING TERRORISM
CHAPTER LEARNING OBJECTIVES
This chapter will enable readers to do the following:
1. Explain the importance of identifying the common characteristics of extremism and understanding the world view of extremist adherents.
2. Demonstrate knowledge of the common features of formal definitions of terrorism. 3. Discuss whether violence should be classified as terrorism by recognizing the contextual
perspectives of perpetrators and participants in terrorist environments.
4. Apply the Political Violence Matrix as a conceptual tool to interpret the quality of violence.
Opening Viewpoint: Are “Hate Crimes” Acts of Terrorism?
Hate crimes refers to behaviors that are considered to be bias-motivated crimes but that at times
seem to fit the definition of acts of terrorism. Hate crimes are a legalistic concept in Western
democracies that embody (in the law) a criminological approach to a specific kind of deviant
behavior. These laws focus on a specific motive for criminal behavior—crimes that are directed
against protected classes of people because of their membership in these protected classes. Thus,
hate crimes are officially considered to be a law enforcement issue rather than one of national
The separation between hate crimes and terrorism is not always clear because “hate groups at
times in their life cycles might resemble gangs and at other times paramilitary organizations
or terrorist groups.”a They represent “another example of small, intense groups that sometimes
resort to violence to achieve their goals by committing . . . vigilante terrorism.”b Among experts,
the debate about what is or is not “terrorism” has resulted in a large number of official and
unofficial definitions. A similar debate has arisen about how to define hate crimes because “it is
difficult to construct an exhaustive definition of the term. . . . Crime—hate crime included—is
relative.”c In fact, there is no agreement on what label to use for behaviors that many people
commonly refer to as “hate crimes.” For example, in the United States, attacks by White neo-
Nazi youths against African Americans, gays, and religious institutions have been referred to
with such diverse terms as hate crime, hate-motivated crime, bias crime, bias-motivated
crime, and ethno-violence.d
Are hate crimes acts of terrorism? The answer is that not all acts of terrorism are hate crimes, and
not all hate crimes are acts of terrorism. For example, in cases of dissident terrorism, terrorists
frequently target a state or system with little or no animus against a particular race, religion, or
other group. Likewise, state terrorism is often motivated by a perceived need to preserve or
reestablish the state’s defined vision of social order without targeting a race, religion, or other
group. On the other hand, criminal behavior fitting federal or state definitions of hate crimes in
the United States can have little or no identifiable political agenda, other than hatred toward a
protected class of people.
It is when political violence is directed against a particular group—such as a race, religion,
nationality, or generalized “undesirable”—that these acts possibly fit the definitions of both hate
crimes and terrorism. Terrorists often launch attacks against people who symbolize the cause that
they oppose. In the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, and elsewhere, many
individuals and groups act out violently to promote an agenda that seeks to “purify” society.
These crimes are committed by groups or individuals who are “dealing in the artificial currency
of . . . ‘imagined communities’—utopian pipe dreams and idealizations of ethnically cleansed
communities.”e For example, after German reunification, “street renegades [demanded] a
new Lebensraum of a purified Germany whose national essence and coherence will not be
weakened and ‘contaminated’ by ethnic and racial minorities.”f Their targeted enemies were
Turkish, Slavic, and southern European immigrants and “guest workers.”
This chapter concludes with a Case in Point discussing the 2016 mass shooting in the United
States in Orlando, Florida, within the context of incidents that can be defined as both an act of
terrorism and a hate crime.
a. Barkan, Steven E., and Lynne L. Snowden. Collective Violence. Boston: Allyn & Bacon,
2001, p. 105.
b. Ibid., p. 106.
c. Perry, Barbara. In the Name of Hate: Understanding Hate Crimes. New York: Routledge,
2001, p. 8.
d. Hamm, Mark S. “Conceptualizing Hate Crime in a Global Context.” In Hate Crime:
International Perspectives on Causes and Control, edited by Mark S. Hamm. Cincinnati, OH:
Anderson, 1994, p. 174.
e. Kelly, Robert J., and Jess Maghan. Hate Crime: The Global Politics of Polarization.
Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998, p. 6. Citing Anderson, Benedict. Imagined
Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: New Left, 1983.
f. Ibid., p. 5.
This chapter investigates definitional issues in the study of terrorism. Readers will probe the
nuances of these issues and will learn that the truism “one person’s terrorist is another
person’s freedom fighter” is a significant factor in the definitional debate. It must be
remembered that this debate occurs within a practical and “real-life” framework—in other
words, a nontheoretical reality that some political, religious, or ethnonationalist beliefs and
behaviors are so reprehensible that they cannot be considered to be mere differences in opinion.
Some violent incidents are mala in se acts of terrorist violence. For example, the New
Terrorism of today is characterized by the threat of weapons of mass destruction, indiscriminate
targeting, and intentionally high casualty rates—as occurred in the attacks of September 11,
2001, in the United States; March 11, 2004, in Spain; July 7, 2005, in Great Britain; November
26–29, 2008, in India; January and November 2015 in France; March 22, 2016, in Belgium; and
repeated attacks in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan. The use of indiscriminate targeting and
tactics against civilians is indefensible, no matter what cause is championed by those who use
Photo 2.1 A protestor (right) from the Stand Against Communism rally, an event organized to
oppose antifascist demonstrations and to support U.S. President Donald Trump, among other
causes, argues with a counter-protestor (left) during May Day events in Seattle, Washington, in
the United States, May 1, 2017.
The definitional debate is evident in the following examples drawn from state-sponsored and
dissident terrorist environments:
• State-Sponsored Terrorist Environments. The Régime de la Terreur during the French
Revolution was an instrument of revolutionary justice, such that terrorism was considered a
positive medium used by the defenders of order and liberty. From their perspective, state-
sponsored domestic terrorism was both necessary and acceptable to consolidate power and
protect liberties won during the revolution. Modern examples of state terrorism such as Nazi
Germany and Stalinist Russia also sought to consolidate an ideological vision through internal
political violence—a racial new order in Germany and an egalitarian workers’ state in the Soviet
Union. The methods they used to build the ideological vision resulted in the deaths of many
millions of noncombatant civilians, and both the Nazi and Stalinist regimes were by definition
quintessential terrorist states.
• Dissident Terrorist Environments. The anticolonial and nationalist wars after World War II
often pitted indigenous rebels against European colonial powers or ruling local elites. Many of
these wars involved the use of terrorism as an instrument of war by both state and dissident
forces. During these wars, as well as in subsequent domestic rebellions, the rebels were referred
to as freedom fighters by those who favored their cause.1 The counterpoints to these freedom
fighters were the European and American “colonial and imperialist oppressors.” Thus, for
example, indiscriminate attacks against civilians by rebels in French Indochina and French
Algeria were rationalized by many of their supporters as acceptable tactics during wars of
liberation by freedom fighters against a colonial oppressor.
The discussion in this chapter will review the following:
• Understanding Extremism: The Foundation of Terrorism
• Defining Terrorism: An Ongoing Debate
• A Definitional Problem: Perspectives on Terrorism
• The Political Violence Matrix
UNDERSTANDING EXTREMISM: THE FOUNDATION OF TERRORISM
An important step toward defining terrorism is to develop an understanding of the sources of terrorism. To identify them, one must first understand the important role of extremism as a primary feature of all terrorist behavior.
Behind each incident of terrorist violence is some deeply held belief system that has motivated the perpetrators. Such systems are, at their core, extremist systems characterized by intolerance. One must keep in mind, however, that though terrorism is a violent expression of these beliefs, it is by no means the only possible manifestation of extremism. On a scale of activist behavior, extremists can engage in such benign expressions as sponsoring debates or publishing newspapers. They might also engage in vandalism and other disruptions of the normal routines of their enemies. Though intrusive and often illegal, these are examples of political expression that cannot be construed as terrorist acts.
Our focus in this and subsequent chapters will be on violent extremist behavior that many people would define as acts of terrorism. First, we must briefly investigate the general characteristics of the extremist foundations of terrorism.
Political extremism refers to taking a political idea to its limits, regardless of unfortunate repercussions, impracticalities, arguments, and feelings to the contrary, and with the intention not only to confront, but to eliminate opposition. . . . Intolerance toward all views other than one’s own.2
Extremism is a precursor to terrorism—it is an overarching belief system that is used by
terrorists to justify their violent behavior. Extremism is characterized by what a person’s beliefs
are as well as how a person expresses their beliefs. Thus, no matter how offensive or
reprehensible one’s thoughts or words are, they are not by themselves acts of terrorism. Only
persons who violently act out their extremist beliefs are labeled terrorists.
Two examples illustrate this point:
First, an example of extremist behavior. Daniel and Philip Berrigan were well-known members
of the Roman Catholic pacifist left and were leaders in the antiwar and antinuclear movements in
the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. What they believed in was an uncompromising
commitment to pacifism. How they expressed their beliefs was by committing a series of
symbolic, and often illegal, protest actions. During one such action on May 17, 1968, they and
seven other Catholic men and women entered the Baltimore Selective Service Board, stole
Selective Service classification forms, took them outside to a parking lot, and burned several
hundred of the documents with a homemade, napalm-like gelled mixture of gasoline and soap
flakes. This was certainly extremist behavior, but it falls short of terrorism.3
Second, an example of extremist speech. The American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (AK-
KKK) were an activist faction of the KKK that operated mostly in the Midwest and East during
the 1990s. What they believed in was racial supremacy. How they expressed their beliefs was by
holding a series of rallies at government sites, often county courthouses. They were known for
their vitriolic rhetoric. The following remarks were reportedly taken from a speech delivered by
the Imperial Wizard of the AK-KKK in March 1998 at a rally held at the county courthouse in
Butler, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh:
Take a stand. . . . Join the Klan, stick up for your rights. . . . Only God has the right to create a race—not no black and white, not no nigger, not no Jew. . . . Yes, I will use the word nigger, because it is not illegal. . . . We are sick and tired of the government taking your money, and giving food and jobs to the niggers when the white race has to go without! Wake up America.4
This language is intentionally racist, hateful, and inflammatory, yet it falls short of advocating
violence or revolution. A sympathetic listener might certainly act out against one of the enemy
groups identified in the speech, but it reads more like a racist diatribe than a revolutionary
Common Characteristics of Violent Extremists
Scholars and other experts have identified common characteristics exhibited by violent
extremists. These characteristics are expressed in different ways, depending on a movement’s
particular belief system. The following commonalities are summaries of traits identified by these
experts and are by no means an exhaustive inventory.5
Intolerance is the hallmark of extremist belief systems and terrorist behavior. The cause is
considered to be absolutely just and good, and those who disagree with the cause (or some aspect
of the cause) are cast into the category of the opposition. Terrorists affix their opponents with
certain negative or derisive labels to set them apart from the extremists’ movement. These
characterizations are often highly personalized so that specific individuals are identified who
symbolize the opposing belief system or cause. Thus, during the Cold War, the American
president was labeled by the pro–United States camp as the “leader of the free world” and by
Latin American Marxists as the embodiment of “Yankee imperialism.”6
Extremists adopt moral absolutes so that the distinction between good and evil is clear, as are the
lines between the extremists and their opponents. The extremists’ belief or cause is a morally
correct vision of the world and is used to establish moral superiority over others. Violent
extremists thus become morally and ethically pure elites who lead the oppressed masses to
freedom. For example, religious terrorists generally believe that their one true faith is superior to
all others and that any behavior committed in defense of the faith is fully justifiable.
Extremist conclusions are made to simplify the goals of the cause and the nature of the
extremist’s opponents. These generalizations are not debatable and allow for no exceptions.
Evidence for these conclusions is rooted in one’s belief system rather than based on objective
data. Terrorists often believe these generalizations because in their minds, they simply must be
true. For example, ethnonationalists frequently categorize all members of their opponent group
as having certain broadly negative traits.
New Language and Conspiratorial Beliefs
Language and conspiracies are created to demonize the enemy and set the terrorists apart from
those not part of their belief system. Extremists thus become an elite with a hidden agenda and
targets of that agenda. For example, some American far- and fringe-right conspiracy proponents
express their anti-Semitic beliefs by using coded references to international bankers or a Zionist-
occupied government (ZOG). White nationalist and neo-Nazi rightists degrade members of non-
European races by referring to them as mud people or other pejorative appellations.
The World of the Extremist
Extremists have a very different—and, at times, fantastic—worldview compared with
nonextremists. They set themselves apart as protectors of some truth or as the true heirs of some
legacy. For example, racial extremists within the American Patriot movement have argued that
non-Whites are “Fourteenth Amendment citizens” and that only “whites are sovereign citizens
whose rights are delineated, not by the government, but rather by a cobbled assortment of
historical writings whose meaning is often subject to their fanciful interpretation.”7
Extremists frequently believe that secret and quasi-mystical forces are arrayed against them and
that these forces are the cause of worldwide calamities. For example, some bigoted conspiracy
believers argue that the Illuminati or international Judaism mysteriously controls world banking
and the media or that they run the governments of France and the United States. One conspiracy
theory that became viral on the Internet, and was widely believed among Islamist extremists, in
the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks was that Israeli agents were behind the attacks;
that 4,000 Jews either did not report to work or received telephone calls to evacuate the World
Trade Center in New York; and therefore that no Jews were among the victims of the attack.
As in the past, religion is often an underlying impetus for extremist activity. When extremists
adopt a religious belief system, their worldview becomes one of a struggle between supernatural
forces of good and evil. They view themselves as living a righteous life in a manner that fits with
their interpretation of God’s will. According to religious extremists, those who do not conform to
their belief system are opposed to the one true faith. Those who live according to the accepted
belief system are a chosen people, and those who do not are not chosen. These interpretations of
how one should behave include elements of the social or political environment that underlies the
belief system. For example, Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, is a
fundamentalist Christian university founded in 1927. It once justified its prohibition against
interracial dating and marriage as an application of God-mandated truths found in Holy
Scripture. Similarly, one student at a Pakistani religious school explained that “Osama [bin
Laden] wants to keep Islam pure from the pollution of the infidels. . . . He believes Islam is the
way for all the world. He wants to bring Islam to all the world.”8
Photo 2.2 Members of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, including a young boy, march
in Washington, D.C., from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol building.
David S. Holloway/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Extremists have a very clear sense of mission, purpose, and righteousness. They create a
worldview that sets them apart from the rest of society. Thus, extremist beliefs and terrorist
behaviors are very logical from the perspective of those who accept the extremists’ belief system
but illogical from the point of view of those who reject the system.
DEFINING TERRORISM: AN ONGOING DEBATE
The effort to formally define terrorism is a critical one because government antiterrorist policy
calculations must be based on criteria that determine whether a violent incident is an act of
terrorism. Governments and policy makers must piece together the elements of terrorist behavior
and demarcate the factors that distinguish terrorism from other forms of conflict.
There is some consensus among experts—but no unanimity—on what kind of violence
constitutes an act of terrorism. Governments have developed definitions of terrorism, individual
agencies within governments have adopted definitions, private agencies have designed their own
definitions, and academic experts have proposed and analyzed dozens of definitional constructs.
This lack of unanimity, which exists throughout the public and private sectors, is an accepted
reality in the study of political violence.
A significant amount of intellectual energy has been devoted to identifying formal elements of
terrorism, as illustrated by Alex Schmid’s surveys, which identified more than 100
definitions.9 Establishing formal definitions can, of course, be complicated by the perspectives of
the participants in a terrorist incident, who instinctively differentiate freedom fighters from
terrorists, regardless of formal definitions. Another complication is that most definitions focus on
political violence perpetrated by dissident groups, even though many governments have
practiced terrorism as both domestic and foreign policy.
One important distinction must be kept in mind and understood at the outset: Terrorism is not
synonymous with guerrilla warfare. The term guerrilla (“little war”) was developed during the
early 19th century, when Napoleon’s army fought a long, brutal, and ultimately unsuccessful war
in Spain. Unlike the Napoleonic campaigns elsewhere in Europe, which involved conventional
armies fighting set-piece battles in accordance with rules of engagement, the war in Spain was a
classic unconventional conflict. The Spanish people, as opposed to the Spanish army, rose in
rebellion and resisted the invading French army. They liberated large areas of the Spanish
countryside. After years of costly fighting—in which atrocities were common on both sides—the
French were driven out. Thus, in contrast to terrorists, the term guerrilla fighters refers to
a numerically larger group of armed individuals who operate as a military unit, attack enemy military forces, and seize and hold territory (even if only ephemerally during the daylight hours), while also exercising some form of sovereignty or control over a defined geographical area and its population.10
Dozens, if not scores, of examples of guerrilla warfare exist in the modern era. They exhibit the
classic strategy of hit-and-run warfare by small mobile units, and many examples exist of
successful guerrilla campaigns against numerically and technologically superior adversaries.
Guerrilla insurgencies have often been successful in affecting the global political environment.
The following are examples of conflicts in the modern era when guerrilla insurgents prevailed
against strong adversaries:
• 1940s: Chinese communist guerrillas led by Mao Zedong defeated Chinese nationalists.
• 1950s: Communist-led Viet Minh guerrillas forced French colonial forces to withdraw
• 1960s–1970s: Numerous guerrilla insurgencies successfully resisted European colonial
forces, including anticolonial wars in Africa.
• 1980s: Afghan mujahideen guerrillas fought invading Soviet troops for 10 years,
eventually prevailing after the Soviet withdrawal.
• 2000s: Using guerrilla tactics, Iraqi insurgents resisted the American-led occupation of
Iraq following the conventional phase in the war that toppled the Ba’athist regime of
dictator Saddam Hussein.
A Sampling of Formal Definitions
The effort to formally define terrorism is critical because government antiterrorist policy
calculations must be based on criteria that determine whether a violent incident is an act of
terrorism. Governments and policy makers must piece together the elements of terrorist behavior
and demarcate the factors that distinguish terrorism from other forms of conflict.
In Europe, countries that endured terrorist campaigns have written official definitions of
terrorism. The British have defined terrorism as “the use or threat, for the purpose of advancing a
political, religious or ideological cause, of action which involves serious violence against any
person or property.”11 In Germany, terrorism has been described as an “enduringly conducted
struggle for political goals, which are intended to be achieved by means of assaults on the life
and property of other persons, especially by means of severe crimes.”12 And the European
interior ministers note that “terrorism is . . . the use, or the threatened use, by a cohesive group of
persons of violence (short of warfare) to effect political aims.”13
Scholars have also tried their hand at defining terrorism. Terrorism has been described by Gurr
as “the use of unexpected violence to intimidate or coerce people in the pursuit of political or
social objectives.”14 It was described by Gibbs as “illegal violence or threatened violence against
human or nonhuman objects,” so long as that violence meets additional criteria such as secretive
features and unconventional warfare.15 Bruce Hoffman wrote,
We come to appreciate that terrorism is ineluctably political in aims and motives; violent— or, equally important, threatens violence; designed to have far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target; conducted by an organization with an identifiable chain of command or conspiratorial structure (whose members wear no uniform or identifying insignia); and perpetrated by a subnational group or non-state entity. We may therefore now attempt to define terrorism as the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of change.16
To further illustrate the range of definitions, Whittaker lists the following descriptions of
terrorism by terrorism experts:17
• contributes the illegitimate use of force to achieve a political objective when innocent
people are targeted (Walter Laqueur)
• a strategy of violence designed to promote desired outcomes by instilling fear in the
public at large (Walter Reich)
• the use or threatened use of force designed to bring about political change (Brian Jenkins)
From this discussion, we can identify the common features of most formal definitions:
• the use of illegal force
• subnational actors
• unconventional methods
• political motives
• attacks against “soft” civilian and passive military targets
• acts aimed at purposefully affecting an audience
• provoking a public reaction
The emphasis, then, is on terrorists adopting specific types of motives, methods, and targets. One
fact readily apparent from these formal definitions is that they focus on terrorist groups rather
than terrorist states. As will be made abundantly clear in Chapter 4, state terrorism has been
responsible for many more deaths and much more suffering than has terrorism originating in
small bands of terrorists.
The American Context: Defining Terrorism in the United States
The United States has not adopted a single definition of terrorism as a matter of government
policy, although as a legal matter the U.S. Code provides definitions in 18 U.S.C. section 2331.
Policy makers and practitioners also reference and rely on definitions that are developed from
time to time by government agencies. These agency and legal definitions reflect an evolution of
the traditional U.S. law enforcement approach that distinguishes terrorism from more common
criminal behavior. The following definitions are a sample of the official approach.
The U.S. Code differentiates between international terrorism and domestic
terrorism. International terrorism is defined (in pertinent part) as
activities [that] involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state . . . [that] appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.18
Domestic terrorism is defined (in pertinent part) as
activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; appear to intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.19
Regarding government agency definitions, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has defined
terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or
coerce a Government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political
or social objectives.”20 The U.S. Department of Defense has defined terrorism as “the unlawful
use of violence or threat of violence, often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological
beliefs, to instill fear and coerce governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are usually
political.”21 The U.S. Department of State has defined terrorism generally as “premeditated,
politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups
or clandestine agents,”22 and international terrorism specifically as “terrorism involving citizens
or the territory of more than one country.”23
Using these definitions, common elements can be combined to construct a composite American
Terrorism is a premeditated and unlawful act in which groups or agents of some principal engage in a threatened or actual use of force or violence against human or property targets. These groups or agents engage in this behavior, intending the purposeful intimidation of governments or people to affect policy or behavior, with an underlying political objective.
These elements indicate a policy-grounded and legalistic approach to defining terrorism. When
these elements are assigned to individual suspects and organizations, they may be labeled,
investigated, or detained as terrorists. Readers, in evaluating the practical policy implications of
this approach, should bear in mind that labeling and detaining suspects as terrorists is not without
controversy. Some counterterrorist practices have prompted strong debate as a consequence of
the post–September 11, 2001, war on terrorism. For example, when enemy soldiers are taken
prisoner, they are traditionally afforded legal protections as prisoners of war. This is well
recognized under international law. During the war on terrorism, many suspected terrorists were
designated by the United States as enemy combatants and were not afforded the same legal status
as prisoners of war. Such practices have been hotly debated among proponents and opponents.
These practices and the concomitant civil liberties debate are more fully discussed in Chapter
14. Chapter Perspective 2.1 discusses the ongoing problem of labeling the enemy.
Chapter Perspective 2.1The Problem of Labeling the Enemy in the New Era of Terrorism
When formulating counterterrorist policies, policy makers are challenged by two problems:
defining terrorism and labeling individual suspects. Although defining terrorism can be an
exercise in semantics—and is often shaped by subjective political or cultural biases—certain
fundamental elements constitute objective definitions. In comparison, using official designations
(labels) to confer special status on captured suspects has become a controversial process.
During the post–September 11, 2001, war on terrorism, it became clear to experts and the public
that official designations and labels of individual suspected terrorists is a central legal, political,
and security issue. Of essential importance is the question of a suspect’s official status when they
are taken prisoner.
Depending on one’s designated status, certain recognized legal or political protections may or
may not be observed by interrogators or others involved in processing specific cases.
According to the protocols of the third Geneva Convention, prisoners who are designated
as prisoners of war and who are brought to trial must be afforded the same legal rights in the
same courts as would soldiers from the country holding them prisoner. Thus, prisoners of war
held by the United States would be brought to trial in standard military courts under the Uniform
Code of Military Justice and would have the same rights and protections (such as the right to
appeal) as all soldiers.
Suspected terrorists have not been designated as prisoners of war. Official and unofficial
designations such as enemy combatants, unlawful combatants, and battlefield detainees have
been used by U.S. authorities to differentiate them from prisoners of war. The rationale is that
suspected terrorists are not soldiers fighting for a sovereign nation and are therefore ineligible for
prisoner-of-war status. When hundreds of prisoners were detained at facilities such as the
American base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the United States argued that persons designated as
enemy combatants were not subject to the protocols of the Geneva Conventions. Thus, such
persons could be held indefinitely, detained in secret, transferred at will, and sent to allied
countries for more coercive interrogations. Under enemy combatant status, conditions of
confinement in Guantánamo Bay included open-air cells with wooden roofs and chain link walls.
In theory, each case was to be reviewed by special military tribunals, and innocent prisoners
would be reclassified as nonenemy combatants and released.
Civil liberties and human rights groups disagreed with the special status conferred by the
labeling system on prisoners. They argued that basic legal and humanitarian protections should
be granted to prisoners regardless of their designation. In June 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court
held that foreign detainees held for years at Guantánamo Bay had the right to appeal to U.S.
federal judges to challenge their indefinite imprisonment without charges. At the time of the
decision, about 200 foreign detainees had lawsuits pending before federal court in Washington,
In one interesting development, the U.S. Department of Defense conferred protected
persons status on members of the Iranian Mujahideen-e Khalq Organization (MKO), who were
under guard in Iraq by the American military. The MKO is a Marxist movement opposed to the
postrevolution regime in Iran. The group was regularly listed on the U.S. Department of State’s
list of terrorist organizations, and it was responsible for killing Americans and others in terrorist
Case in Point: Nonterrorist Mass Violence in the United States
The United States frequently experiences incidents of mass homicide perpetrated by individuals
who typically enter a facility or event venue and randomly shoot victims, often using high-
powered firearms such as assault rifles and high-caliber handguns. Some are politically
motivated lone-wolf terrorists, but most have no political profile. Perpetrators of nonterrorist
mass violence do not justify their actions by citing political motivations such as ideology, race,
or religion, and thus do not fit the modern profile of terrorist operatives or political lone-wolf
actors. Rather, most individuals who commit crimes of mass homicide are driven by the same
antisocial motivations typically cited by other violent criminals. The distinctive difference is that
they act out their antisocial rationales by engaging in mass firearm killings.
Nonterrorist mass homicides are not common among the world’s prosperous democracies. The
frequency of these incidents and the overall rate of firearm-related homicides are much higher in
the United States than in similar high-income nations.
Types of Terrorism
The basic elements of terrorist environments are uncomplicated, and experts and commentators
generally agree on the forms of terrorism found in modern political environments. For example,
the following environments have been described by academic experts:
• Barkan and Snowden describe vigilante, insurgent, transnational, and state terrorism.24
• Hoffman discusses ethnonationalist/separatist, international, religious, and state-
• While undertaking the task of defining the New Terrorism, Laqueur contextualizes far-
rightist, religious, state, “exotic,” and criminal terrorism.26
• Other experts evaluate narco-terrorism, toxic terrorism, and netwar.27
We will explore all of these environments in later chapters within the following contexts:
Terrorism “from above” committed by governments against perceived enemies. State terrorism
can be directed externally against adversaries in the international domain or internally against
Terrorism “from below” committed by nonstate movements and groups against governments,
ethnonational groups, religious groups, and other perceived enemies.
Terrorism motivated by an absolute belief that an otherworldly power has sanctioned—and
commanded—the application of terrorist violence for the greater glory of the faith. Religious
terrorism is usually conducted in defense of what believers consider to be the one true faith.
Terrorism motivated by violent interpretations of political systems of belief. Some ideologies,
such as anarchism and radical socialism, explicitly advocate the overthrow of perceived
ideological opponents. Other ideologies, such as fascism, glorify the assertion of the natural
supremacy of a particular nation, race, or ethnicity over nonmembers of the championed group.
Terrorism that spills over onto the world’s stage. Targets are selected because of their value as
symbols of international interests, either in the home country or across state boundaries.
Criminal Dissident Terrorism
Terrorism motivated by sheer profit or some amalgam of profit and politics. Traditional
organized criminal enterprises (such as the Italian Mafia and the Japanese Yakuza) accumulate
profits from criminal activity for personal aggrandizement. Criminal-political enterprises (such
as Colombia’s FARC and Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers) accumulated profits to sustain their
Terrorist violence explicitly directed against the males or females of enemy populations in order
to eliminate potential fighters and culturally degrade or otherwise terrorize the enemy
A DEFINITIONAL PROBLEM: PERSPECTIVES ON TERRORISM
It should now be clear that defining terrorism can be an exercise in semantics and context, driven
by one’s perspective and worldview. Absent definitional guidelines, these perspectives would be
merely the subject of personal opinion and academic debate.
Perspective is a central consideration in defining terrorism. Those who oppose an extremist
group’s violent behavior—and who might be its targets—would naturally consider them
terrorists. On the other hand, those who are being championed by the group—and on whose
behalf the terrorist war is being fought—often see them as liberation fighters, even when they do
not necessarily agree with the methods of the group. Fighters within movements may themselves
resist attempts to classify them based on Western perspectives. For example, many radical
Islamists view themselves as mujahideen (holy warriors) or shaheed (martyrs), whose motivating
ideal is selfless obedience to God’s will rather than Western notions of freedom. “The problem is
that there exists no precise or widely accepted definition of terrorism.”28 We will consider four
perspectives that illustrate this problem:
1. Four Quotations. Several well-known statements provide a useful conceptual foundation for understanding the importance of perspective.
2. Participants in a Terrorist Environment. People who participate in, or are affected by, terrorist incidents are prone to have very different interpretations of the incident.
3. Terrorism or Freedom Fighting? The classification of a group or movement as terrorists or freedom fighters is simply a question of one’s perspective.
4. Extremism or “Mainstreamism”? Whether extremist behavior can move from the ideological fringes into a nation’s or people’s mainstream.
Perspective 1: Four Quotations
Evaluating the following aphorisms critically will help to address difficult moral questions:
“One Person’s Terrorist Is Another Person’s Freedom Fighter”
Who made this statement is not known; it most likely originated in one form or another in the
remote historical past. The concept it embodies is, very simply, perspective. As will become
abundantly clear, terrorists never consider themselves the “bad guys” in their struggle for what
they would define as freedom. They might admit that they have been forced by a powerful and
ruthless opponent to adopt terrorist methods, but they see themselves as freedom fighters—or, in
the case of radical Islamists, obedient servants of God. Benefactors of terrorists always live with
clean hands because they present their championed group as plucky freedom fighters. Likewise,
nations that use the technology of war to knowingly attack civilian targets justify their sacrifice
as incidental to the greater good of the cause.
This concept will be applied throughout our examination of terrorist groups, movements, and
“One Man Willing to Throw Away His Life Is Enough to Terrorize a Thousand”
This concept originated with Chinese military philosopher Wu Ch’i, who wrote,
Now suppose there is a desperate bandit lurking in the fields and one thousand men set out in pursuit of him. The reason all look for him as they would a wolf is that each one fears that he will arise and harm him. This is the reason one man willing to throw away his life is enough to terrorize a thousand.29
These sentences are the likely source for the better-known aphorism “kill one man, terrorize a
thousand.” Its authorship is undetermined but has been attributed to the leader of the Chinese
Revolution, Mao Zedong, and to the Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu. Both Wu Ch’i and
Sun Tzu are often discussed in conjunction with each other, but Sun Tzu may be a mythical
figure. Sun Tzu’s book The Art of War has become a classic study of warfare. Regardless of who
originated these phrases, their simplicity explains the value of a motivated individual who is
willing to sacrifice themselves when committing an act of violence. They suggest that the
selfless application of lethal force—in combination with correct timing, surgical precision, and
an unambiguous purpose—is an invaluable weapon of war. It is also an obvious tactic for small,
motivated groups who are vastly outnumbered and outgunned by a more powerful adversary.
“Extremism in the Defense of Liberty Is No Vice”
During his bid for the presidency in 1964, Senator Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona stated during
his acceptance speech for the Republican Party nomination, “I would remind you
that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.30 His campaign theme was staunchly conservative and anti-Communist. However, because of the nation’s rivalry with the Soviet Union at the time, every major candidate was overtly anti-Communist. Goldwater simply tried to outdo incumbent president Lyndon Johnson, his main rival, on the issue.31
This aphorism represents an uncompromising belief in the absolute righteousness of a cause. It defines a clear belief in good versus evil and a belief that the end justifies the means. If one simply substitutes any cause for the word liberty, one can fully understand how the expression lends itself to legitimizing uncompromising devotion to the cause. Terrorists use this reasoning to justify their belief that they are defending their championed interest (be it ideological, racial, religious, or national) against all perceived enemies—whom they view, of course, as evil. Hence, the practice of ethnic cleansing was begun by Serb militias during the 1991–1995 war in Bosnia to forcibly remove Muslims and Croats from
villages and towns. This was done in the name of Bosnian Serb security and historical claims to land occupied by others.32 Bosnian and Croat paramilitaries later practiced ethnic cleansing to create their own ethnically pure enclaves.
Photo 2.3 Indoctrinating the young. A Palestinian boy wearing a Hamas headband attends a pro-
Islamist demonstration at a refugee camp in Nuseirat, central Gaza Strip.
Abid Katib/Getty Images News/Getty Images
“It Became Necessary to Destroy the Town to Save It”33
This quotation has been attributed to a statement by an American officer during the war in
Vietnam. When asked why a village thought to be occupied by the enemy had been destroyed, he
allegedly replied, “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”34 The symbolic logic
behind this statement is seductive: If the worst thing that can happen to a village is for it to be
occupied by an enemy, then destroying it is a good thing. The village has been denied to the
enemy, and it has been saved from the horrors of enemy occupation. The symbolism of the
village can be replaced by any number of symbolic values.
Terrorists use this kind of reasoning to justify hardships that they impose not only on a perceived
enemy but also on their own championed group. For example, in Chapter 5, readers will be
introduced to nihilist dissident terrorists, who are content to wage “revolution for revolution’s
sake.” They have no concrete plan for what kind of society will be built on the rubble of the old
one—their goal is simply to destroy an inherently evil system. To them, anything is better than
the existing order. A historical example of this reasoning on an enormous scale is found in the
great war between two totalitarian and terrorist states—Germany and the Soviet Union—from
July 1941 to May 1945. Both sides used scorched-earth tactics as a matter of policy when their
armies retreated, destroying towns, crops, roadways, bridges, factories, and other infrastructure
as a way to deny resources to the enemy.
Perspective 2: Participants in a Terrorist Environment
Motives, methods, and targets of violent extremists are interpreted differently by
the participants in a terrorist environment. These participants can, and often do, draw their
own subjective conclusions about violent political incidents regardless of the accepted formal
definitions that have been crafted by officials or experts.
The participants in a terrorist environment adopt a multiplicity of interpretations of political
violence. Depending on their role when an incident occurs, these participants often provide
different assessments of the motives, methods, and targets of violent extremists.35 Subjective
considerations commonly affect how an incident will be interpreted. Adversaries in a terrorist
environment view participants as audiences that can be manipulated by effective propaganda or
other selective information. In many ways, the hearts and minds of the participants in a terrorist
environment can become a virtual battleground.
Typically, the participants in a terrorist environment include the following actors, each of whom
may advance different interpretations of an incident:36
Terrorists are the perpetrators of a politically violent incident. The perspective of the terrorist is
that the violent incident is a justifiable act of war against an oppressive opponent. “Insofar as
terrorists seek to attract attention, they target the enemy public or uncommitted
bystanders.”37 This is a legitimate tactic in their minds because, from their point of view, they are
always freedom fighters and never terrorists.
Terrorists seek attention and legitimacy for their cause by engaging in publicity-oriented
violence. Propaganda by the deed, if properly carried out, delivers symbolic messages to a
target audience and to large segments of an onlooker audience. One message could be, for
example, to “show their power preeminently through deeds that embarrass their more powerful
opponents.”38 Terrorists also attempt to cast themselves as freedom fighters, soldiers, and
martyrs. If successful, their image will be that of a vanguard movement representing the just
aspirations of an oppressed people. When this occurs, political and moral pressure can be
brought against their adversaries, possibly forcing them to grant concessions to the movement.
Supporters of terrorists are patrons, in essence persons who provide a supportive environment or
apparatus. Supporters generally refer to the terrorist participants as freedom fighters. Even if
supporters disagree with the use of force or with the application of force in a specific incident,
they often rationalize its use as the unfortunate consequence of a just war.
Supporters and patrons of terrorists often help with “spinning” the terrorists’ cause and
manipulating the reporting of incidents. Supporters with sophisticated informational
departments—such as Northern Ireland’s Sinn Féin, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, or the Palestine
Liberation Organization’s Fatah—can successfully use the Internet and the mass media to deliver
their message to a wide audience. Clandestine supporters online have become adept at posting
favorable information on websites and disseminating propaganda via social networking media.
And in societies with a free press—or with supportive authoritarian regimes—sympathetic
reporters and editors might lend a hand in portraying the terrorists as freedom fighters.
Supporters always defend the underlying grievances of the extremists and often allude to these
grievances as the reason for the group’s decision to use terrorist methods. For example, in
November 2002, an audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden was broadcast by Al Jazeera.
The speaker paid tribute to those who had carried out a series of attacks in Indonesia, Russia,
Kuwait, Jordan, and Yemen, noting that the attacks were “undertaken by the zealous sons of
Islam in defense of their religion and in response to the call of their God and prophet, peace be
upon him.”39 The key for activist supporters is to convey to the audience the impression that the
terrorists’ methods are understandable under the circumstances. If they can do this successfully,
public opinion “can provide the movement with a feeling of legitimacy.”40
Victims of political violence, and of warfare, rarely sympathize with the perpetrators of that
violence, regardless of the underlying motive. From their perspective, the perpetrators are little
better than terrorists.
Terrorist violence can be used to spin incidents so that they symbolize punishment or
chastisement against victims for injustices. From the terrorists’ point of view, high-profile
attacks that victimize an audience are useful as “wake-up calls” for the victims to understand the
underlying grievances of the movement. Although victims do not sympathize with the
perpetrators who cause their suffering, terrorists believe that they can become educated, through
propaganda, by the deed. Because they are the innocent “collateral damage” of a conflict,
victims—with help from political and expert commentators in the media—often question why
they have become caught up in a terrorist environment. This process can theoretically cause
public opinion shifts.
Targets are usually symbolic. They represent some feature of the enemy and can be either
property targets or human targets. As is the case with the victim, human targets rarely
sympathize with the perpetrators.
Targets are selected because they symbolize the interests of the terrorists’ adversaries. Of course,
attacks on some targets—such as symbolic buildings—frequently risk inflicting casualties on
large numbers of people. With the proper symbolic spin, terrorists can achieve “the lowering of
the opponent’s morale and the boosting of the self-confidence of its own
constituency.”41 Terrorists can also garner sympathy, or at least a measure of understanding, if
they can successfully use the Internet or the media to disseminate their reasons for selecting the
target. Targeted interests engage in an assessment process similar to that of victims and are
likewise assisted by media commentators. The difference is that the investigatory process is
conducted with the understanding that they have been specifically labeled as an enemy interest.
In many circumstances, targeted audiences can have a significant impact on public opinion and
Onlookers are the broad audience to the terrorist incident. They can be directly affected by the
incident at the scene of an attack or indirectly affected via modern mass media. The onlooker
may sympathize with the perpetrators, revile them, or remain neutral. Depending on the
worldview of the onlooker, they might actually applaud a specific incident or a general dissident
environment. Television is a particularly effective medium for broadening the scope of who is an
onlooker. This was evident during the live broadcasts of the attacks on the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The Internet has also become a means for broadening
the audience for terrorist acts, such as beheadings of hostages, bombings, and other incidents.
Onlookers to terrorist incidents observe the dynamics of the attack, public reactions to the event,
and political and media analyses of the incident. They can be directly or indirectly affected by
the incident, and the media play a significant role in how the onlooker receives information.
Depending on who is successful in the battle for information, the result can be that the onlooker
sympathizes with the terrorists’ grievances, opposes them, or remains indifferent. If the
government engages in repression, and terrorists or their supporters can spin this to their
advantage, “one positive effect of repression is that it can supply the movement with new
The analyst is an interpreter of the terrorist incident. Analysts are important participants because
they create perspectives, interpret incidents, and label the other participants. Analysts can include
political leaders, media experts, and academic experts. Very often, the analyst simply defines for
the other participants who is—or is not—a terrorist.
Political leaders and the media play strong roles as interpreters of the terrorist incident. The
media also play a role in how other (nonmedia) analysts have their views broadcast to a larger
audience. Political leaders, experts, and scholars all rely on the media to promulgate their expert
opinions. Aside from contact with these analysts, journalists are prominently—and
consistently—in communication with other participants in the terrorist environment. Journalists
and other media analysts investigate perspectives, interpret incidents, and have significant input
on the labeling process.
Many factors shape the perspectives of terrorists, supporters, victims, targets, onlookers, and
analysts. These factors include culture, collective history, individual experiences, and group
identity. The same event can be interpreted in a number of ways, causing participants to adopt
biased spins on that event. The following factors illustrate this problem:
• Political associations of participants can create a sense of identification with either the
target group or the defended group. This identification can be either favorable or
unfavorable, depending on the political association.
• Emotional responses of participants after a terrorist incident can range from horror to joy.
This response can shape a participant’s opinion of the incident or the extremists’ cause.
• Labeling of participants can create either a positive or negative impression of an incident
or cause. Labeling can range from creating very positive symbolism on behalf of the
terrorists to dehumanizing enemy participants (including civilians).
• Symbolism plays an important role in the terrorists’ selection of targets. The targets can
be inanimate objects that symbolize a government’s power or human victims who
symbolize an enemy people. Other participants sometimes make value judgments on the
incident based on the symbolism of the target, thus asking whether the selected target was
legitimate or illegitimate.
Perspective 3: Terrorism or Freedom Fighting?
The third perspective for understanding terrorism is the question of whether the use of political
violence is terrorism or freedom fighting. Members of politically violent organizations rarely
label themselves as terrorists. Instead, they adopt the language of liberation, national identity,
religious fervor, and even democracy. Ethnonationalist and religious organizations such
as Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) in the Palestinian Territories, Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka, and the Provisional Irish Republican Army (Provos) in
the United Kingdom all declared that they are armies fighting on behalf of an oppressed people,
and they are viewed by their supporters as freedom fighters. Conversely, many Israelis,
Sinhalese, and British would label members of these groups as terrorists.
