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161 MIN READ TIME

Disturbing Trends in Lone Wolf Terrorism

Over the past several years, sporadic lone wolf terror attacks have bedeviled the United States and Europe. Acting alone, or in very small groups, lone wolves carry out terrorism on their own initiative without answering to any formal leadership hierarchy. Not only are lone wolf attacks becoming more common, they are also becoming more lethal, as evidenced by the case of Omar Mateen whose shooting rampage at a night club in Orlando, Florida, killed 49 people. Recognizing this peril, numerous public officials—including CIA Directors John Brennan and Leon Panetta, FBI Director James Comey, and even President Barack Obama have identified lone wolf terrorism as a serious challenge to American national security.

Although often self-radicalized, lone wolves are usually inspired by extremist subcultures. Many have left digital fingerprints indicating that they had been radicalized online. But other factors besides ideology come into play as well. Recent attacks suggest an ominous convergence of mental illness, marginality, and cyber radicalism. And investigations following lone wolf attacks often reveal that a large segment of the perpetrators had difficulty functioning adequately in their lives and maintaining healthy relationships. Paradoxically, the roots of the lone wolf problem stem in part from the effectiveness of counterterrorism policies implemented since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against America.

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