The declarations published by these and other organizations are in the language of liberation and
freedom. For example, the Palestinian Information Center explained that
Hamas is an acronym that stands for the Islamic Resistance Movement, a popular national resistance movement which is working to create conditions conducive to emancipating the Palestinian people, delivering them from tyranny, liberating their land from the occupying usurper, and to stand up to the Zionist scheme which is supported by neo-colonist forces. . . . Hamas . . . is part of the Islamic awakening movement and upholds that this awakening is the road which will lead to the liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea. It is also a popular movement in the sense that it is a practical manifestation of a wide popular current that is deeply rooted in the ranks of the Palestinian people and the Islamic nation.43
Likewise, the leader of the LTTE delivered the following remarks on November 27, 2001, the
LTTE’s Heroes’ Day:
The Tamil people want to maintain their national identity and to live in their own lands, in their historically given homeland with peace and dignity. They want to determine their own political and economic life; they want to be on their own. These are the basic political aspirations of the Tamil people. It is neither separatism nor terrorism.44
Despite the seemingly noble aspirations embodied in the Hamas and LTTE statements, both
conflicts were markedly violent and included many assassinations and terrorist bombings as well
as thousands of deaths. However, as ruthless as the Hamas and LTTE organizations were capable
of being, their opponents—the Israeli and Sri Lankan governments, respectively—regularly
applied repressive measures against them and their supporters, including physically coercive
interrogations, the destruction of homes, and assassinations. This repression fueled fresh support
for the rebellions, including the LTTE until it was overrun by the Sri Lankan army in 2009.
Sinn Féin, the aboveground Irish Republican political party that champions the unification of
Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, remarked in a statement titled “The Conditions for
Peace in Ireland”:
The root cause of the conflict in Ireland is the denial of democracy, the refusal by the British government to allow the Irish people to exercise their right to national self-determination. The solution to the conflict in Ireland lies in the democratic exercise of that right in the form of national reunification, national independence and sovereignty.45
Although Sinn Féin participated in the successful brokering of a peace agreement between the
Provos and their opponents, it has historically championed many Provo “martyrs” and their
common goal of unification.
Photo 2.4 Boys in Belfast, Northern Ireland, near pro-IRA graffiti.
These cases exemplify the important role of perspective in defining one’s champions or
opponents and how the absence of a definitional model relegates the debate of terrorism or
freedom fighting to one of opposing values and opinions.
Perspective 4: Extremism or “Mainstreamism”?
The fourth perspective for understanding terrorism is the question of whether political violence
always lies at the political fringes of society or whether it is in fact a rational choice of some self-
defined mainstream alignment. Members of organizations such as Hamas, the LTTE, and the
Provos readily acknowledged that their methods were extreme but justified them as being
proportional to the force used by the agents of their oppressors. In Colombia, the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armados Revolucionarios de Colombia, or
FARC) argued that the Colombian government’s response to FARC peace initiatives
was to strengthen the quasi-official death squads, the most despicable form of extermination. In this way, they cold-bloodedly annihilated the opposition political parties, union leaders, defenders of human rights, priests, peasant leaders and democratic personalities, among others. . . . From the moment a new agreement was made with President Andres Pastrana to establish the talks at San Vicente del Caguan on Jan. 7, 1999, the savagery grew. No week passed without a massacre, a murder or a forced evacuation, all done in the name of the paramilitaries but planned in the military bases. It is the realization of the imperialist doctrine of internal security.46
Governments have also adopted authoritarian measures to counter domestic threats from
perceived subversives. They likewise rationalize their behavior as a proportional response to an
immediate threat. Numerous cases of this rationalization exist, such as when the Chilean and
Argentine armed forces seized power during the 1970s and engaged in widespread violent
repression of dissidents. In Argentina, an estimated 30,000 people disappeared during the so-
called Dirty War waged by its military government from 1976 to 1983. The Chilean and
Argentine cases are explored further in Chapter 7.
Thus, from the perspective of many violent groups and governments, extremist beliefs and
terrorist methods are logical and necessary. They are considered to be rational and justifiable
choices. Such beliefs and methods become mainstreamed within the context of their worldview
and political environment, which in their minds offer no alternative to using violence to acquire
freedom or to maintain order. Conversely, those who oppose the practitioners of political
violence reject their justifications of terrorist methods and disavow the opinion that these
methods are morally proportional to the perceived political environment.
THE POLITICAL VIOLENCE MATRIX
To properly conceptualize modern terrorism, one must understand the qualities and scales of
violence that define terrorist violence. The Political Violence Matrix is a tool that aids in this
Experts have identified and analyzed many terrorist environments. These environments include
state, dissident, religious, ideological, international, criminal dissident, and gender-selective
terrorism. One distinguishing feature within each typology is the relationship between the quality
of force used by the terrorists and the characteristics of the intended target of the attack. Figure
2.1 depicts how the relationship between quality of force and target characteristics often defines
the type of conflict between terrorist and victim.
Figure 2.1 The Political Violence Matrix
Source: Adapted from Sederberg, Peter C. Terrorist Myths: Illusion, Rhetoric, and Reality. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989, p. 34.
Combatants, Noncombatants, and the Use of Force
Definitional and ethical issues are not always clearly drawn when one uses terms such
as combatant target, noncombatant target, discriminate force, or indiscriminate force.
Nevertheless, the association of these concepts and how they are applied to one another are
instructive references for determining whether a violent incident may be defined as terrorism.
Combatant and Noncombatant Targets
The term combatants certainly refers to conventional or unconventional adversaries who engage
in armed conflict as members of regular military or irregular guerrilla fighting units. The
term noncombatants obviously includes civilians who have no connection to military or other
security forces. There are, however, circumstances in which these definitional lines become
blurred. For example, in times of social unrest, civilians can become combatants. This has
occurred repeatedly in societies in which communal violence (e.g., civil war) breaks out between
members of ethnonational, ideological, or religious groups. Similarly, noncombatants can
include off-duty members of the military in nonwarfare environments.47 They become targets
because of their symbolic status.
Indiscriminate and Discriminate Force
Indiscriminate force is the application of force against a target without attempting to limit the
level of force or the degree of destruction of the target. Discriminate force is a more surgical use
of limited force. Indiscriminate force is considered to be acceptable when used against
combatants in a warfare environment. However, it is regularly condemned when used
in any nonwarfare environment, regardless of the characteristics of the victim.48 There are,
however, many circumstances in which adversaries define “warfare environment” differently.
When weaker adversaries resort to unconventional methods (including terrorism), they justify
these methods by defining them as being necessary during a self-defined state of war.
Discriminate force is considered to be a moral use of force when it is applied against specific
targets with the intention to limit so-called collateral damage, or unintended destruction and
Case in Point: The Orlando Mass Shooting—An Act of Terrorism and a Hate Crime
As discussed in the Opening Viewpoint, some cases of political violence may be classified as
both acts of terrorism and hate crimes. The mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, in the United
States, is a case in point of this nexus between terrorist events and hate crimes, in this case bias-
motivated violence directed toward a protected group (the LGBT community) by an Islamist-
inspired extremist. It is also an illustrative case of how an individual can become radicalized and
act out violently as a lone-wolf terrorist.
On June 12, 2016, gunman Omar Mir Seddique Mateen shot 102 people at the Pulse nightclub in
Orlando with an assault rifle and a semiautomatic handgun, killing 49 of his victims and
wounding 53. Pulse was a popular nightclub frequented by members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay,
bisexual, and transgender) community and was hosting a “Latin night” music and dance theme
on the day of the attack. The attack was the most lethal mass shooting by one individual in U.S.
Omar Mateen was a first-generation Afghan American, born in Queens, New York, and raised in
Port St. Lucie, Florida. He had an extensive history of behavioral challenges dating from
elementary school. He was described in school records and by school officials as an aggressive
and confrontational student and classmate, and he received discipline on dozens of occasions. Significantly, classmates reported that 14-year-old Mateen imitated an exploding airplane on his school bus soon after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack. As he matured, Mateen became a dedicated body builder, attended prayers at local mosques, and attempted to pursue a career in law enforcement. His career goal was cut short when he was terminated from a corrections department trainee program because he joked about bringing a firearm to class, poor attendance, and sleeping in class. He was eventually hired as a security guard by a private firm. Mateen’s personal life was turbulent, and his first wife divorced him after less than one year of marriage because of repeated physical abuse. He also allegedly stalked a woman he met via an online dating service while he was married to his second wife.
Mateen attracted the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2013, when the security company he was employed with removed him from his post at the St. Lucie County Courthouse when he commented on his alleged ties to Lebanon’s Shi’a Hezbollah
movement and the Sunni Al Qa’ida network—groups that are rivals, not allies. The FBI made inquiries and concluded that not enough evidence existed to continue investigating Mateen. In 2014, the FBI again made inquiries after Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, who attended the same mosque as Mateen, carried out a suicide bombing in Syria on behalf of an Al-Qa’ida-affiliated group. The FBI concluded Mateen and Abu-Salha were only minimally acquainted. In June 2016, Mateen legally purchased a SIG Sauer MCX assault rifle and a Glock 9mm handgun, the weapons he used during the Pulse nightclub attack. He had unsuccessfully attempted to purchase body armor.
Omar Mateen deliberately selected an LGBT site to carry out his attack. Mateen’s first wife reported that he exhibited homophobic tendencies, and his father reported Mateen was angered when he saw two men kissing. Ironically, patrons at the Pulse nightclub reported Mateen had visited Pulse on numerous occasions, appearing to enjoy himself at the nightclub. He again visited Pulse on the evening of the attack and returned later with his firearms. Mateen opened fire as he entered the nightclub, shooting patrons and exchanging gunfire with an off-duty police officer. He continued firing, retreating to a restroom when police officers began arriving on the scene. Mateen shot a number of patrons who tried to take refuge in the restroom. While in the restroom, he dialed the local 911 emergency service and professed his allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS). Mateen also participated in three conversations with a crisis negotiation team, during which he claimed he was an “Islamic soldier” demanding an end to American intervention in Iraq and Syria. He made other claims that he had a suicide vest, had planted bombs outside the nightclub, and had associates who were planning additional attacks. Police attempted to blast a hole in the restroom’s wall, and when this failed they used an armored vehicle to breach the wall. They engaged Mateen, who died during the ensuing firefight.
Photo 2.5 A mourner reacts while visiting the memorial outside the Pulse Nightclub on the one-
year anniversary of the shooting in Orlando, Florida, in the United States.
Omar Mateen’s declaration of allegiance to ISIS, his selection of an LGBT target, and his stated
opposition to U.S. foreign policy strongly indicate that the Orlando attack was both an act of
terrorism and a hate crime. The attack successfully influenced the political environment in the
United States. It led to significant partisan political division in the United States on the questions
of domestic security, counterterrorism, and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
A debate also ensued on the media’s reporting of this and other similar incidents, in particular on
whether such publicity could result in copycat incidents.
This chapter presented readers with an understanding of the nature of terrorism and probed the
definitional debates about the elements of these behaviors. Several fundamental concepts were
identified that continue to influence the motives and behaviors of those who support or engage in
political violence. It is important to understand the elements that help define terrorism. Common
characteristics of the extremist beliefs that underlie terrorist behavior include intolerance, moral
absolutes, broad conclusions, and a new language that supports a particular belief system.
Literally scores of definitions of terrorism have been offered by laypersons, academics, and
policy professionals to describe the elements of terrorist violence. Many of these definitions are
value laden and can depend on one’s perspective as an actor in a terrorist environment.
The role of perspective is significant in the definitional debate. Terrorists always declare that
they are fighters who represent the interests of an oppressed group. They consider themselves to
be freedom fighters and justify their violence as a proportional response to the object of their
oppression. Their supporters often “mainstream” the motives of those who violently champion
In the United States, official definitions have been adopted as a matter of policy. No single
definition has been applied across all government agencies, but there is some commonality
among their approaches. Commonalities include premeditation, unlawfulness, groups or agents,
force or violence, human or property targets, intimidation, and a political objective.
In Chapter 3, readers will investigate the causes of terrorism. The discussion will focus on the
motivations of terrorists, explanations of terrorist behavior, and cases in point that illustrate
causal factors in the making of a terrorist.
KEY TERMS AND CONCEPTS
The following topics are discussed in this chapter and can be found in the glossary:
• Dirty War 38
• dissident terrorism 22
• “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” 34
• freedom fighters 37
• guerrilla 27
• hate crimes 22
• international terrorism 29
• “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it” 34
• “Kill one man, terrorize a thousand” 33
• New Terrorism 23
• “One man willing to throw away his life is enough to terrorize a thousand” 33
• “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter” 23
• participants in a terrorist environment 34
• Political Violence Matrix 39
• propaganda by the deed 35
• terrorist 22
Prominent Persons and Organizations
The following names and organizations are discussed in this chapter and can be found in
• Castro, Fidel 43
• Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) 37
• Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) 37
• Mao Zedong 33
• Provisional Irish Republican Army (Provos) 37
• Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armados Revolucionarios de
Colombia, or FARC) 38
• Sinn Féin 38
• Sun Tzu 33
• Wu Ch’i 33
Discussion BoxCold War Revolutionaries
This chapter’s Discussion Box is intended to stimulate critical debate about the role of
perspective in labeling those who practice extremist behavior as “freedom fighters” or
The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union lasted from the late 1940s until
the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. During the roughly 40 years of rivalry, the two superpowers
never entered into direct military conflict—at least conventionally. Rather, they supported
insurgent and government allies in the developing world (commonly referred to as the “Third
World”),a who often entered into armed conflict. These conflicts could be ideological or
communal in nature. Conflicts were often “proxy wars,” wherein the Soviets or Americans
sponsored rival insurgent groups (such as in Angola), or “wars of national liberation,” which
were nationalistic in nature (such as in Vietnam).
The following examples were several important “fronts” in the Cold War between the United
States and the Soviet Union.
The Cuban Revolution
The American influence in Cuba had been very strong since it granted the country independence
in 1902 after defeating the Spanish in the Spanish-American War of 1898. The United States
supported a succession of corrupt and repressive governments, the last of which was that of
Fulgencio Batista. Batista’s government was overthrown in 1959 by a guerrilla army led
by Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, an Argentine trained as a physician. Castro’s
insurgency had begun rather unremarkably, with significant defeats at the Moncada barracks in
1953 and a landing on the southeast coast of Cuba from Mexico in 1956 (when only 15 rebels
survived to seek refuge in the Sierra Maestra mountains).
It was Batista’s brutal reprisals against urban civilians that eventually drove many Cubans to
support Castro’s movement. When Batista’s army was defeated and demoralized in a rural
offensive against the rebels, Castro, his brother Raul, Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos launched
a multifront campaign that ended in victory when their units converged on the capital of Havana
in January 1959. The revolution had not been a Communist revolution, and the new Cuban
government was not initially a Communist government. But by early 1960, Cuba began to
receive strong economic and military support from the Soviet Union. Castro and his followers
soon declared the revolution to be a Communist one, and the Soviet–American Cold War opened
a new and volatile front. American attempts to subvert Castro’s regime included the Bay of Pigs
invasion in April 1961 and several assassination attempts against Castro.b The Soviets and
Americans came close to war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.
Cubans in Africa
In the postwar era, dozens of anticolonial and communal insurgencies occurred in Africa. During
the 1970s, Africa became a central focus of the rivalry between Soviet- and Western-supported
groups and governments. Thousands of Cuban soldiers were sent to several African countries on
a mission that Fidel Castro justified as their “internationalist duty.” For example, in the 1970s,
Cuba sent 20,000 soldiers to Angola, 17,000 to Ethiopia, 500 to Mozambique, 250 to Guinea-
Bissau, 250 to Equatorial Guinea, and 125 to Libya.c
Portugal was the colonial ruler of this southern African country for more than 500 years.
Beginning in 1961, guerrillas began conducting raids in northern Angola, committing brutal
atrocities that few can argue were not acts of terrorism. Three guerrilla movements eventually
drove the Portuguese from Angola and declared independence in November 1975. These were
the Front for the Liberation
of Angola (FNLA), the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), and the
Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).
In the civil war that broke out after the Portuguese withdrawal, the United States and China
supported the FNLA, the Soviets and Cubans supported the MPLA, and the United States and
South Africa supported UNITA. The MPLA became the de facto government of Angola. Cuban
soldiers were sent to support the MPLA government, the United States and South Africa sent aid
to UNITA, and South African and British mercenaries fought with UNITA. The FNLA never
achieved much success in the field. Direct foreign support was withdrawn as the Cold War and
South African apartheid ended, although the conflict continued through the 1990s. The MPLA
finally forced UNITA to end its insurgency when UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in
U.S. influence and intervention in Nicaragua were common during most of the 20th century. Its
governments had been supported by the United States, and its National Guard (the “Guardia”)
had been trained by the United States. These pro-American Nicaraguan governments had a long
history of corruption and violent repression. Cuban-oriented Marxist guerrillas, the Sandinista
National Liberation Front, overthrew the government of Anastasio Somoza in 1979 with Cuban
and Soviet assistance.
During much of the next decade, the United States armed, trained, and supported anti-Sandinista
guerrillas known as the Contras (“counterrevolutionaries”). This support included clandestine
military shipments managed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the mining of Managua
Harbor, and an illegal arms shipment program managed by Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver
a. At the time, the First World was defined as the developed Western democracies, the Second
World was the Soviet bloc, and the Third World was the developing world, composed of newly
emerging postcolonial nations.
b. At least one plot allegedly proposed using an exploding cigar.
c. See Cross, R. W., ed. 20th Century. London: Purnell, 1979, p. 2365, and “The OAU and the
New Scramble for Africa,” pp. 2372–2373.
1. Che Guevara is revered by many on the left as a “principled” revolutionary. He believed that a revolutionary “spark” was needed to create revolution throughout Latin America.
Guevara was killed in Bolivia trying to prove his theory. Was Che Guevara an
internationalist freedom fighter?
2. The United States used sabotage to destabilize Cuba’s economy and government and plotted to assassinate Fidel Castro. Did the United States engage in state-sponsored
terrorism? Compare this to Soviet support of its allies. Is there a difference?
3. The Soviet Union sponsored the Cuban troop presence in Africa during the 1970s. The wars in Angola, Ethiopia/Somalia, and Mozambique were particularly bloody. Did the
Soviet Union engage in state-sponsored terrorism? Compare this to U.S. support
of its allies. Is there a difference?
4. During the Soviet–United States rivalry in Angola, Jonas Savimbi commanded the pro- Western UNITA army. He was labeled as a freedom fighter by his U.S. patrons. Savimbi
never overthrew the MPLA government. Promising efforts to share power after an
election in 1992 ended in the resumption of the war when Savimbi refused to
acknowledge his electoral defeat, and a 1994 cease-fire collapsed. From the U.S.
perspective, has Jonas Savimbi’s status as a freedom fighter changed? If so, when and
5. The Sandinistas overthrew a violent and corrupt government. The Contras were presented by the Reagan administration as an army of freedom fighters battling a totalitarian
Communist government. Contra atrocities against civilians were documented. Were the
Contras freedom fighters? How do their documented atrocities affect your opinion?
CHAPTER THREE BEGINNINGS THE CAUSES OF TERRORISM
CHAPTER LEARNING OBJECTIVES
This chapter will enable readers to do the following:
1. Demonstrate the ability to interpret revolutionary ideologies and cultural factors to assess whether the use of political violence is a strategic choice.
2. Apply sociological theories of intergroup conflict and collective violence to posit explanations for political violence.
3. Apply criminological theories of criminality to posit explanations for political violence. 4. Apply psychological theories of group- and individual-level dynamics to posit
explanations for political violence.
5. Interpret justifications for political violence, as reported by extremists, within the context of moral reasoning.
Opening Viewpoint: The Case of Carlos
The case of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, popularly known as Carlos the Jackal, is a unique and
interesting study of the career of an ideologically motivated revolutionary. Although his example
is idiosyncratic, it represents an excellent study of motivations adopted by international
Sánchez was a Venezuelan-born terrorist who became notorious during the 1970s for his
violence on behalf of the Palestinian cause. He became politically conscious at a very young age,
his Marxist father having named him after Vladimir Ilich Lenin (Ilich’s brothers were named
Vladimir and Lenin). His father indoctrinated Sánchez in Marxist ideology and literature, as well
as stories of Latin American rebellion, when he was a boy. Sánchez came from a family of
revolutionaries, with an uncle who participated in a coup in 1945 and a grandfather who led an
army that overthrew the government in 1899. When he was 14, he joined the Venezuelan
Communist Youth. He supposedly received guerrilla training in Cuba. Sánchez then attended
Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, but he rejected the Soviets’ doctrinaire brand of
It was in Moscow that Sánchez learned about the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
(PFLP). He traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, in July 1970 and walked into an office of the PFLP. He
was immediately accepted into the fold and began training with the PFLP, apparently in Jordan.
Sánchez was given the nom de guerre of “Carlos” by Bassam Abu-Sharif, a top official in the
PFLP. Later, a reporter for the British newspaper The Guardian appended the new nom de
guerre of “The Jackal,” named for the assassin in Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Day of the
Carlos the Jackal was a terrorist-for-hire, apparently retained by Libya, Iraq, Syria, Cuba, the
PFLP, Italy’s Red Brigade, and Germany’s Red Army Faction. He has been suspected of
committing dozens of attacks, including assassinations, bombings, skyjackings, kidnappings, and
the taking of hostages. Carlos’s most stunning operation was the 1975 kidnapping in Vienna of
approximately 70 people attending a meeting by the ministers of the powerful Organization of
Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). He also carried out a series of bombings in 1982 and
1983, killing 12 people and injuring about 100, in a vain attempt to win the release of a comrade
and his girlfriend, Magdalena Kopp.
The Jackal’s career was terminated when the government of Sudan “sold” him to France in
August 1994. French DST intelligence agents, acting on a tip from the U.S. Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) and in cooperation with Sudanese security officials, seized Carlos from a
Khartoum villa where he was recovering from minor testicular surgery. He was sedated in the
villa and regained his senses on board a French jet. In 1997, he was prosecuted, convicted, and
sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1975 murders of two French counterterrorist operatives
and an alleged informer. He received a second life sentence in December 2011 for a 1982–1983
bombing campaign in Paris and Marseille that killed 11 people and maimed approximately 150
more. In March 2017, Sánchez was sentenced to a third life term for a 1974 grenade attack inside
a shopping arcade in Paris. He consistently denied conducting the arcade bombing, but
prosecutors successfully presented their case 43 years after the attack.
By his own count, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez personally killed 83 people.b
a. For an interesting written account of Carlos’s career, see Follain, John. Jackal: The Complete
Story of the Legendary Terrorist, Carlos the Jackal. New York: Arcade, 1998.
b. For an interesting film biography of Carlos’s career, see Carlos. Dir. Olivier Assayas. Perf.
Édgar Ramírez, Alexander Scheer, Alejandro Arroyo. Films en Stock, Egoli Tossel Film, 2010.
This chapter investigates the causes of terrorism. In the following discussion, readers will identify factors that explain why individuals and groups choose to engage in terrorist violence. Readers will also explore and critically assess the sources of ideological belief systems and activism and the reasons why such activism sometimes results in terrorist violence. This search for causes requires a critical examination of many possible reasons. For example, is the terrorist option somehow forced on people who have no other alternative? Is terrorism simply one choice from a menu of options? Or is politically motivated violence a pathological manifestation of personal or group dysfunction?
Experts have long struggled to identify the central causes of terrorist violence. The most fundamental conclusion in this regard is that terrorism originates from many sources. The final decision by an individual or group to accept a fringe belief or to engage in terrorist behavior is often a complex process. For example, the decision to engage in violence may be the result of the following:
Photo 3.1 People walk past graffiti after journalist Lyra McKee was shot and killed on Fanad Drive on April 19, 2019, in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. She was killed in a “terror incident” while reporting from the scene of rioting in Derry’s Creggan neighborhood after police raided properties in the Mulroy Park and Galliagh area on April 18, 2019.
• logical choice and political strategy • collective rationality • lack of opportunity for political participation • disaffection within an elite1
It is useful in the beginning of our discussion to identify broad causes of terrorism at the national, group, and individual levels.
At the national level, nations may be victimized by traumatic events, such as invasions or terrorist attacks, that shape their behavior and culture for an extended period of time. For example, the 1979–1989 Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan destabilized the country dramatically, leading to a breakdown in central authority, civil war, and then the rule of the Taliban regime and its alliance with al-Qa’ida. At the ethnonational level, and in the histories of ethnonational groups, massacres, forced migrations, or extended repression can affect them for generations. For example, the Kurds of Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran have suffered from all of these traumas, including the use of chemical weapons by the Iraqis against Kurdish civilians in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. As a consequence, Kurdish militias and political parties have waged prolonged campaigns on behalf of the establishment of an independent Kurdistan.
At the group level, terrorism can grow out of an environment of political activism, when a group’s goal is to redirect a government’s or society’s attention toward the grievances of an activist social movement. It can also grow out of dramatic events in the experience of a people or a nation. Although these two sources—social movements and dramatic events— are generalized concepts, it is instructive to briefly review their importance:
• Social Movements. Social movements are campaigns that try either to promote change or to preserve something that is perceived to be threatened. Movements involve mass action on behalf of a cause; they are not simply the actions of single individuals who promote their personal political beliefs. Examples of movements include the Irish Catholic civil rights movement of the 1960s in Northern Ireland and the African American civil rights movement in the American South during the same decade. Proponents of this type of movement seek the “moral high ground” as a way to rally sympathy and support for their cause and to bring pressure on their opponents. In both of these cases, radicalized sentiment grew out of frustration with the slow pace of change and the violent reaction of some of their opponents. The modern era has witnessed many movements that advocate violent resistance.
• Dramatic Events. A synonym for this source of terrorism is traumatic events. They occur when an individual, a nation, or an ethnonational group suffers from an event that has
a traumatizing and lasting effect. At the personal level, children of victims of political violence may grow up to violently oppose their perceived oppressor. This is likely to occur in regions of extended conflict, such as the war between Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the Palestinian intifada,2 or Kurdish armed resistance in Syria, Turkey, and Iraq.
At the individual level, some experts have distinguished rational, psychological, and cultural origins of terrorism:
Rational terrorists think through their goals and options, making a cost-benefit analysis. . . . Psychological motivation for resorting to terrorism derives from the terrorist’s personal dissatisfaction with his/her life and accomplishments. . . . A major cultural determinant of terrorism is the perception of “outsiders” and anticipation of their threat to ethnic group survival.3
These factors are only a few of many theoretical sources, but they illustrate the different types of motivations that shape the individual behavior of individual terrorists.
Regardless of the specific precipitating cause of a particular terrorist’s behavior, the fact that so many nations, groups, and individuals resort to terrorist violence so frequently suggests that common motives and reasons can be found. There are many explanations given for terrorism by scholars and other experts who have devoted a great deal of effort to explaining terrorist behavior. This has not been a simple task because explanatory models consider many factors to account for why a particular group or people chooses to employ terrorism. This calculus includes political history, government policy, contemporary politics, cultural tensions, ideological trends, economic cycles, individual idiosyncrasies, and other variables. Although many terrorist environments exhibit similar characteristics—and groups have historically carried out attacks “in solidarity” with one another—explanations for terrorist activity are not readily transferable across national boundaries.
Finding a single explanation for terrorism is impossible. Nevertheless, experts have identified common characteristics among politically violent groups and individuals. The following discussion summarizes three explanatory categories:
• Political Violence as Strategic Choice • Political Violence as the Fruit of Injustice • Moral Justifications for Political Violence
POLITICAL VIOLENCE AS STRATEGIC CHOICE
For this explanatory category, two theoretical concepts are discussed. The first is a discussion of
acts of political will, when a deliberate strategy of forcing change is adopted. The second is a
discussion of the contravening—and frequently parochial—perceptions and misperceptions of
adversaries in the modern-day conflict environment. These concepts will facilitate the reader’s
critical understanding of how deliberate strategies, and political/cultural factors, may explain
contemporary terrorist violence.
Making Revolution: Acts of Political Will
An act of political will is an effort to force change and consists of strategic choices made by
ideologically motivated revolutionaries who pursue victory by sheer force of will.4 It is a choice,
a rational decision from the revolutionaries’ perspective, to adopt specific tactics and
methodologies to defeat an adversary. These methodologies are instruments of rational strategic
choice, wherein terrorism is adopted as an optimal strategy. All that is required for final victory
is to possess the political and strategic will to achieve the final goal. The selection of terrorism as
a strategic methodology is a process based on the experiences of each insurgent group, so its
selection is the outcome of an evolutionary political progression. Thus,
perhaps because groups are slow to recognize the extent of the limits to action, terrorism is often the last in a sequence of choices. It represents the outcome of a learning process. Experience in opposition provides radicals with information about the potential consequences of their choices. Terrorism is likely to be a reasonably informed choice among available alternatives, some tried unsuccessfully.5
As a result, terrorism is simply a tool, an option, selected by members of the political fringe to
achieve their desired goal. Terrorism is a deliberate strategy, and from the perspective of the
people employing it, success is ensured so long as their group’s political and strategic will
The evolution of Marxist revolutionary strategy illustrates the essence of political will. Karl
Marx argued that history and human social evolution are inexorable forces that will inevitably
end in the triumph of the revolutionary working class. He believed that the prediction of the
eventual collapse of capitalism was based on scientific law. However, Vladimir Ilich Lenin
understood that capitalism’s demise would not come about without a push from an organized and
disciplined vanguard organization such as the Communist Party. This organization would lead
the working class to victory. In other words, the political will of the people can make history if
they are properly indoctrinated and led.
An important conceptual example will help readers better understand the theory of revolutionary
change through acts of political will. It is a strategy known as people’s war. The context in
which it was first developed and applied was the Chinese Revolution.
Mao Zedong led the Communist Red Army to victory during the Chinese Revolution by waging
a protracted war—first against Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists (Kuomintang), then in alliance
with the Nationalists against the invading Japanese, and finally driving Chiang’s forces from
mainland China in 1949. The Red Army prevailed largely because of Mao’s military-political
doctrine, which emphasized waging an insurgent people’s war. His strategy was simple:
• Indoctrinate the army.
• Win over the people.
• Hit, run, and fight forever.
People’s war was a strategy born of necessity, originating when the Red Army was nearly
annihilated by the Nationalists prior to and during the famous Long March campaign in 1934–
1935. During the Long March, the Red Army fought a series of rearguard actions against
pursuing Nationalist forces, eventually finding refuge in the northern Shensi province after a
reputed 6,000-mile march. After the Long March, while the Red Army was being rested and
refitted in Shensi, Mao developed his military doctrine. People’s war required protracted warfare
(war drawn out over time), fought by an army imbued with an iron ideological will to wear down
According to Mao, the Red Army should fight a guerrilla war, with roving bands that would
occasionally unite. The war was to be fought by consolidating the countryside and then gradually
moving into the towns and cities. Red Army units would avoid conventional battle with the
Nationalists, giving ground before superior numbers. Space would be traded for time, and battle
would be joined only when the Red Army was tactically superior at a given moment. Thus, an
emphasis was placed on avoidance and retreat. In people’s war, assassination was perfectly
acceptable, and targets included soldiers, government administrators, and civilian collaborators.
Government-sponsored programs and events—no matter how beneficial they might be to the
people—were to be violently disrupted to show the government’s weakness.
A successful people’s war required the cooperation and participation of the civilian population,
so Mao ordered his soldiers to win their loyalty by treating the people correctly. According to
The army is powerful because all its members have a conscious discipline; they have come together and they fight not for the private interests of a few individuals or a narrow clique, but for the interests of the broad masses and of the whole nation. The sole purpose of this army is to stand firmly with the Chinese people and to serve them whole-heartedly.7
Mao’s contribution to modern warfare—and to the concept of political will—was that he
deliberately linked his military strategy to his political strategy; they were one and the same.
Terrorism was a perfectly acceptable option in this military-political strategy. The combination
of ideology, political indoctrination, guerrilla tactics, protracted warfare, and popular support
made people’s war a very potent strategy. It was an effective synthesis of political will.
Leftist revolutionaries adopted this strategy elsewhere in the world in conflicts that ranged in
scale from large insurrections to small bands of rebels. Terrorism was frequently used as a
strategic instrument to harass and disrupt adversaries, with the goal of turning the people against
them and forcing them to capitulate. In the end, people’s war had mixed success. It was
sometimes very successful, such as in China and Vietnam, but failed elsewhere, such as in
Malaysia and the Philippines.8
Perception and Cultural Disconnect: Adversaries in the War on Terrorism
Another consideration is necessary to fully appreciate modern causes of terrorism. This theory is
rooted in the political environment that gave rise to the new era of terrorism.
The concept of “one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter” is pertinent to how
the behavior of the West, and particularly the behavior of the United States, is perceived around
the world. When the September 11 attacks occurred, many Americans and other Westerners saw
them as an attack on Western-style civilization. Reasons given for the subsequent U.S.-led war
on terrorism included the argument that war was necessary to defend civilization from a new
barbarism. From the official American and allied point of view, the war was simply a
counteraction against the enemies of democracy and freedom. However, many Muslims had a
wholly different perspective.
Most nations and people in the Muslim world expressed shock and sorrow toward the U.S.
homeland attacks and the innocent lives that were lost. At the same time, many Middle East
analysts interpreted the attacks as part of a generalized reaction against U.S. policies and
behavior. Although little official support was expressed for the ideologies of radical Islamists
such as Osama bin Laden, analysts decried the perceived imbalance in U.S. Middle East policies,
especially toward Israel in comparison to friendly Muslim countries.
Interestingly, many young Muslims internationally are keen to adopt some degree of Western
culture, yet remain loyal to the Muslim community. As one student commented,
Most of us here like it both ways, we like American fashion, American music, American movies, but in the end, we are Muslims. . . . The Holy Prophet said that all Muslims are like one body, and if one part of the body gets injured, then all parts feel that pain. If one Muslim is injured by non-Muslims in Afghanistan, it is the duty of all Muslims of the world to help him.9
The argument, then, is that the cause of anti-American and -Western sentiment is the behavior of
those nations—that is, the things that they do rather than their values or culture. In the opening
paragraph of his controversial book Imperial Hubris, former high-ranking CIA official Michael
Scheuer presented the central precept of this argument:
In America’s confrontation with Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, their allies, and the Islamic world, there lies a startlingly clear example of how loving something intensely can stimulate an equally intense and purposeful hatred of things by which it is threatened. This hatred shapes and informs Muslim reactions to U.S. policies and their execution, and it is impossible to understand the threat America faces until the intensity and pervasiveness of this hatred is recognized.10
As religion professor Bruce Lawrence observed, “They hate us because of what we do, and it
seems to contradict who we say we are. . . . [T]he major issue is that our policy seems to
contradict our own basic values.”11 Assuming the plausibility of this theory, terrorists possess
ample promise to recruit new fighters from among young Muslims who are incensed by
American and Western intervention in their regions and nations.12 Although such intervention is
justified in the West as being fundamentally beneficial to the people of the Middle East, the
perception of many local people is to the contrary.13 Ongoing civilian deaths in Afghanistan
resulting from “collateral damage” by drone aircraft and North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO) airstrikes precipitated repeated denunciations by Afghan leaders and civilians.
Perceptions of incidents in Iraq during the Western intervention, such as killings of civilians in
November 2005 in Haditha by U.S. Marines14 as well as in September 2007 in Baghdad by
members of the Blackwater Worldwide U.S. security firm,15 are further examples of how this
theory could explain resentment against U.S. and Western policy in the Middle East.
Can Muslim perceptions and Western behaviors be reconciled? What are the prospects for
mitigating this source of terrorism in the modern era? Several events portend a continued
disconnect between these perceptions and behaviors, at least for the immediate future:
• the American-led interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and the protracted insurgencies
• the open-ended presence of Western and Russian military assets in or near Muslim
• broadcasted images of civilian casualties and other “collateral damage” during military
operations in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere
• broadcasted images and rumors of the mistreatment of prisoners in American-run
• cycles of chronic violence between Israelis and Palestinians and the perception that the
United States and the West unfairly favor Israel
In this regard, a July 2007 report by the CIA’s National Intelligence Council concluded that the
terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland remained high and that Al-Qa’ida remained a potent
adversary in the war on terrorism.16 The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate essentially
reiterated the 2004 estimate, which had warned that the war in Iraq created a new training ground
for professional terrorists, much as the 1979–1989 Soviet war in Afghanistan created an
environment that led to the rise of Al-Qa’ida and other international mujahideen (Islamic holy
warriors).17 It also projected that veterans of the Iraq war would disperse after the end of the
conflict, thus constituting a new generation of international mujahideen who would supplant the
first Afghanistan-trained generation of fighters. These early assessments were arguably quite
prescient because the war in Iraq created an environment that gave rise to the Islamic State of
Iraq and the Levant as well as other Islamist movements that arose in both Iraq and neighboring
Syria. The plausible scenarios discussed in the reports correctly identified the continuing
phenomenon of significant numbers of foreigners volunteering to fight in Iraq, Syria, and
elsewhere out of a sense of pan-Islamic solidarity.18
POLITICAL VIOLENCE AS THE FRUIT OF INJUSTICE
For this explanatory category, theoretical concepts are derived from three disciplines.
Sociological, criminological, and psychological theories are presented to explore reasons for
political violence. These disciplines further facilitate the reader’s critical understanding of how
national-, group-, and individual-level factors (introduced previously) explain terrorism in the
modern global environment.
Sociological Explanations of Terrorism: Intergroup Conflict and Collective Violence
Sociological explanations generally hold that terrorism is a product of intergroup conflict that
results in collective violence. The sociological approach argues that terrorism is a group-based
phenomenon that is selected as the only strategy available to a weaker group. From the perspective of an opponent group, “terrorism and other forms of collective violence are often described as ‘senseless,’ and their participants are often depicted as irrational.”19 However, this is not an entirely complete analysis, because
if “rational” means goal directed . . . then most collective violence is indeed rational. . . . Their violence is indeed directed at achieving certain, social change–oriented goals, regardless of whether we agree with those goals or with the violent means used to attain them. If “rational” further means sound, wise, and logical, then available evidence indicates that collective violence is rational . . . because it sometimes can help achieve their social goals.20
In essence, the disadvantaged group asserts its rights by selecting a methodology—in this case, terrorism—that from the group’s perspective is its only viable option. The selection process is based on the insurgent group’s perceptions and its analysis of those perceptions. To illustrate this point, the following example describes a hypothetical group’s analytical progression toward revolution:
• The perception grows within a particular group that the government or social order is inherently brutal or unfair toward the group.
• Because the system does not allow for meaningful social dissent by the group (in the opinion of group members), it concludes that the only recourse is to oust the existing government or order.
• The group perceives that an opportunity for change is available at a particular point in history. To wait longer would likely mean a lost possibility for revolutionary change.
• After analyzing the contemporary political environment, the group perceives that the government or system possesses inherent weaknesses or “contradictions” (to use a Marxist term).21 All that is needed is a revolutionary push to achieve the group’s goals.
• An important ingredient in the group’s calculation is the perception that the people are ripe for revolution. What is required is for the group to act as a vanguard to politicize the broader masses and lead them to revolution.
The foregoing analytical progression incorporates two theoretical concepts: structural theory and relative deprivation theory.22 These theories are summarized below.
Structural theory has been used in many policy and academic disciplines to identify social conditions (structures) that affect group access to services, equal rights, civil protections, freedom, or other quality-of-life measures. Examples of social structures include government policies, administrative bureaucracies, spatial (geographic) location of the group, the role of security forces, and access to social institutions. Applying this theory to the context of political violence and terrorism,
structural theories of revolution emphasize that weaknesses in state structures encourage the potential for revolution. . . . According to this view, a government beset by problems such as economic and military crises is vulnerable to challenges by insurgent forces. . . . Other governments run into trouble when their . . . policies alienate and even anger elites within the society.23
The state is the key actor in structural theories of political violence. As such, its status is the precipitating factor for popular revolutions. Popular discontent, the alienation of elites, and a pervasive crisis are the central ingredients for bringing a society to the brink of violent revolution. Domestic crises stemming from these tensions make the state vulnerable to outbreaks of political violence. These tensions also encourage and embolden violent extremists and revolutionaries.24 For example, prior to the 2011 Arab Spring protests in Libya, dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime displayed the kind of domestic tensions identified by structural theorists as precursors to social instability. During the Arab Spring, el-Qaddafi deployed his security forces and mercenary paramilitaries to violently suppress civilian demonstrations. A civil war ensued in which central government authority collapsed, and el-Qaddafi was killed during the uprising. Libyan society collapsed into ongoing conflict between competing factions including Islamist extremists, some of whom professed allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Relative deprivation theory is a theory cited by sociologists and political scientists, principally arguing that “feelings of deprivation and frustration underlie individual decisions to engage in collective action.”25 As explained by Ted Robert Gurr in his seminal book Why Men Rebel, the gap between expected and achieved well-being breeds resentment and discontent.26 In this type of environment, deprived and disenfranchised populations will weigh the utility of force. Thus, “when people feel deprived relative to some other group or find that their hopes and expectations for improved conditions have been frustrated, their discontent and thus likelihood of engaging in protest increases.”27
In essence, their motive for engaging in political violence is their observation that they are relatively deprived, vis-à-vis other groups, in an unfair social order. According to this theory, when a group’s rising expectations are met by sustained repression or second-class status, the group’s reaction may include political violence. For example, research has posited that the gap between expected and achieved well-being among educated Palestinians and Israelis is higher among Palestinians and that this may to some degree explain social unrest emanating from the Palestinian population.28
Relative deprivation should be contrasted with absolute deprivation, when a group has been deprived of the basic necessities for survival by a government or social order. In this environment, a group is denied adequate shelter, food, health care, and other basic necessities. These conditions can also lead to political violence, the rationale being that absolutely deprived populations have little to lose by engaging in collective violence.
One observation must be made about relative deprivation theory. Although it was, and still is, a popular theory among many experts, three shortcomings have been argued:
• Psychological research suggests that aggression happens infrequently when the conditions for relative deprivation are met.
• The theory is more likely to explain individual behavior rather than group behavior. • Empirical studies have not found an association between relative deprivation and
This debate persists. Nevertheless, many sociologists and political scientists continue to reference relative deprivation as an explanatory theory when investigating the characteristics and motivations of social movements.
Cases in Point: Nationalism and Sociological Explanations of Terrorism
Nationalism is an expression of ethnonational identity. Nationalist activism can range in scale from the promotion of cultural heritage to armed insurrection. Its goals can range from a desire for equal political rights to complete national separation.
Some ethnonational groups have engaged in nationalist activism to preserve their cultural heritage and have opposed what they consider to be national and cultural repression. Within these ethnonational groups, violent extremists have engaged in terrorism.
Examples of movements that are motivated against a government or social order include ethnonational movements among Basques in Spain, Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland, Palestinians in Israel, and French Canadians in Quebec. Sociological explanations for these nationalist movements are summarized below.
Basque Nationalism in Spain.
The Basque region of northern Spain is home to approximately 2.5 million Basques. Nationalism
in the region dates to the defeat of Spanish Republicans during the Spanish Civil War of 1936–
1939. After the war, Francisco Franco’s fascist regime suppressed Basque culture, integrated the
region into Spain, and banned the Basque language. Spanish culture and language were imposed
on the Basque region. Since the late 1950s, Basque nationalists, especially Basque Fatherland
and Liberty (Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna, or ETA), fought for autonomy from Spain and the
preservation of their national identity. The Basque cause will be explored further within the
context of dissident terrorism.
Irish Catholic Nationalism in Northern Ireland.
Irish Catholic nationalism in Northern Ireland dates to the 16th century, when English King
James I granted Scottish Protestant settlers land in Ireland, thus beginning a long process of
relegating Irish Catholics to second-class status in their own country. Protestant (“Scotch-Irish”)
and English domination was secured in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne. Catholic independence
was finally won in 1919 and 1920, but the island was formally divided between the independent
Irish Republic in the south and the British-administered six-county region of Northern Ireland.
Since that time, some Irish Republicans in the north, especially the Provisional Irish Republican
Army, have engaged in armed resistance against Protestant and British political domination.
They seek union with the southern republic. The Irish Republican cause will be explored further
within the contexts of dissident and ideological terrorism.
Palestinian nationalism dates to the formal creation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948. The
next day, the Arab League (Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria) declared war on Israel. Israel was
victorious, and in the subsequent consolidation of power, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians
either left Israel or were expelled. Since that time, Palestinian nationalists, especially the
Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas, have fought a guerrilla and terrorist war against
Israel to establish a Palestinian state. The Palestinian cause will be explored further within the
context of dissident terrorism.
French Canadian Nationalism.
French Canadian nationalism is centered in Quebec, where French-descended residents (known
as the Québécois) predominate. The French identity in Quebec has always been vigorously
protected by Québécois against English domination. Some Québécois are nationalists, seeking
greater autonomy or independence from English-speaking Canada. Most French Canadian
nationalism has been democratic in expression and has been led by the Parti Québécois.
However, a separatist group founded in 1963, known as the Front du Liberation de
Québec (FLQ), engaged in a bombing campaign to promote an independent Quebec. Nationalist
sentiment increased during the late 1960s when, during a visit in July 1967, French President
Charles de Gaulle delivered a speech using the now famous phrase “Vive le Québec libre,” or
“Long live free Quebec.”
Table 3.1 summarizes the constituencies and adversaries of the foregoing nationalist movements
that used terrorism to obtain autonomy from social orders they perceived to have repressed their
national and cultural aspirations.
Table 3.1 Nationalism and Sociological Explanations of Terrorism: Examining Four Cases of Constituencies and Adversaries
Group Constituency Adversary
Irish Republican Army
Northern Irish Catholics British and Ulster
ETA factions Spanish Basques Spaniards
Secular and religious
FLQ French-speaking residents of Quebec
Photo 3.2 Bloody Sunday (January 30, 1972): A British soldier runs down an Irish Catholic
demonstrator during protests and rioting in the city of Londonderry in Northern Ireland. The
confrontations resulted in elite paratroopers firing on Catholic civilians. The incident was a
seminal event that rallied many Catholics to support the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
Criminological Explanations of Terrorism: The Path to Political Criminality
Criminological explanations generally hold that terrorism is a product of the same socialization processes that cause individuals to engage in criminal behavior. Such processes explain why individuals become terrorists or criminals and why groups of people establish terrorist or criminal organizations. The criminological approach argues that terrorism and crime are explainable within the framework of established theoretical perspectives used to explain criminal deviance.30
Differential Association Theory
Edwin Sutherland described the theory of differential association in his 1939 book Principles of
Criminology.31 Differential association is a process of social learning in which criminals and
law-abiding people learn their behavior from associations with others. People imitate or
otherwise internalize the quality of these associations. Criminality—and, by implication, political
extremism—is a learned behavior that is acquired from interacting with others who participate in
criminal politically activist lifestyles, so the difference between offenders and nonoffenders lies
in individual choices. In other words, offenders and nonoffenders strive for similar goals, but
they choose different avenues to achieve those goals. These choices are based on the lessons they
take from exposure to certain kinds of life experiences. In particular, those who grow up in
criminal or politically polarized milieus will adopt values that can result in crime or political
Although differential association theory has been criticized for relying on variables that are
difficult to operationalize, it remains a potent and influential approach to explaining crime. Its
appeal is perhaps grounded in its proposition that all persons possess the same learning
processes, which are developed through communicating and interacting with groups of people.
The difference between criminals and noncriminals is that they base their choices on different
lessons learned from their different experiences. Norms and values are similarly learned, but
some people internalize deviant norms and values.
Anomie and Strain Theories
The great sociologist Émile Durkheim’s concept of anomie32 was applied to criminology during
the 1930s by Robert Merton and others, who studied the tension between socially acceptable
goals and the means one is permitted by society to use for achieving those goals.33 Merton’s
theory focused on the availability of goals and means. He posited that the greater society
encourages its members to use acceptable means to achieve acceptable goals. For example, in the
United States, acceptable means include hard work, prudent savings, and higher education.
Acceptable goals include comfort, leisure time, social status, and wealth. However, not all
members of society have an equal availability of resources to achieve society’s recognized goals,
thus creating strain for these less empowered members. Strain is manifested as a desire to
achieve these goals and one’s inability to acquire the legitimate means to attain them. In theory,
those who do not have access to acceptable means may resort to illegitimate and illicit avenues to
achieve their goals. In other words, those without resources and access may become criminals to
achieve comfort, leisure, status, and wealth.
The implications of Merton’s and his fellow researchers’ findings are clear: Lack of opportunity
and inequality are central causal factors for crime and, by implication, political extremism.
However, anomie and strain theory have been criticized for placing too much emphasis on
deviance emanating from the poorer classes and for failing to adequately explain why so many
youths and adults who suffer from strain do not turn to crime or political extremism.
Routine Activity Theory
This theory, first posited by Cohen and Felson,34 holds that political extremism and criminal
behavior require the convergence of three societal elements. The adaptation of this theory to the
convergence of extremism and crime is summarized as follows:
• A steady supply of motivated offenders. At a fundamental level of analysis, this element
holds that the political motivations of terrorists and the profit-based motivations of criminals
require observable benefits for individuals. Examples of such benefits may include increased
status, greed satisfaction, vengeance, or sheer adventure. Within this framework, the political
violence option is an attractive motivation because it provides individuals with an outlet to
express their indignation with a sense of glory.
• The ready availability of attractive victims and targets of opportunity. This element holds
that terrorists and criminals profit from the presence of victims who will provide them with
certain benefits. For terrorists, appropriate victims will return maximum symbolic and political
effect when they strike. For criminals, appropriate victims and customers will return maximum
• The presence, or lack thereof, of social guardians. Examples of guardians include the
police, surveillance systems, and social networks. Thus, a critical societal element for the
calculus of terrorists and criminals is whether the social or political environment possesses weak
guardianship and is, therefore, ripe for exploitation. In this regard, relatively weak antiterrorist or
anticrime barriers will create a sociopolitical vacuum that dedicated terrorists or criminals may
perceive as an opportunity for exploitation.
During the 1960s and 1970s, a good deal of theory and research on criminality reflected the
political and social discord of the period. Critical theorists challenged previous conventions of
criminal causation, arguing that delinquency and criminality were caused by society’s
inequitable ideological, political, and socioeconomic makeup.35 Proponents of the emergent
radical approach argued that because power and wealth have been unequally distributed, those
who have been politically and economically shut out understandably resort to criminal
antagonism against the prevailing order. According to radical criminologists, these classes will
continue to engage in behavior labeled as criminal until society remedies the plight of the
powerless and disenfranchised.
Critical theories similar to radical criminology frequently use Marxist theory to critique the role
of capitalist economics in creating socioeconomic inequities.36 Marxist perspectives on
criminology argue that the ruling capitalist classes exploit the labor of the lower classes and co-
opt them by convincing them that capitalism is actually beneficial for them.37 Marxist-oriented
radical criminologists hold that ruling elites have used their own interpretations of justice to
maintain their status. Hence, the criminal justice system is inherently exploitative and unfair
toward criminals who originate from the lower classes. The fact that social minorities and the
poor are overrepresented in prisons is explained as a manifestation of the inherent unfairness at
the core of the existing capitalist establishment.
Critical theories and Marxist ideological tendencies have been used to explain the role of gender
in radical movements. Women have historically been prominently represented in many extremist
movements and organizations. Chapter Perspective 3.1 investigates the subject of gender and
terrorism by discussing women as terrorists.
Chapter Perspective 3.1Women as Terrorists
From October 23 to 26, 2003, Chechen terrorists seized 700 hostages in a Moscow theater. The episode ended with the deaths of scores of hostages and all of the terrorists. Russian authorities reported that many of the hostage takers were women who had suicide explosive vests strapped to their bodies. The presence of female suicide bombers was not uncommon within the Chechen resistance movement. As a result, the Russian media dubbed the women among Chechen terrorists “Black Widows” because they are allegedly relatives of Chechen men who died in the ongoing war in Chechnya.
How common is terrorism by women? What motivates women to become terrorists? In which environments are female terrorists typically found?a
Women have been active in a variety of roles in many violent political movements.b Historically, some women held positions of leadership during terrorist campaigns and were well integrated into the command systems and policy decision-making processes in extremist groups. In the modern era, women were central figures in Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, Germany’s Red Army Faction, Italy’s Red Brigade,c Spain’s Basque ETA, and the Japanese Red Army. During the Palestinian intifada against Israel, a number of Palestinian suicide bombers were young women. More commonly, women serve as combatants rather than leaders, or women are recruited to participate as support functionaries, such as finding safe houses and engaging in surveillance.
Regardless of the quality of participation, it is clear that such involvement belies the common presumption that terrorism is an exclusively male preserve. In fact, some of the most committed revolutionaries around the world are women.
The following examples are instructive:
• Prior to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, Russian women were leading members of violent extremist groups such as People’s Will (Narodnaya Volya) and the Social Revolutionary Party.
• Female anarchists such as Emma Goldman in the United States demonstrated that women could be leading revolutionary theorists.
• Leila Khaled became a well-respected and prominent member of the Palestinian nationalist movement after her participation in two airline hijacking incidents.
• During the unrest leading up to the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s, women participated in numerous antigovernment attacks.
• Gudrun Ensslin, Ulrike Meinhof, and other women were leaders and comrades-in- arms within Germany’s Red Army Faction during the 1970s.
• During the 1970s and 1980s, other Western European terrorist groups such as France’s Direct Action, Italy’s Red Brigade, and Belgium’s Communist Combat Cells fully integrated women into their ranks.
• Women were leaders in the nihilistic Japanese Red Army during the 1970s and 1980s, and the movement was founded by Shigenobu Fusako.
• During the latter quarter of the 20th century, many Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) “soldiers” were women, reflecting the fact that the IRA was a nationalist and mildly socialist movement.
• Women became renowned leaders among Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers group during the 1990s and thereafter when many male leaders were killed or captured, and female terrorists known as Freedom Birds engaged in many attacks, including numerous suicide bombings.
• Among Chechen rebels, since 2002, young women have been recruited, manipulated, or coerced into becoming suicide fighters.
• Since around 2002, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade unit of the Palestine Liberation Organization has actively recruited and deployed women as suicide bombers.d
• Female combatants have been found in the ranks of many insurgent groups, such as Colombia’s FARC and ELN, India’s Naxalites, the Communist Party of Nepal, Peru’s Shining Path, and Mexico’s Zapatistas.
• In Iraq, the number of female suicide bombers increased markedly from 8 in all of 2007 to more than 20 in the first half of 2008. This was because Iraqi insurgents learned that women were much less likely to be searched or otherwise scrutinized by security forces and could therefore more easily penetrate many levels of security.
• In March 2011 the recruitment of women took an interesting turn when Al-Qa’ida published a magazine for women, titled al Shamikha (“The Majestic Woman”). Examples of content include articles on beauty advice and suicide bombing.
• Beginning in 2014, Nigeria’s Boko Haram often deployed young women and girls, some as young as 8 years old, as suicide bombers. By 2016, an estimated one in five Boko Haram suicide bombers was a child, usually a girl.e
Active participation of women is arguably more common among left-wing and nationalist terrorist movements than in right-wing and religious movements. Rightist and religious movements yield some cases of women as terrorists but very few examples of female leaders. One reason for these characteristics is that, on one hand, many leftists adopt ideologies of gender equality and many nationalists readily enlist female fighters for the
greater good of the group.f On the other hand, right-wing and religious movements often adopt ideologies that relegate women to secondary roles within the group. Among religious movements, ideologies of male dominance and female subordination have been common, so women rarely participate in attacks, let alone in command systems and policy decision- making processes. Having said this, the incidence of female suicide bombings increased markedly in some conflicts (especially in Iraq and Israel) because extremists realized that women were less likely to be scrutinized by security forces.
In a particularly disturbing trend, young girls have been recruited as fighters by paramilitary groups, such as the Lord Resistance Army in Uganda and the Revolutionary United Front in Sierra Leone. Some of these “Small Girls Units” were made to participate in the brutalization of local populations.g Boko Haram in Nigeria used girls extensively as suicide bombers.
Psychological Explanations of Terrorism: Rationality and Terrorist Violence
Psychological approaches to explaining terrorism broadly examine the effects of internal psychological dynamics on group and individual behavior. At the outset, it is useful to examine the presumption held by a number of people—experts, policy makers, and laypersons—that terrorism is the signature of a collective lunatic fringe or a manifestation of insanity or mental illness. This presumption suggests that terrorism is a priori (fundamentally) irrational behavior and that only deranged collections of people or deranged individuals would select terrorist violence as a strategy. Most experts agree that this blanket presumption is incorrect. Although groups and individuals do act out of certain idiosyncratic psychological processes, their behavior is neither insane nor necessarily irrational.
Group-Level Psychological Explanations
In a number of social and political contexts, political violence is a familiar social phenomenon
for some people. When this process is combined with “the pronounced need to belong to a
group,”38 individuals can in the end “define their social status by group acceptance.” Thus, at the
another result of psychological motivation is the intensity of group dynamics among terrorists. They tend to demand unanimity and be intolerant of dissent . . . [and] pressure to escalate the frequency and intensity of operations is ever present. . . . Compromise is rejected, and terrorist groups lean towards maximalist positions.39
An important outcome of these dynamics is the development of a self-perpetuating cycle of
rationalizations of political violence. This occurs because “the psychodynamics also make the
announced group goal nearly impossible to achieve. A group that achieves its stated purpose is
no longer needed; thus, success threatens the psychological well-being of its members.”40
Individual-Level Psychological Explanations
Some experts argue that the decision to engage in political violence is frequently an outcome of
significant events in individual lives that give rise to antisocial feelings. They actively seek
improvement in their environment or desire redress and revenge from the perceived cause of
their condition. Very often,
psychological motivation for terrorism derives from the terrorist’s personal dissatisfaction with his life and accomplishments. He finds his raison d’être in dedicated terrorist action. . . . Terrorists tend to project their own antisocial motivations onto others, creating a polarized “we versus they” outlook. They attribute only evil motives to anyone outside their own group. This enables the terrorists to dehumanize their victims and removes any sense of ambiguity from their minds. The resultant clarity of purpose appeals to those who crave violence to relieve their constant anger.41
Research has not found a pattern of psychopathology among terrorists. In comparing nonviolent
and violent activists, studies reported “preliminary impressions . . . that the family backgrounds
of terrorists do not differ strikingly from the backgrounds of their politically active
counterparts.”42 Those who engage in collective violence are, in many respects, “normal” people:
How rational are the participants in collective violence? Are they sane? Do they really know what they’re doing? . . . The available evidence favors rationality. . . . Although some explanations of collective violence stress psychological abnormality among its participants, studies on this issue suggest that in general they’re as psychologically normal and rational as the average person.43
There is evidence of some psychosocial commonalities among violent activists. For example,
research on 250 West German terrorists reported “a high incidence of fragmented families”;
“severe conflict, especially with the parents”; conviction in juvenile court; and “a pattern of
failure both educationally and vocationally.”44
Generalized Psychological Explanations
Psychological explanations are fairly broad approaches to the dynamics of terrorist behavior.
Both individual and group theories attempt to generalize reasons for the decision to initiate
political violence and the processes that perpetuate such violence. These explanations may be
summarized as follows:
• Terrorism is simply a choice among violent and less violent alternatives. It is a rational
selection of one methodology over other options.
• Terrorism is a technique to maintain group cohesion and focus. Group solidarity
• Terrorism is a necessary process to build the esteem of an oppressed people. Through
terrorism, power is established over others, and the weak become strong. Attention itself
• Terrorists consider themselves to be an elite vanguard. They are not content to debate the
issues because they have found a “truth” that needs no explanation. Action is superior to
• Terrorism provides a means to justify political violence. The targets are depersonalized,
and symbolic labels are attached to them. Thus, symbolic buildings become legitimate
targets even when occupied by people, and individual victims become symbols of an
Case in Point: Psychology and the Stockholm Syndrome
In August 1973, three women and one man were taken hostage by two bank robbers in
Stockholm, Sweden. The botched robbery led to a hostage crisis that lasted 6 days. During the
crisis, the robbers threatened to kill the four hostages if the authorities tried to rescue them. At
the same time, the hostages received treatment from the robbers that they began to think of as
kindness and consideration. For example, one hostage was told that he would not be killed, but
rather shot in the leg if the police intervened, and that he should play dead. Another hostage, who
suffered from claustrophobia, was let out of the bank vault on a rope leash. These were perceived
as acts of kindness because the situation was very tense inside the bank:
The hostages were under extended siege by a horde of police seeking opportunities to shoot the robbers, depriving the group of food and other necessities to force their surrender, and poking holes in walls to gas the robbers into submission. The captors often acted as the hostages’ protectors against the frightening maneuvers by the police.46
During the 6-day episode, all of the hostages began to sympathize with the robbers and gradually
came to completely identify with them. They eventually denounced the authorities’ attempts to
free them. After the situation was resolved, the hostages remained loyal to their former captors
for months. They refused to testify against them and raised money for their legal defense. One of
the female former hostages actually became engaged to one of the robbers. This was, to say the
least, surprising behavior. The question is whether this was an isolated phenomenon or whether it
is possible for it to occur in other hostage crises.
Experts are divided about whether the Stockholm syndrome is a prevalent condition. Those who
contend that it can occur and has occurred in other situations argue that the syndrome sets in
when a prisoner suffers a psychological shift from captive to sympathizer. In theory, the prisoner
will try to keep their captor happy in order to stay alive whenever they are unable to escape, are
isolated, and are threatened with death. This becomes an obsessive identification with what the
captor likes and dislikes, and the prisoner eventually begins to sympathize with the captor. The
psychological shift theoretically requires 3 or 4 days to set in. An example of the Stockholm
syndrome during the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst is presented in Chapter 12;
Hearst was kidnapped by the terrorist group the Symbionese Liberation Army and joined the
group after being psychologically and physically tormented for more than 50 days.
Many instances of behavior symptomatic of the Stockholm syndrome are found in the era of the
New Terrorism. For example, during the 1990s and 2000s a significant number of insurgent
movements abducted boys and young males as recruited fighters. They were trained and
integrated into armed units, and thousands of these “boy soldiers” engaged in heavy combat and
committed war crimes. After the end of some conflicts, for example, in Sierra Leone and Liberia,
concerted efforts were made to reindoctrinate the former child soldiers, some of whom were
psychologically damaged by their experiences. Child soldiers are discussed further in Chapter 5.
Similarly, during the second decade of the 2000s Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS affiliates
kidnapped thousands of girls and young women. Both movements engaged in sexual
enslavement, forced conversion to Islam, and forced marriages to movement fighters. In the case
of Boko Haram, some rescued victims of the April 2014 abduction of 276 girls from a secondary
school in the town of Chibok expressed sympathy and affection for their abductors. Similarly,
the surviving wives of ISIS fighters, many of whom came voluntarily from Western countries or
were forcibly converted, continued to proclaim their allegiance to the Islamic State. Chapter
9 discusses the related phenomenon of gender-selective terrorism.
Photo 3.3 Twenty-one Chibok girls who were released by Boko Haram attend a meeting on
October 19, 2016, with the Nigerian president at the State House in Abuja. Speaking at the
presidential villa, the president addressed the girls and their families: “We shall redouble efforts
to ensure that we fulfil our pledge of bringing the remaining girls back home.”
Summing Up Psychological Explanations
In essence, then, psychological explanations of terrorist behavior use theories of group
motivations and individual dynamics to explicate why groups continue their campaigns of
violence and why people first decide to adopt strategies of political violence. Among violent
extremists, “it appears that people who are aggressive and action-oriented, and who place
greater-than-normal reliance on the psychological mechanisms of externalization and splitting,
are disproportionately represented among terrorists.”47
Pressures to conform to the group, combined with pressures to commit acts of violence, form a
powerful psychological drive to carry on in the name of the cause, even when victory is logically
impossible. These influences become so prevalent that achieving victory becomes a
consideration secondary to the unity of the group.48 Having said this, it is inadvisable to
completely generalize about psychological causes of terrorism because “most terrorists do not
demonstrate serious psychopathology,” and “there is no single personality type.”49
Chapter Perspective 3.2 investigates the profiles of two Palestinian nationalists, Leila Khaled and
Chapter Perspective 3.2Profiles of Violent Extremists: Leila Khaled and Abu Nidal
The processes that cause people to become political extremists and terrorists are very
idiosyncratic. Individuals adopt extremist beliefs and engage in terrorist behaviors for many of
the reasons discussed in this chapter.
A comparison of two revolutionaries championing the Palestinian cause is very useful for
critically assessing why nationalists engage in terrorist violence. These are cases that illustrate
the origins of the motives and ideologies of politically violent individuals.
Leila Khaled: Freedom Fighter or Terrorist?
During the early 1970s, Leila Khaled was famous both because of her exploits as a Palestinian
revolutionary and because she was for a time the best-known airline hijacker in the world.
Khaled was born in Haifa, Palestine. After the Israeli war of independence, she and her family
became refugees in a camp in the city of Tyre, Lebanon, when she was a young child. Khaled
has said that she was politicized from a very young age and became a committed revolutionary
by the time she was 15. Politically, she was influenced by leftist theory. One of her revolutionary
heroes was Ernesto “Che” Guevara, whom she considered to be a “true” revolutionary, unlike
other Western radicals.
In August 1969, at the age of 23, Leila Khaled hijacked a TWA flight on behalf of the Popular
Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The purpose of the hijacking was to direct the
world’s attention to the plight of the Palestinians. It was a successful operation, and she
reportedly forced the pilots to fly over her ancestral home of Haifa before turning
toward Damascus. In Damascus, the passengers were released into the custody of the Syrians and
the plane was blown up. Afterward, a then-famous photograph was taken of her.
In preparation for her next operation (and because the photograph had become a political icon),
Khaled underwent plastic surgery in Germany to alter her appearance. She participated in a much
larger operation on September 6 and 9, 1970, when the PFLP attempted to hijack five airliners.
One of the hijackings failed, one airliner was flown to a runway in Cairo where it was destroyed,
and the remaining three airliners were flown to Dawson’s Field in Jordan, where they were
blown up by the PFLP on September 12. Khaled had been overpowered and captured during one
of the failed attempts on September 6—an El Al (the Israeli airline) flight from Amsterdam. She
was released on September 28 as part of a brokered deal exchanging Palestinian prisoners for the
Leila Khaled published her autobiography in 1973, titled My People Shall Live: The
Autobiography of a Revolutionary.a She eventually settled in Amman, Jordan, and became a
member of the Palestinian National Council, the Palestinian parliament. She never moderated her
political beliefs, always considered herself to be a freedom fighter, and took pride in being one of
the first to use extreme tactics to bring the Palestinians’ cause to the world’s attention. Khaled
considered the progression of Palestinian revolutionary violence—such as the intifada (“shaking
off”) uprisings—to be a legitimate means to regain Palestine.
Abu Nidal: Ruthless Revolutionary
Sabri al-Banna, a Palestinian, adopted the nom de guerre of “Abu Nidal,” which has become
synonymous with his Abu Nidal Organization (ANO). He was a radical member of the
umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from an early point in its history. Yasir
Arafat’s nationalist Al Fatah organization was the dominant group within the PLO. Unlike the
Fatah mainstream, Abu Nidal was a strong advocate of a dissident ideology that was pan-
Arabist, meaning he believed that national borders in the Arab world were not sacrosanct. Abu
Nidal long argued that Al Fatah membership should be open to all Arabs, not just Palestinians. In
support of the Palestinian cause, he argued that Palestine must be established as an Arab state. Its
borders must stretch from the Jordan River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea. According to
pan-Arabism, however, this is only one cause among many in the Arab world.
After the 1973 Yom Kippur war, when invading Arab armies were soundly defeated by Israel,
many in the mainstream Al Fatah group argued that a political solution with Israel should be an
option. In 1974, Abu Nidal split from Al Fatah and began his “rejectionist” movement to carry
on a pan-Arabist armed struggle. He and his followers immediately began engaging in high-
profile international terrorist attacks, believing that the war should not be limited to the Middle
East. At different periods in his struggle, he successfully solicited sanctuary from Iraq, Libya,
and Syria—all of which have practiced pan-Arabist ideologies.
The ANO became one of the most prolific and bloody terrorist organizations in modern history.
It carried out attacks in approximately 20 countries and was responsible for killing or injuring
about 900 people. The ANO’s targets included fellow Arabs, such as the PLO, Arab
governments, and moderate Palestinians. Its non-Arab targets included the interests of France,
the United Kingdom, and the United States. Many of these attacks were spectacular, such as an
attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador to Great Britain in June 1982, simultaneous
attacks on the Vienna and Rome airports in December 1985, the hijacking of a Pan Am airliner
in September 1986, and several assassinations of top PLO officials in several countries. It has
been alleged that Abu Nidal collaborated in the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli athletes by the Black
September group at the Munich Olympics.
Abu Nidal remained a dedicated pan-Arabist revolutionary and never renounced his worldwide
acts of political violence. His group has several hundred members, a militia in Lebanon, and
international resources. The ANO operated under numerous names, including the Al Fatah
Revolutionary Council, Arab Revolutionary Council, Arab Revolutionary Brigades, Black
September, Black June, and Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims. The group
seemingly ended its attacks against Western interests in the late 1980s. The only major attacks
attributed to the ANO in the 1990s were the 1991 assassinations of PLO deputy chief Abu Iyad
and PLO security chief Abu Hul in Tunis, and the 1994 assassination of the senior Jordanian
diplomat Naeb Maaytah in Beirut.
The whereabouts of Abu Nidal were usually speculative, but he relocated to Iraq in December
1998. In August 2002, he was found dead in Iraq of multiple gunshot wounds. The official Iraqi
account of Abu Nidal’s death was that he committed suicide. Other unofficial accounts suggested
that he was shot when Iraqi security agents came to arrest him, dying either of self-inflicted
wounds or during a shootout.
a. Khaled, Leila. My People Shall Live: The Autobiography of a Revolutionary. London: Hodder
& Stoughton, 1973.
Photo 3.4 Palestinian terrorist or freedom fighter? Leila Khaled in a photograph dating from the
MORAL JUSTIFICATIONS FOR POLITICAL VIOLENCE
Although not all extremists become terrorists, some do cross the line to engage in terrorist
violence. For them, terrorism is a calculated strategy. It is a specifically selected method that is
used to further their cause. Significantly, “the terrorist act is different in that the violence
employed is not only in pursuit of some long-range political goal but is designed to have far-
reaching psychological repercussions on a particular target audience.”50
Affecting a target audience is an important reason for political violence. Dissident terrorists—as
compared with state terrorists—are small bands of violent subversives who could never defeat a
professional army or strong government, so they resort to high-profile acts of violence that have
an effect on a large audience. It is instructive to review the basic motives of those who commit
acts of terrorist violence. To facilitate readers’ critical understanding of the motives of terrorists,
the following four motives are reviewed:
• Moral convictions of terrorists
• Simplified definitions of good and evil
• Seeking utopia
• Codes of self-sacrifice
Moral Convictions of Terrorists
Moral conviction refers to terrorists’ unambiguous certainty of the righteousness of their cause;
to them, there are no gray areas. The goals and objectives of their movement are considered to be
principled beyond reproach and their methods absolutely justifiable. This conviction can arise in
several environments, including the following two settings:
In the first, a group of people can conclude that they have been morally wronged and that a
powerful, immoral, and evil enemy is arrayed against them. This enemy is considered to be adept
at betrayal, exploitation, violence, and repression against the championed group. These
conclusions can have some legitimacy, especially when a history of exploitation has been
documented. This historical evidence is identified and interpreted as being the source of the
group’s modern problems. For example, many leftist insurgents in Latin America characterized
the United States as an imperialist enemy because of its long history of military intervention,
economic penetration, and support for repressive regimes in the region.51 In fact, U.S.
intervention in Central America and the Caribbean was unlike European imperialism elsewhere,
[U.S. military] officers shared several convictions about America’s tropical empire. They believed the racist canards of their generation that professed the inferiority of Caribbean peoples, and they acknowledged, though occasionally grudgingly, America’s obligation to police what their countrymen called “turbulent little republics.” Their role was to inculcate respect for rule in what they saw as unruly societies.52
In later generations, native populations who shared this kind of history, and who interpreted it to
be part of an ongoing pattern in contemporary times, developed strong resentment against their
perceived oppressor—in this case, the United States and the governments it supported. To them,
there was no need to question the morality of their cause; it was quite clear.
A second setting in which moral conviction may arise is when a group or a people conclude that
it possesses an inherent moral superiority over its enemy. This can be derived from ideological
convictions, ethnonational values, or religious beliefs. From this perspective, the cause is
virtually holy; in the case of religious beliefs, it is holy. A sense of moral “purity” becomes the
foundation for the simplification of good and evil. In this setting, extremists decide that no
compromise is possible and that terrorism is a legitimate option.
For example, a major crisis began in the Yugoslavian territory of Kosovo in 1998 when heavy
fighting broke out between Serb security forces, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), and the
Serb and Albanian communities. The conflict ended when NATO and Russian troops occupied
Kosovo and the Serb security units were withdrawn. The strong Serb bond with Kosovo
originated in 1389 when the Serb hero Prince Lazar was defeated by the Ottoman Turks in
Kosovo. Kosovo had been the center of the medieval Serb empire, and this defeat ended the Serb
nation. Over the next 500 years, as the Turks ruled the province, Albanian Muslims migrated into
Kosovo and gradually displaced Serb Christians. Nevertheless, Serbs have always had strong
ethnonational ties to Kosovo, considering it to be a kind of spiritual homeland. It is at the center
of their national identity. Thus, despite the fact that 90% of Kosovo’s population was Albanian
in 1998, Serbs considered their claim to the territory to be paramount to anyone else’s claim.
From their perspective, the morality of their position was clear.
The Kosovo case exemplifies how quasi-spiritual bonds to a territory, religion, or history can
create strong moral self-righteousness. When this occurs, extremists often conclude that their
claim or identity is naturally superior to that of opponents and that terrorist violence is perfectly
Delineating Morality: Simplified Definitions of Good and Evil
Revolutionaries universally conclude that their cause is honorable, their methods are justifiable,
and their opponents are representations of implacable evil. They arrive at this conclusion in
innumerable ways, often—as in the case of Marxists—after devoting considerable intellectual
energy to political analysis. Nevertheless, their final analysis is uncomplicated: Our cause is just,
and the enemy’s is unjust. Once this line has been clearly drawn between good and evil, the
methods used in the course of the struggle are justified by the ennobled goals and objectives of
A good example of the application in practice of simplified delineations of good and evil is
found in the influential Mini-Manual of the Urban Guerrilla, written by Brazilian
revolutionary Carlos Marighella.53 In this document, Marighella clearly argues that the use of
terrorism is necessary against a ruthless enemy. The Mini-Manual was read and its strategy
implemented by leftist revolutionaries throughout Latin America and Europe. Marighella
advocated terrorism as a correct response to the oppression of the Brazilian dictatorship:
The accusation of assault or terrorism no longer has the pejorative meaning it used to have. . . . Today to be an assailant or a terrorist is a quality that ennobles any honorable man because it is an act worthy of a revolutionary engaged in armed struggle against the shameful military dictatorship and its monstrosities.54
As articulated by Marighella, terrorism is an “ennobling” option if it is applied by a selfless
revolutionary against a ruthless dictatorship. This concept is at the heart of modern urban
guerrilla warfare, which in practice has involved the application of terrorist violence. From this
perspective, the use of terrorism is perfectly acceptable because of the nature of the enemy.
One fact is clear: There is a moment of decision among those who choose to rise in rebellion
against a perceived oppressor. This moment of decision is a turning point in the lives of
individuals, people, and nations.
Seeking Utopia: Moral Ends Through Violent Means
The book Utopia, written by the English writer Sir Thomas More in the 16th century, was a
fictional work that described an imaginary island with a society having an ideal political and
social system. Countless philosophers, including political and religious writers, have since
created their own visions of the perfect society.55 Terrorists likewise envision some form of
utopia, although for many terrorists, this can simply mean the destruction of the existing order.
For these nihilist dissidents, any system is preferable to the existing one, and its destruction
alone is a justifiable goal.
The question is: What kind of utopia do terrorists seek? This depends on their belief system. For
example, religious terrorists seek to create a God-inspired society on Earth that reflects the
commandments, morality, and values of their religious faith. Political terrorists similarly define
their ideal society according to their ideological perspective. A comparison of left-wing and
right-wing goals on this point is instructive. Radical leftists are future oriented and idealistic,
while reactionary rightists are nostalgic. Radical leftists seek to reform or destroy an existing
system prior to building a new and just society. The existing system is perceived to be unjust,
corrupt, and oppressive toward a championed group. In comparison, reactionaries on the right
seek to return to a time of past glory, which in their belief system has been lost or usurped by an
enemy group or culture. Reactionaries perceive that there is an immediate threat to their value
system and special status; their sense of utopia is to consolidate (or recapture) this status.
Regardless of which belief system is adopted by terrorists, they uniformly accept the proposition
that the promised good (a utopia) outweighs their present actions, no matter how violent those
actions are. The revolution will bring utopia after a period of trial and tribulation, so that the end
justifies the means. This type of reasoning is particularly common among religious,
ethnonational, and ideological terrorists.
Moral Purity: Codes of Self-Sacrifice
Terrorists invariably believe that they are justified in their actions. They have faith in the justness
of their cause and live their lives accordingly. Many terrorists consequently adopt codes of self-
sacrifice that are at the root of their everyday lives. They believe that these codes are superior
codes of living and that those who follow the code are superior to those who do not. The code
accepts a basic truth and applies it to everyday life. This truth usually has a
religious, ethnonational, or ideological foundation. Any actions taken within the accepted
parameters of these codes—even terrorist actions—are justified, because the code “cleanses” the
A good example of ideological codes of self-sacrifice is found on the fringe left among the first
anarchists. Many anarchists did not simply believe in revolution; they lived the revolution. They
crafted a lifestyle that was completely consumed by the cause. Among some anarchists, an
affinity for death became part of the revolutionary lifestyle. The Russian anarchist Sergei
Nechayev wrote in Revolutionary Catechism, “The revolutionary is a man committed. He has
neither personal interests nor sentiments, attachments, property, nor even a name. Everything in
him is subordinated to a single exclusive interest, a single thought, a single passion: the
A review of codes of self-sacrifice is instructive as a reference point for understanding
contemporary terrorism. The following discussion explores examples of 20th-century quasi-
mystical and militaristic codes that exemplify how some modern movements inculcated a sense
of superiority—and a belief in a higher calling—among their members. The examples are the
• Racial Soldiers at War: Germany’s Waffen SS
• The New Samurai: Japan’s Code of Bushido
Racial Soldiers at War: Germany’s Waffen SS
The Waffen SS were the “armed SS” of the German military establishment during World War II.
They are to be distinguished from the original SS, who were organized in 1923 as Adolf Hitler’s
bodyguard unit. The acronym SS is derived from Schutzstaffel, or “protection squad.”
From the late 1920s, membership in the SS was determined by one’s racial “purity.” Members
were to be of “pure” Aryan stock and imbued with unquestioning ideological loyalty to Hitler,
Germany, and the Aryan race. Height, weight, and physical fitness requirements were
established. Their image was eventually honed to symbolize a disciplined, respectable, and
racially pure elite. This was accomplished by conducting racial background checks and purging
certain “morally deviant” individuals from the ranks, such as the unemployed, alcoholics,
criminals, and homosexuals.
The SS eventually grew into a large and multifaceted organization. Different suborganizations
existed within the SS. For example, the Algemeine SS, or “general SS,” was a police-like
organization and also served as a recruiting pool. Recruits from the Algemeine SS eventually
became the first administrators and commanders of SS-run concentration camps. In addition, a
Nazi-led “foreign legion” was recruited from Germany’s conquered territories to fight for
Germany and was placed under Waffen SS command. A surprising number of non-Germans
volunteered to serve in these international SS units: From the west, volunteers included an
estimated 50,000 Dutch, 40,000 Flemings and Walloons (Belgians), 20,000 French, and 12,000
Danes and Norwegians.57 Many western recruits were idealistic anti-Bolshevik fascists who
enlisted to fight against the Soviet Union and the spread of communism.
The German-manned Waffen SS units were a special military organization, formed around
mobile Panzer and Panzergrenadier (armored and armored infantry) units. They were an elite
force, receiving the best equipment, recruits, and training. They were also strictly indoctrinated
Nazis, or ideological soldiers, so that their training “adhered to the very roots of National
Socialist doctrine: the cult of will, the attachment to ‘blood and soil,’ the scorn of so-called
‘inferior’ peoples.”58 Their war (especially in the East) became a racial war, and the war against
the Russians was often characterized as a racial crusade. In essence, “the consequence of their
training was to dehumanize the troops. Ideological indoctrination convinced them that the
Russians and other eastern Europeans were Untermenschen, or subhuman, who had no place in
the National Socialist world.”59
The Waffen SS committed many atrocities during World War II. For example, in the west during
the German invasion of France, an SS unit massacred 100 British soldiers at Paradis-Finistère.
During the Normandy campaign, groups of Canadian and British prisoners of war (POWs) were
shot.60 In December 1944, a Waffen SS unit under the command of Jochen Peiper machine-
gunned 71 American POWs at Malmédy during the Ardennes campaign (the Battle of the
Bulge). On the Eastern Front and in the Balkans, the SS were responsible for killing tens of
thousands of military and civilian victims. Behind the front lines, their reprisals against civilians
for guerrilla attacks by partisans (resistance fighters) were brutal. For example, during the time
of the Normandy invasion in June 1944, Waffen SS troops massacred 642 French civilians at
Oradour-sur-Glane.61 In August 1944, Waffen SS soldiers massacred 560 Italian civilians in the
Tuscan village of Sant’Anna di Stazzena during an antipartisan campaign.62 In both examples,
the villages were destroyed.
Although not all Waffen SS soldiers participated in these atrocities, the organization as a whole
was condemned because of this behavior. At the war crimes trials in Nuremberg after the war,
their unmatched sadism was the main reason why the Nuremberg tribunal condemned the SS in
toto as a criminal organization after the war.63
The New Samurai: Japan’s Code of Bushido
Bushido, or “way of the warrior,” formed the core of Japanese military philosophy from the late
16th century to the collapse of the Japanese Empire in 1945. Modern Bushido hearkened back to
the origins of Japan’s code of the Samurai. Sometime during the eighth century,64 the
breakdown of central authority motivated Japan’s wealthy landowners to establish a feudal
system of service that lasted (in principle, if not in fact) until well into the 19th century. Large
landowners retained the military services of smaller landowners in times of crisis, resulting in an
intricate system of loyalty and service, wherein a master–servant relationship grew, whose bonds
were strong and whose loyalties were local and personal: “When trouble threatened the servant
would follow his master’s lead. . . . Supporters of the powerful landowners called themselves
‘Samurai,’ which is roughly translatable as ‘those who serve.’”65
Photo 3.5 Bushido in practice. Using living Chinese prisoners for bayonet practice, Japanese
soldiers conduct a bayonet drill during the Rape of Nanking in 1937.
The Samurai became a separate martial class, a kind of nobility, who served their masters with
unquestioning devotion. Bushi is literally translated as “warrior,” so a Samurai was a specific
type of bushi. Throughout Japanese history, the Samurai were renowned for their bravery,
obedience, and discipline. For example, Samurai bushi twice repulsed Mongol invasions
prepared by the Great Khan, Kublai Khan, in the 13th century. Legend holds that during the
second invasion, when the Samurai faced likely defeat despite fanatical resistance, they prayed to
the gods for victory. That night, a small cloud appeared, grew in size to become a great storm,
and smashed the Mongol fleet. This storm became known as the Divine Wind, or kamikaze.66
The martial class declined—for many reasons—so that it became almost a social burden by the
17th century. Beginning in that century, a series of philosophers redefined the role of the martial
class and rekindled Bushido. They instilled the class with a sense of duty that went beyond
martial discipline and required that they set high moral and intellectual examples.67 It was at this
time that modern Bushido began to take shape. By the end of this intellectual rebirth, the Way of
the Warrior had become a code of life service. “The main virtues [that Bushido]
emphasized are the Samurai’s bravery, integrity, loyalty, frugality, stoicism and filial
piety.”68 Included in Bushido was a zealous code of honor, wherein self-inflicted death—ideally
by seppuku, an ancient Samurai ritual of self-disembowelment—was preferable to dishonor.
Cowardice was considered to be contemptible. Surrender was unthinkable.
By the 19th century, Bushido was a well-entrenched credo, so much so that during relentless
attempts to modernize Japan, a rebellion occurred in 1877; an army of 15,000 traditionalist
Samurai refused to accept abolishment of the class and restrictions on the wearing of swords.
During World War II, imperial Japanese soldiers were indoctrinated with the martial virtues of
Bushido. In practice, enemy soldiers who surrendered to the Japanese were often dehumanized
and treated harshly. Conquered civilians, particularly in Korea and China, were brutalized. When
faced with defeat, Japanese soldiers would often make suicidal charges into enemy lines rather
than surrender. Suicide was also common among imperial troops. Toward the end of the war,
thousands of Japanese pilots flew planes packed with explosives on missions to crash into
American naval vessels. They were called the kamikaze and were considered—under the code of
Bushido—to be the new Divine Wind.
Understanding Codes of Self-Sacrifice
As demonstrated by the foregoing cases, codes of self-sacrifice are an important explanatory
cause for terrorist behavior. Those who participate in movements and organizations similar to the
Waffen SS and Bushido adopt belief systems that justify their behavior and absolve them of
responsibility for normally unacceptable behavior.
These belief systems “cleanse” participants and offer them a sense of participating in a higher or
This chapter introduced readers to theories about the causes of terrorism and presented examples
that represent some of the models developed by scholars and other researchers. Individual
profiles, group dynamics, political environments, and social processes are at the center of the
puzzle of explaining why people and groups adopt fringe beliefs and engage in terrorist behavior.
Social movements and dramatic (or “traumatic”) events have been identified as two sources of
terrorism, with the caveat that they are generalized explanations.
Not all extremists become terrorists, but certainly all terrorists are motivated by extremist beliefs.
Motives behind terrorist behavior include a range of factors. One is a moral motivation, which is
an unambiguous conviction of the righteousness of one’s cause. Terrorists believe that the
principles of their movement are unquestionably sound. A second motive is the simplification of
notions of good and evil, when terrorists presume that their cause and methods are completely
justifiable because their opponents represent inveterate evil. There are no “gray areas” in their
struggle. A third factor is the adoption of utopian ideals by terrorists, whereby an idealized end
justifies the use of violence. These idealized ends are often very vague concepts, such as Karl
Marx’s dictatorship of the proletariat. The fourth motive is critical to understanding terrorist
behavior: It is the development of codes of self-sacrifice, when an ingrained belief system forms
the basis for a terrorist’s lifestyle and conduct. Collectively, these factors form a useful
theoretical foundation for explaining terrorist motives.
Explanations of terrorism also consist of a range of factors. The theory of acts of political will is
a rational model in which extremists choose to engage in terrorism as an optimal strategy to force
change. Sociological and criminological explanations of terrorism look at intergroup dynamics,
particularly social environments and conflict that result in collective violence.
Perception is an important factor in the decision to engage in collective violence. Psychological
explanations broadly explain individual motivations and group dynamics. Psychological theories
also help to explicate the cohesion of terrorist organizations and why they perpetuate violent
behavior even when victory is logically impossible.
One final point should be considered when evaluating the causes of terrorism: When experts
build models and develop explanatory theories for politically motivated violence, their
conclusions sometimes “reflect the political and social currents of the times in which the scholars
writing the theories live.”69 It is plausible that
to a large degree, the development of theories . . . reflects changing political and intellectual climates. When intellectuals have opposed the collective behavior of their times . . . they have tended to depict the behavior negatively. . . . When scholars have instead supported the collective behavior of their eras . . . they have painted a more positive portrait of both the behavior and the individuals participating in it.70
This is not to say that analysts are not trying to be objective or that they are purposefully
disingenuous in their analyses. But it is only logical to presume that the development of new
explanatory theories will be affected by factors such as new terrorist environments or new
ideologies that encourage political violence. The progression of explanations by the social and
behavioral sciences in the future will naturally reflect the socio-political environments of the
times in which they are developed.
In Part II, readers will examine terrorist environments within the contexts of several terrorist
typologies. In Chapter 4, readers will explore terrorism from above, involving terrorist violence
committed by state governments as a matter of domestic and foreign policy. Readers will be
introduced to the phenomena of state sponsorship of terrorist groups, terrorism as foreign policy,
terrorism as domestic policy, and the difficult process of monitoring state violence.
KEY TERMS AND CONCEPTS
The following topics are discussed in this chapter and can be found in the glossary:
• absolute deprivation 54
• act of political will 49
• Black September 72
• Black Widows 58
• Bloody Sunday 72
• Bushido 69
• codes of self-sacrifice 67
• end justifies the means 67
• intifada 48
• kamikaze 69
• Mini-Manual of the Urban Guerrilla 66
• nihilist dissidents 67
• pan-Arabist 64
• people’s war 50
• relative deprivation theory 54
• Samurai 69
• Stockholm syndrome 62
• structural theory 53
• urban guerrilla warfare 67
• Utopia 67
Prominent Persons and Organizations
The following names and organizations are discussed in this chapter and can be found in
• Abu Nidal 64
• Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) 64
• Al Fatah 64
• Basque Fatherland and Liberty (Euskadi Ta Azkatasuna, or ETA) 55
• Carlos the Jackal 46
• Khaled, Leila 63
• Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) 66
• Marighella, Carlos 67
• mujahideen 52
• Schutzstaffel 68
• Waffen SS 68
Photo 3.6 Debris of aircraft destroyed by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine at
Dawson’s Field in Jordan during Black September, 1970. The hijackings and intense fighting
afterward marked the beginning of a period when international airline hijackings and Palestinian
attacks became common events.
Discussion BoxBloody Sunday and Black September
This chapter’s Discussion Box is intended to stimulate critical debate about seminal incidents in the history of national groups.
In the late 1960s, Irish Catholic activists calling themselves the Northern Ireland Civil Rights
Association attempted to emulate the African American civil rights movement as a strategy to
agitate for equality in Northern Ireland. They thought that the same force of moral conviction
would sway British policy to improve the plight of the Catholics. Their demands were similar to
those of the American civil rights movement: equal opportunity, better employment, access to
housing, and access to education. This ended when mostly peaceful demonstrations gradually
became more violent, leading to rioting in the summer of 1969, an environment of generalized
unrest, and the deployment of British troops. After 1969, the demonstrations continued, but
rioting, fire bombings, and gun battles gradually became a regular feature of strife in Northern
On January 30, 1972 (Bloody Sunday), elite British paratroopers fired on demonstrators in
Londonderry. Thirteen demonstrators were killed. After this incident, many Catholics became
radicalized and actively worked to drive out the British. The Irish Republican Army received
recruits and widespread support from the Catholic community. In July 1972, the Provos launched
a massive bombing spree in central Belfast.
When Leila Khaled and her comrades attempted to hijack five airliners on September 6 and 9,
1970, their plan was to fly all of the planes to an abandoned British Royal Air Force (RAF)
airfield in Jordan, hold hostages, broker the release of Palestinian prisoners, release the hostages,
blow up the planes, and thereby force the world to focus on the plight of the Palestinian people.
On September 12, 255 hostages were released from the three planes that landed at Dawson’s
Field (the RAF base), and 56 were kept to bargain for the release of seven Palestinian prisoners,
including Leila Khaled. The group then blew up the airliners.
Unfortunately for the hijackers, their actions greatly alarmed King Hussein of Jordan. Martial
law was declared on September 16, and the incident led to civil war between Palestinian forces
and the Jordanian army. Although the Jordanians’ operation was precipitated by the destruction
of the airliners on Jordanian soil, tensions had been building between the army and Palestinian
forces for some time. King Hussein and the Jordanian leadership interpreted this operation as
confirmation that radical Palestinian groups had become too powerful and were a threat to
On September 19, Hussein asked for diplomatic intervention from Great Britain and the United
States when a Syrian column entered Jordan in support of the Palestinians. On September 27, a
truce ended the fighting. The outcome of the fighting was a relocation of much of the Palestinian
leadership and fighters to its Lebanese bases. The entire incident became known among
Palestinians as Black September and was not forgotten by radicals in the Palestinian nationalist
movement. One of the most notorious terrorist groups took the name Black September, and the
name was also used by Abu Nidal.
1. What role do you think these incidents had in precipitating the IRA’s and PLO’s cycles of violence?
2. Were the IRA’s and PLO’s tactics and targets justifiable responses to these incidents? 3. What, in your opinion, would have been the outcome in Northern Ireland if the British
government had responded peacefully to the Irish Catholics’ emulation of the American
civil rights movement?
4. What, in your opinion, would have been the outcome if the Jordanian government had not responded militarily to the Palestinian presence in Jordan?
5. How should the world community have responded to Bloody Sunday and Black September?
6. Afghanistan. After the invasion of the country by the Soviet Union, a jihad was waged to drive out the Soviet army. Muslims from throughout the world joined the fight, forming
prototypical revolutionary movements that culminated in the creation of organizations
such as Al-Qa’ida. Following the war against the Soviets, the Taliban seized control in
most of the country. Intervention by the United States and NATO began a new phase in
which the coalition and new Afghan government vied with the Taliban for control of the
country. Al-Qa’ida remained active in the region bordered by Pakistan’s Northwest
Frontier province and along the border in Afghanistan’s Paktia region.
CHAPTER FOUR TERROR FROM ABOVE TERRORISM BY THE STATE
CHAPTER LEARNING OBJECTIVES
This chapter will enable readers to do the following:
1. Understand and explain the state terrorism paradigm. 2. Interpret some incidents of state-initiated international violence as state terrorism. 3. Interpret some incidents of state-initiated domestic violence as state terrorism. 4. Discuss scales of violence perpetrated by states.
Opening Viewpoint: State Terrorism as Domestic and Foreign Policy
State Terrorism as Domestic Policy in Central America
Honduras during the early 1980s was a staging area for American-supported Nicaraguan
counterrevolutionary guerrillas known as the Contras. During this period, the Honduran
government vigorously suppressed domestic dissent. The military established torture centers and
created a clandestine death squad called Battalion 3-16. Battalion 3-16 was allegedly
responsible for the disappearances of hundreds of students, unionists, and politicians.
In El Salvador during the 1980s, a Marxist revolutionary movement fought to overthrow the
U.S.-backed government. To counter this threat, right-wing death squads worked in conjunction
with Salvadoran security services to eliminate government opponents, leftist rebels, and their
supporters. ORDEN was a paramilitary and intelligence service that used terror against rural
civilians. Another death squad, the White Hand, committed numerous atrocities against civilians.
In Guatemala, a brutal civil war and related political violence cost about 200,000 lives, including
tens of thousands of “disappeared” people. It was, in part, a racial war waged against
Guatemala’s Indians, descendants of the ancient Mayas, who made up half the population. The
government responded to an insurgency in the Indian-populated countryside with widespread
torture, killings, and massacres against Indian villagers. Death squad activity was also
widespread. One government campaign, called Plan Victoria 82, massacred civilians, destroyed
villages, and resettled survivors in zones called “strategic hamlets.” Plan Victoria 82 was
responsible for thousands of deaths by mid-1982.
State Terrorism as Foreign Policy in North Africa and the Middle East
Libya was implicated in a number of terrorist incidents during the 1980s, including attacks at the
Rome and Vienna airports in 1985, the bombing of the La Belle Discotheque in Berlin in 1986,
and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. Libya was also implicated in providing support
for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command and the Abu Nidal
Organization. During this period, Libya sponsored training camps for many terrorist
organizations such as Germany’s Red Army Faction and the Provisional Irish Republican Army.
Sudan supported regional terrorist groups, rebel organizations, and dissident movements
throughout North Africa and the Middle East. It provided safe haven for Osama bin Laden’s Al-
Qa’ida network, the Abu Nidal Organization, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Hezbollah. It
also provided support for rebels and opposition groups in Tunisia, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Eritrea.
Syria provided safe haven and support for Hezbollah, Palestine Islamic Jihad, Hamas, the
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command, and the Abu Nidal
Organization. Its decades-long occupation of the Beka’a Valley, which ended in 2005, provided
open safe haven for many extremist groups, including Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
This chapter explores the characteristics of terrorism from above—state terrorism— committed by governments and quasi-governmental agencies and personnel against perceived enemies. State terrorism can be directed externally against adversaries in the international domain or internally against domestic enemies. Readers will explore the various types of state terrorism and will acquire an appreciation for the qualities that characterize each state terrorist environment. A state terrorist paradigm will be discussed, and interesting cases will be examined to understand what is meant by terrorism as foreign policy and terrorism as domestic policy.
Political violence by the state is the most organized and potentially the most far-reaching application of terrorist violence. Because of the many resources available to the state, its ability to commit acts of violence far exceeds in scale the kind of violence perpetrated by antistate dissident terrorists. Only communal dissident terrorism (group-against-group violence) potentially approximates the scale of state-sponsored terror.1
Why do governments use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy? What is the benefit of applying terrorism domestically? How do states justify their involvement in either international or domestic terrorism? The answers to these questions incorporate the following considerations:
• Internationally, the state defines its interests in a number of ways, usually within the context of political, economic, or ideological considerations. When promoting or defending these interests, governments can choose to behave unilaterally or cooperatively, and cautiously or aggressively.
• Domestically, the state’s interests involve the need to maintain internal security and order. When threatened domestically, some regimes react with great vigor and violence.
In both the international and domestic domains, states will choose from a range of overt and covert options.
Terrorism by states is characterized by official government support for policies of violence, repression, and intimidation. This violence and coercion is directed against perceived enemies that the state has determined threaten its interests or security.
Although the perpetrators of state terrorist campaigns are frequently government personnel acting in obedience to directives originating from government officials, those who carry out the violence are also quite often unofficial agents who are used and encouraged by the government.
An example illustrating this concept is the violent suppression campaign against the pro- independence movement in the former Indonesian province of East Timor. East Timor comprises the eastern half of the island of Timor, which is located at the southeastern corner of the Indonesian archipelago northwest of Australia. East Timor is unique in the region because it was ruled for centuries as a Portuguese colony and its population is predominantly Roman Catholic. Portugal announced in 1975 that it would withdraw in 1978 after occupying the territory for more than 450 years. The Indonesian army invaded East Timor in December 1975 and annexed the territory in 1976. During the turmoil that followed, more than 200,000 Timorese were killed in the fighting or were starved during a famine. At the same time that the Indonesian army committed numerous atrocities—including killing scores of protesters by firing on a pro-democracy protest in November 1991—the government encouraged the operations of pro-Indonesian paramilitaries. The paramilitaries were armed by the government and permitted to wage an extended campaign of terror for nearly two decades against East Timor’s pro-independence movement. This violence became particularly brutal in 1999 as the territory moved toward a vote for independence. For example, in April 1999, a paramilitary group murdered about 25 people in a churchyard. The long period of violence ended in September 1999, when Indonesia gave control of East Timor to United Nations (UN) peacekeepers. Under UN supervision, East Timor’s first presidential elections were held in April 2002, and former resistance leader Xanana Gusmao won in a landslide victory.
Photo 4.1 Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi. El-Qaddafi’s regime provided assistance and safe haven to a number of terrorist groups for two decades before renouncing such support in the early 2000s. He later ordered Libyan security forces and mercenaries to crush opposition during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising in Libya and was himself killed during the unrest.
Alain Denize/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
The East Timor case illustrates the common strategy of using violent state-sponsored proxies (paramilitaries in this example) as an instrument of official state repression. The rationale behind supporting these paramilitaries is that they can be deployed to violently enforce state authority, while at the same time permitting the state to deny responsibility for their behavior. Such deniability can be useful for propaganda purposes because the government can officially argue that its paramilitaries represent a spontaneous grassroots reaction against their opponents.
The discussion in this chapter will review the following:
• The State as Terrorist: A State Terrorism Paradigm • Violence Abroad: Terrorism as Foreign Policy • Violence at Home: Terrorism as Domestic Policy • The Problem of Accountability: Monitoring State Terrorism
THE STATE AS TERRORIST: A STATE TERRORISM PARADIGM
A paradigm is “a pattern, example, or model”2 that is logically developed to represent a concept.
Paradigms represent theoretical concepts that are accepted among experts, and they can be useful
for practitioners to design policy agendas. When paradigms change—commonly called
a paradigm shift—it is often because new environmental factors persuade experts to thoroughly
reassess existing theories and assumptions. A dissident terrorism paradigm will be presented
in Chapter 5.
Experts and scholars have designed a number of models to describe state terrorism. These
constructs have been developed to identify distinctive patterns of state-sponsored terrorist
behavior. Experts agree that several models of state involvement in terrorism can be
differentiated. For example, one model3 describes state-level participants in a security
environment as including the following:
• Sponsors of terrorism, meaning those states that actively promote terrorism and that have
been formally designated as “rogue states,” or state sponsors, under U.S. law.4
• Enablers of terrorism, or those states that operate in an environment wherein “being part
of the problem means not just failing to cooperate fully in countering terrorism but also
doing some things that help enable it to occur.”5
• Cooperators in counterterrorism efforts, including unique security environments wherein
“cooperation on counterterrorism is often feasible despite significant disagreements on
State terrorism incorporates many types and degrees of violence. The intensity of this violence
may range in scale from single acts of coercion to extended campaigns of terrorist violence.
Another model describes the scale of violence as including the following:
• In warfare, the conventional military forces of a state are marshalled against an enemy.
The enemy is either a conventional or guerrilla combatant and may be an internal or
external adversary. This is a highly organized and complicated application of state
• In genocide, the state applies its resources toward the elimination of a scapegoat group.
The basic characteristic of state-sponsored genocidal violence is that it does not
differentiate between enemy combatants and enemy civilians; all members of the
scapegoat group are considered to be enemies. Like warfare, this is often a highly
organized and complicated application of state violence.
• Assassinations are selective applications of homicidal state violence, whereby a single
person or a specified group of people is designated for elimination. This is a lower-scale
application of state violence.
• Torture is used by some states as an instrument of intimidation, interrogation, and
humiliation. Like assassinations, it is a selective application of state violence directed
against a single person or a specified group of people. Although it is often a lower-scale
application of state violence, many regimes make widespread use of torture during states
A number of experts consider the quality of violence to be central to the analysis of state
terrorism and have drawn distinctions between different types of state coercion. Thus, “some
analysts distinguish between oppression and repression. Oppression is essentially a condition of
exploitation and deprivation . . . , and repression is action against those who are seen to be threats
to the established order.”8
Understanding State-Sponsored Terrorism: State Patronage and Assistance
Linkages between regimes and terrorism can range from very clear lines of sponsorship to very
murky and indefinable associations. States that are inclined to use terrorism as an instrument of
statecraft are often able to control the parameters for their involvement so that governments can
sometimes manage how precisely a movement or an incident can be traced back to its personnel.
For example, the Soviet Union established the Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship
University in Moscow. Named for the martyred Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba,
the university recruited students from throughout the developing world. Much of its curriculum
was composed of standard higher education courses. However, students also received instruction
in Marxist theory, observed firearms demonstrations, and were networked with pro-Soviet
“liberation” movements. Patrice Lumumba University was also used by the KGB, the Soviet
intelligence service, to recruit students for more intensive training in the intricacies of national
liberation and revolution. Many graduates went on to become leaders in a number of extremist
movements. Many Palestinian nationalists attended the university, as did the Venezuelan terrorist
Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, known as Carlos the Jackal.
Thus, state sponsorship of terrorism is not always a straightforward process. In fact, it is usually
a covert, secret policy that allows states to claim deniability when accused of sponsoring
terrorism. Because of these veiled parameters, a distinction must be made between state
patronage of terrorism and state assistance for terrorism.
As discussed in the next section, the basic characteristic of state patronage is that the state is
overtly and directly linked to terrorist behavior. The basic characteristic of state assistance is that
the state is tacitly and indirectly linked to terrorist behavior. These are two subtly distinct
concepts that are summarized in Table 4.1.
Table 4.1 State Sponsorship of Terrorism
Type of Sponsorship
Domain Patronage Assistance
International International violence conducted on
International violence with
government encouragement and
Case: 2008 assassination of Hezbollah
commander Imad Mughniyeh by car
bomb in Damascus, Syria, neither
confirmed nor denied by Israel
Case: Covert Pakistani assistance for
Afghan Taliban through its
Interservices Intelligence agency (ISI)
Domestic Domestic repression by government
Domestic repression by
Case: Syrian government’s violent
suppression campaign against the 2011
Arab Spring movement
Case: Violence by state-supported
progovernment proxy gangs in Iran
during the 2011–2012 Green
State participation in terrorist and extremist behavior can involve either direct or indirect
sponsorship and can be conducted in the international or domestic policy domains.
State patronage refers to relatively direct linkages between a regime and political violence.
State assistance refers to relatively indirect linkages.
State Sponsorship: The Patronage Model
State patronage of terrorism refers to active participation in, and encouragement of, terrorist
behavior. Its basic characteristic is that the state, through its agencies and personnel,
actively takes part in repression, violence, and terrorism. Thus, state patrons adopt policies
that initiate terrorism and other subversive activities, including directly arming, training, and
providing sanctuary for terrorists.
State Patronage in Foreign Policy
In the foreign policy domain, state patronage of terrorism occurs when a government champions
a politically violent movement or group—a proxy—that is operating beyond its borders. Under
this model, the state patron directly assists the proxy in its cause and continues its support even
when the movement or group has become known to commit acts of terrorism or other atrocities.
When these revelations occur, patrons typically reply to this information with rationalizations.
• accepts the terrorism as a necessary tactic,
• denies that what occurred should be labeled as terrorism,
• denies that an incident occurred in the first place, or
• issues a blanket and moralistic condemnation of all such violence as unfortunate.
The 1981–1988 U.S.-directed guerrilla war against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua
incorporated elements of the state patronage model.9 Although it was not a terrorist war per se,
the United States’ proxy did commit human rights violations. It is, therefore, a good case study
of state patronage for a proxy that was quite capable of engaging in terrorist behavior.
In 1979, the U.S.-supported regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle was overthrown after a
revolution led by the Sandinistas, a Marxist insurgent group. Beginning in 1981, the Reagan
administration began a campaign of destabilization against the Sandinista regime. The most
important component of this campaign was U.S. support for anti-Sandinista Nicaraguan
counterrevolutionaries, known as the Contras. During this time,
the centerpiece of the Reagan administration’s low-intensity-warfare strategy was a program of direct paramilitary attacks. Conducted by a proxy force of exiles supplemented by specially trained U.S. operatives, these operations were, ironically, meant to be the covert side of Reagan’s policy. Instead, the so-called contra war became the most notorious symbol of U.S. intervention in Nicaragua.10
From December 1981 until July 1983, funding and equipment were secretly funneled by the
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to build training facilities, sanctuaries, and supply bases for
the Contras along the Nicaraguan–Honduran border. Allied personnel from Honduras and
Argentina assisted in the effort. From this base camp region, the Contras were able to be trained,
supplied, and sent into Nicaragua to conduct guerrilla missions against the Sandinistas. The
Contras were sustained by U.S. arms and funding—without this patronage, they would not have
been able to operate against the Sandinistas. Unfortunately for the United States, evidence
surfaced that implicated the Contras in numerous human rights violations. These allegations
were officially dismissed or explained away by the Reagan administration.
State Patronage in Domestic Policy
In the domestic policy domain, state patronage of terrorism occurs when a regime engages in
direct, violent repression against a domestic enemy. Under this model, state patronage is
characterized by the use of state security personnel in an overt policy of state-sponsored political
violence. State patrons typically rationalize policies of repression by arguing that they are
• suppress a clear and present domestic threat to national security,
• maintain law and order during times of national crisis,
• protect fundamental cultural values that are threatened by subversives, or
• restore stability to governmental institutions that have been shaken, usurped, or damaged
by a domestic enemy.
The Syrian government’s 1982 suppression of a rebellion by the Muslim Brotherhood is a case
study of the state patronage model as domestic policy. The Muslim Brotherhood is a
transnational Sunni Islamic fundamentalist movement that is very active in several North African
and Middle Eastern countries. Beginning in the early 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood initiated a
widespread terrorist campaign against the Syrian government. During its campaign, the
movement assassinated hundreds of government personnel, including civilian and security
officials. It also assassinated Soviet personnel who were based in Syria as advisers. This phase in
the Muslim Brotherhood’s history posed significant dissident defiance to secular governments in
Syria, Egypt, and elsewhere.
In 1980, a rebellion was launched (and suppressed) in the city of Aleppo. In 1981, the Syrian
army and other security units moved in to crush the Muslim Brotherhood in Aleppo and the city
of Hama, killing at least 200 people. Syrian president Hafez el-Assad increased security
restrictions and made membership in the organization a capital offense. In 1982, another Muslim
Brotherhood revolt broke out in Hama. The Syrian regime sent in troops and tanks, backed by
artillery, to put down the revolt; they killed approximately 25,000 civilians and destroyed large
sections of Hama. Since the suppression of the Hama revolt, the Muslim Brotherhood and other
religious fundamentalist groups posed little threat to the Syrian regime, which is a secular
government dominated by a faction of the nationalistic Ba’ath Party. Nevertheless, when the
Ba’athist regime was again challenged by mass protests during the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings,
it again deployed the army and other security forces to violently attack centers of protest
nationwide and again assaulted Hama.11 A civil war ensued, with antigovernment forces initially
consisting of a loose coalition of disparate militias, collectively known as the Free Syrian Army.
A potent, well-armed Islamist movement eventually rose to challenge both the Free Syrian Army
and the Ba’athist government.
State Sponsorship: The Assistance Model
State assistance for terrorism refers to tacit participation in, and encouragement of, terrorist
behavior. Its basic characteristic is that the state, through sympathetic proxies and agents,
implicitly takes part in repression, violence, and terrorism. In contrast to state patronage of
terrorism, state assisters are less explicit in their sponsorship, and linkages to state policies and
personnel are more ambiguous. State assistance includes policies that help sympathetic extremist
proxies engage in terrorist violence, whereby the state indirectly arms, trains, and provides
sanctuary for terrorists.
State Assistance in Foreign Policy
In the foreign policy domain, state assistance for terrorism occurs when a government champions
a politically violent proxy that is operating beyond its borders. Under this model, state assistance
indirectly helps the proxy in its cause, and the state may or may not continue its support if the
movement or group becomes known to commit acts of terrorism or other atrocities. When the
proxy’s terrorism becomes known, state assisters typically weigh political
costs and benefits when crafting a reply to these allegations. The ambiguity that the assister has
built into its linkages with the proxy is intended to provide it with the option to claim deniability
when accused of complicity. The assister can
• deny that a linkage exists between the state and the politically violent movement,
• admit that some support or linkage exists but argue that the incident was a “rogue”
operation that was outside the parameters of the relationship,
• admit or deny a linkage but label the alleged perpetrators as “freedom fighters” and assert
that their cause is a just one despite unfortunate incidents, or
• blame the movement’s adversary for creating an environment that is conducive to, and is
the source of, all of the political violence.
The Contra insurgency against the Sandinistas was discussed previously as a case study of the
state patronage model—with the caveat that it was not, per se, a terrorist war. The later phases of
the war are also good examples of the state assistance model.
Several incidents undermined the U.S. Congress’s support for the Reagan administration’s policy
in Nicaragua. First, “assassination of civilians and wanton acts of terrorism against nonmilitary
targets . . . were . . . well recognized within U.S. national security agencies.”12 Second, an
alleged CIA “assassination manual” was discovered and made public. Third, the CIA was
implicated in the mining of the harbor in the capital city of Managua. In December 1982,
Congress passed the Boland Amendment, which forbade the expenditure of U.S. funds to
overthrow the Sandinista government. In mid-1983, Congress appropriated $24 million as the
“final” expenditure to support the Contras—after it was spent, the CIA was required to end
support for the Contras. In late 1984, a second Boland Amendment forbade all U.S. assistance to
These legislative measures were the catalyst for a highly covert effort to continue supplying the
Contras. Sources of supply had always included an element of covert transfer of arms for the
Contras. For example, Operation Tipped Kettle sought to funnel arms to the Contras that were
captured from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) by Israel during Israel’s 1982
invasion of Lebanon. Another example was Operation Elephant Herd, which sought to transfer
surplus U.S. military equipment to the CIA free of charge, to be distributed to the Contras.13
The most effective effort to circumvent the congressional ban was the resupply network set up
by Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, an official of the National Security Council. While
the CIA explored obtaining support for the Contras from international sources (primarily allied
countries), North and others successfully set up a resupply program that shipped large amounts
of arms to the Contras—both in their Honduran base camps and inside Nicaragua itself. This
program was intended to wait out congressional opposition to arming the Contras and was
successful, because in June 1986, Congress approved $100 million in aid for the Contras.
Congressional support for this disbursement was severely shaken when a covert American cargo
plane was shot down inside Nicaragua, an American mercenary was captured, and the press
published reports about North’s operations. The United States was embarrassed in November
1986 when a Lebanese magazine revealed that high-ranking officials in the Reagan
administration had secretly agreed to sell arms to Iran. The operation, which was under way in
August 1985, involved the sale of arms to Iran in exchange for help from the Iranian government
to secure the release of American hostages held by Shi’a terrorists in Lebanon. Profits from the
sales (reportedly $30 million) were used to support Nicaraguan Contras in their war against the
Sandinista government. This support was managed by National Security Adviser John
Poindexter and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North. This combination of factors—known as
the Iran-Contra scandal—ended congressional support for the Contra program.
The administration’s embarrassment was aggravated by the fact that the United States had
previously adopted a get-tough policy against what it deemed to be terrorist states, and Iran
had been included in that category. Soon after the American captives were released (apparently
as a result of the weapons deal), Lebanese terrorists seized more hostages.
As a postscript to the Contra insurgency, it is instructive to report the economic and human costs
of the war:
Between 1980 and 1989, the total death toll—Nicaraguan military, contra, and civilian—was officially put at 30,865. Tens of thousands more were wounded, orphaned, or left homeless. As of 1987, property destruction from CIA/contra attacks totaled $221.6 million; production losses, $984.5 million. Nicaraguan economists estimated monetary losses due to the trade embargo at $254 million and the loss of development potential from the war at $2.5 billion.14
State Assistance in Domestic Policy
In the domestic policy domain, state assistance for terrorism occurs when a regime engages in
indirect violent repression against an enemy. Under this model, state assistance is characterized
by the use of sympathetic proxies in a policy of state-assisted political violence. The use of
proxies can occur in an environment in which the proxy violence coincides with violence by
state security personnel. Thus, the overall terrorist environment may include both state patronage
(direct repression) and state assistance (indirect repression). The East Timor case discussed at the
beginning of this chapter is an example of a repressive environment characterized by both
patronage and assistance. State assisters typically rationalize policies of indirect repression by
adopting official positions that
• blame an adversary group for the breakdown of order and call on “the people” to assist
the government in restoring order,
• argue that the proxy violence is evidence of popular patriotic sentiment to suppress a
threat to national security,
• call on all parties to cease hostilities but focus blame for the violence on an adversary
• assure everyone that the government is doing everything in its power to restore law and
order but that the regime is unable to immediately end the violence.
The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China lasted for 3.5 years, from 1965 to
1969.15 It is a good example of state assistance for an ideologically extremist movement.
Launched by national leader Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee,
the Cultural Revolution was a mass movement that mobilized the young, postrevolution
generation. Its purpose was to eliminate so-called revisionist tendencies in society and create a
newly indoctrinated revolutionary generation. The period was marked by widespread upheaval
In late 1965 through the summer of 1966, factional rivalries within the leadership of China led to
a split between Mao’s faction and the “old guard” establishment of the Chinese Communist
Party. Members of the establishment were labeled revisionists by the Maoist faction. Mao
successfully purged these rivals from the Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army, and
the government bureaucracy. When this occurred, the pro-Mao Central Committee of the
Communist Party launched a full-scale nationwide campaign against revisionism. The Great
Proletarian Cultural Revolution had begun.
Maoists mobilized millions of young supporters in the Red Guards, who waged an ideological
struggle to eliminate the Four Olds: old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits.16 The
Red Guards were the principal purveyors of the Cultural Revolution and were strongly
encouraged to attack the Four Olds publicly and with great vigor. This led to widespread turmoil.
For example, the Red Guards were deeply anti-intellectual and suppressed “revisionist” ideas.
They did so by denouncing teachers and professors, destroying books, banning certain music,
and forbidding other “incorrect” cultural influences, so the Chinese education system collapsed.
Also, establishment Communist Party leaders were denounced and purged by the Red Guards in
public trials (essentially, public show trials), which led to massive disruption within the ranks of
the party. For approximately 18 months, beginning in early 1967, the Red Guards seized control
of key government bureaucracies. Because they were completely inexperienced in government
operations, the government ceased to operate effectively.
During this period, the Maoists kept the People’s Liberation Army in check, allowing the Red
Guards to wage the ideological war against the Four Olds. It was not until violent infighting
began between factions within the Red Guards that Mao ordered an end to the Cultural
Revolution and deployed the People’s Liberation Army to restore order. The chaos of the
Cultural Revolution was officially interpreted by the Maoists as promoting revolutionary
liberation for a new generation.
Case in Point: Failed States
The discussion on the state terrorism paradigm must include consideration of environments in
which countries become involuntary hosts of terrorist organizations and networks. Fragile and
failed states—when governments hold tenuous authority—can become operational milieus for
terrorists without complicity by the state. In these environments, territory technically governed
by the state actually provides de facto sanctuary for extremist groups, albeit absent state
cooperation. The concept of a failed state usually involves circumstances whereby central
governmental authority is challenged by feuding factions. This frequently occurs during civil
wars and revolutionary uprisings. Examples of failed states in the modern era include the
• Libya after the collapse of the regime of Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011
• Syria during its civil war following the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings
• Somalia’s long-standing armed, clan-centered society
• Yemen after the Iran-backed 2014–2015 Houthi uprising
• Iraq during the insurgency of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)
Such environments provide sanctuary for terrorist networks, which are able to undermine central
authority and strike targets outside of their host territory.
VIOLENCE ABROAD: TERRORISM AS FOREIGN POLICY
During the 20th century, military forces were used by states to pursue policies of aggression,
conquest, and cultural or ethnic extermination. The military forces have been used repeatedly as
“agents of state violence in the process of invading a foreign country and engaging in killing the
enemy. The major wars of the twentieth century are examples of the tremendous levels of
violence inflicted by standing armies.”17
In the latter half of the 20th century—and especially in the latter quarter of the century—many
governments used terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy. As a policy option, state-
sponsored terrorism is a logical option because states cannot always deploy conventional armed
forces to achieve strategic objectives. As a practical matter for many governments, it is often
logistically, politically, or militarily infeasible to directly confront an adversary. For example,
few states can hope to be victorious in a conventional military confrontation with the United
States—as was learned by Saddam Hussein’s well-entrenched Iraqi army in Kuwait during the Gulf War of 1990–1991 and U.S.-led invasion in March to April 2003. Terrorism thus becomes a relatively acceptable alternative for states pursuing an aggressive foreign policy. A report from Israel’s International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism noted that
state-sponsored terrorism can achieve strategic ends where the use of conventional armed forces is not practical or effective. The high costs of modern warfare, and concern about nonconventional escalation, as well as the danger of defeat and the unwillingness to appear as the aggressor, have turned terrorism into an efficient, convenient, and generally discrete weapon for attaining state interests in the international realm.18
Most state sponsors of terrorism attempt to conceal their involvement. This is a practical policy decision because
if the sponsorship can be hidden, the violence against one’s enemy can be safe and unaccountable. The nation that is the target of the terrorism cannot respond, as it might to a direct attack, unless and until it can develop evidence of its enemy’s responsibility. Nor can the domestic opposition object to violent adventures for which its government disclaims responsibility.19
Therefore, governments use terrorism and other means of confrontational propaganda because, from their point of view, it is an efficacious method to achieve their strategic objectives. As a practical matter for aggressive regimes, state terrorism in the international domain is advantageous in several respects:
• State terrorism is inexpensive. The costs of patronage and assistance for terrorist movements are relatively low. Even poor nations can strike at and injure a prosperous adversary through a single spectacular incident.
• State terrorism has limited consequences. State assisters who are clever can distance themselves from culpability for a terrorist incident. They can cover their involvement, disclaim responsibility, and thereby escape possible reprisals or other penalties.
• State terrorism can be successful. Weaker states can raise the stakes beyond what a stronger adversary is willing to bear. Aggressor states that wish to remain anonymous can likewise successfully destabilize an adversary through the use of a proxy movement. They can do this through one or more spectacular incidents or by assisting in a campaign of terror.
State patrons and assisters overtly and covertly sponsor many subversive causes. These patrons and assisters have available to them a range of policy options that represent different degrees of state backing. For example, Pakistan and India—both nuclear powers— have been engaged in recurrent confrontation in Kashmir, a large mountainous region on the northern border of India and northeast of Pakistan. Conditions are extremely difficult for the combatants, with much of the fighting conducted at very high altitudes in a harsh climate. Nevertheless, Pakistan has used proxies to combat Indian forces in Kashmir. Pakistan has also deployed Pakistani veterans from Afghanistan to the front lines. Although the fighting in Kashmir has sometimes been conventional in nature, some Pakistani- supported groups have engaged in terrorist attacks against the Indians.20
One study listed the following categories of support as comprising the range of policy options available to states:
• Ideological Support. The terrorist organization is provided with political, ideological, or religious indoctrination via agents of the supporting state or is trained by institutions of the sponsoring state.
• Financial Support. A terrorist organization requires large sums of money, which are sometimes unavailable through its own independent resources.
• Military Support. The state supplies the terrorist organization with a broad range of weapons, provides military training, organizes courses for activists, and so on.
• Operational Support. The direct provision of . . . false documents, special weapons, safe havens, etc.
• Initiating Terrorist Attacks. The state . . . gives specific instructions concerning attacks, it initiates terrorist activities, and it sets their aims.
• Direct Involvement in Terrorist Attacks. The state carries out terrorist attacks . . . using agencies from its own intelligence services and security forces, or through people directly responsible to them.21
To simplify matters for the purposes of our discussion, we will discuss the following four policy frameworks. They signify the varied qualities of state-sponsored terrorism in the international domain:
• Moral Support: politically sympathetic sponsorship • Technical Support: logistically supportive sponsorship • Selective Participation: episode-specific sponsorship • Active Participation: joint operations
Table 4.2 summarizes each of these policy frameworks by placing them within the context of state patronage and state assistance for terrorism. State participation in terrorism in the international domain can involve several types of backing for championed causes and groups. This backing can range in quality from relatively passive political sympathy to aggressive joint operations. The table distinguishes state patronage and assistance within four policy frameworks. Each policy framework—a type of state backing—is summarized within the state sponsorship model that distinguishes between patronage and assistance.
Table 4.2 State-Sponsored Terrorism: The Foreign Policy Domain
(Type of State
Type of Sponsorship
Overt political support and
encouragement for a championed
group’s motives or tactics
Implicit political support and
encouragement for a championed group’s
motives or tactics
Case: Official Arab governments’
political support for the objectives
of the PLO and Hamas
Case: Iran’s ideological connection with
Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other armed
Direct state support, such as
sanctuary, for a championed cause
to the group
Provision of state assistance to a group,
such as providing matériel (military
Case: Jordanian facilitation of
PLO fedayeen bases inside Jordan
for raids on Israel prior to the
Black September incidents in 1970
Case: Syria’s provision of sanctuary,
resupply, and other facilities for extremist
movements prior to the 2011 Arab Spring
Direct involvement by government
personnel for a specific incident or
Provision of state assistance to a group or
movement for a specific goal
Case: Yugoslavia’s and Serbia’s
deployment of army units to
Bosnia and Kosovo during the
1991–2001 Yugoslav civil war
Case: Iran’s attempted delivery of 50 tons
of munitions to the PLO in January 2002
Operations carried out by
government personnel jointly with
Indirect state support for a proxy using
Case: The U.S.–South Vietnamese
“Phoenix Program” during the U.S.
war in Vietnam
Case: Soviet deployment of Cuban troops
to Ethiopia and Angola during the 1970s
As the discussion proceeds through the four policy frameworks, it is important to remember that international state terrorism is not limited to “rogue” states. It has also been used as a covert alternative by democracies. For example, “during the 1960s the French Intelligence Agency hired an international mercenary to assassinate the Moroccan leader Ben Barka.
The French Intelligence Agency in 1985 [also] bombed Greenpeace’s flag ship in New Zealand, killing one member of its crew.”22
Moral Support: Politically Sympathetic Sponsorship
Politically sympathetic sponsorship occurs when a government openly embraces the main
beliefs and principles of a cause. This embrace can range in scope from political agreement with
a movement’s motives (but not its tactics) to complete support for both motives and tactics. Such
support may be delivered either overtly or covertly. Although politically sympathetic
governments act as ideological role models for their championed group, such support is often a
means for the state to pursue its own national agenda.
Iran’s support for several violent movements in the Middle East represents an unambiguous
policy of mentorship for groups that are known to have engaged in acts of terrorism. Iran
consistently provided politically sympathetic (as well as logistically supportive) sponsorship for
several movements, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Palestine Islamic Jihad, and Hamas.23 All of
these organizations adopted religious revolutionary ideologies—including strong anti-Israel
goals—which created a sense of revolutionary common cause among religious hardliners in Iran.
Technical Support: Logistically Supportive Sponsorship
Logistically supportive sponsorship occurs when a government provides aid and comfort to a
championed cause. This can include directly or indirectly facilitating training, arms resupply,
safe houses, or other sanctuary for the movement. These options are relatively passive types of
support that allow state sponsors of terrorism to promote an aggressive foreign policy agenda but
at the same time deny their involvement in terrorist incidents.
An excellent case study of logistically supportive sponsorship is the foreign policy adopted by
Syria during the regime of Hafez el-Assad. During his rule (February 1971 to June 2000), Syria
fought two wars against Israel, strongly backed the Palestinian cause, occupied the Beka’a
Valley in Lebanon, and supported the Lebanese militias Amal and Hezbollah. Assad’s
regime could certainly be aggressive in the international domain, but despite this activism, Syria
was rarely linked directly to terrorist incidents. In fact, “there is no evidence that either Syria or
Syrian government officials have been directly involved in the planning or execution of
international terrorist attacks since 1986.”24
Assad was very skillful in creating a covert support network for sympathetic terrorist movements
in the region. This policy was strictly one of pragmatism. His regime provided safe haven and
extensive logistical support for these movements but cleverly maintained official deniability
when an incident occurred. This skillful policy was continued by his son, Bashar el-Assad, after
Hafez el-Assad’s death.
Syria consistently permitted the presence on its soil of several terrorist organizations, such as
Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command.
It also facilitated the presence of the Japanese Red Army, the Abu Nidal Organization, Hamas,
and others in the Beka’a Valley and Syria proper. Significantly, both Assad regimes permitted
the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps presence in the Beka’a Valley and established strong
links with Lebanon’s Hezbollah.25 All of these groups were very active in targeting Israeli and
Western interests in the Middle East and Europe. Despite this support, the Assad regimes were
rarely called to account for their activities.
However, Syria’s success as a hidden sponsor was severely shaken in late 2004 and 2005.
In September 2004, Israel demonstrated its intolerance for Syria’s policy when the Israelis
admitted that their agents were responsible for the assassination of a Hamas military operative,
Izz el-Deen al-Sheikh Khalil, in a car bomb attack in the Syrian capital of Damascus.26 In
February 2005, the Syrians were implicated in the assassination of Lebanese billionaire and
former prime minister Rafik Hariri when he was killed by a massive bomb in downtown Beirut.
Hariri had supported Lebanese opposition to the decades-long presence of Syrian troops in
Lebanon and its occupation of the Beka’a Valley. Blame for his assassination was immediately
attributed to Syrian agents, even though Syrian president Bashar el-Assad sent condolences to
Hariri’s family, and his government officially condemned the assassination as “an act of
terrorism.”27 An international outcry and massive demonstrations in Lebanon led to the
withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in April 2005 after nearly 30 years of
occupation.28 Lebanese elections in 2005 further diminished Syrian influence when voters turned
against pro-Syrian politicians and elected an anti-Syrian majority in Lebanon’s parliament.
Nevertheless, anti-Syrian leaders continued to be targets of violence, as evidenced by the June
2005 assassinations of Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir and politician George Hawi.
Selective Participation: Episode-Specific Sponsorship
Episode-specific sponsorship refers to government support for a single incident or series of
incidents. For this type of operation, the government provides as much patronage or assistance as
is needed for the terrorist episode. Sometimes members of the proxy carry out the episode, and at
other times agents of the state sponsor participate in the assault.
One example of episode-specific support was the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which
exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988. Two hundred seventy people were
killed, including all 259 passengers and crew and 11 persons on the ground. In November 1991,
the United States and Great Britain named two Libyan nationals as the masterminds of the
bombing. The men—Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhima—were alleged to be
agents of Libya’s Jamahiriya Security Organization (JSO). This was a significant allegation
because the JSO was repeatedly implicated in numerous acts of terrorism, including killing
political rivals abroad, laying mines in the Red Sea, attacking Western interests in Europe, and
providing logistical support and training facilities for terrorists from around the world. Libyan
leader Muammar el-Qaddafi denied any involvement of the Libyan government or its citizens.
Both men were prosecuted in Scotland for the bombing; Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to
life imprisonment, and Fhima was acquitted. In August 2009, a Scottish judge released Megrahi
and returned him to Libya, citing humanitarian reasons because Megrahi was reportedly
terminally ill with prostate cancer.
Active Participation: Joint Operations
Joint operations occur when government personnel jointly carry out campaigns in cooperation
with a championed proxy. Close collaboration occurs, with the sponsor providing primary
operational support for the campaign. Joint operations often occur during a large-scale and
An example of joint operations is the Phoenix Program, a campaign conducted during the
Vietnam War to disrupt and eliminate the administrative effectiveness of the Viet Cong, the
communist guerrilla movement recruited from among southern Vietnamese. It was a 3-year
program that attacked the infrastructure of the Viet Cong. Both American and allied South
Vietnamese squads were to wage the campaign by pooling intelligence information and making
lists of persons to be targeted. The targets were intended to be hard-core communist agents and
administrators, and they were supposed to be arrested rather than assassinated. In essence, the
Phoenix Program was to “kill, jail, or intimidate into surrender the members of the secret
Communist-led government the guerrillas had established in the rural eras of the South. The
program . . . resulted in the death or imprisonment of tens of thousands of Vietnamese.”29
The program was, by some accounts, an initial success. The Viet Cong had suffered severe losses
during its 1968 Tet offensive. When the Phoenix Program was launched, it could not adequately
protect its cadres, so many were denounced, arrested, and often killed. In theory, this was
supposed to be a program to efficiently root out the communist infrastructure. In practice,
although the communists were significantly disrupted, many innocent Vietnamese were swept up
in the campaign. Also, “despite the fact that the law provided only for the arrest and detention of
the suspects, one-third of the ‘neutralized agents’ were reported dead.”30 Corruption was rampant
among South Vietnamese officials, so they
saw the glitter of extortionist gold in the Phoenix Program, blackmailing innocents and taking bribes not to arrest those they should have arrested. In the rush to fill quotas they posthumously elevated lowly guerrillas killed in skirmishes to the status of VC hamlet and village chiefs. . . . Thousands died or vanished into Saigon’s prisons.31
Estimates of casualties are that 20,585 Viet Cong were killed and 28,000 captured. It is likely
that many of those killed were not Viet Cong members.32 In the end, the Viet Cong were badly
hurt but not eliminated. Unfortunately for the Viet Cong’s status as an independent fighting
force, after Tet and the Phoenix Program, the North Vietnamese army became the predominant
communist fighting force in the South.
Thus, terrorism and sponsorship for subversive movements are methods of statecraft that have
been adopted by many types of governments, ranging from stable democracies to aggressive and
revolutionary regimes. It is certainly true that democracies are less likely to engage in this type
of behavior than are aggressively authoritarian states. However, as suggested by the cases of the
Phoenix Program and French intelligence operations, democracies have been known to resort to
terrorist methods when operating within certain security or political environments.
Photo 4.2 A typical propaganda portrait commissioned by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Although Hussein had minimal (if any) ties to Islamist groups such as Al-Qa’ida, his regime did
provide support and safe haven to a number of wanted nationalist terrorists such as Abu Nidal.
Chapter Perspective 4.1 discusses the case of the officially defined threat posed by the
authoritarian government of Saddam Hussein that precipitated the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in
Chapter Perspective 4.1Calculation or Miscalculation?
The Threat From Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Iraq Case
One of the most disturbing scenarios involving state-sponsored terrorism is the delivery of
weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) to motivated terrorists by an aggressive authoritarian
regime. This scenario was the underlying rationale given for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by
the United States and several allies.
In January 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush identified Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as the
“axis of evil” and promised that the United States “will not permit the world’s most dangerous
regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” In June 2002, President Bush
announced during a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point that the United States
would engage in preemptive warfare if necessary.
Citing Iraq’s known possession of weapons of mass destruction in the recent past and its alleged
ties to international terrorist networks, President Bush informed the United Nations in September
2002 that the United States would unilaterally move against Iraq if the UN did not certify that
Iraq no longer possessed WMDs. Congress authorized an attack on Iraq in October 2002. UN
weapons inspectors returned to Iraq in November 2002. After a 3-month military buildup, Iraq
was attacked on March 20, 2003, and Baghdad fell to U.S. troops on April 9, 2003.
The Bush administration had repeatedly argued that Iraq still possessed a significant arsenal of
WMDs at the time of the invasion, that Hussein’s regime had close ties to terrorist groups, and
that a preemptive war was necessary to prevent the delivery of these weapons to Al-Qa’ida or
another network. Although many experts discounted links between Hussein’s regime and
religious terrorists, it was widely expected that WMDs would be found. Iraq was known to have
used chemical weapons against Iranian troops during the Iran–Iraq War of 1980 to 1988 and
against Iraqi Kurds during the Anfal Campaign of 1987.
In actuality, UN inspectors identified no WMDs prior to the 2003 invasion, nor were WMDs
found by U.S. officials during the occupation of Iraq. Also, little evidence was uncovered to
substantiate allegations of strong ties between Hussein’s Iraq and Al-Qa’ida or similar networks.
The search for WMDs ended in December 2004, and an inspection report submitted to Congress
by U.S. weapons hunter Charles A. Duelfer essentially “contradicted nearly every prewar
assertion about Iraq made by Bush administration officials.”a
Policy makers and experts bear two fundamental questions for critical analysis and debate:
• Did the reasons given for the invasion reflect a plausible threat scenario?
• Was the invasion a well-crafted policy option centered on credible political, military, and
a. Linzer, Dafna. “Search for Banned Arms in Iraq Ended Last Month.” Washington
Post, January 12, 2005.
VIOLENCE AT HOME: TERRORISM AS DOMESTIC POLICY
State terrorism as domestic policy refers to the state’s politically motivated application of force
inside its own borders. The state’s military, law enforcement, and other security institutions are
used to suppress perceived threats; these institutions can also be supplemented with assistance
from unofficial paramilitaries and death squads. The purpose of domestically focused
terrorism is to demonstrate the supreme power of the government and to intimidate or eliminate
the opposition. In environments in which the central government perceives its authority to be
seriously threatened, this use of force can be quite extreme.
An example of the latter environment occurred in South Africa during the final years
of apartheid, the system of racial separation. When confronted by a combination of
antiapartheid reformist agitation, mass unrest, and terrorist attacks, the South African
government began a covert campaign to root out antiapartheid leaders and supporters. This
included government support for the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party in its violence against
the multiethnic and multiracial African National Congress (ANC). The South African
government also assigned security officers to command death squads called Askaris, who
assassinated ANC members both inside South Africa and in neighboring countries:
These officially sanctioned groups targeted in particular African National Congress members suspected of being dissidents or sympathizers, both black and white. The African National Congress claims that police have been involved in the killings of more than 11,000 people [between 1990 and 1994].33
Legitimizing State Authority
Every type of regime seeks to legitimize its authority and maintain its conception of social order.
Governmental legitimization can be enforced in many ways and often depends on the nature of
the political environment that exists at a particular point in a nation’s history. Some governments
legitimize their authority through intimidation and force of arms.
Violent state repression against reformers and revolutionaries has been a common occurrence
that has been justified by rulers since the dawn of the nation-state. For example, during Europe’s
Age of Absolutism (at its height in the 17th century), each monarchy’s legitimacy was
indisputable, and deviations from the law were harshly punished as offenses against the authority
of the monarch. In the modern era, repression has been a frequent instrument of domestic policy.
As a policy option, state-sponsored domestic terrorism and other forms of coercion have been
used to quell dissent, restore order, eliminate political opponents, and scapegoat demographic
State authority is legitimized and enforced with varying degrees of restraint. Stable democracies
with strong constitutional traditions will usually enforce state authority with measured restraint.
Regimes with weak constitutional traditions, or those that are in a period of national crisis, will
often enforce state authority with little or no restraint. Examples of state domestic authority can
be summarized as follows:
• Democracy is a system of elected government wherein authority is theoretically
delegated from the people to elected leaders. Under this model, a strong constitution
grants authority for elected leaders to govern the people and manage the affairs of
government. The power of the state is clearly delimited.
• Authoritarianism is a system of government in which authority and power emanate from
the state and are not delegated from the people to elected leaders. Law, order, and state
authority are emphasized. Authoritarian regimes can have elected leaders, but they have
authoritarian power and often rule for indefinite periods of time. Constitutions do not
have enough authority to prohibit abuses by the state.
• Totalitarianism/a> is a system of total governmental regulation. All national authority
originates from the government, which enforces its own vision of an ordered society.
• Crazy states34 are failed states whose behavior is not rational; in such states, the people
live at the whim of the regime or an armed dominant group. Some crazy states have little
or no central authority and are ravaged by warlords or militias. Other crazy states have
capricious, impulsive, and violent regimes in power that act out with impunity. As
discussed previously regarding failed states, such environments can become safe havens
for terrorist networks.
Table 4.3 illustrates these models of domestic state authority by summarizing sources of state
authority and giving examples of these environments. Several models can be constructed that
illustrate the manner in which state authority is imposed and the degree of coercion that is used
to enforce governmental authority. Sources of state authority differ depending on which model of
authority characterizes each regime.
Table 4.3 State Domestic Authority
Sources of State Authority
Models of State
Authority Center of Authority
Democracy Secondary role of security
Sources of State Authority
Models of State
Authority Center of Authority
constitution and rule of
Authoritarianism Central role of official
security institutions; strong
Totalitarianism Central role of official
Crazy states Central roles of official
and unofficial security
unconstrained authority, or
paramilitaries, or both
State Domestic Authority
The following discussion focuses on a domestic state terrorist model adapted from one originally
designed by Peter C. Sederberg.35 It defines and differentiates broad categories of domestic state
terrorism that are useful for critically analyzing the motives and behaviors of terrorist regimes.
They signify the varied qualities of state-sponsored terrorism directed against perceived domestic
• Unofficial Repression: vigilante domestic state terrorism
• Repression as Policy: official domestic state terrorism
• Mass Repression: genocidal domestic state terrorism
State participation in terrorism in the domestic domain can involve several types of support for
championed causes and groups. This support can range in quality from relatively passive
encouragement of vigilante political violence to unrestrained genocidal violence. Table
4.4 summarizes these policy frameworks by placing them within the context of state patronage
and state assistance for terrorism.
Table 4.4 State-Sponsored Terrorism: The Domestic Policy Domain
Type of State
Type of Sponsorship
Members of the security forces
unofficially participate in the repression
Members of the security forces
unofficially provide support for
the repression of undesirables.
Case: Social cleansing in Colombia by
security personnel during the 1980s
Case: Social cleansing in
Colombia by civilian vigilante
groups and paramilitaries during
The state openly deploys its security
forces to violently assert its authority.
The state openly provides
support for progovernment
Case: China’s suppression of
the Tiananmen Square demonstrations
Case: Indonesian army’s support
for anti-independence gangs in
East Timor from the 1970s to
The state clandestinely uses its security
forces to violently assert its authority.
The state clandestinely provides
support for progovernment
Case: South Africa’s assignment of
security personnel to eliminate ANC
members and supporters prior to the end
of apartheid in 1991
Case: South African security
agencies’ support for anti-ANC
Askari death squads prior to the
end of apartheid in 1991
The resources of the state are deployed to
eliminate or culturally suppress a people,
religion, or other demographic group.
The state provides support for
the elimination or cultural
suppression of a people,
religion, or other demographic
Case: Iraq’s anti-Kurd Anfal Campaign in
Case: Anti-Semitic pogroms by
the Black Hundreds in Czarist
Russia during the early 1900s
Unofficial Repression: Vigilante Domestic State Terrorism
Vigilante terrorism is political violence that is perpetrated by nongovernmental groups and
individuals. These groups can receive unofficial support from agents of the state.
Why do regimes encourage vigilante violence? What are the benefits of such support? From the
perspective of the state, what are the values that are being safeguarded by the vigilantes?
Vigilante violence committed on behalf of a regime is motivated by the perceived need to defend
a demographic group or cultural establishment. The overall goal of vigilante state terrorism is
to violently preserve the preferred order. In a classic terrorist rationalization process, the end of
an orderly society justifies the means of extreme violence.
The vigilante terrorists, sometimes alongside members of the state security establishment,
unofficially wage a violent suppression campaign against an adversarial group or movement.
This type of suppression campaign occurs when civilians and members of the state’s security
forces perceive that the state is threatened. This perception can occur in warlike environments or
when an established order is challenged by an alternative social movement or ideology. Civilians
and members of the security establishment who participate in vigilante violence adhere to a code
of duty and behavior similar to those discussed in Chapter 3, so they believe their actions are
Nongovernmental vigilantes often organize themselves into paramilitaries and operate as death
squads. Death squads have committed many documented massacres and atrocities, including
assassinations, massacres, disappearances, and random terrorist attacks. One incident reported by
Amnesty International illustrates the style of terrorism perpetrated by paramilitaries:
In February , 200 paramilitary gunmen raided the village of El Salado, Bolivar department [Colombia], killing 36 people, including a six-year-old child. Many victims were tied to a table in the village sports field and subjected to torture, including rape, before being stabbed or shot dead. Others were killed in the village church. During the three-day attack, military and police units stationed nearby made no effort to intervene.36
The case of Latin American death squads is discussed further below.
Interestingly, some scholars have linked paramilitary activity in Latin America to U.S. training
programs during its Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union. In this regard, it has been argued
the death squad made its appearance in ten different Latin American countries in the 1960s and 1970s, all of them recipients of U.S. military and police aid and training, which stressed counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare against subversion from the Kennedy Era onward. In a number of countries . . . death squads appeared immediately following a major U.S. intervention.37
Repression as Policy: Official Domestic State Terrorism
State-sponsored repression and political violence were practiced regularly during the 20th
century. Many regimes deliberately adopted domestic terrorism as a matter of official policy, and
directives ordering government operatives to engage in violent domestic repression frequently
originated with ranking government officials.
Why do regimes resort to official policies of domestic violence? What are the benefits of such
programs? From the perspective of the state, who are the people that deserve this kind of violent
repression? The goals of official state terrorism are to preserve an existing order and to
maintain state authority through demonstrations of state power. Regimes that officially selected
violent repression as a policy choice rationalized their behavior as a legitimate method to protect
the state from an internal threat. Two manifestations of official state terrorism in the domestic
domain must be distinguished: overt and covert official state terrorism.
Overt official state terrorism refers to the visible application of state-sponsored political
violence. It is a policy of unconcealed and explicit repression directed against a domestic enemy.
Overt official terrorism has been commonly practiced in totalitarian societies, such as Stalinist
Russia, Nazi Germany, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, and Taliban Afghanistan. In the modern era,
governments continue to use extreme measures to suppress domestic challenges to their
authority. For example, in 2013 the Syrian government used chemical weapons to attack regions
held by insurgent forces near Damascus. Approximately 1,400 people were killed; most were
civilians, including hundreds of children. The Syrian regime regularly bombed known civilian
targets in rebel-held territory using barrel bombs and other imprecise munitions, causing
thousands of casualties. Thousands of civilians were killed and wounded during these operations,
especially during offensives against urban targets such as Aleppo in 2016. In February 2017,
Human Rights Watch reported that the Syrian military repeatedly used chlorine gas munitions
against targets in Aleppo.38 These munitions were deployed against other civilian targets during
government operations, such as in Douma in April 2018.
Covert official state terrorism refers to the secretive application of state-sponsored political
violence. In contrast to overt state terrorism, it is a policy of concealed and implicit repression
directed against a domestic enemy. Covert official terrorism has been commonly practiced in
countries with extensive secret police services, such as President Hafez el-Assad’s Syria,
President Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, General Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, and Argentina during the
Dirty War. The case of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s Iran further illustrates how covert
official terrorism is implemented.
Iran during the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is a model for the convergence of state-
sponsored policies of overt and covert terrorism. The shah, who ruled Iran from 1953 to 1979,
considered himself to be the Shahanshah, or King of Kings. His reign hearkened back to the
ancient kings of Persia, his authority was unquestioned, and dissent was impermissible. The shah
regularly used his army and security services to suppress dissidents. His secret police, SAVAK,
were particularly efficient and ruthless. The army was used to quell demonstrations and other
public forms of dissent, frequently firing on protestors to disperse crowds. In one incident in
1963, as many as 6,000 people were killed by the army and SAVAK.39 The shah strongly relied
on SAVAK’s extensive intelligence network to root out potential dissidents and opposition
groups. It was permitted to imprison people with virtual impunity, with an estimated annual
average of political prisoners reaching 100,000.40 SAVAK was extremely harsh toward persons
detained in its own special prisons, and its torture methods were renowned for their brutality.
Despite the shah’s extensive system of repression, he could not defeat a popular uprising in
1978, notwithstanding the deaths of thousands of Iranians at the hands of the army and SAVAK.
Shah Pahlavi was deposed and forced into exile in 1979 after an Islamic revolution inspired by
the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Photo 4.3 Soviet leader Joseph Stalin poses with a Russian family in a propaganda photograph.
Stalin’s totalitarian regime brutally purged and killed many thousands of ideological rivals and
sent millions of members of ethnonational groups into internal exile. Millions of others died
during famines and in work camps.
Official state terrorism is not always directed against subversive elements. It is sometimes
conducted to “cleanse” society of an undesirable social group. These groups are perceived to be
purveyors of a decadent lifestyle or immoral values, or are seen as otherwise unproductive drains
on society. Chapter Perspective 4.2 discusses how extremist regimes have solved this problem by
engaging in so-called social cleansing and ethnic cleansing.
Chapter Perspective 4.2Cleansing Society
Among the euphemisms used by propagandists to characterize state-initiated domestic terrorism,
perhaps the most commonly applied term is that of “cleansing” society. Conceptually, an image
is constructed that depicts an undesirable group as little more than a virus or bacterium that has
poisoned society. The removal of this group is considered to be a necessary remedy for the
survival of the existing social order.
This imagery has been invoked repeatedly by extremist regimes. An example from Fascist Italy
illustrates this point:
“Terror? Never,” Mussolini insisted, demurely dismissing such intimidation as “simply . . . social hygiene, taking those individuals out of circulation like a doctor would take out a bacillus.”a
For society to solve its problems, the bacterium represented by the group must be removed.
Acceptance of this characterization makes domestic terrorism palatable to many extremist
regimes. The following “cleansing” programs include examples of recent uses of this imagery.
Social cleansing refers to the elimination of undesirable social elements. These undesirable
elements are considered to be blights on society and can include street children, prostitutes, drug
addicts, criminals, homeless people, transvestites, and homosexuals. In Colombia, undesirable
social elements are commonly referred to as disposables.
Social cleansing has occurred in a number of countries. The term was probably coined in Latin
America, where social cleansing took on the attributes of vigilante state domestic terrorism in
Brazil, Guatemala, Colombia, and elsewhere. Participants in cleansing campaigns have included
members of the police and death squads. In societies where social cleansing has occurred, the
“disposables” have been killed, beaten, and violently intimidated.
The term ethnic cleansing was coined during the war in Bosnia in the former Yugoslavia. It
refers to the expulsion of an ethnonational group from a geographic region as a means to create
an ethnically “pure” society. During the war in Bosnia, Serb soldiers and paramilitaries initiated
a cycle of ethnic cleansing. They officially and systematically expelled, killed, raped, and
otherwise intimidated Bosnian Muslims to create Serb-only districts. The most intensive
campaigns of Serb-initiated ethnic cleansing in Bosnia occurred in 1992 and 1993. As the war
progressed, Croats and Bosnians also engaged in ethnic cleansing, so that there were periods
during the war in which all three groups “cleansed” areas populated by members of the other
Since the war in Bosnia, the term has become widely used to describe present and past
campaigns to systematically and violently remove ethnonational groups from geographic
a. Hoffman, Bruce. Inside Terrorism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. p. 24.
Quoting Laqueur, Walter. The Age of Terrorism. Boston: Little, Brown, 1987, p. 66.
Mass Repression: Genocidal Domestic State Terrorism
The word genocide was first used by Raphael Lemkin in 1943 and first appeared in print in his
influential book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, published in 1944.41 It is derived from the Greek
word genos, meaning race or tribe, and the Latin-derived suffix cide, meaning killing. Genocide
is, first and foremost, generally defined as the elimination of a group as a matter of state policy,
or communal dissident violence by one group against another.
Whether perpetrated at the state or communal level, genocide is considered by the world
community to be an unacceptable social policy and an immoral application of force. Genocide
has been regarded as a crime under international law since 1946, when the General Assembly of
the United Nations adopted Resolution 96(I). In 1948, the General Assembly adopted the
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Under Article 2 of the
convention, genocide is formally defined as follows:
Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, such as:
a. Killing members of the group; b. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its
physical destruction in whole or in part; d. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; e. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.42
Why do regimes resort to genocidal policies against their fellow domestic civilians? What are the
benefits to a regime of eliminating a particular group? From the perspective of the state, why do
some groups deserve to be eliminated? One practical reason for terrorist regimes is that
scapegoating a defined enemy is a useful strategy to rally the nation behind the ruling
government. The goal is to enhance the authority and legitimacy of the regime by targeting
internal enemies for genocidal violence.
States have available to them, and frequently marshal, an enormous amount of resources for use
against an undesired group. These resources can include the military, security services, civilian
paramilitaries, legal systems, private industry, social institutions, and propaganda resources.
When the decision is made to eliminate or culturally destroy a group, state resources can be
brought to bear with devastating efficiency.
Genocidal state terrorism occurs, then, when the resources of a nation are mobilized to
eliminate a targeted group. The group can be a cultural minority—such as a racial, religious, or
ethnic population—or the group can be a designated segment of society—such as believers in a
banned ideology or a socioeconomically unacceptable group. When ideological or
socioeconomic groups are singled out for elimination, the resulting terrorist environment is one
in which members of the same ethnic or religious group commit genocide against fellow
members, a practice that is known as auto-genocide (self-genocide).
Photo 4.4 The killing fields. Skulls are displayed of victims of Cambodia’s genocidal Khmer
Rouge regime. From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge waged a campaign of domestic terrorism
that claimed the lives of at least one million Cambodians.
Jehangir Gazdar/Woodfin Camp/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
Unlike vigilante and official state terrorism, the scale of violence during campaigns of state-
sponsored genocidal terrorism can be virtually unlimited. In some cases, no check at all is placed
on the use of violence against an adversary group, with the result that the targeted group may
suffer casualties in the many thousands or millions.
One important distinction must be understood: The elimination of a group does not necessarily
require its physical extermination. The state’s goal might also be to destroy a culture. This can be
accomplished through forced population removals or prohibitions against practicing religious,
linguistic, or other measures of cultural identification. In fact, the original deliberations that
crafted the legal definition of genocide recognized that genocide was much more than physical
extermination. Because of the policies of the Nazi regime, it was considered necessary to design
a new conceptual category for certain types of state-sponsored practices. It was agreed that
genocide . . . went beyond the killing of people: it covered such related acts as the practice of [forced] abortion, sterilization, artificial infection, the working of people to death in special labor camps, and the separation of families or of sexes in order to depopulate specific areas. . . . These activities . . . had to be regarded as criminal in intent as well as in execution.43
Most cases of state genocide are not examples of a precipitous policy whereby the security
services or paramilitaries are suddenly unleashed against a targeted group. More commonly, the
methodology and purpose behind genocidal policies require a coordinated series of events,
perhaps in phases over months or years. During these phases, cultural or other measures of
identification can be suppressed in a number of ways—perhaps with the ultimate goal of physical
Table 4.5 identifies several examples of state-sponsored genocidal campaigns directed against
domestic groups. As explicated in the table and the foregoing discussion, genocidal state
terrorism is directed against populations within countries that the state declares to be undesirable.
When this occurs, governments and extremist regimes have designed policies of elimination that
can include cultural destruction, mass resettlement, violent intimidation, or complete
extermination. Historically, state-initiated genocide is not an uncommon policy selection. Thus,
state-initiated genocide has occurred in every region of the world.
Table 4.5 State-Initiated Genocide
Country Incident Target Group Outcome
Rwanda Rwandan president
Tutsis and Hutu
people killed by Rwandan
army and Hutu militants
Cambodia Victory on the battlefield by
the Khmer Rouge; imposition
of a new regime
The Killing Fields; up to 2
Bosnia The breakup of Yugoslavia
and Serb resistance to the
declarations of independence
by Slovenia, Croatia, and
Muslims living in
territory claimed by
Ethnic cleansing assisted by
Serbia, population removals,
massacres, systematic rape,
and cultural destruction
Germany Racially motivated genocide
by the Nazi regime
The Holocaust; deaths of
most of Germany’s Jewish
Conquering the frontier and
19th-century frontier wars
Native population Annihilation of some tribes;
forced resettlement of others
on reservations; cultural
Case in Point: Death Squads in Latin America
State terrorism in Latin America has come primarily from two sources: government security
forces and right-wing paramilitaries—commonly called death squads (esquadrón muerte). Death
squads have been defined as
clandestine and usually irregular organizations, often paramilitary in nature, which carry out extrajudicial executions and other violent acts (torture, rape, arson, bombing, etc.) against clearly defined individuals or groups of people. . . . [I]n the rare case where an insurgent group forms them, death squads operate with the overt support, complicity, or acquiescence of government, or at least some parts of it.44
Paramilitaries are armed nongovernmental groups or gangs. Progovernment paramilitaries
generally consider themselves to be the defenders of an established order that is under attack
from a dangerously subversive counterorder. Some paramilitaries are well armed and receive
direct official support from government personnel. Others are semi-independent vigilante groups.
Government-initiated and paramilitary sources of right-wing terrorism are not clearly separable
because there is frequently some degree of linkage between the two. Death squads have
historically been covertly sanctioned by governments or agents of the government, and
government personnel have covertly operated with rightist terrorists. Death squads have had a
measure of independence, but connections with government security apparatuses have been
Case studies from four countries are explored below. They summarize the environments that
gave rise to paramilitary activity as well as types of linkages between governments and death
Colombia is a country with a long history of communal strife, military coups, and revolutions.
During the latter decades of the 20th century, it became a country beset by armed insurgencies
on the left, paramilitary death squads on the right, a weak central government, and the problems
of being the world’s principal supplier of cocaine. Colombia has been home to death squads
since Marxist guerrillas began attacking the interests of rich property owners—and the owners
themselves—in the 1960s and 1970s. Guerrillas also extorted money from the owners. In the
1980s, wealthy landowners hired private security units to defend their landholdings. This
protective mission became more aggressive as Marxist rebellion spread.
Colombian Death Squads.
Security units hired by wealthy landowners gradually began operating as counterinsurgency
paramilitaries, often fighting in units numbering several hundred. The paramilitaries also
engaged in what can only be described as terrorist attacks against suspected Marxists and their
sympathizers. It was not uncommon for these squads to commit atrocities to frighten peasants
from helping members of rebel groups. The progression from security units to right-wing death
squads included the use of these groups not only by wealthy property owners but also
by narcotraficantes (drug traffickers). The narcotraficantes wished to pacify drug-producing
regions by driving away Marxist guerrillas and intimidating local residents. The most prominent
paramilitary was the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Colombian security
forces evidently encouraged death squad activity by the AUC and other groups, although the
relationship was not entirely cooperative. Under government pressure, the AUC agreed to a
ceremonial stand-down and disarmament in July 2005.
Early in the 20th century, Argentina was a dynamic country with a thriving economy. Culturally,
it has long been a Europeanized country, with significant waves of immigration from Italy, the
United Kingdom, Germany, and elsewhere. In the 1960s and 1970s, Argentina was beleaguered
by an unstable economy, political turmoil, and an ever-weakening central government. This
eventually led to a military coup d’état in 1976.
Argentine Anticommunist Alliance.
Prior to the 1976 coup d’état, Jose Lopez Rega, an adviser to President Juan Peron, organized
the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (Triple-A). Rega was a right-wing terrorist and
arguably a Nazi-style fascist. The death squad was responsible for numerous acts of violence
against leftists, human rights organizers, students, and others. Some of its clandestine operatives
were members of the Argentine security apparatus. After the 1976 coup and the
institutionalization of Argentina’s Dirty War, Triple-A was integrated into the Argentine state
Business executives and wealthy landowners have traditionally built close ties to security and
intelligence agencies in El Salvador. The National Guard (Guardia Nacional), founded in 1910,
was used repeatedly to suppress peasant organizations. During the 1970s, three leftist guerrilla
movements were organized, and by 1980, at least five groups were operational. They formed the
Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front. At the same time, student and labor activism spread.
The right wing responded violently.
During the late 1960s, army general José Alberto Medrano organized a paramilitary
counterinsurgency group known as ORDEN (“Order”). Originally affiliated with the National
Guard, ORDEN was used to root out unionists, student activists, communists, and other leftists.
It evolved into a ruthless death squad. During the Salvadoran civil war, “the military and right-
wing terrorists killed approximately 30,000 civilians to stop spreading revolution”45 in 1980 and
1981 alone. On March 24, 1980, Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated by right-
wing terrorists while celebrating mass.
During the late 1970s, attempted land reforms had been only marginally successful, and unrest
spread among poor peasants. Some leftists organized themselves into revolutionary groups,
including the Morazan Honduran Liberation Front. The army, which had positioned itself to be
the true center of power, encouraged a right-wing reaction against leftists. It also supported the
U.S.-backed Nicaraguan counterrevolutionary guerrillas based in Honduras. Right-wing
paramilitaries were formed and supported by the government. During the 1980s, hundreds of
civilians were killed by these death squads. One unit, Battalion 3-16, had been directly organized
by the Honduran military.
Reactionary right-wing paramilitaries in Latin America have been implicated in numerous
atrocities, including massacres and assassinations. Table 4.6 identifies several paramilitaries that
have operated in Latin America with the support of government security services.
Table 4.6 Vigilante Terrorism: The Case of the Paramilitaries
Paramilitary Group Benefactor Target
United Self-Defense Forces of
Colombian security services,
Marxist FARC rebels and
Civil Defense Patrols (PAC)
Guatemalan security services,
Marxist rebels and
Possibly Mexican security force
members; Mexican landholders
Zapatistas and suspected
Argentine security services Leftists
THE PROBLEM OF ACCOUNTABILITY: MONITORING STATE TERRORISM
The incidence of state-sponsored terrorism is monitored by public and private organizations.
These organizations compile data and publish annual reports on domestic and international state
terrorism. They also perform a “watchdog” function and are resources for collecting data on the
characteristics of state terrorism. These agencies provide useful standards for identifying and
defining terrorist behavior by governments.
In the international policy domain, the U.S. Department of State regularly compiles a list of
Designated State Sponsors of Terrorism. This list reports official U.S. designations of specified
regimes, and it includes an annual list of countries that the Department of State formally defines
as state sponsors of terrorism. The following comments from the State Department’s Country
Reports on Terrorism 2018 summarize the status of designated countries on the list.46
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) has been a perennial member on the
list because North Korea was historically active in attacking South Korean interests. For
example, in November 1987 North Korean operatives destroyed Korean Airlines Flight 858,
which exploded over Myanmar (Burma). Although the North Korean government officially
renounced its sponsorship of terrorism and was removed from the list in 2008, in 2017 the
regime was returned to the status of state sponsor of terrorism.
Iran was first designated as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984. As reported in Country Reports
on Terrorism 2018, Iran “continued its terrorist-related activity in 2018, including support for
Lebanese Hizballah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various groups in Syria, Iraq, and
throughout the Middle East.”47 According to the State Department,
Iran used the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to provide support to terrorist organizations, provide cover for associated covert operations, and create instability in the Middle East. Iran has acknowledged the involvement of the IRGC-QF in both of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and the IRGC-QF is Iran’s primary mechanism for cultivating and supporting terrorists abroad. Iran uses regional proxy forces to provide sufficient deniability to shield it from the consequences of its aggressive policies.48
Furthermore, “Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members
residing in Iran and has refused to publicly identify the members in its custody.”49
Sudan was first designated as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993. Although it is still on the
designated list, “Sudan has taken some steps to work with the United States on counterterrorism.
In 2018, the Government of Sudan continued to pursue counterterrorism operations alongside
regional partners, including operations to counter threats to U.S. interests and personnel in
Sudan.”50 Furthermore, “the Sudanese government continues to develop a national strategy for
countering violent extremism.”51 Sudan is an example of how the State Department’s list has
historically included countries that significantly reduced their involvement in terrorism, and yet
their designations were not immediately modified.
Photo 4.5 Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (right) meets with House Foreign Affairs
Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (left), D-NY, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on
December 4, 2019.
Jim Watson/Contributor/Getty Images
Syria was first designated as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1979. As reported in Country Reports
on Terrorism 2018, “the Assad regime’s relationship with Hizballah and Iran grew stronger in
2018 as the regime became more reliant on external actors to fight regime opponents. President
Bashar al-Assad remained a staunch defender of Iran’s policies, while Iran exhibited equally
energetic support for the Syrian regime.”52 Additionally,
Over the past decade, the Assad regime’s permissive attitude towards al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups’ foreign terrorist fighter facilitation efforts during the Iraq conflict in turn fed the growth of AQ, ISIS, and affiliated terrorist networks inside Syria. The Syrian government’s awareness and encouragement for many years of terrorists’ transit through Syria to enter Iraq for the purpose of fighting U.S. Forces before 2014 is well documented. Those very networks were among the terrorist elements that brutalized the Syrian and Iraqi populations in 2018.53
The list of designated sponsors is dynamic, and these designations are sometimes rescinded, as
indicated by the examples of Cuba, Libya, and Iraq:
• Cuba had been a perennial member on the list. However, Cuba was removed in May 2015 during the adoption of the policy of restoring full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
• Libya, which had been on the list for 27 years, was removed in 2006. Western nations and international organizations eased sanctions when Libya announced in December 2003 that it would destroy weapons of mass destruction and certain missiles. Libya had engaged in documented cases of international terrorism, both directly and through the use of proxies. However, Libya’s renunciation of support for dissident groups and its cooperation with the world community during the 2000s led to its removal from the list in 2006.
• Iraq, which had been perennially included on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, was removed in October 2004 in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion and overthrow of the regime of Saddam Hussein.
In the domestic policy domain, several private agencies monitor political abuses by governments and have catalogued examples of state-sponsored domestic terrorism. These organizations usually refer to these abuses as “human rights violations.” One such group, Human Rights Watch, was founded in 1978.54 Human Rights Watch actively monitors the status of human rights throughout the world and maintains field offices in closely monitored countries. It reports in detail on government-sponsored and internecine violations of human rights. Another monitoring organization, Amnesty International, was founded in 1961. In 1983, Amnesty International published a special report on political killings by governments, which described government political killings as “unlawful and deliberate killings of persons by reasons of their real or imputed political beliefs or activities, religion, other conscientiously held beliefs, ethnic origin, sex, colour or language, carried out by order of a government with its complicity.”55
Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International regularly publish reports on human rights violations by governments. For example, in February 2017 Amnesty International published Human Slaughterhouse: Mass Hangings and Extermination at Saydnaya Prison, Syria. The publication documented reports of up to 13,000 summary executions and torture by the Assad regime in Syria’s Saydnaya Military Prison from 2011 to 2015.56 These organizations also promote publicity campaigns from time to time to highlight specific human rights issues. The purpose of these campaigns is to focus the world’s attention on particularly urgent human rights issues.
All of these approaches to the analysis of state terrorism are useful for evaluating different types of state-sponsored political violence.
This chapter introduced readers to the “terror from above” that characterizes state-sponsored
terrorism. Readers were provided with an understanding of the nature of state terrorism. The
purpose of this discussion was to identify and define several state terrorist environments, to
differentiate state terrorism in the foreign and domestic policy domains, and to provide cases in
point of these concepts.
The state terrorism paradigm identified several approaches that are used by experts to define and
describe state terrorism. Included in this discussion was a comparison of the underlying
characteristics of the state patronage and state assistance models of terrorism. The patronage
model was characterized by situations whereby regimes act as active sponsors of, and direct
participants in, terrorism. Under the assistance model, regimes tacitly participate in violent
extremist behavior and indirectly sponsor terrorism.
The discussion of state terrorism as foreign policy applied a model that categorized terrorism in
the foreign domain as politically sympathetic, logistically supportive, episode specific, or joint
operations. Each of these categories described different aspects in the scale of support and
directness of involvement by state sponsors. Several examples were provided to clarify the
behavioral distinctions of these categories.
In the domestic policy domain, several models of state domestic authority and legitimacy were
identified and summarized. The sources of authority and centers of power were contrasted in
these models. These models were democracy, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, and crazy states.
Because the methodologies of state domestic terrorism differ from case to case, several models
provide a useful approach to understanding the characteristics of a particular terrorist
environment. These models were vigilante, overt official, covert official, and genocidal state
Readers were introduced to public and private agencies that monitor state terrorism. The U.S.
Department of State’s list of sponsors of state terrorism is a useful compilation of information
about states that are active in the foreign policy domain. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty
International are private activist organizations that have extensive databases on state terrorism in
the domestic policy domain.
In Chapter 5, readers will be introduced to dissident terrorist environments and examples of
“terrorism from below” conducted by nongovernmental dissident movements. The discussion
will present a dissident terrorism paradigm that will be applied in a similar manner as the state
terrorism paradigm. Cases in point will be presented to explain the causes and contexts of
dissident terrorist behavior.
KEY TERMS AND CONCEPTS
The following topics are discussed in this chapter and can be found in the glossary:
• Amnesty International 103
• Anfal Campaign 91
• apartheid 92
• Askaris 92
• assassinations 79
• auto-genocide 98
• “axis of evil” 91
• “blacklisting” 105
• Boland Amendment 83
• crazy states 92
• death squads 91
• episode-specific sponsorship 89
• ethnic cleansing 96
• Four Olds 84
• genocidal state terrorism 98
• genocide 79
• Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution 84
• House Un-American Activities Committee 105
• Human Rights Watch 103
• Inkatha Freedom Party 92
• Iran-Contra scandal 83
• joint operations 90
• Korean Airlines Flight 858 102
• Kurds 91
• logistically supportive sponsorship 88
• Northern Ireland 105
• official state terrorism 95
• Palmer Raids 105
• Pan Am Flight 103 89
• paradigm 78
• paramilitaries 91
• Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University 80
• People’s Liberation Army 84
• Phoenix Program 90
• Plan Victoria 82 76
• politically sympathetic sponsorship 87
• “Red Scares” 105
• SAVAK 96
• social cleansing 96
• state assistance for terrorism 80
• state patronage of terrorism 80
• Tiananmen Square 94
• torture 79
• vigilante state terrorism 94
• warfare 79
Prominent Persons and Organizations
The following names and organizations are discussed in this chapter and can be found in
• African National Congress (ANC) 92
• al-Megrahi, Abdel Basset 89
• Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (Triple-A) 100
• Ba’ath Party 82
• Battalion 3-16 76
• Contras 76
• el-Qaddafi, Muammar 89
• Fhima, Lamen Khalifa 89
• Hussein, Saddam 90
• Jamahiriya Security Organization 89
• Khmer Rouge 95
• Khomeini, Ayatollah Ruhollah 96
• Lumumba, Patrice 80
• McCarthy, Joseph 105
• Muslim Brotherhood 82
• ORDEN 76
• Pahlavi, Shah Mohammad Reza 96
• Palmer, Alexander Mitchell 105
• Red Guards 84
• Sandinista 81
• Somoza Debayle, Anastasio 81
• United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) 100
• Viet Cong 90
Discussion BoxAuthoritarianism and Democracy
This chapter’s Discussion Box is intended to stimulate critical debate about the application of
authoritarian methods by democratic governments and the justifications used by these
governments for such methods.
Democracies are constrained by strong constitutions from summarily violating the rights of their
citizens. Most democracies have due process requirements in place when security services wish
to engage in surveillance, search premises, seize evidence, or detain suspects. However, when
confronted by serious security challenges, democracies have resorted to authoritarian security
measures. Germany, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States have all adopted
aggressive policies to suppress perceived threats to national security.
In the United States, periodic anti-Communist “Red Scares” occurred when national leaders
reacted to the perceived threat of Communist subversion. Government officials reacted by
adopting authoritarian measures to end the perceived threats. The first Red Scare occurred after
the founding of the Communist Party—USA in 1919, and a series of letter bombs were
intercepted. President Woodrow Wilson allowed Attorney General Alexander Mitchell
Palmer to conduct a series of raids—the so-called Palmer Raids—against Communist and other
leftist radical groups. Offices of these groups were shut down, leaders were arrested and put on
trial, and hundreds were deported.
A second Red Scare occurred in the 1930s. This Scare resulted in the creation of the House Un-
American Activities Committee and the passage of the Smith Act in 1940, which made
advocacy of the violent overthrow of the government a federal crime. In the late 1940s,
Communists were prosecuted, and high-profile investigations were made of people such as Alger
A third Red Scare occurred in the 1950s when Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin held a
series of hearings to expose Communist infiltration in government, industry, and Hollywood.
Hundreds of careers were ruined, and many people were “blacklisted,” meaning that they were
barred from obtaining employment.
In Northern Ireland, the British government has periodically passed legislation to combat
terrorism by the IRA. These laws granted British forces authoritarian powers in Northern Ireland.
One such law was the 1973 Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act, which provided the
military with sweeping powers to temporarily arrest and detain people and to search homes in
Northern Ireland without warrants. Under the Act, the army detained hundreds of people and
searched more than 250,000 homes. This sweep was actually fairly successful, in that thousands
of weapons were found and seized.
• Are authoritarian methods morally compatible with democratic principles and
• Under what circumstances are authoritarian policies justifiable and necessary, even in
democracies with strong constitutional traditions?
• The postwar Red Scare investigations in the United States have been labeled by many as
“witch hunts.” Were these investigations nevertheless justifiable, considering the external
threat from the Soviet Union?
• The British security services detained hundreds of innocent people and searched the
homes of many thousands of non-IRA members. Considering the threat from the IRA,
were these inconveniences nevertheless justifiable?
• Assume for a moment that some security environments justify the use of authoritarian
measures by democracies. What kind of “watchdog” checks and balances are needed to
ensure that democracies do not move toward permanent authoritarianism?
CHAPTER TWELVE THE AMERICAN CASE TERRORISM IN THE UNITED STATES
CHAPTER LEARNING OBJECTIVES
This chapter will enable readers to do the following:
1. Understand extremist ideologies and behavior in the United States. 2. Analyze differences between left-wing and right-wing extremist movements in the United
3. Analyze domestic terrorism occurring in the United States. 4. Understand international terrorism occurring in the United States. 5. Evaluate lone-wolf terrorist incidents in the United States.
Opening Viewpoint: Lynching—Vigilante Communal Terrorism in the United States
Lynchings were public communal killings. On most occasions, they were racially motivated
hangings or burnings of African American males. Lynch mobs would typically abduct the
victim, drag him to the place of execution, physically abuse him (often gruesomely), and then
publicly kill him. Lynchings exhibited the following profile:
• White mobs
• killings of African Americans (usually men) and others
• physical abuse, including torture, mutilation, and the taking of “souvenirs” from the
corpses (bones, toes, etc.)
• symbolic protection of the White community
• symbolic “warnings” to the African American community
Photography was commonly used to record lynchings, and it was not uncommon for members of
lynch mobs to pose proudly next to the corpses. This is significant, because the use of the camera
to memorialize lynchings testified to their openness and to the self-righteousness that animated
the participants. Not only did photographers capture the execution itself, but they also recorded
the carnival-like atmosphere and the expectant mood of the crowd.a
The term lynching comes from Charles Lynch, a colonial-era Virginia farmer who, during the
American Revolution, acted as a judge who hanged outlaws and Tories (pro-British colonials).
From 1882 to 1968, nearly 5,000 African Americans are known to have been lynched. Some had
been accused of crimes, but most were simply innocent sacrificial victims.
a. Litwack, Leon F. “Hellhounds.” In Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America,
edited by James Allen, Hilton Als, John Lewis, and Leon Litwack. Santa Fe, NM: Twin Palms,
2000, pp. 10–11.
Previous chapters focused on defining terrorism, its causes, motives behind political violence, the terrorist trade, and terrorist typologies. Many examples of post–World War II terrorist movements and environments were presented to illustrate theoretical concepts and trends. The discussion in this and subsequent chapters will investigate terrorist threats in the United States, the concept of American homeland security, the homeland security bureaucracy, and emerging issues and trends likely to affect the United States’ response to terrorist threats in the near future.
The quality of post–World War II extremism in the United States reflects the characteristics of the classical ideological continuum. Readers may recall that the classical ideological continuum, discussed earlier, incorporates political tendencies that range from the fringe left to the fringe right, but many examples of nationalist and religious terrorism do not fit squarely within the continuum categories. However, the United States is an idiosyncratic subject, and most terrorism in the post–World War II era did originate from the left- and right-wing spectrums of the continuum.
Unlike many terrorist environments elsewhere in the world, where the designations of left and right are not always applicable, most political violence in the United States falls within these designations. Even nationalist and religious sources of domestic political violence have tended to reflect the attributes of leftist or rightist movements. It is only when we look at the international sources of political violence that the left and right designations begin to lose their precision in the United States.
The threat of terrorism in the United States emanates from domestic and international sources. International sources of terrorism come primarily from religious extremists who are trained operatives from, or lone-wolf sympathizers of, Al-Qa’ida, ISIS, and other similar movements. Domestic sources of terrorism include threats from right-wing racial supremacist groups, extremist movements emanating from the Patriot movement, and lone- wolf behavior within both tendencies. Potential threats from left-wing sources come primarily from single-issue groups such as radical environmentalists, and possibly from fringe anarchist factions.
Photo 12.1 Communal terrorism in America. The lynchings of Tommy Shipp and Abe Smith in Marion, Indiana, on August 7, 1930. The crowd is in a festive mood, including the young couple holding hands in the foreground. Posed photography was a common practice during lynching murders.
Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The United States is a good case in point for the application of the classical ideological continuum. Its political environment has produced organizations that represent the
ideologies included in the continuum. Table 12.1 applies the classical ideological continuum to the American context. The representation here compares organizations that have economic, group rights, faith, and legal agendas.
Table 12.1 The Classical Ideological Continuum: The Case of the United States
Fringe Left Far Left Liberalis
m Far Right
of Labor and
Activist/group rights agenda
The discussion in this chapter will review the following:
• An Introduction to the American Case
• Background to Terrorism: Left-Wing Activism and Ideological Extremism in America
• Left-Wing Terrorism in the United States
• Background to Terrorism: Right-Wing Activism and Ideological Extremism in America
• Right-Wing Terrorism in the United States
• International Terrorism in the United States
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE AMERICAN CASE
To facilitate readers’ appreciation of the unique qualities of the American case, it is instructive to
briefly survey the American left, the American right, and international terrorism in the United
States. All of these themes will be explored in later sections.
The American left traditionally refers to political trends and movements that emphasize group
rights. Several trends characterize the American left: labor activism, “people’s rights”
movements, single-issue movements, and antitraditionalist cultural experimentation. Examples
include the following:
• Labor Activism. Historically, labor activism and organizing promoted ideals that are
frequently found on the left. The labor movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was
highly confrontational, with violence emanating from management, the unions, and the state.
Socialist labor activists such as Samuel Gompers were quite active in organizing workers.
However, the mainstream American labor movement was distinctive, in comparison with
European labor movements, in that the dominant labor unions generally rejected Marxist or other
socialistic economic ideologies.1
• “People’s Rights.” There have been a number of people’s rights movements on the American
left. In the modern era, activism on the left has generally promoted the interests of groups that
have historically experienced discrimination or a lack of opportunity. Examples of people’s
rights movements include the civil rights, Black Power, New Left, gay rights, and immigration
• Single Issue. Single-issue movements such as the environmentalist and peace movements
have also been common on the left.
• Questioning Traditions. One facet of the left has been a tendency toward antitraditionalist
cultural trends. Manifestations of this trend have included experimentation with alternative
lifestyles and the promotion of countercultural issues such as drug legalization.2
On the far and fringe left, one finds elements of anarchist and Marxist ideologies and left-wing
nationalist principles. Terrorist violence from the left has usually been ideological or
ethnonationalist in nature. It has typically been carried out by covert underground organizations
or cells that link themselves (at least ideologically) to leftist “rights” movements. Although there
have been human casualties as a direct result of leftist terrorism, most violence has been directed
at nonhuman symbols such as unoccupied businesses, banks, or government buildings. Law
enforcement officers were also occasionally targeted, usually by ethnonationalist terrorists. The
heyday of leftist terrorism in the United States was from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s,
although sporadic violence originating from renewed anarchist sentiment escalated during the
The American right traditionally encompasses political trends and movements that emphasize
conventional and nostalgic principles. On the mainstream right, traditional values are
emphasized. Examples include family values, educational content, and social order (“law and
order”) politics. It is also common on the American right (unlike the European and Latin
American right) to find an infusion of fundamentalist or evangelical religious principles.
On the far and fringe right, one finds that racial, mystical, and conspiracy theories abound; one
also finds a great deal of antigovernment and self-defined patriot sentiment, with some fringe
extremists opting to separate themselves from mainstream society. Terrorist violence has usually
been racial, religious, or antigovernment in nature. With few exceptions, terrorism from the right
has been conducted by self-isolated groups, cells, or individual lone wolves. Unlike most leftist
attacks, many of the right’s targets have intentionally included people and occupied symbolic
buildings. Most ethnocentric hate crimes—regardless of whether one considers them to be acts of
terrorism or aggravated crimes3—come from the far and fringe right wing. This type of
ethnocentric violence has a long history in the United States:
Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the United States has witnessed several episodic waves of xenophobia. At various times, Catholics, Mormons, Freemasons, Jews, blacks, and Communists have been targets of groups . . . seeking to defend “American” ideals and values.4
Right-wing terrorism has occurred within different political and social contexts. In the modern
era, it emanated from Ku Klux Klan (KKK) violence during the civil rights movement of the
1950s and 1960s, to antigovernment and single-issue terrorism in the 1990s, to neo-Nazi
violence in the 1980s through the early decades of the 2000s. White nationalist and alt-right
extremism and violence escalated during the second decade of the 2000s.
International terrorism in the United States has included anti-Castro movements, Jewish groups
opposing the former Soviet Union’s emigration policy, Irish Provos (Provisional Irish
Republican Army), and sporadic spillovers from conflicts around the world. Since the collapse of
the Soviet Union, most international terrorism in the United States has come from spillovers
originating in Middle Eastern conflicts.
Attacks such as the September 11, 2001, homeland assaults indicate that practitioners of the New
Terrorism have specifically targeted the United States as an enemy interest. Operatives carrying
out Middle East–related attacks inside the United States have been foreign nationals, lone
wolves, or small-cell extremists who attack symbolic and “soft” targets, specifically intending to
kill people. These attacks have been carried out by prepositioned jihadi cells and small cells or
individuals inspired by extreme jihadi ideologies. Beginning in the 1990s, the members of these
cells were mostly drawn from groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which had operatives
and supporters living in the United States. The post–September 11, 2001, terrorist environment
has witnessed the growth of sympathetic support for a variety of extreme groups and movements.
Collaborative efforts by these and other groups illustrate the internationalization of the New
Terrorism, its loose organizational structure, and its potential effectiveness inside the United
Table 12.2 shows a multiyear chronicle of groups responsible for terrorist incidents in the United
States, from September 11, 2001, to 2017.
Table 12.2 Groups Responsible for Most Terrorist Attacks in the United States, 2001–2017
Rank Organization Number of
1 Unknown 145 29 209
2 Earth Liberation Front
38 0 0
3 Antigovernment extremists 31 72 888
4 Jihadi-inspired extremists 30 106 186
5 Animal Liberation Front
29 0 2
6 Anti-Muslim extremists 19 3 2
7 Anti-abortion extremists 17 4 9
8 White extremists 13 24 8
9 Muslim extremists 13 15 295
10 Anti-police extremists 7 12 14
11 Anti-White extremists 6 10 10 Source: Data reported by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (2018).
In the United States, terrorism has typically been conducted by groups and individuals espousing
leftist or rightist ideologies or those who engage in international spillover conflicts. These
interests are motivated by diverse ideologies, operate from different milieus, possess distinctive
organizational profiles, and target a variety of interests. Table 12.3 summarizes and contrasts the
basic characteristics of contemporary left-wing, right-wing, and international political violence in
the United States.5 This is not an exhaustive profile, but it is instructive for purposes of
Table 12.3 Attributes of Terrorism in the United States
Environment Ideological Profile Bases of
Leftist Anarchist; Marxist;
Rightist Racial supremacist;
cells; lone wolves;
Ethnonationalist Urban areas Clandestine groups Symbols of
Environment Ideological Profile Bases of
Religious Urban areas Cells; lone wolves Symbolic
Weighing the Origins of Terrorism in the United States
An investigation of the origins of activism on the American left and right provides insight into
the social trends and political environments that eventually produced homegrown terrorist
violence. Understanding this background is instructive for evaluating why some members of
social movements adopted terrorism as a means toward an end. Although only a small core of
activists engaged in terrorism, their decisions to do so originated in uniquely American political
Two sections in this chapter explore the origins of several social and political movements on the
left and right. It is not an exhaustive investigation, but the predominant activist trends are
identified. Readers should appreciate that most members of these movements did not rationalize,
support, or otherwise advocate political violence. Nevertheless, some factions developed
extremist tendencies and began to aggressively challenge the nation’s basic political and cultural
institutions. Factions within a few of these movements concluded that terrorist violence was
necessary and then acted on this decision. The origins of these factions frame the social and
ideological background to terrorist violence in the postwar United States.
BACKGROUND TO TERRORISM: LEFT-WING ACTIVISM AND IDEOLOGICAL EXTREMISM IN AMERICA
The modern American left is characterized by several movements that grew out of the political
fervor of the 1960s. They were fairly interconnected, so understanding their origins provides
instructive insight into the basic issues of the left. One should bear in mind that none of these
movements was fundamentally violent in nature, and they were not terrorist movements.
However, extremist trends within them led to factions that sometimes espoused violent
confrontation, and a few engaged in terrorist violence.
Origins of the Modern Civil Rights Movement6
The modern civil rights movement initially centered on the struggle to win equality for African
Americans in the South. This was not the only regional emphasis of the movement, but its
momentum came out of the battle to end racial segregation and legalized inequality in the South.
During the early 1950s, the movement—at first led by the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People—forced an end to segregation on trains and interstate buses by
successfully appealing several federal lawsuits to the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite these
victories, southern state laws still allowed segregation on intrastate transportation.
In December 1955 in Birmingham, Alabama, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her
seat to a White man and move to the back of the bus, which is where African Americans were
required to sit. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. led a bus boycott in Birmingham that lasted
13 months. A Supreme Court decision, combined with lost revenues, forced the bus company to
capitulate. This was the beginning of the application of civil disobedience using a strategy
known as collective nonviolence. King and his associates adopted this strategy from the Indian
leader Mahatma Gandhi’s successful movement to end British colonial rule in India. The theory
was that massive resistance, coupled with moral suasion and peaceful behavior, would lead to
A great many other civil rights protests occurred during the 1950s and 1960s, with official and
unofficial violence being directed against the movement. There were numerous anti–civil rights
bombings, shootings, and beatings in the South during this period. Under the leadership of King
and others, the strategy of collective nonviolence—and targeted lawsuits by civil rights attorneys
(including future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall)—finally held sway in the South.
However, not every member of the civil rights movement accepted collective nonviolence as a
fundamental principle, and the strategy was not particularly effective outside of the southern
The Rise of Black Power
As a direct result of the violence directed against the nonviolent civil rights movement, an
emerging ideology of African American empowerment took root among many activists. It began
in June 1966, when civil rights activist James Meredith planned to walk through Mississippi to
demonstrate that African Americans could safely go to polling places to register to vote. He was
ambushed, shot, and wounded early in his walk. The incident caused Martin Luther King Jr. and
other national civil rights activists to travel to Mississippi to finish Meredith’s symbolic march.
One of the leaders was Stokely Carmichael, chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Carmichael renounced collective nonviolence. He also disagreed with the civil rights
movement’s strategy of working within mainstream political parties (primarily the Democratic
Party). As the SNCC became more radicalized, the group expelled its White members, many of
whom went on to become activists in the New Left movement. At a rally in Mississippi,
Carmichael roused the crowd to repeatedly shout “Black power!” and adopted the clenched fist
as a symbol of defiance. The slogan caught on, as did the clenched-fist symbol, and the Black
Power movement began.
The Black Power movement occurred at a time when the violence in the South was paralleled by
urban activism, unrest, and rioting in the impoverished African American ghettos of the North,
Midwest, and West. In the Northeast, prior to Carmichael’s Black Power rally, former Nation of
Islam advocate Malcolm X had eloquently challenged African Americans to empower
themselves economically and culturally. To do so, Malcolm X argued that economic self-
sufficiency was essential for African American communities and that it was necessary for
African Americans to culturally unite internationally with the emerging independence
movements in Africa as well as with the descendants of African slaves in the Americas. His
autobiography has become an influential document within the greater body of African American
The ideology of Black Power advocated political independence, economic self-sufficiency, and a
cultural reawakening. It was expressed in Afrocentric political agendas, experiments in economic
development of African American communities, and cultural chauvinism that was expressed in
music, art, and dress (the Black Pride movement). Some members of the movement were
radicalized by the violence in the South and began to advocate Black Nationalism. This led to the
formation of overtly nationalist and militant organizations such as the Black Panther Party for
Growth of the New Left
The so-called old left was characterized by orthodox Marxist ideologies and political parties,
dating from the time of the Russian Revolution. Other tendencies of the old left included
anarchism and traditional socialist ideologies. After revelations about Stalinist brutality, the
Soviet Union’s suppression of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, and frustration with the failure
of socialist organizing in the United States, the old left movement became discredited among
young activists. New issues galvanized a new movement among educated young activists,
primarily on the nation’s university campuses.
The New Left arose in the mid-1960s when a new generation of activists rallied around the
antiwar movement, the civil rights movement, women’s rights, and other political and social
causes. New student organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) advocated
a philosophy of direct action to confront mainstream establishment values (SDS is discussed
later in the chapter). In the fall of 1964, participants in the Free Speech Movement at the
University of California, Berkeley, seized an administration building on the campus. This was a
wakeup call for adopting direct action as a central tactic of the fledgling New Left.
New Left movements still reflected the ideals of the new generation of activism even when they
revisited orthodox Marxism. For example, one faction of SDS—the Revolutionary Youth
Movement II (RYM II)—tailored the orthodox ideologies of the old left to the political
environment of the 1960s. RYM II argued that the youth movement should be organized
not as a cultural phenomenon but as members of the working class who had experienced “proletarianization” in schools and the army. In these institutions, the young found themselves in the same boat as the oppressed black community, slaves to the lords of war and industry.9
RYM II and the New Left in general adapted their ideological motivations to the political and
social context of the 1960s. Many young leftists turned to the ideas of a new generation of
radical thinkers, such as Herbert Marcuse, Frantz Fanon, and Carlos Marighella. They also
championed contemporary revolutionaries and movements, such as the Cuban, Palestinian, and
Vietnamese revolutionaries. At its core, “the [American] New Left was a mass movement that
led, and fed upon, growing public opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam.”10 The collective
term applied by the New Left to the mainstream American political and cultural establishment
was the military-industrial complex. This term had been used by President Dwight D.
Eisenhower to warn against the possible threat to democratic values from corporate and military
Just as the Black Power movement incorporated a cultural agenda, so too did the New Left.
Many young Americans experimented with alternative lifestyles, drugs, and avant-garde music.
They also challenged the values of mainstream American society, questioning its fundamental
ideological and cultural assumptions. This component of the New Left was commonly called
the counterculture. There was also a genuinely idealistic belief that activist youths could bring
justice to the world. This period was marked by many experiments in youth-centered culture.
LEFT-WING TERRORISM IN THE UNITED STATES
As New Left and Black Power movements and organizations became radicalized, many
individuals and groups began to advocate active resistance against the Establishment—defined
as mainstream American political and social institutions. This resistance included explicit calls
for civil disobedience and confrontation with the authorities. Many within these movements
referred to themselves as revolutionaries, and some advocated the overthrow of the military-
industrial complex. Prototypical revolutionary organizations began to form in the late 1960s, and
a few of these groups produced cadres or factions that became terrorist organizations. All of this
occurred in a generalized environment of activism and direct action. For example, social tensions
were quite volatile during the first half of 1970, as indicated by the following incidents that
occurred before the summer college break:
• On May 4 at Kent State University in Ohio, four students were killed and nine wounded
by the Ohio National Guard after several days of violent antiwar demonstrations against
the U.S. incursion into Cambodia.
• Just after midnight on May 15 at Jackson State University in South Carolina (a historically African American university), one student and one passerby were killed when police fired into a crowd of African American protestors. At least a dozen students were hospitalized.
• Approximately 30 Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) buildings were burned or bombed.
• More than 500 colleges closed early because of student protests.
There were also many politically motivated bombings, shootings, and assaults during this period. The Senate Committee on Government Operations reported the following statistics:11
• 1969: 298 explosive and 243 incendiary bombing incidents • January to July 1970: 301 explosive and 210 incendiary bombing incidents • January 1968 to June 1970: 216 ambushes against law enforcement personnel and
• January 1968 to June 1970: 359 total assaults against the police, causing 23 deaths and 326 injuries
Chapter Perspective 12.1 presents two examples of radicalized organizations—one from the New Left (Students for a Democratic Society) and the other from the Black Power movement (the Black Panther Party for Self Defense). The story of both groups illustrates the evolutionary process of left-wing revolutionary cadres and factions that eventually advocated political violence.
Chapter Perspective 12.1Seeds of Terrorism: Radicals on the American Left
Two militant case studies are discussed here—the Black Panthers and the radicalized Students
for a Democratic Society. Within each movement were groups or cadres who advocated violent
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was organized in 1966 in Oakland, California. The
name was selected from an African American organization founded in Alabama called the
Lowndes County Freedom Organization. The Lowndes County group had used the symbol of a
black panther on voter ballots, ostensibly so that illiterate voters would know who their
The Oakland Black Panthers initially imitated a tactic that had been used by the Los Angeles–
based Community Alert Patrol, which had been formed after the Watts riot in August 1965.a The
Community Alert Patrol would dispatch observers to scenes of suspected harassment by the Los
Angeles Police Department and observe police stops. In Oakland, the Black Panthers took this
tactic one step further and arrived on the scene openly carrying law books and shotguns or rifles
(legal at the time in California).b The symbolism of young African Americans projecting a
paramilitary image in poor urban ghettos attracted members to the Black Panthers around the
country. More than 40 chapters were formed, with a total of more than 2,000 members. By 1968,
the group made worldwide headlines and came to symbolize the Black Power movement. Public
demonstrations by the Black Panthers maximized the use of paramilitary symbolism, with
members marching and chanting slogans in precision and wearing black berets and black leather
Ideologically, the Black Panthers were inspired by Malcolm X,c Frantz Fanon, and Mao Zedong.
They were advocates of Black Nationalism and encouraged economic self-sufficiency and armed
self-defense in the Black community. Black Panther self-help initiatives included free breakfasts
for poor schoolchildren in urban areas. The police (at that time all male and mostly White in
most cities) were especially singled out and labeled as a kind of “occupation” force in African
The group’s militancy attracted the attention of federal and local law enforcement agencies, who
considered the organization to be a threat to national security. The revolutionary and antipolice
rhetoric of Black Panther leaders and the militant articles in its newspaper The Black
Panther increased their concern. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director J. Edgar Hoover
stated that the Black Panthers were the most significant threat to domestic security in the United
States. A series of arrests and shootouts at Black Panther offices occurred. The leadership of the
organization was decimated by arrests, police raids, and a
successful “disinformation” campaign that sowed distrust among central figures. Internal feuds
between leaders Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver also disrupted the group. Although the
Black Panthers continued to be active into the late 1970s—after significantly moderating its
militancy by the mid-1970s—its heyday as a paramilitary symbol of Black Nationalism was
during the late 1960s and early 1970s. As it declined under relentless internal and external
pressures, some of its more radical members joined the revolutionary underground.
Students for a Democratic Society
In June 1962, a group of liberal and mildly leftist students, known as Students for a Democratic
Society (SDS), many from the University of Michigan, met to draft a document that became
known as the Port Huron Statement. In this document, SDS harshly criticized the values of
mainstream American society and called for the establishment of a “new left” movement in the
United States. The Port Huron Statement was a critique and a call for action directed to middle-
class students. At this time, SDS was liberal and leftist but hardly revolutionary. SDS espoused
“direct action,” which originally referred to peaceful and nonviolent confrontation.
By 1965, SDS had moved to the radical left, and when the bombing of North Vietnam began, its
national membership soared. By 1966, its focal point was the war in Vietnam and support for the
Black Power movement (SDS’s membership comprised mostly White students). In 1967, SDS
(in a classic Marcuse-like interpretation) cast activist American youth as a “new working class”
oppressed by the military-industrial complex. By 1968, SDS’s leadership was revolutionary. An
SDS-led takeover of Columbia University occurred during the 1968 spring term, when students
seized five buildings for 5 days. When the police were called in, a riot ensued; more than 700
people were arrested, and nearly 150 were injured. A student strike—again led by SDS—closed
Columbia. SDS also led dozens of other campus disturbances in 1968.
In June 1968, SDS factionalized because of ideological tensions within the group. Some
members formed a prototypical Revolutionary Youth Movement, others aligned themselves with
developing world revolutionary heroes, and others (sometimes called “Crazies”) espoused
violent revolution. At its next meeting in June 1969 in Chicago, SDS split along doctrinal and
tactical lines into the Maoist Progressive Labor Party (also known as the Worker-Student
Alliance), Revolutionary Youth Movement II, and the violent revolutionary Weathermen group.
a. The toll for the Watts disturbance was high; 34 people were killed, more than 1,000 injured,
and nearly 4,000 arrested. Approximately 200 businesses were destroyed and about 700 were
damaged. For a study of the Watts riot, see Conot, Robert. Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness.
New York: Bantam, 1967.
b. The armed patrols ended when California passed a law prohibiting the open display of
c. For more information about Malcolm X, see Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
New York: Grove, 1964.
Generational Rebellion: New Left Terrorism
The New Left was deeply affected by the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, and the
turmoil in inner-city African American communities. A number of terrorist groups and cells
grew out of this environment. Although the most prominent example was the Weathermen
group, other groups such as the Symbionese Liberation Army also engaged in terrorist violence.
The United Freedom Front proved to be the most enduring of all New Left terrorist groups of the
Photo 12.2 National Guard soldiers advance at Kent State University, in Ohio, on May 4, 1970.
Four students were slain when troops fired into a crowd of some 600 antiwar demonstrators.
Howard Ruffner/Archive Photos/Getty Images
The Weathermen/Weather Underground Organization
The Weatherman group—known as the Weathermen—gelled at the June 1969 Students for a
Democratic Society national convention in Chicago, when SDS splintered into several factions.
The Weathermen derived their name from a popular song of the time written by artist Bob
Dylan, which included the lyrics, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind
blows.” The Weathermen were mostly young, White, educated members of the middle class.
They represented in stark fashion the dynamic ideological tendencies of the era as well as the
cultural separation from the older generation. Although they and others were sometimes referred
to collectively as the “Crazies,” they operated within a supportive cultural and political
environment. The following description of this environment is typical:
Only a handful of the New Left were alienated enough to embrace revolutionary strategies, but many of them agreed with the objectives, if not the tactics, of the militant Weather People, and some provided support for them. . . . Testimony to the effectiveness of that support network is the fact that no Weather People were arrested during the early 1970s or after the voluntary cessation of their bombing campaign in 1975.12
From the beginning, the Weathermen were violent and confrontational. In October 1969, they
distributed leaflets in Chicago announcing what became known as their “Days of Rage” action.
They justified their action by declaring,
We move with the people of the world to seize power from those who now rule. We . . . expect their pig lackeys to come down on us. We’ve got to be ready for that. This is a war we can’t resist. We’ve got to actively fight. We’re going to bring the war home to the mother country of imperialism. AMERIKA: THE FINAL FRONT.13
The Days of Rage lasted 4 days and consisted of acts of vandalism and running street fights with
the Chicago police. In December 1969, the Weathermen held a “war council” in Michigan. Its
leadership, calling itself the Weather Bureau, advocated bombings, armed resistance, and
assassinations. One leader, Bernardine Dohrn, praised the murders committed in California by
the Charles Manson cult, referring to the bloodshed as revolutionary acts and calling the cult’s
victims “pigs.” In March 1970, an explosion occurred in a Greenwich Village townhouse in New
York City that was being used as a bomb factory. Three Weathermen were killed, several others
escaped through the New York subway system, and hundreds of members went underground to
By the mid-1970s, the Weathermen—renamed the Weather Underground Organization—had
committed at least 40 bombings, including the following targets:
• the Pentagon
• the U.S. Capitol (possibly—see discussion of the United Freedom Front later in chapter)
• police stations
• National Guard facilities
• ROTC buildings
• the Harvard war research center in Cambridge, Massachusetts
• the Gulf Oil corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Weather Underground also freed counterculture guru Timothy Leary from
prison,14 published a manifesto called Prairie Fire, and distributed an underground periodical
called Osawatomie. Members established an aboveground support network of Weather
Collectives organized by a group called the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee. Their
underground network of safe houses and rural safe collectives—which they used to hide
themselves and New Left fugitives from the law—was never effectively infiltrated by law
enforcement agencies. By the mid-1970s, members of the Weather Underground began to give
up their armed struggle and returned to aboveground activism—a process that they called
“inversion.” Those who remained underground (mostly the East Coast wing) committed acts of
political violence into the 1980s, and others joined other terrorist organizations.
The Symbionese Liberation Army
A violent terrorist cell known as the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) gained notoriety for
several high-profile incidents in the mid-1970s. The core members were led by Donald
DeFreeze, who took the nom de guerre Cinque (after the leader of a 19th-century rebellion
aboard the slave ship Amistad). Members trained in the Berkeley hills of California near San
Francisco, rented safe houses, and obtained weapons. In November 1973, the Oakland school
superintendent was assassinated when he was shot eight times; five of the bullets were cyanide
tipped. In a communiqué, the SLA took credit for the attack, using a rhetorical phrase that
became its slogan: “Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the people!”
In February 1974, newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst was kidnapped by the cell. She was kept
bound and blindfolded in a closet for more than 50 days while under constant physical and
psychological pressure, including physical abuse and intensive political indoctrination. She broke
down under the pressure, and a tape recording was released in which she stated that she had
joined the SLA. In April 1974, Hearst participated in a bank robbery in San Francisco. This was
a classic case of Stockholm syndrome.
In May 1974, five of the SLA’s core members, including DeFreeze, were killed in a shootout in a
house in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Patricia Hearst was a fugitive for approximately 1 year. She was hidden—probably by the
Weather Underground—and traveled across the country with compatriots. By 1975, the SLA had
a rebirth with new recruits and was responsible for several bank robberies and bombings in
California. Members referred to themselves as the New World Liberation Front. Hearst was
captured in September 1975 in San Francisco along with another underground fugitive.
Most of the other members either were captured or disappeared into the underground. One
member of the renewed SLA, Kathy Soliah, was arrested in July 1999 in a Minneapolis suburb.
She had changed her name to Sara Jane Olson and become a typical community-oriented “soccer
mom.” Soliah was convicted in California on 20-year-old charges of plotting to blow up two Los
Angeles Police Department patrol cars.15 In February 2003, four former members of the SLA
(including Soliah) pleaded guilty to participating in an April 1975 bank robbery in Carmichael,
California, in which a mother of four was shot to death.16 A fifth former SLA member who
participated in the Carmichael incident (James Kilgore) was arrested near Cape Town, South
Africa, in November 2002. Kilgore also pleaded guilty to charges.
Civil Strife: Ethnonationalist Terrorism on the Left
Ethnonational violence—which is distinguishable from racial supremacist violence—has been
rare in the United States. This is primarily because activist environments have not historically
supported nationalist terrorism. Exceptions to this general observation grew out of the political
environment of the 1960s, when nationalist political violence originated in African American
and Puerto Rican activist movements. There have been few nationalist movements outside of
these examples. One isolated example of nationalist violence did occur on the island of St. Croix
in the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 1972, eight people—seven Whites and one African
American—were shot execution style at the Fountain Valley Golf Club by Virgin Islands
nationalists seeking independence from the United States. This incident (known as the Fountain
Valley Massacre) was isolated and idiosyncratic; it did not develop into an underground
revolutionary movement, as did the Puerto Rican and mainland African American movements.
The following discussion evaluates ethnonational political violence committed by adherents of
the Black Liberation and Puerto Rico independence movements. In both examples, the
underlying ideological justifications for the violence were Marxist-inspired.
The Black Liberation Movement
Racial tensions in the United States were extremely high during the 1960s. African Americans in
the South directly confronted southern racism through collective nonviolence and the burgeoning
Black Power ideology. In the urban areas of the North and West, cities became centers of
confrontation between African Americans, the police, and state National Guards. Many Black
Power advocates in the North and West became militant as the summers became seasons of
urban confrontation. During what became known in the 1960s as the “long hot summer,” many
cities were social and political powder kegs, and hundreds of riots occurred during the summers
from 1964 to 1969. The urban disturbances in the United States during the 1960s caused a major
period of communal discord. The disturbances were widespread and violent and were a
culmination of many factors. One factor was the deeply rooted racial polarization in American
When President Lyndon Johnson and the U.S. Senate organized inquiries into the causes of these
disorders, their findings were disturbing. The presidential-appointed National Advisory
Commission on Civil Disorders (known as the Kerner Commission) reported in 1968 that
segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans. What white Americans have never fully understood—but what the Negro can never forget—is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.17
Table 12.4 reports data from a Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations inquiry into
urban rioting after the serious disturbances in the summer of 1967.18 The inquiry summarized the
environment during three years of civil disturbances.19 The table also presents estimated
consequences of the 1968 disturbances that occurred following the assassination of Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr.20 It describes the quality of these findings, which indicate the severity of tensions
in urban areas during the mid-1960s.
Table 12.4 Racial Conflict in America: The “Long Hot Summers” of the 1960s
Incident Report 1965 1966 1967 1968
Number of urban disturbances 5 21 75 ~125
Killed 36 11 83 ~40
Injured 1,206 520 1,897 ~3,500
Arrests 10,245 2,298 16,389 ~26,000
Convictions 2,074 1,203 2,157 N/A
Cost of damage (in millions of dollars) $40.1 $10.2 $664.5 ~$65–385
Within this environment grew cadres of African American revolutionaries dedicated to using
political violence to overthrow what they perceived to be a racist and oppressive system. The
most prominent example of African American nationalist terrorism is the Black Liberation
The Black Liberation Army
The BLA was an underground movement whose membership included former members of the
Black Panthers and Vietnam veterans. BLA members were nationalists who were inspired in part
by the 1966 film Battle of Algiers,21 a semidocumentary of an urban terrorist uprising in the city
of Algiers against the French during their colonial war in Algeria. In the film, Algerian rebels
organized themselves into many autonomous cells to wage urban guerrilla warfare against the
French. The actual Battle of Algiers is considered by many to be a prototypical example of cell-
based irregular and asymmetric warfare.
There were at least two centers (likely consisting of groups of cells) of the BLA—the East Coast
and West Coast groups. Although the BLA was active in late 1970 and early 1971, both cells
became known later, and in similar fashion, to law enforcement agencies and the media:
• East Coast Cells. In May 1971, two New York City police officers were ambushed and
killed by .45-caliber fire. A package delivered to the New York Times containing, among
other items, a communiqué and a .45 bullet claimed credit for the shootings on behalf of
the BLA. This was the beginning of a number of known and suspected BLA attacks in
the New York City region.
• West Coast Cells. In August 1971, similar attacks were made against police officers in
San Francisco. In one ambush, the police were attacked by .45-caliber machinegun fire;
two BLA “soldiers” were captured after a shootout in this incident.
The BLA is suspected to have committed a number of attacks in New York and California prior
to and after these incidents. They are thought to have been responsible for numerous bombings,
ambushes of police officers,22 and bank robberies to “liberate” money to support their cause.
Their areas of operation were California and New York City, though cells were active in the
South and Midwest. Some BLA members apparently received training in the South.
The symbolic leader of the BLA was JoAnne Chesimard, a former Black Panther who later
changed her name to Assata Shakur. She was described by admirers as the “heart and soul” of
the BLA. In May 1973, a gunfight broke out when she and two other BLA members were
stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike by a New Jersey state trooper. The trooper was killed, as
was one of the occupants of the automobile. Shakur was captured, tried, and eventually
convicted in 1977. She was sentenced to life imprisonment but was freed in 1979 by members of
the May 19 Communist Organization (discussed later in the chapter) and spirited to Cuba. She
remained there under the protection of the Cuban government.
Most members of the BLA were eventually captured or killed. Those who were captured were
sentenced to long prison terms.23 Unlike the Weather Underground’s network, the BLA network
was successfully penetrated and infiltrated by the FBI, using informants. Those who escaped the
FBI net re-formed to join other radical organizations. Interestingly, the only known White
member of the BLA, Marilyn Buck, was a former member of the radicalized SDS who had
disappeared into the revolutionary underground.
Puerto Rican Independentistas
Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, meaning that it is self-governed by a
legislature and an executive (a governor) and has a nonvoting delegate to Congress. The island is
exempt from the Internal Revenue Code, and its residents are ineligible to vote in presidential
elections. Opinion about the island’s political status is divided among a majority who wish for it
to remain a commonwealth, a large number who favor statehood, and a minority who desire
national independence. Those who desire independence are nationalists called independentistas.
Most independentistas use democratic institutions to promote the cause of independence; they
are activists but are not prone to violence. Many are intellectuals and professionals who are
working to build pro-independence sentiment. For example, the Puerto Rico Independence Party
is a fairly mainstream leftist political movement in Puerto Rico.
Some independentistas are revolutionaries, and a small number have resorted to violence. Puerto
Rican nationalist violence on the mainland United States has a history dating to the postwar era.
Two incidents from the 1950s illustrate this history:
• In November 1950, nationalists attacked Blair House, the president’s official state guest
house, in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to assassinate President Harry Truman. Two
people were killed—one terrorist and one Secret Service agent.
• In March 1954, five members of the U.S. House of Representatives were wounded when
four nationalists opened fire from the visitors’ gallery overlooking the House floor. All of
the attackers were captured, tried, and convicted.
President Jimmy Carter granted executive clemency to the perpetrators of these incidents, freeing
them from prison.
Modern violent nationalists pattern themselves after Cuban nationalism and view the United
States as an imperial and colonial power. Cuba has, in fact, provided support for
violent independentistas groups, especially during the 1980s.
There have been several Puerto Rican independentistas terrorist organizations. These
organizations include the Macheteros (“Machete-Wielders”), the Organization of Volunteers
for the Puerto Rican Revolution, and the Armed Forces of Popular Resistance. Although
most violent independentistas carried out their operations in Puerto Rico, one group—
the Armed Forces for National Liberation (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional
Puertorrequeña, or FALN)—was based on the mainland and was highly active from the 1970s
through the mid-1980s. The Macheteros were also responsible for attacks on the mainland.
The FALN24 was a very active terrorist organization that concentrated its activities on the U.S.
mainland, primarily in Chicago and New York City. One important fact stands out about the
FALN: It was the most prolific terrorist organization in U.S. history. The group became active in
1974, and from 1975 to 1983, approximately 130 bombings were linked to the FALN or the
Macheteros, with the vast majority being the responsibility of the FALN. Most attacks by the
FALN were symbolically directed against buildings, although some of its attacks were deadly.
For example, in January 1975, the FALN detonated a bomb at the trendy restaurant Fraunces
Tavern in New York, killing four people and wounding more than 50. In another incident, in
1983, three New York City police officers were maimed while trying to defuse explosives at the
New York police headquarters. The group was also responsible for armored car and bank
Aside from the FALN’s attacks, the political and legal issues surrounding the group were high
profile and significant. Two cases in point are instructive:
• In 1977, leader William “Guillermo” Morales was captured by the police after being injured
in an explosion at a FALN bomb factory in New York City. In 1979, Morales was freed from a
hospital in New York by the May 19 Communist Organization, the same group that freed BLA
leader Assata Shakur. He escaped to Mexico, where he remained hidden until 1983. In 1983,
Morales was captured by Mexican authorities at an international telephone; he was also
convicted in absentia of sedition by a federal district court in Chicago for participation in 25
bombings. In 1988, Mexico refused to extradite Morales to the United States, and he was
allowed to move to Cuba, where he remained under the protection of Cuban authorities.
• In 1980, more than a dozen FALN members were convicted of terrorist-related crimes.
Sentences were imposed for seditious conspiracy, possession of unregistered firearms, interstate
transportation of a stolen vehicle, interference with interstate commerce by violence, and
interstate transportation of firearms with intent to commit a crime. None of these charges were
linked to homicides. FALN members’ sentences ranged from 15 to 90 years, and they considered
themselves to be prisoners of war.
In August 1999, President Bill Clinton proposed executive clemency for 16 imprisoned FALN
members. President Clinton offered to commute their sentences if the prisoners agreed to meet
three conditions: first, sign agreements to renounce violence; second, admit that they had
committed criminal acts; and third, agree not to reestablish their associations with one another
after release. In September 1999, clemency was accepted by 14 members, and two refused the
offer. Under the terms of the clemency agreement, 11 were released, and one accepted a grant of
parole in 2004. This process was opposed by the FBI, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, two U.S.
attorneys, local law enforcement agencies, and the families of victims of FALN attacks. It was
supported by human rights officials (who argued that the sentences were too harsh), mainstream
Puerto Rican politicians, and members of the Puerto Rican nationalist movement. It was also
popular among large constituencies on the island and mainland.
The Revolution Continues: Leftist Hard Cores25
The left-wing revolutionary underground re-formed after the decline of groups such as the
Weather Underground and the BLA. These new groups were made up of die-hard former
members of the Weather Underground and the BLA, as well as former activists from other
organizations such as the radicalized SDS and the Black Panthers. Two cases in point illustrate
the character of the reconstituted revolutionary left in the 1980s.
May 19 Communist Organization
The May 19 Communist Organization (M19CO) derives its name from the birthdays of Malcolm X and Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh. The symbolism of this designation is obvious—it combines domestic and international examples of resistance against self- defined U.S. racism and imperialism. The group was composed of remnants of the Republic of New Afrika (described later in the chapter), the BLA, the Weather Underground, and the Black Panthers. These cadres included the founders of the Republic of New Afrika and the most violent members of the Weather Underground. Many of its members were people who had disappeared into the revolutionary underground for years.
M19CO was fairly active, engaging in bank and armored car robberies, bombings, and other
politically motivated actions. Its more spectacular actions included the following incidents:
• Responsibility for freeing BLA leader Assata Shakur from a New Jersey prison in 1979.
M19CO hid Shakur for months before spiriting her to Cuba.
• Responsibility for freeing FALN leader William Morales from a New York City hospital
in 1979. The group hid Morales and arranged his flight to Mexico.
• Participation in the October 1981 robbery of a Brinks armored car in suburban Nyack,
New York. During the robbery, one security guard was killed. After an automobile chase
and shootout at a roadblock, four M19CO members were captured. Two police officers
had died at the roadblock shootout. One person captured was Kathy Boudin, daughter of
prominent attorney Leonard Boudin.26 She had been one of the survivors of the explosion
at the Weatherman group’s Greenwich Village townhouse in 1970.27 Also captured was
Donald Weems, a former BLA member and later member of the New Afrikan Freedom
M19CO adopted several different names when claiming responsibility for its attacks. These
aliases included Red Guerrilla Resistance, Revolutionary Fighting Group, and Armed Resistance
Unit. After the Nyack incident, M19CO remained active and engaged in several bombings. The
group was finally broken when its remaining members were arrested in May 1985.
The New Afrikan Freedom Fighters
The New Afrikan Freedom Fighters were an unstructured Black liberation movement,
considered by authorities to be a self-defined “military wing” of a nationalist organization called
the Republic of New Afrika.28 The objective of the Republic of New Afrika was to form a
separate African American nation (called the Republic of New Afrika) from portions of several
southern states in which the population was majority African American. Many of the Republic of
New Afrika’s activities were aboveground, and many of its members were educated intellectuals.
Some members opted to engage in political violence under the name of the New Afrikan
Freedom Fighters. The group included former members of the BLA and the Black Panthers.
They operated in collaboration with other members of the revolutionary underground. The group
was eventually broken up in 1985 after members were arrested for conspiring to free from prison
Donald Weems, the group’s Nyack armored car robbery comrade; bomb the courthouse; and
commit other acts of political violence.
The United Freedom Front29
One case is unique in comparison with other New Left, nationalist, or hard-core groups. Formed
in 1975, the United Freedom Front (UFF) was underground and active for approximately 10
years. It was a New Left terrorist organization that grew out of a program by former SDS
members to educate prison inmates about the “political” nature of their incarceration. This effort
was similar to other radical programs that defined incarcerated African Americans as political
prisoners. Activists across the country went into the prisons to develop the revolutionary
consciousness of what they perceived to be an oppressed group—much as orthodox Marxist
revolutionaries had long used vanguard strategies to politicize the working class and peasantry.
In 1975, the UFF detonated a bomb at the Boston State House under the name of the Sam
Melville–Jonathan Jackson Unit, named for two politicized inmates. The group was never very
large but was very active, peaking in activity during the early 1980s. The UFF is suspected of
committing at least 25 bombings and robberies in New York and New England. The attacks were
primarily intended to exhibit anticorporate or antimilitary symbolism. A group calling itself the
Armed Resistance Unit detonated a bomb on the Senate side of the U.S. Capitol building on
November 6, 1983, to protest the U.S. invasion of Grenada. It is possible that the Armed
Resistance Unit was the UFF operating under a different name.
UFF members exhibited a great deal of discipline in their activities—for example, taking copious
notes at regular meetings that they called “sets.” Members went underground in the American
suburbs, immersing themselves in the middle class and adopting covers as nondescript residents.
The UFF was broken when its members were arrested in late 1984 and early 1985. Few leftist
groups had survived by remaining both underground and active for as long as did the UFF.
Single-Issue Violence on the Left
The left has produced violent single-issue groups and individuals who focus on one particular
issue to the exclusion of others. To them, their championed issue is the central point—arguably
the political crux—for solving many of the world’s problems. For example, Ted Kaczynski, also
known as the Unabomber, protested the danger of technology by sending and placing bombs that
killed three people and injured 22 others during a 17-year campaign.
Typical of leftist single-issue extremism is the fringe environmental movement. Groups such as
the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) have committed
hundreds of acts of violence, such as arson, break-ins, and vandalism. Activists refer to their
methods euphemistically as “eco-drama,” “eco-tage,” “monkey-wrenching,” and “animal
liberation.”30 The FBI defines eco-terrorism as “the use or threatened use of violence of a
criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally oriented, subnational
group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a
Most incidents have been directed against property and other economic targets. Their activity
profiles are summarized as follows:
• The ALF favors direct action to protest animal abuse, with the objective of saving as
many animals as possible. There is no hierarchy within the movement, and it has operated
in small groups.
• The ELF was founded in England by activists who split from the environmentalist group
Earthfirst! because of its decision to abandon criminal activities. It is potentially more
radical than the ALF.
The ALF and ELF have coordinated their activities. Several joint claims have been made about
property damage and other acts of vandalism, and it is likely that the two groups have shared the
same personnel. However, both groups comprise self-described autonomous collectives of
activists, much like the cellular structure of other extremist movements.
For the most part, both the ALF and ELF have been nonviolent toward humans, but they have
committed many incidents of property destruction. Property targets include buildings,
monuments, and other infrastructure. ALF and ELF targets also include laboratories, facilities
where animals are kept, and sport utility vehicles (SUVs). Some of these incidents are vandalism
sprees. For example, in one spree near Sacramento, California, in late 2004 and early 2005,
several acts of arson were attempted and trucks and SUVs were vandalized and spray-painted
with the initials ELF. In another operation, in 2003, a group of activists apparently affiliated with
the ELF went on a firebombing and vandalism spree in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los
Angeles. About 125 SUVs and other vehicles parked at homes and auto dealerships were
burned or damaged. The initials ELF were also spray-painted. In the latter operation, a doctoral
student attending the California Institute of Technology was found guilty of conspiracy and
Other ALF/ELF actions have included the following:
• destruction of a forest station in Oregon
• poisoning Mars candy bars
• destruction of a University of California, Davis, livestock research laboratory
• tree “spiking,” which involves pounding metal stakes into trees in logging areas; the
purpose is to destroy or damage logging equipment
• the “liberation” of minks in Wisconsin
• arson at the Vail, Colorado, ski resort
The FBI estimates that the ELF alone has engaged in approximately 1,200 criminal acts and
caused about $100 million in property damage since 1996; other research estimates nearly $200
million in property damage by both groups.32 In 2001, an ELF firebomb destroyed the University
of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture, which was rebuilt at a cost of $7 million. In one
particularly destructive arson incident in August 2003, the group caused $50 million in damages
to a condominium complex under construction in San Diego, California. The ELF has also
targeted suburban property developments, as occurred in 2008 when four luxury homes were
burned in a suburb north of Seattle, Washington. In September 2009, members of the ELF
toppled two radio towers near Seattle.
BACKGROUND TO TERRORISM: RIGHT-WING ACTIVISM AND IDEOLOGICAL EXTREMISM IN AMERICA
The modern American right is characterized by several trends that developed from cultural and
grassroots sources. Unlike the left, whose characteristics reflected the activism of the 1960s, the
right is characterized more by self-defined value systems. These value systems have been
perceived by many on the right to be under attack and hence in need of protection—often by
resorting to activist defense. This tendency is rooted in newly emergent trends such as
antigovernment and evangelical religious activism as well as in historical cultural trends such as
racial supremacy. Some political controversies, such as undocumented immigration and
mandated economic equality, have rallied extremists who promote their own agendas by
claiming that such issues justify their extreme beliefs.33 One interesting ideological juxtaposition
has been collaboration among racial supremacists and other members of the extreme right with
Islamist radicals, primarily because of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic common cause.34
Photo 12.3 Amid an increasingly divisive debate about undocumented immigration, a right-wing
group led by former White House advisor Stephen Bannon began building a privately funded
wall along the U.S.-Mexico border in New Mexico in 2019.
Joe Raedle/Staff/Getty Images
The following discussion surveys the modern (postwar) characteristics of these trends. It
provides a background to contemporary terrorism on the right.
Religious Politics and the Christian Right
The movement commonly termed the Christian Right is a mostly Protestant fundamentalist movement that links strict Christian values to political agendas. The Christian Right is certainly not unique in making this connection; the civil rights movement was also led by members of the religious community. In both examples, activists sought the “moral high ground” on issues, thus framing the political debate as one of moral urgency rather than political expediency. The modern origins of the Christian Right lie in the conservative
political environment of the 1980s. During the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan and other conservative leaders actively embraced many principles of the movement’s political agenda.
The Christian Right is not an inherently violent movement, and some activists have practiced
variations of collective nonviolence and direct action by blockading and protesting at the offices
of abortion providers. The movement has sometimes been highly active and has successfully
mobilized voters and other activists at both the national and local levels. There has also been
some success in lobbying politicians for support, particularly among conservative members of
Congress who represent conservative religious constituencies. Rallying issues include the
promotion of traditional family values, denunciations of homosexuality, and opposition to
abortion. The ultimate goal of the Christian Right is to make Christian religious values (primarily
evangelical Christian values) an integral part of the nation’s social and political framework.
Far- and fringe-right members of the Christian Right have adopted a highly aggressive and
confrontational style of activism, sometimes involving illegal activity. For example, a number of
blockades and protests at abortion clinics involved harassment and threats directed against
employees and patients. Some clinics received death threats, and violence was occasionally
directed against facilities—including bombings and shootings. One significant aspect of the more
reactionary tendency within the movement is the promotion of a specifically evangelical
Christian agenda, thus rejecting agendas that are secular, non-Christian, or nonfundamentalist
Rise of the Antigovernment Patriots
The Patriot movement came to prominence during the early 1990s. The movement considers
itself to represent the true heirs of the ideals of the framers of the U.S. Constitution. Members
hearken back to what they have defined as the “true” American ideals of individualism, an armed
citizenry, and minimum interference from government. For many Patriots, government in general
is not to be trusted, the federal government in particular is to be distrusted, and the United
Nations is a dangerous and evil institution. To them, American government no longer reflects the
will of the people; it has become dangerously intrusive and violently oppressive. The Patriot
movement is not ideologically monolithic, and numerous tendencies have developed, such as the
Common Law Courts and Constitutionalists.
Conspiracy theories abound within the Patriot movement. Some of them have long and murky
origins, having been developed over decades. Other theories appear and disappear during periods
of political or social crisis. Nevertheless, three phases of modern conspiracy beliefs can be
• Cold War–era conspiracy theories
• New World Order conspiracies
• post-9/11 conspiracy beliefs, also referred to as the “Truther” movement
Two events from the 1990s invigorated paranoid political activism on the Patriot right, giving
rise to new conspiracy theories. These events were the tragedies at Ruby Ridge, Idaho,
and Waco, Texas.
• Ruby Ridge. In August 1992 at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, racial supremacist Randy Weaver and his
family, with compatriot Kevin Harris, were besieged by federal agents for Weaver’s failure to
reply to an illegal weapons charge. Two members of the Weaver family were killed during the
standoff, as was a U.S. marshal. Weaver’s teenage son, Sammy, and Marshal William Degan
were killed during a shootout that occurred when Sammy, Randy, and Harris were confronted as
they walked along a path. Weaver’s wife, Vicky, was later fatally shot by an FBI sniper as she
held her baby in the doorway of the Weaver home. The sniper had previously fired shots at
Randy Weaver and Harris. Members of the Patriot movement and other right-wing extremists
cite this incident as evidence of a broad government conspiracy to deprive freedom-loving “true”
Americans of their right to bear arms and other liberties. Randy Weaver’s story has inspired
Patriots and other members of the extreme right.
• Waco. In early 1993 at Waco, Texas, federal agents besieged the Branch Davidian cult’s
compound after a failed attempt in February to serve a search warrant for illegal firearms had
ended in the deaths of four federal agents and several cult members. On April 19, 1993, during
an assault led by the FBI, about 80 Branch Davidians—including more than 20 children—died in
a blaze that leveled the compound. As with Ruby Ridge, Patriots and other rightists consider this
tragedy to be evidence of government power run amok.
Rightist conspiracy theories range from the fanciful to the paranoid. For example, Patriots cite
evidence that non-American interests are threatening to take over—or have already taken over—
key governmental centers of authority. This is part of an international plot to create a one-world
government called the New World Order. According to one version of this conspiracy theory:
• New World Order troops may already have been prepositioned inside the United States—
as evidenced by sightings of black helicopters.
• The black helicopters are possibly United Nations troops conducting reconnaissance in
preparation for their seizure of power.
• The tragedies at Ruby Ridge and Waco were trial runs for imposing the New World
Order on the United States.
• Background information databases, especially gun registrations, will be used to round up
and oppress loyal patriotic Americans.
As discussed in Chapter Perspective 12.2, the New World Order and black helicopters
conspiracy is not the only one created by “true believers” on the extreme right. Many new
creative conspiracy theories were framed in the post-9/11 era.
Chapter Perspective 12.2Conspiracy Theories on the American Right
The modern far and fringe right have produced a number of conspiracy theories and rumors.
Although they may seem fantastic to nonmembers of the Patriot (and other) movements, many
adherents of these theories live their lives as if the theories were an absolute reality. Three phases
of modern conspiracy beliefs can be identified.
Phase 1 Conspiracies: Communist Invaders During the Cold War
• Rumors “confirmed” that Soviet cavalry units were preparing to invade Alaska across the
Bering Strait from Siberia.
• Thousands of Chinese soldiers (perhaps an entire division) had massed in tunnels across
the southwestern border of the United States in Mexico.
• Thousands of Viet Cong and Mongolian troops had also massed in Mexico across the
borders of Texas and California.
Phase 2a Conspiracies: The New World Order Replaces the Communist Menace
• Hostile un-American interests (which may already be in power) include the United
Nations, international Jewish bankers, the Illuminati, the Council on Foreign Relations,
and the Trilateral Commission.
• Assuming it is Jewish interests who are in power, the U.S. government has secretly
become the Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG).
• The government has constructed concentration camps that will be used to intern Patriots
and other loyal Americans after their weapons have all been seized (possibly by African
American street gangs).
• Invasion coordinates for the New World Order have been secretly stuck to the backs of
• Sinister symbolism and codes have been found in the Universal Product Code (the bar
lines on consumer goods), cleaning products, cereal boxes, and dollar bills (such as the
pyramid with the eyeball).
• Sinister technologies exist that will be used when the ZOG or the New World Order
makes its move. These include devices that can alter the weather and scanners that can
read the plastic strips in American paper currency.
• The Federal Emergency Management Agency has built concentration camps for the day
when patriotic Americans will be interned.
Phase 2b Conspiracies: Formation of “Citizens’ Militias”
With these and other conspiracy theories as an ideological foundation, many within the Patriot
movement organized themselves into citizens’ militias. Scores of militias were organized during
the 1990s. At their peak, it is estimated that 50,000 Americans were members of more than 800
militias, drawn from 5 to 6 million adherents of the Patriot movement.a
Some members joined to train as weekend “soldiers,” whereas other militias organized
themselves as paramilitary survivalists. Survivalism originated during the Cold War, when
many people believed that a nuclear exchange between the superpowers was inevitable. They
moved into the countryside, stocked up on food and weapons, and prepared for the nuclear
holocaust. Many militias adapted this expectation to the New World Order conspiracy theory.
Militia members who became survivalists went “off the grid” by refusing to have credit cards,
driver’s licenses, Social Security numbers, or government records. The purpose of going off the
grid was to disappear from the prying eyes of the government and the New World Order or ZOG.
Several principles are common to most Patriot organizations and militias:
• The people are sovereign. When necessary, they can resist the encroachment of
government into their lives. They can also reject unjust government authority.
• Only an armed citizenry can counterbalance the authority of an oppressive government.
• The U.S. government has become oppressive, so the time is right to organize citizens’
• It is necessary for citizens’ militias to train and otherwise prepare for the day when an
oppressive government or the New World Order moves in to take away the sovereignty
of the people.
The potential for political violence from some members of the armed, conspiracy-bound Patriot
movement has been cited by experts and law enforcement officials as a genuine threat.
Phase 3a Conspiracies: 9/11 “Truther” Conspiracy Theories
A number of conspiracy theories emerged in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks, part of the so-called truther movement. These include the following:
• The U.S. government allowed the attacks to happen.
• Explosives destroyed the Twin Towers in a controlled detonation, as evidenced by the
vertical fall of the towers and debris that was pushed through the windows.
• A missile hit the Pentagon, as evidenced by the small size of two holes in the building.
• World Trade Center Building 7 was brought down by controlled explosions.
Phase 3b Conspiracies: Post-9/11 Conspiracy Theories
Other conspiracy theories gained traction in the years following the September 11 attacks. These
include the following:
• President Barack Obama was not born in the United States (so-called birther
conspiracies), was a socialist, and was secretly a Muslim.
• The New World Order is spraying toxic chemicals in the atmosphere. These may be seen
in the contrails of aircraft.
• The Federal Reserve System will be used to create a one-world banking system.
• Military training exercises such as Jade Helm 15 in 2015 are actually preludes for seizing
firearms, declaring martial law, and (in the case of Jade Helm 15) invading Texas.
• QAnon conspiracy theories allege that a “deep state” was exposed following the election
of President Donald Trump. The goal of the deep state was to destabilize the new
administration and disenfranchise its political supporters. Among several conspiracies
propounded by QAnon is an alleged coup d’etat plot by billionaire George Soros, former
president Barack Obama, and former senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
a. Hoffman, Bruce. Inside Terrorism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, p. 107.
These numbers declined during the late 1990s and then rebounded after the September 11, 2001,
attacks on the U.S. homeland. For annual reports on the status of the Patriot militia movement,
see Southern Poverty Law Center. Intelligence Report. https://www.splcenter.org/intelligence-
Racial Supremacy: An Old Problem With New Beginnings
The history of racial supremacy in the United States began during the period of African chattel
slavery and continued with the policy to remove Native Americans from ancestral lands. The
racial dimensions of these practices became norms (accepted features) of the early American
nation. As the nation grew, what had originated before the Civil War as a cultural presumption of
racial supremacy became entrenched as cultural and political policy after the war. For example,
African Americans were legally relegated to second-class citizenship, which meant that racial
exclusion and social discrimination were practiced with impunity. Most Native Americans were
simply removed from annexed territory and resettled on territorial reservations, defined as
authorized tribal homelands.
After the Civil War and prior to World War II, the United States became a highly segregated
country. Housing patterns, educational instruction, cultural institutions (such as sports), and
national institutions (such as the armed forces) were racially segregated as a matter of policy.
The effort to win equality for African Americans was slow, arduous, and often dangerous. As
often as not, racial equality was politically unpopular among large blocs of White Americans.
Organized supremacist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizens Councils
enforced the racial code of separation and White dominance. After World War II, the tide turned
against overt and unquestioned racial supremacy. The civil rights movement won significant
legal victories before the Supreme Court and found many allies among prominent White political
and social leaders. However, supremacist beliefs continued to win adherents in the postwar era.
Modern organized racial supremacist groups include the modern KKK, neo-Nazi movements,
racist skinhead youth gangs, and some adherents of the neo-Confederate movement. New non-
Klan groups came into their own during the 1980s, when Aryan Nations, White Aryan
Resistance, and the National Alliance (explored further in Chapter Perspective 12.3) actively
disseminated information about supremacist ideology. Members of the new supremacist groups
created their own mythologies and conspiracy theories. For example, the novel The Turner
Diaries35 is considered by many neo-Nazis to be a blueprint for the Aryan revolution in America.
The book inspired the terrorist group The Order (discussed later in the chapter) in its terrorist
campaign. Also on the racist right, the Fourteen Words have become a rallying slogan.
Originally coined by David Lane, a convicted member of the terrorist group The Order, the
Fourteen Words are as follows: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for
White children.” The Fourteen Words have been incorporated into the Aryan Nations’
“declaration of independence” for the White race, and the slogan is often represented by simply
writing or tattooing 14.
Chapter Perspective 12.3Seeds of Terrorism: Reactionaries on the American Right
Three reactionary case studies are discussed here—White Aryan Resistance (WAR), Aryan
Nations, and the National Alliance. Each case has directly or indirectly influenced activists on
the racial supremacist right.
White Aryan Resistance
White Aryan Resistance—WAR—is an overtly racist organization founded and led by Tom
Metzger. Based in California, WAR publishes neo-Nazi propaganda, manages an active website,
and has tried to recruit and organize racist skinheads. Implicit in its message is the notion that
skinheads should be mobilized as Aryan shock troops in the coming Racial Holy War. WAR has
used popular culture and music to appeal to potential skinhead recruits, and its website is largely
marketed to racist youth. In October 1990, WAR lost a $12.8 million verdict after the Southern
Poverty Law Center litigated a case on behalf of the family of an Ethiopian immigrant who was
beaten to death by WAR-inspired racist skinheads.
The “Reverend” Richard Butler established the Aryan Nations organization as a political
counterpart to his Christian Identity sect, called the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. Aryan
Nations established its spiritual and political headquarters in a compound at Hayden Lakes,
Idaho. Residents of the compound were overtly neo-Nazi. They adopted a rank hierarchy,
established an armed security force, trained as survivalists, worshipped as Identity believers, and
took to wearing uniforms. A number of people who passed through the Aryan Nations group
eventually engaged in political and racial violence, a pattern that included violence by the Order
and Buford O’Neal Furrow. This pattern led to its financial ruin. In a celebrated lawsuit
brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Aryan Nations lost its title to the Hayden Lakes
property in September 2000 when a $6.3 million verdict was decided. During the trial, the
Southern Poverty Law Center successfully linked Aryan Nations security guards to the
terrorizing of a family who had driven to the compound’s entrance.
The National Alliance is historically linked to the now-defunct American Nazi Party, which had
been founded and led by George Lincoln Rockwell prior to his assassination. William Pierce,
the founder and leader of the National Alliance, was long considered by experts and members of
the neo-Nazi movement to be the most prominent propagandist of the movement. Prior to his
death in July 2002, Pierce authored The Turner Diaries (under the nom de plume Andrew
MacDonald), published a magazine called the National Vanguard, made regular radio
broadcasts, and managed an active website. The National Alliance’s original headquarters is a
compound in rural Hillsboro, West Virginia, where Pierce’s followers try to carry on his
tradition. Although some violent neo-Nazis or other reactionaries may have been inspired by the
National Alliance’s message (The Turner Diaries was found in the possession of Timothy
McVeigh), no acts of terrorism or hate crimes were directly linked to the original group.
Postscript: Aryan Nations and National Alliance in Disarray
Two of the most active and influential neo-Nazi organizations were thrown into disarray when
their founders and longtime leaders died in the early years of the 21st century. National
Alliance’s William Pierce died in July 2002, and Aryan Nations’ Richard Butler died in
September 2004. With the deaths of these leaders, both organizations engaged in bitter infighting
over who would assume leadership and whose ideology most reflected the ideologies of the
founding leaders. Infighting led to splits within the organizations, and factions formed claiming
to be the heirs of the original groups. Membership declined significantly because of the
leadership crisis and internal quarreling, eventually marginalizing both organizations.
There were terrorist incidents and abortive terrorist plots during the 1980s rebirth, and since then,
violent racial supremacists have committed a number of hate crimes. For example, a typical
racially motivated assault occurred in November 1988, when a group of racist skinheads in
Portland, Oregon, beat to death an Ethiopian immigrant. They had been influenced by White
When assessing the status of organizations such as Aryan Nations and the National Alliance, a
central consideration is that they were founded and led by charismatic leaders. These leaders
were the guiding personalities behind many supremacist organizations—so much so that the
identities of these organizations were bound to the pronouncements and vigor of their leaders.
The deaths of these founding personalities led to disarray within these groups, resulting in
precipitous declines in membership. Nevertheless, former members retained the central beliefs of
During the 2000s, resurgent iterations of past and recent racial supremacist tendencies include
the concepts of White nationalism, White separatism, and alt-right ideologies.
In Europe, neofascist movements and political parties are decidedly secular. They reference
religion and the organized Christian Church only to support their political agendas; they do not
adopt Christian or cult-like mystical doctrines as spiritual bases to justify their legitimacy. In the
United States, members of far- and fringe-right movements frequently justify their claims of
racial supremacy and cultural purity by referencing underlying spiritual values—essentially
claiming that they have a racial mandate from God. Racial supremacists in particular have
developed mystical foundations for their belief systems, and within the supremacist movement
many mystical tendencies are quasi-theological and cult-like. Three of these cultish doctrines
The Creativity Movement
The World Church of the Creator (WCOTC), founded by Ben Klassen in 1973, practiced a
cult-like faith called Creativity. WCOTC was later led by Matthew Hale until his
imprisonment. Creativity is premised on a rejection of the White race’s reliance on Christianity,
which Klassen believed was created by the Jews as a conspiracy to enslave Whites. According to
adherents of the Creativity movement, the White race itself should be worshipped. WCOTC
declined markedly when Hale was convicted in April 2004 of soliciting a member of WCOTC to
assassinate a federal judge in Illinois. Hale was sentenced in April 2005 to 40 years in
prison.36 Nevertheless, Creativity persists within the overall milieu of quasi-theological racial
Ásatrú is a neopagan movement that worships the pantheon of ancient Norse (Scandinavian)
religions. In its most basic form—which is not racial in conviction—Ásatrú adherents worship
the Norse pantheon of Odin, Thor, Freyr, Loki, and others. A minority of Ásatrú believers have
adopted an activist and racist belief system, linking variants of Nazi ideology and racial
supremacy to the Nordic pantheon. Variations on the Ásatrú theme include Odinism, which
venerates the Norse god Odin (Wotan) as the chief god of all gods.
Race and the Bible: The Christian Identity Creation Myth
Christian Identity is the Americanized strain of an 18th-century quasi-religious doctrine called
Anglo-Israelism that was developed by Richard Brothers. Believers hold that Whites are
descended from Adam and are the true Chosen People of God, that Jews are biologically
descended from Satan, and that non-Whites are soulless beasts (also called the “Mud People”).
Christian Identity adherents have developed two cultish creation stories that are loosely based on
the Old Testament. The theories are called One-Seedline Christian Identity and Two-Seedline
One-Seedline Christian Identity accepts that all humans regardless of race are descended from
Adam; however, only Aryans (defined as northern Europeans) are the true elect of God. They are
the Chosen People whom God has favored and who are destined to rule over the rest of
humanity. In the modern era, those who call themselves the Jews are actually descended from a
minor Black Sea ethnic group and therefore have no claim to Israel.
Two-Seedline Christian Identity rejects the notion that all humans are descended from Adam.
Instead, its focus is on the progeny of Eve. Two-Seedline adherents believe that Eve bore Abel as
Adam’s son but bore Cain as the son of the Serpent (that is, the devil). Outside of the Garden of
Eden lived non-White, soulless beasts who are a separate species from humans. They are the
modern non-White races of the world and are often referred to by Identity believers as Mud
People. When Cain slew Abel, he was cast out of the Garden to live among the soulless beasts.
Those who became the descendants of Cain are the modern Jews. They are thus biologically
descended from the devil and are a demonic people worthy of extermination. There is an
international conspiracy by the Jewish devil-race to rule the world. The modern state of Israel
and the Zionist Occupation Government in the United States are part of this conspiracy.
RIGHT-WING TERRORISM IN THE UNITED STATES
Right-wing terrorism in the United States is usually motivated by racial supremacism and
antigovernment sentiment. Unlike the violent left, terrorist campaigns by underground rightist
organizations and networks have been rare. Massive bombings such as the Oklahoma City attack
have also been rather uncommon. It is more typical for the right to be characterized by small-
scale, cell-based conspiracies within the Patriot and neo-Nazi movements. In comparison with
the left, the violent right has been less organized and less consistent.
The activity profile of the violent right reflects a long history of vigilante behavior, so most acts
of rightist terrorism have been communal incidents, ambushes, and low-yield bombings.
Historically, the KKK and its supporters used vigilante communal violence as the preferred
model for its terrorism. Vigilante lynch mobs came to symbolize the racial nature of right-wing
terrorism in the United States during the late 19th century and continuing well into the 20th
century. Lynchings were discussed in this chapter’s Opening Viewpoint. These incidents were
directed primarily against African American men, although a few lynching victims were African
American women, White immigrants, Jews, or criminals.
Chapter Perspective 12.3 summarizes several examples of racial supremacist activity on the right
in the modern era. These examples illustrate how potentially violent members of the right wing
can find organizations to provide direction and structure for their underlying animosity toward
The following discussion explores the terrorist right by investigating the following subjects:
• Homegrown Racism: The Legacy of the Ku Klux Klan
• Racial Mysticism: Neo-Nazi Terrorism
• Patriot Threats
• Case in Point: Moralist Terrorism
Homegrown Racism: The Legacy of the Ku Klux Klan
The Ku Klux Klan is a racist movement that has no counterpart among international right-wing
movements—it is a purely American phenomenon. Its name comes from the Greek word kuclos,
or “circle.” The KKK is best described as an enduring movement that developed the following
• racial supremacy
• Protestant Christian supremacy
• American cultural nationalism (also known as nativism)
• violent assertion of Klan racial doctrine
• ritualistic symbolism, greetings, and fraternal behavior
Klan terminology in many ways is an exercise in racist secret fraternal bonding. From its
inception in 1866, the Ku Klux Klan has used fraternity-like greetings, symbolism, and rituals.
These behaviors promote secrecy and racial bonding within the organization. Examples of Klan
language include the following greeting: Ayak? (Are you a Klansman?) and Akia! (A Klansman I
am!). The language used for regional offices is also unique, as indicated in the following
• National: Invisible Empire
• State: Realm
• Local: Klavern
Table 12.5 samples the exotic language of the KKK and summarizes the activity profiles of
official Klan organizational designations.
Table 12.5 The Fraternal Klan
Klan Official Duties Scope of Authority Symbolic
National leader Invisible Empire Blue stripes or robe
Grand Dragon State leader Realm Green stripes or robe
County leader Klaverns within
Orange stripes or robe
Nighthawk Local security and
Klavern Black robe
Klonsel General counsel Invisible Empire White robe
Citizen Member Klan faction White robe
KKK terrorism has been characterized by different styles of violence in several historical
periods. Not every Klansman has been a terrorist, nor has every Klan faction practiced terrorism.
However, the threat of violence and racial confrontation has always been a part of the Klan
movement. In order to understand the nature of Klan violence, it is instructive to survey the
historical progression of the movement. There have been several manifestations of the KKK,
which most experts divide into five eras.
The KKK was founded in 1866 in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. Some sources date
its origin to Christmas Eve 1865, whereas others cite 1866. According to most sources, the KKK
was first convened in Pulaski, Tennessee, by a group of Southerners who initially formed the
group as a fraternal association. They originally simply wore outlandish outfits and played
practical jokes but soon became a full civic organization. Their first Imperial Wizard, or national
leader, was former Confederate general and slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest. Military-style
rankings were established, and by 1868, the KKK was a secretive and politically violent
underground. Its targets included African Americans, Northerners, and Southern collaborators.
Northern victims were those who traveled south to help improve the conditions of the former
slaves, as well as profiteering “carpetbaggers.” Southern victims were collaborators derisively
referred to as “Scalawags.” The KKK was suppressed by the Union Army and the anti-Klan “Ku
Klux laws” passed by Congress. Nathan Bedford Forrest ordered the KKK to be officially
disbanded, and its robes and regalia were ceremoniously burned. It has been estimated that the
Klan had about 400,000 members during its first incarnation.
After the Reconstruction era (following the departure of the Union Army from the South and the
end of martial law), the KKK re-formed into new secret societies and fraternal groups. It wielded
a great deal of political influence and successfully helped restore racial supremacy and
segregation in the South. African Americans lost most political and social rights during this
period, beginning a condition of racial subjugation that did not end until the civil rights
movement in the mid-20th century. The targets of Klan violence during this period were African
Americans, immigrants, Catholics, and Jews.
During the early part of the 20th century and continuing into the 1920s, the KKK became a
broad-based national movement. In 1915, members gathered at Stone Mountain, Georgia, and
formed a movement known as the Invisible Empire. The Klan was glorified in the novel The
Clansman and in the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, which was shown in the White House
during the administration of President Woodrow Wilson. During this period, the Invisible
Empire had between 3 and 4 million members. In 1925 in Washington, D.C., 45,000 Klansmen
and Klanswomen paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue. Also during this period, Klan and Klan-
inspired violence was widespread. Thousands of people—mostly African Americans—were
victimized by the KKK. Many acts of terrorism were ritualistic communal lynchings.
After a decline because of revelations about Third-Era violence and corruption, the Klan was
reinvigorated in 1946—once again at Stone Mountain, Georgia. At this gathering, the Invisible
Empire disbanded, and new independent Klans were organized at local and regional levels.
There was no longer a single national Klan; rather, there were autonomous Klan factions. During
the civil rights movement, some Klan factions became extremely violent. The White Knights of
Mississippi and the United Klans of America (mostly in Alabama) committed numerous acts of
terrorism to try to halt progress toward racial equality in the American South. This era ended
after several successful federal prosecutions on criminal civil rights charges, although the Klan
Violence during the Fifth Era has been committed by lone wolves rather than as organized Klan
actions. The modern era of the Ku Klux Klan is characterized by two trends:
1. The Moderate Klan. Some Klansmen and Klanswomen have tried to moderate their image
by adopting more mainstream symbolism and rhetoric. Rather than advocating violence or
paramilitary activity, they have projected an image of law-abiding activists working on behalf of
White civil rights and good moral values. Those who promote this trend have eschewed the
prominent display of Klan regalia and symbols. For example, former neo-Nazi and Klansman
David Duke has repeatedly used mainstream political and media institutions to promote his cause
of White civil rights. He is the founder of the National Association for the Advancement of
White People and the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO).
2. The Purist Klan. A traditional and “pure” Klan has emerged that hearkens back to the
original traditions and ideology of the KKK. This group has held a number of aggressive and
vitriolic rallies—many in public at county government buildings. Its rhetoric is unapologetically
racist and confrontational. Some factions of the purist trend prohibit the display of Nazi
swastikas or other non-Klan racist symbols at KKK gatherings.
KKK membership has ebbed and flowed in the Fifth Era, in part because of changes in the
nation’s cultural and political environment, but also because of competition from other racial
supremacist movements such as the racist skinhead and neo-Nazi groups. There was also fresh
competition beginning in the late 1990s from the neo-Confederate movement.
Photo 12.4 Members of a group called the Honorable Sacred Knights of the Ku Klux Klan burn
a cross in the suburbs of Madison, Indiana, on January 26, 2019.
Racial Mysticism: Neo-Nazi Terrorism
In the modern era, most non-Klan terrorism on the right wing has come from members of the
neo-Nazi movement. Recall that the American version of Nazism has incorporated mystical
beliefs into its underlying ideology of racial supremacy. This mysticism includes Christian
Identity, Creativity, and racist strains of Ásatrú. Neo-Nazi terrorism is predicated on varying
mixes of religious fanaticism, political violence, and racial supremacy. Their worldview is
predicated on the superiority of the Aryan race, the inferiority of non-Aryans, and the need to
confront an evil global Jewish conspiracy. Another common theme is the belief that a racial holy
war (“RaHoWa”) is inevitable.
Racial Supremacist Lone-Wolf Terrorism
Most violence emanating from these beliefs has been expressed as lone-wolf terrorism and hate
crimes. Historically, most lone-wolf attacks in the United States have been racially motivated
killing sprees committed by individual neo-Nazis, White nationalists, or other racial
supremacists. The cases of Richard Baumhammers, James Wenneker von Brunn, Dylann Roof,
and Robert Bowers are instructive examples of the racial supremacist lone-wolf phenomenon.
A typical example of neo-Nazi lone-wolf violence is the case of Richard Baumhammers.
Baumhammers was a racist immigration attorney influenced by neo-Nazi ideology who
murdered five people and wounded one more on April 28, 2000, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
He methodically shot his victims using a .357-caliber Magnum revolver during a 20-mile trek.
The victims were a Jewish woman, two Indian men, two Asian men, and an African American
man. The sequence of Baumhammers’s assault occurred as follows:
• Baumhammers went to his Jewish neighbor’s house and fatally shot her. He then set a
fire inside her home.
• He next shot two Indian men at an Indian grocery store. One man was killed, and the
other was paralyzed by a .357 slug that hit his upper spine.
• Baumhammers shot at a synagogue, painted two swastikas on the building, and wrote the
word Jew on one of the front doors.
• He then drove to a second synagogue, where he fired shots at it.
• Baumhammers shot two young Asian men at a Chinese restaurant, killing them both.
• Finally, Baumhammers went to a karate school, pointed his revolver at a White man
inside the school, and then shot to death an African American man who was a student at
Richard Baumhammers was convicted in May 2001 and received the death penalty.
James Wenneker von Brunn.
On June 10, 2009, a gunman opened fire inside the entrance to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington, D.C. An African American security guard who opened the door for him
was shot with a .22-caliber rifle and later died of his wounds. Other security guards returned fire,
wounding the assailant. The attacker was James Wenneker von Brunn, a racial supremacist
and Holocaust denier—he believed that the Nazi-led genocide during World War II never
occurred. After the attack, the police found a notebook containing a list of other sites in
Von Brunn was a known extremist and had an arrest record from an incident in 1981 when he
entered a federal building armed with weapons and attempted to place the Federal Reserve Board
under “citizen’s arrest.” He was the author of a manifesto, dated 2002, titled “Kill the Best
Gentiles!” or “Tob Shebbe Goyim Harog!”: The Racialist Guide for the Preservation and
Nurture of the White Gene Pool. Von Brunn died in January 2010 before he could be brought to
trial on charges of murder and firearms violations.
On June 17, 2015, Dylann Storm Roof shot 12 people attending a Bible study meeting at the
Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. All victims were
African Americans, and nine died during the assault. Roof was an avowed racial supremacist
who carried out the attack after being welcomed by the Bible study participants and sitting with
them for approximately one hour. He confessed to the crimes and stated he sought to set an
example by his actions, which he intended to be a “spark” to ignite a race war.
Prior to the shootings, Dylann Roof posted to a website titled The Last Rhodesian that was a
discourse on what he considered to be the plight of the White race at the hands of nonWhites and
Jews. Using racist expletives and perspectives, he concluded several times that the White race is
naturally superior and must reestablish its hegemony over non-White races and Jews.
Several photographs were posted on the website of Roof posing with the Confederate,
Rhodesian, and apartheid-era South African flags as symbols of racial supremacy. He is also
shown posing as he burned and spat on the American flag.
Roof was charged with nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder as well as
possession of a firearm (a Glock .45caliber semiautomatic handgun) during the commission of a
On October 27, 2018, Robert Bowers shot 17 people attending religious services at the Tree of
Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All victims were Jewish, and 11 died during the
assault. Four of the injured were police officers.
Bowers entered the synagogue during morning worship services armed with an AR-15 assault
rifle and three Glock semiautomatic handguns. He shouted “all Jews must die!” and began
shooting attendees. Police responded quickly, and SWAT team members subdued Bowers after
wounding him in an exchange of gunfire.
Bowers had posted numerous anti-Semitic messages on the Gab online social network website.
The Gab website billed itself as a free speech forum but was in fact a platform used by many
racial supremacists, White nationalists, and anti-Semites. Bowers expressed particular animosity
toward the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society refugee aid organization. His final post, immediately
before entering the synagogue, was “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw
your politics, I’m going in.”
Photo 12.5 Jewish children pay their respects at the memorial site of the shooting at the Tree of
Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2018.
SOPA Images/Contributor/Getty Images
In addition to the lone-wolf profile, several groups have embarked on violent sprees. For
example, a group calling itself the Aryan Republican Army (ARA) operated in the Midwest
from 1994 to 1996.38 Inspired by the example of the Irish Republican Army, the ARA robbed 22
banks in seven states before the members were captured. Their purpose had been to finance
racial supremacist causes and to hasten the overthrow of the Zionist Occupation Government.
Some members also considered themselves to be Christian Identity fundamentalists called
Phineas Priests, who are discussed later in the chapter. The following case in point further
illustrates the nature of neo-Nazi violence.
Case in Point: The Order
The Order was a covert, underground, and violent group that was inspired by a fictional secret
organization depicted in the novel The Turner Diaries. In the book, The Order is a heroic inner
circle and vanguard for the Aryan revolution in the United States. Robert Jay Mathews, a racial
supremacist activist, was the founder of the actual Order in 1983.
The Order’s methods for fighting the war against the Zionist Occupation Government were
counterfeiting, bank robberies, armored car robberies, and occasional murders.39 Its area of
operation was primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Its first action in 1983 was a small heist in
Spokane, Washington, that netted the group slightly more than $300. Mathews later robbed the
Seattle City bank of $25,000. In April 1984, the group bombed a synagogue in Boise, Idaho. In
March 1984, members of The Order seized $500,000 from a parked armored car in Seattle; the
group detonated a bomb at a theater as a diversion. In May 1984, a peripheral member, Walter
West, was executed because he was indiscreet about the group’s secrecy. In June 1984, Alan
Berg, a Jewish talk-radio host, was murdered in Denver; he had regularly lambasted the neo-Nazi
movement. Also in June, a Brinks armored car was robbed near Ukiah, California, with
disciplined precision, and The Order made off with $3.6 million. The end of The Order came
when the FBI traced a pistol that Mathews had left at the scene of the Brinks robbery. He was
eventually tracked to Whidbey Island in Washington in December 1984, and he died when his
ammunition exploded and caused a fire during an FBI-led siege. More than 20 members of The
Order were prosecuted and imprisoned in December 1985.
Some members of the potentially violent racial supremacist right consider Mathews to be a
martyr and interpret The Order’s terrorist spree as a premature endeavor. Two subsequent
incidents with links to The Order are instructive:
• In March 1998, federal agents arrested members of the self-styled New Order in East St.
Louis, Illinois. They had modeled themselves after The Order and were charged with
planning to bomb the Anti-Defamation League’s New York headquarters; the
headquarters of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Birmingham, Alabama; and the
Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
• In August 1999, Buford O’Neal Furrow went on a shooting spree in the Los Angeles
area, including an attack at a Jewish community center in which five people were
wounded. He had been an Aryan Nations member and security officer and had married
the widow of Robert Jay Mathews in a Christian Identity ceremony.
Although the Patriot movement attracted a significant number of adherents during the 1990s, and
although militias at one point recruited tens of thousands of members, no underground similar to
that of the radical left was formed. Few terrorist movements or groups emanated from the Patriot
movement—largely because many members were “weekend warriors” who did little more than
train and because law enforcement agencies successfully thwarted a number of true plots. Thus,
despite many implicit and explicit threats of armed violence from Patriots, terrorist conspiracies
were rarely carried to completion.
In 1992, former KKK member Louis Beam began to publicly advocate leaderless
resistance against the U.S. government. Leaderless resistance is a cell-based strategy requiring
the formation of phantom cells to wage war against the government and enemy interests.
Dedicated Patriots and neo-Nazis believe that leaderless resistance and the creation of phantom
cells will prevent infiltration from federal agencies. The chief threat of violence came from the
armed militias, which peaked in membership immediately prior to and after the Oklahoma City
bombing. After the Oklahoma City bombing, federal authorities broke up at least 25 Patriot
terrorist conspiracies. Examples of threatened and actual violence from the Patriot movement
include the following incidents from the 1990s:40
• October 1992: A gathering was held at the Estes Park, Colorado, resort to respond to the
Ruby Ridge incident. The meeting attracted an assortment of rightists, supremacists,
Christians, and Christian Identity members. They called for a united front against the
government. The militia movement quickly grew, as did the theory of leaderless
• August 1994: Members of the Minnesota Patriots Council were arrested for
manufacturing ricin, a potentially fatal toxin.
• April 1995: A large truck bomb destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 people.
• November 1995: Members of the Oklahoma Constitutional Militia were arrested for
conspiring to bomb several targets, including gay bars and abortion clinics.
• July 1996: Members of the Viper Team militia in Arizona were arrested for plotting to
bomb government buildings. They had diagrams and videos of possible targets and had
trained using ammonium nitrate and fuel oil (ANFO) explosives.
• October 1996: Members of the Mountaineer Militia in West Virginia were arrested for
conspiring to bomb the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services building in
Clarksburg, West Virginia.
The number of armed militias declined during the period between the April 1995 Oklahoma City
bombing and the American homeland attacks of September 11, 2001.41 By 2000, the number of
Patriot organizations was only one fourth of the 1996 peak,42 and this general decline continued
after September 11, 2001.43 This occurred for several reasons:44 First, the 1995 Oklahoma City
bombing caused many less committed members to drift away. Second, the dire predictions of
apocalyptic chaos for the new millennium that were embedded in their conspiracy theories did
not materialize, especially the predicted advent of the New World Order. Third, the September
11, 2001, attacks shifted attention from domestic issues to international threats. Experts noted,
however, that the most militant and committed Patriot adherents remained within the movement
and that these dedicated members constitute a core of potentially violent true believers. This
became evident after the 2008 presidential elections, when the number of Patriot organizations
and identified armed militia groups increased markedly. Growth continued steadily, matching or
exceeding previous peak numbers found during the 1990s. The following trend is depicted
in Figure 12.1.
Figure 12.1 Trends in the Number of Patriot Organizations and Identified Armed Militia Groups
Source: Data derived from Southern Poverty Law Center. Intelligence Report.
The Oklahoma City Bombing
On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh drove a rented Ryder truck to the Alfred P. Murrah
Federal Building in Oklahoma City. He deliberately chose April 19 as a symbolic date for the
attack—it was the 220th anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord and the second
anniversary of the law enforcement disaster in Waco, Texas.
McVeigh was a hard-core devotee of the Patriot movement and a believer in New World Order
conspiracy theories. He was almost certainly a racial supremacist, having tried to solicit advice
from the neo-Nazi National Alliance and the racial separatist Elohim City group about
going underground after the bombing. McVeigh had also visited the Branch Davidian site at
Waco, Texas,45 where about 75 members of the Branch Davidian cult died in a fire that was
ignited during a paramilitary raid by federal law enforcement officers.
McVeigh had converted the Ryder truck into a powerful mobile ANFO-based bomb. He used
“more than 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer mixed with about 1,200 pounds of
liquid nitromethane, [and] 350 pounds of Tovex.”46 When he detonated the truck bomb at 9:02
a.m., it destroyed most of the federal building and killed 168 people, including 19 children. More
than 500 others were injured.
McVeigh’s attack was in large part a symbolic act of war against the federal government. He had
given careful consideration to achieving a high casualty rate, just as “American bombing raids
were designed to take lives, not just destroy buildings.”47
The deaths of the 19 children were justified in his mind as the unfortunate “collateral
damage” against innocent victims common to modern warfare.48 Timothy McVeigh was tried
and convicted, and he was executed in a federal facility in Terre Haute, Indiana, on June 11,
2001. His execution was the first federal execution since 1963.
The 2018 Letter Bomb Campaign
During the week of October 22, 2018, 16 pipe bombs were discovered in packages addressed to
prominent politicians and other public individuals. The first device was found on October 22,
2018, in the mailbox of billionaire and Democratic Party supporter George Soros. On October 23
and 24, the Secret Service intercepted devices addressed to Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack
Obama. Additional package bombs were intercepted in the following locations:
• the New York City mailroom of CNN, addressed to former CIA director John Brennan
• the Florida office of Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, addressed to former
attorney general Eric Holder but with Schultz’s return address; the address for Holder
• two devices addressed to Representative Maxine Waters, one in Los Angeles and another
in Washington, D.C.
• actor Robert DeNiro’s film company in New York City
• two mail facilities in Delaware, addressed to Senator Joe Biden
• a device intercepted by the FBI in Opa-locka, Florida, addressed to New Jersey senator
• a mail sorting facility in New York addressed to CNN, with the addressee entered as
former director of national intelligence James Clapper
• a Sacramento mail facility, addressed to Senator Kamala Harris
• in Burlingame, California, a device addressed to billionaire Tom Steyer, a Democratic
Florida resident Cesar Altieri Sayoc was arrested by the FBI using fingerprint and DNA
evidence taken from devices, as well as tracking his mobile telephone and Twitter account.
Sayoc had posted angry partisan political statements on the Internet and covered his van with
stickers supportive of President Donald Trump. He selected his targets because of their political
affiliations with the Democratic Party, and on his van were additional stickers of Democratic
leaders and Trump opponents with bull’s eyes drawn over their images. Cesar Sayoc pled guilty
to 65 felony counts and was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in a federal penitentiary in
August 2019. At his sentencing, the judge cited expert testimony that he was delusional due
to steroid abuse, the parcel bombs were not set to explode, and therefore Sayoc was not
sentenced to life imprisonment.
Case in Point: Moralist Terrorism
Moralist terrorism refers to acts of political violence that are motivated by a moralistic
worldview. Most moralist terrorism in the United States is motivated by an underlying religious
doctrine, and this is usually a fringe interpretation of Christianity. Abortion clinics and gay bars
have been targets of moralist violence.
Examples of moralist terrorism and threats against abortion providers include the following
• June and December 1984: An abortion clinic was bombed twice in Pensacola, Florida.
• March 1993: A physician was shot and killed outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola.
• July 1994: A physician and his bodyguard were killed outside an abortion clinic in
• October 1997: A physician was wounded by shrapnel in Rochester, New York.
• October 1998: A physician was killed in Amherst, New York.
• 1998–2002: Hundreds of letters with notes claiming to be infected with anthrax bacteria
were sent to abortion clinics in at least 16 states. An anti-abortion activist was convicted
of sending more than 500 letters.
• Post–September 11, 2001: During an actual anthrax attack in the period following the
September 11 attacks, scores of letters were sent to abortion clinics in a number of states,
claiming to be infected with anthrax.
• May 2009: An anti-abortion activist shot and killed a physician inside his church in
Wichita, Kansas, during religious services.
• 2011–2017: Several cases of arson and at least one bombing occurred at abortion clinics
nationwide. Most cases were unsolved.
• November 2015: An anti-abortion gunman killed three people, including a police officer,
at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The assailant declared
during a court appearance that he was “a warrior for the babies.”
• November 2017: An explosive device was deactivated at an abortion clinic in
Examples of violent moralist movements include the Army of God and the Phineas Priesthood.
They are both shadowy movements that apparently have little or no organizational structure,
operate as lone wolves or cells, and answer to the “higher power” of their interpretations of
God’s will. They seem to be belief systems in which like-minded activists engage in similar
behavior. The Phineas Priesthood is apparently a “calling” (divine revelation) for Christian
Identity fundamentalists, and the Army of God membership is perhaps derived from fringe
evangelical Christian fundamentalists. These profiles are speculative, and it is possible that they
are simply manifestations of terrorist contagion (copycatting). There has also been speculation
that both movements are linked. Nevertheless, it is instructive to review their activity profiles.
Army of God
The Army of God is a cell-based and lone-wolf movement that opposes abortion and
homosexuality. Its ideology is apparently a fringe interpretation of fundamentalist
Protestantism, although it has also exhibited racial supremacist tendencies. The methodology of
the Army of God has included the use of violence and intimidation—primarily in attacks against
abortion providers and gay and lesbian targets. The Army of God has a website with biblical
references and grisly pictures of abortions, and the manifesto disseminated by the group included
instructions for manufacturing bombs. The website also pays homage to those whom the
movement considers to be political prisoners and martyrs in its cause.
The Army of God first appeared in 1982 when an Illinois abortion provider and his wife were
kidnapped by members of the group. It has since claimed responsibility for a number of attacks,
primarily against abortion providers. For example:
• February 1984: A clinic in Norfolk, Virginia, where abortions were performed was
• February 1984: A clinic in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where abortions were
performed was firebombed.
• July 1994: Paul Hill, an anti-abortion activist, shot and killed a physician and his
bodyguard, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, in Pensacola, Florida. Hill was
executed by lethal injection in September 2003. He was the first person to be executed for
• January 1997: A clinic in Atlanta, Georgia, where abortions were performed was
• February 1997: A nightclub in Atlanta was bombed. Its patrons were largely gays and
• January 1998: An abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed, killing a police
officer and severely wounding a nurse.
• October–November 2001: 550 letters claiming to be contaminated with anthrax were sent
to abortion providers. Notes included with some letters said, “You have chosen a
profession, which profits from the senseless murder of millions of innocent children each
year . . . we are going to kill you. This is your notice. Stop now or die.” Some letters also
said, “From the Army of God, Virginia Dare Chapter.” Clayton Lee Waagner was
convicted of sending the letters. He had also threatened to kill 42 employees of abortion
• May 2009: Physician George Tiller was shot and killed inside his church in Wichita,
Kansas, during religious services by an anti-abortion extremist, who confessed to the
murder. The killer was accepted by the Army of God as one of its “soldiers.”
One apparent affiliate of the Army of God—Eric Robert Rudolph—became a fugitive after he
was named as a suspect in the Birmingham bombing and the Atlanta bombings. Rudolph was
also wanted for questioning because of possible involvement in the July 1996 bombing at
Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta during the Summer Olympic Games and was linked to a
militia group in North Carolina. He was captured in May 2003 in the mountains of North
Carolina. In April 2005, Rudolph pleaded guilty to the Birmingham and Atlanta bombings, as
well as the Centennial Olympic Park attack. He was also convicted for two other clinic bombings
and the bombing of a gay bar.
Regarding the November 2015 attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs,
Colorado, the following comment was posted on the Army of God website:
Planned Parenthood Colorado Springs
Robert Lewis Dear aside, Planned Parenthood murders helpless preborn children. These murderous pigs at Planned Parenthood are babykillers and they reap what
they sow. In this case, Planned Parenthood selling of aborted baby parts came back to bite them. Anyone who supports abortion has the blood of babies on their hands.
Phineas Priests were first described in the 1990 book Vigilantes of Christendom: The History of
the Phineas Priesthood.49 The book is a fundamentalist interpretation of Christian Identity. In the
book, the alleged history of the Phineas Priesthood is traced from biblical times to the modern
era. The name is taken from the Bible at Chapter 25, verse 6 of the Book of Numbers, which tells
the story of a Hebrew man named Phineas who killed an Israelite man and his Midianite wife in
the temple. According to the Book of Numbers, this act stayed the plague from the people of
Phineas Priests believe that they are called by God to purify their race and Christianity. They are
opposed to abortion, homosexuality, interracial mixing, and Whites who “degrade” White racial
supremacy. Members also believe that acts of violence—called Phineas Actions—will hasten
the ascendancy of the Aryan race. The Phineas Priesthood is a calling for men only, so no
women can become Phineas Priests. The calling also requires an absolute and fundamentalist
commitment to Christian Identity mysticism. Beginning in the 1990s, acts of political and racial
violence have been inspired by this doctrine. Early incidents include the following:
• In 1991, Walter Eliyah Thody was arrested in Oklahoma after a shootout and chase.
Thody claimed to be a Phineas Priest and stated that fellow believers would also commit
acts of violence against Jews and others.
• In 1993, Timothy McVeigh apparently “made offhand references to the Phineas
Priesthood” to his sister.50
• From 1994 to 1996, the Aryan Republican Army robbed 22 banks throughout the
Midwest. Members of the ARA had been influenced by Vigilantes of Christendom and
the concept of the Phineas Priesthood.51
• In October 1996, three Phineas Priests were charged with bank robberies and bombings
in Washington State. They had left political diatribes in notes at the scenes of two of their
robberies. The notes included their symbol, “25:6,” which denotes Chapter 25, verse 6 of
the Book of Numbers.
Typical of more recent incidents is the lone-wolf attack by Larry Steven McQuilliams in Austin,
Texas. On November 28, 2014, McQuilliams fired at a Mexican consulate and tried to set it on
fire. He also fired more than 100 shots at a federal building and at a police station. McQuilliams
was shot and killed by an Austin police officer. A copy of Vigilantes of Christendom was found
in his residence.
Because the Phineas Priesthood has been a lone-wolf and cell-based phenomenon, it is
impossible to estimate its size or even whether it has ever been much more than an example of
the contagion effect. Nevertheless, the fact is that a few true believers have considered
themselves to be members of the Phineas Priesthood, and the concept of Phineas Actions was
taken up by some adherents of the moralist and racial supremacist right.
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM IN THE UNITED STATES
International terrorism has been relatively rare in the United States, and the number of
international terrorist incidents is much lower than in other countries.
The Spillover Effect in the United States
During most of the postwar era (prior to the 1990s), international incidents in the United States
were spillovers from conflicts in other Western countries and were directed against foreign
interests with a domestic presence in the United States. Most of these spillovers ended after a
single incident or a few attacks, such as in the following examples:
• In September 1976, a bomb in Washington, D.C., killed former Chilean foreign minister
Orlando Letelier and his American assistant, Ronni Moffitt. He had been assassinated on
orders from DINA, the right-wing Chilean government’s secret police.
• In August 1978, Croatian terrorists took hostages in the West German consulate in
Chicago. In September of the same year, they killed a New York City police officer when
they detonated a bomb. The terrorists hijacked a TWA jet, forcing it to fly over London
Some terrorist spillovers were ongoing campaigns. As was the case with the short-term incidents,
these campaigns were directed primarily against non-American interests. Examples include the
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, anti-Castro Cuban terrorists actively targeted Cuban
interests in the United States. Members of Omega 7 were Cuban-born exiles who fled Cuba for
the United States after the 1959 victory of Fidel Castro’s forces during the Cuban Revolution.
Omega 7 is thought to have been responsible for at least 50 attacks against Cuban
businesspersons and diplomats, including attempted assassinations and bombings. Their targets
included the Venezuelan consulate in New York City, a Soviet ship in New Jersey, travel
agencies in New Jersey, the Lincoln Center in New York City, and the Cuban mission to the
United Nations. The group’s founder, Eduardo Arocena, was arrested in July 1983 and
sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering a Cuban diplomat.
Provisional Irish Republican Army
The Provos did not wage a terrorist campaign in the United States. Rather, members of the IRA
in the United States and their American supporters were implicated in the purchase and
transshipment of armaments to Northern Ireland. The Provo presence was a support operation for
terrorist cells in Northern Ireland. For example, in 1984, weapons were seized off the coast of
Ireland. The weapons had been transported to Irish waters aboard a vessel (the Valhalla) whose
point of origin was the United States. In another incident in 1986, supporters of the Provos were
arrested in a plot to fly weapons into Belfast, including a shoulder-fired Redeye anti-aircraft
Jewish Defense League
The Jewish Defense League (JDL) is an example of American extremists who targeted
international interests in the United States. The organization was founded in 1968 in New York
City by Rabbi Meir Kahane as a militant, youth-based Jewish movement. It favored active—and
sometimes violent—defense of the Jewish community and a militant variant of Zionism that
advocates the expulsion of Arabs from Israel. Kahane was assassinated in November 1990 in
New York City by El-Sayyid Nosair, a radical Egyptian Islamic revolutionary.
The JDL Legacy
The JDL’s offshoots in Israel are the right-wing Kach (“Only Thus”) and Kahane Chai (“Kahane
Lives”) movements. Both receive support from American and European supporters, and both
share common objectives. During the early 1980s in the United States, the JDL and a shadowy
group called the United Jewish Underground were responsible for several acts of terrorism.
These attacks were directed primarily against Soviet targets, such as the offices of the Soviet
national airline Aeroflot, and were conducted to protest that government’s treatment of Soviet
Jews. Their bombings were sometimes lethal, and a number of deaths were attributed to JDL
attacks. The movement ended its attacks in the mid-1980s and shifted its political emphasis to
ultra-nationalist Zionist activism in Israel, although it is still in existence in the United States.
For example, in December 2001, two JDL members (including the group’s leader) were indicted
in Southern California for plotting to attack the offices of a Lebanese American congressman and
two Islamic centers.
The New Terrorism in the United States
The terrorist environment changed during the 1990s, when American interests began to be
directly attacked domestically by international terrorists. A new threat emerged from religious
radicals who considered the United States a primary target in their global jihad.
Jihad in America
The American people and government became acutely aware of the destructive potential of
international terrorism from a pattern that emerged during the 1990s and culminated on
September 11, 2001. The following incidents were precursors to the modern post-9/11 security
• February 1993: In the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, a large vehicular
bomb exploded in a basement parking garage; it was a failed attempt to topple one tower
onto the other. Six people were killed, and more than 1,000 were injured. The
mastermind behind the attack was the dedicated international terrorist Ramzi Yousef. His
motives were to support the Palestinian people, to punish the United States for its support
of Israel, and to promote an Islamic jihad. Several men, all jihadis, were convicted of the
• October 1995: Ten men were convicted in a New York federal court of plotting further
terrorist attacks. They allegedly conspired to attack New York City landmarks such as
tunnels, the United Nations headquarters, and the George Washington Bridge.
These incidents heralded the emergence of a threat to homeland security that had not existed
since World War II. The practitioners of the New Terrorism apparently concluded that assaults
on the American homeland are desirable and feasible. The key preparatory factors for making
these attacks feasible were the following:
• The attacks were carried out by operatives who entered the country for the sole purpose
of carrying out the attacks.
• The terrorists had received support from cells or individuals inside the United States.
Members of the support group facilitated the ability of the terrorists to perform their tasks
with dedication and efficiency.
The support apparatus profile in the United States for this was not entirely unknown prior to
September 11, 2001, because militants have been known to be in the United States
since the late 1980s and 1990s. For example, aboveground organizations were established to
funnel funds to the Middle East on behalf of Hamas, Hezbollah, and other movements. These
organizations—and other social associations—were deliberately established in many major
American cities. The fact is that since at least the late 1980s, anti-American jihadi sentiment
existed within the United States among some fundamentalist communities. And, significantly,
jihad has been overtly advocated by a number of fundamentalist leaders who took up residence
in the United States.52
Two cases are discussed in this section: the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack as an example of
international jihad in the United States, and the December 2, 2015, San Bernardino attack as an
example of homegrown jihad in the United States.
September 11, 2001
One of the worst incidents of modern international terrorism occurred in the United States on the
morning of September 11, 2001. It was carried out by 19 Al-Qa’ida terrorists who were on a
suicidal “martyrdom mission.” They committed the attack to strike at symbols of American (and
Western) interests in response to what they perceived to be a continuing process of domination
and exploitation of Muslim countries. They were religious terrorists fighting in the name of a
holy cause against perceived evil emanating from the West. Their sentiments were born in the
religious, political, and ethnonational ferment that has characterized the politics of the Middle
East for much of the modern era.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attack. The sequence of events occurred as follows:
• 7:59 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11, carrying 92 people, leaves Boston’s Logan
International Airport for Los Angeles.
• 8:14 a.m. United Airlines Flight 175, carrying 65 people, leaves Boston for Los Angeles.
• 8:20 a.m. American Airlines Flight 77, carrying 64 people, takes off from Washington’s
Dulles International Airport for Los Angeles.
• 8:42 a.m. United Airlines Flight 93, carrying 44 people, leaves Newark International
Airport in New Jersey for San Francisco.
• 8:46 a.m. American Flight 11 crashes into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
• 9:03 a.m. United Flight 175 crashes into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
• 9:37 a.m. American Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. Trading on Wall Street is called
• 9:59 a.m. Two World Trade Center—the south tower—collapses.
• 10:03 a.m. United Flight 93 crashes 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
• 10:28 a.m. One World Trade Center—the north tower—collapses.53
Many saw the attacks of September 11, 2001, as a turning point in the history of political
violence. The attacks themselves created a new reference point for Americans: 9/11. In the
aftermath, journalists, scholars, and national leaders repeatedly described the emergence of a
new international terrorist environment. It was argued that within this new environment,
terrorists were now quite capable of using—and very willing to use—weapons of mass
destruction to inflict unprecedented casualties and destruction on enemy targets. These attacks
seemed to confirm warnings from experts during the 1990s that a new asymmetric terrorism
would characterize the terrorist environment in the new millennium.
The United States had previously been the target of international terrorism at home and abroad,
but the American homeland had never suffered a terrorist strike on this scale. The most
analogous historical event was the Japanese attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on
December 7, 1941. The last time so many people had died from an act of war committed on
American soil was during the Civil War in the mid-19th century.
After the Al-Qa’ida assault and the subsequent anthrax crisis, routine American culture shifted
away from complete openness to a period of high security. The adaptation of the American
people and political establishment to this new environment was a new experience for the nation.
The symbolism of the attack, combined with its sheer scale, drove the United States to war and
dramatically changed the American security environment. Counterterrorism in the United States
shifted from a predominantly law enforcement mode to a security mode. Security measures
included unprecedented airport and seaport security, border searches, visa scrutiny, and
immigration procedures. Hundreds of people were administratively detained and questioned
during a sweep of persons fitting the terrorist profile of the 19 attackers. These detentions set off
a debate about the constitutionality of these methods and the fear by many that civil liberties
were in jeopardy. In October 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act was passed. The new law granted
significant authority to federal law enforcement agencies to engage in surveillance and other
investigative work. On November 25, 2002, 17 federal agencies (later increased to 22 agencies)
were consolidated to form a new Department of Homeland Security.
The symbolism of a damaging attack on homeland targets was momentous because it showed
that the American superpower was vulnerable to attack by small groups of determined
revolutionaries. The Twin Towers had dominated the New York skyline since the completion of
Two World Trade Center in 1972. They were a symbol of global trade and prosperity and the
pride of the largest city in the United States. The Pentagon, of course, is a unique building that
symbolizes American military power, and its location across the river from the nation’s capital
showed the vulnerability of the seat of government to attack.
On May 30, 2002, a 30-foot-long steel beam was ceremoniously removed from the “Ground
Zero” site in New York City. It was the final piece of debris to be removed from the September
11 homeland attacks.
Chapter Perspective 12.4 discusses the case of the post-9/11 anthrax crisis.
Chapter Perspective 12.4The Anthrax Crisis: A Post-9/11 Anomaly
After the September 11 attacks, the activity profile of international terrorism in the United States
shifted to cell-based religious terrorist spillovers originating in the Middle East. The threat from
the New Terrorism in the United States included the very real possibility of a terrorist campaign
using high-yield weapons to maximize civilian casualties.
The potential scale of violence was demonstrated by an anthrax attack immediately after the
September 11 attacks when, for the first time in its history, the threat of chemical, biological, and
radiological terrorism became a reality in the United States. During October through December
2001, more than 20 people were infected by anthrax-laced letters; five victims died. The attack
made use of the U.S. postal system when letters addressed to news organizations and two
members of the U.S. Senate were mailed from Princeton, New Jersey. Some of the letters
contained references to radical Islam, causing a presumption by authorities and the public that
the anthrax incident was part of an ongoing assault against the American homeland.
The crisis led to an extensive manhunt by the FBI, which conducted more than 10,000 interviews
on six continents, including intensive investigations of more than 400 people. One person under
careful investigation was Dr. Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist and U.S. Army biodefense scientist.
Ivins worked for decades on the army’s anthrax vaccination program at the army biodefense
laboratory in Maryland. The FBI’s investigation involved detailed scrutiny of his behavioral
habits, e-mail, trash, and computer downloads. The FBI’s observation included attaching a global
positioning satellite device to his automobile. Ivins committed suicide in July 2008 after he
learned that federal authorities were possibly moving forward with a criminal indictment against
him. In February 2010, the FBI released an extensive report that closed its investigation of Ivins.
However, debate continued about whether Ivins was responsible for the mailings. In January
2011, the National Academy of Sciences questioned the veracity of the FBI’s evidence. In March
2011, a panel of psychiatrists developed a psychological profile of Ivins and concluded that the
case against him was persuasive. Nevertheless, prominent scientists and investigative journalists
continued to raise serious questions about the FBI’s testing procedures and the accuracy of the
The San Bernardino Attack: Homegrown Jihad in America
On December 2, 2015, 14 people were killed and 21 injured when two armed assailants—a
married couple—attacked the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. The state-
run center assisted people with developmental disabilities. The assailants were Syed Rizwan
Farook, who had worked at the regional center for 5 years, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik. Farook
was born and raised in the United States, and Malik was born in Pakistan. Farook previously
traveled abroad to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where he participated in the Muslim hajj, the
pilgrimage to Mecca. He returned to the United States in July 2014 with Malik, whom he
On the day of the attack, Farook attended a holiday party at the regional center. He left the
gathering and went to his home to prepare with Malik for their assault. They left their 6-month-
old child with Farook’s mother, advising her that they were on their way to a medical
appointment. Farook and Malik then dressed in paramilitary tactical gear and armed themselves.
They returned to the regional center carrying semiautomatic assault rifles and pistols while
wearing masks and opened fire on celebrants at the holiday party, killing and wounding at least
35 people. They left the facility and returned home, where the police had posted a stakeout after
a tip about the vehicle they were driving. Law enforcement officers identified their vehicle and
gave chase when Farook and Malik took to the road. During the chase, Farook and Malik shot at
police officers and tossed an inert pipe out of their vehicle, apparently as an attempted ruse that it
was a pipe bomb. Both assailants were shot and killed when they halted the vehicle and engaged
in an intensive firefight with more than 20 officers.
The incident required extensive prior planning by the couple. Aside from the weapons and
tactical gear in their possession during the assault and chase, a search of their home by law
enforcement officers uncovered 12 functional pipe bombs, thousands of rounds of ammunition,
and material for constructing more bombs. The couple had also placed an improvised explosive
device (IED) at the scene of the assault. The IED consisted of three pipe bombs with a remote
control detonator that would have been activated by a toy car controller. A law enforcement
official reported that an unsuccessful attempt had been made to convert at least one of the
semiautomatic assault rifles to fully automatic. Farook and Malik attempted to destroy computer
hard drives and other electronic equipment in their home prior to the incident.
The incident also confirmed the reality of a domestic threat environment in the United States that
for years had existed in Europe: mass-casualty violence emanating from homegrown terrorists
inspired by international terrorist movements. During the attack, Malik posted a message on
Facebook, under an alias, pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,
leader of ISIS. Two days later, a pro-ISIS broadcast declared that the couple were supporters of
Pipe Bomb Clusters in Manhattan and New Jersey
On September 17, 2016, clusters of pipe bombs were rigged to detonate in the Chelsea area of
Manhattan; Elizabeth, New Jersey; and Seaside Park, New Jersey. Ahmad Khan Rahimi, an
American citizen originally from Afghanistan, was arrested and prosecuted for planting the
devices. Rahimi had been in the United States since 1995 and became a citizen in 2011. At an
unknown date, he began to consider himself as a soldier in the Islamist war against the United
On September 17, 2016, in Seaside, New Jersey, a cluster of bombs placed in a trash can
partially detonated near the starting line of the Seaside Semper Five road race. There were no
casualties from the explosion. Two additional devices were placed in Chelsea, one of which
detonated, injuring 31 people. Another cluster of five pipe bombs was found in Elizabeth, New
Jersey, in a backpack placed in a trash can. The Elizabeth cluster did not detonate.
Rahimi was convicted in October 2017 in federal court for the Chelsea bombs. In February 2018,
he was sentenced in federal court to two life sentences for the Chelsea incident. Although also
suspected of responsibility for the Elizabeth and Seaside Park incidents, he was not definitively
tied to these events during the Chelsea-related trial.
The San Bernardino and pipe bomb cluster incidents are examples of the global phenomenon of
residents and citizens who adopt and act out on jihadist ideologies. The modern threat to
homeland security from homegrown jihadis is discussed further in Chapter 14.
This chapter investigated political violence in the United States. Both domestic and international
terrorism were discussed. The sources of domestic terrorism were identified as extremist
tendencies that grew out of movements and cultural histories, and the sources of international
terrorism were identified as terrorist spillover activity.
On the left, modern terrorism originated in the social and political fervor of the 1960s and 1970s.
Some members of activist movements became radicalized by their experiences within the context
of their environment. A few became dedicated revolutionaries and chose to engage in terrorist
violence. Members of New Left and nationalist terrorist groups waged terrorist campaigns until
the mid-1980s. Single-issue and nascent anarchist tendencies have replaced the now-defunct
Marxist and nationalist movements on the left.
On the right, the long history of racial violence continued into the 21st century. The Ku Klux
Klan is a uniquely American racist movement that has progressed through five eras, with
terrorist violence occurring in each era. Modern Klansmen and Klanswomen, neo-Nazis, and
moralists have also engaged in terrorist violence. Threats of potential political violence come
from antigovernment movements and emerging “heritage” movements. The activity profile of
the modern era is primarily a lone-wolf and cell-based profile. It has become rare for racial
supremacist and moralist terrorists to act as members of established organizations.
International terrorism in the postwar era began as spillover activity directed against non-
American targets with established interests in the United States. Most of this activity was of short
duration, although several movements waged terrorist campaigns. Fringe Cuban, Irish, and
Jewish organizations waged violent campaigns against their perceived enemies but did not target
American interests. This profile changed dramatically during the 1990s, when revolutionary
Islamic groups began to target American interests inside the United States, resulting in a number
of intentionally mass-casualty incidents.
In Chapter 13, readers will explore counterterrorist policy options. Theoretical options and
responses will be augmented by examples of successful and failed measures. The discussion will
investigate legalistic, repressive, and conciliatory responses to terrorism.
KEY TERMS AND CONCEPTS
The following topics are discussed in this chapter and can be found in the glossary:
• 9/11 374
• 25:6 371
• Ásatrú 360
• black helicopters 355
• Black Power 341
• Christian Identity 360
• Christian Right 353
• “collateral damage” 368
• collective nonviolence 341
• counterculture 342
• Creativity 359
• “Days of Rage” 345
• direct action 342
• “disinformation” 344
• eco-terrorism 352
• the Establishment 342
• Fountain Valley Massacre 347
• Fourteen Words 358
• “Ground Zero” 375
• Kerner Commission 347
• kuclos 361
• leaderless resistance 366
• “long hot summer” 347
• lynch mobs 360
• military-industrial complex 342
• militias 356
• “Mud People” 360
• nativism 361
• New Left 342
• New World Order 355
• “off the grid” 356
• One-Seedline Christian Identity 360
• Osawatomie 346
• phantom cells 366
• Phineas Actions 371
• Port Huron Statement 344
• Prairie Fire 346
• racial holy war (“RaHoWa”) 363
• Ruby Ridge 354
• single-issue terrorism 338
• survivalism 356
• “Truther” movement 354
• The Turner Diaries 358
• Two-Seedline Christian Identity 360
• Waco 354
• Weather Collectives 346
Prominent Persons and Organizations
The following names and organizations are discussed in this chapter and can be found in
• Animal Liberation Front (ALF) 352
• Armed Forces for National Liberation (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional
Puertorrequeña, or FALN) 349
• Armed Forces of Popular Resistance 349
• Army of God 369
• Arocena, Eduardo 372
• Aryan Nations 358
• Aryan Republican Army (ARA) 365
• Baumhammers, Richard 364
• Black Liberation Army (BLA) 347
• Black Panther Party for Self-Defense 341
• Bowers, Robert 365
• Butler, Richard 358
• Chesimard, JoAnne 348
• DeFreeze, Donald (Cinque) 346
• Dohrn, Bernardine 345
• Earth Liberation Front (ELF) 352
• Furrow, Buford O’Neal 358
• Hale, Matthew 359
• Klassen, Ben 359
• Ku Klux Klan (KKK) 338
• MacDonald, Andrew 358
• Macheteros 349
• Mathews, Robert Jay 365
• May 19 Communist Organization (M19CO) 350
• McVeigh, Timothy 367
• National Alliance 358
• New Afrikan Freedom Fighters 351
• New Order, The 366
• New World Liberation Front 346
• Nosair, El-Sayyid 372
• The Order 365
• Organization of Volunteers for the Puerto Rican Revolution 349
• Phineas Priesthood 369
• Pierce, William 358
• Prairie Fire Organizing Committee 346
• Progressive Labor Party 344
• Rahimi, Ahmad Khan 377
• Revolutionary Youth Movement II (RYM II) 342
• Roof, Dylann Storm 364
• Rudolph, Eric Robert 370
• Sam Melville–Jonathan Jackson Unit 351
• Shakur, Assata 348
• Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) 342
• Sayoc, Cesar Altieri 368
• Thody, Walter Eliyah 371
• United Freedom Front (UFF) 351
• United Jewish Underground 373
• von Brunn, James Wenneker 364
• Weather Bureau 345
• Weathermen 344
• White Aryan Resistance 358
• World Church of the Creator (WCOTC) 359
Discussion BoxDomestic Terrorism in the American Context
This chapter’s Discussion Box is intended to stimulate critical debate about the idiosyncratic nature of domestic terrorism in the United States.
The subject of domestic terrorism in the United States is arguably a study in idiosyncratic political violence. Indigenous terrorist groups reflected the American political and social environments during historical periods when extremists chose to engage in political violence.
In the modern era, left-wing and right-wing political violence grew from very different circumstances. Leftist violence evolved from a uniquely American social environment that produced the civil rights, Black Power, and New Left movements. Rightist violence grew out of a combination of historical racial and nativist animosity, combined with modern applications of religious and antigovernment ideologies.
In the early years of the new millennium, threats continued to emanate from right-wing antigovernment and racial supremacist extremists. Potential violence from leftist extremists remained low in comparison with the right. When the September 11, 2001, attacks created
a new security environment, the question of terrorism originating from domestic sources remained uncertain; this was especially true after the anthrax attacks on the U.S. East Coast.
1. Assume that a nascent anarchist movement continues in its opposition to globalism. How should the modern leftist movement be described? What is the potential for violence originating from modern extremists on the left?
2. Keeping in mind the many conspiracy and mystical beliefs of the American right, what is the potential for violence from adherents of these theories to the modern American environment?
3. As a matter of policy, how closely should hate and antigovernment groups be monitored? What restrictions should be imposed on their activities? Why?
4. Is the American activity profile truly an idiosyncratic profile, or can it be compared with other nations’ environments? If so, how? If not, why not?
5. What is the likelihood that the new millennium will witness a resurgence of a rightist movement on the scale of the 1990s Patriot movement? What trends indicate that it will occur? What trends indicate that it will not occur?
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