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Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance

George Michael

Publication Year: 2012

On July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik detonated a car bomb in downtown Oslo, Norway. He didn't stop there, traveling several hours from the city to ambush a youth camp while the rest of Norway was distracted by his earlier attack. That's where the facts end. But what motivated him? Did he have help staging the attacks? The evidence suggests a startling truth: that this was the work of one man, pursuing a mission he was convinced was just.

If Breivik did indeed act alone, he wouldn't be the first. Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City based essentially on his own motivations. Eric Robert Rudolph embarked on a campaign of terror over several years, including the Centennial Park bombing at the 1996 Olympics. Ted Kaczynski was revealed to be the Unabomber that same year. And these are only the most notable examples. As George Michael demonstrates in Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance, they are not isolated cases. Rather, they represent the new way warfare will be conducted in the twenty-first century.

Lone Wolf Terror investigates the motivations of numerous political and ideological elements, such as right-wing individuals, ecoextremists, foreign jihadists, and even quasi-governmental entities. In all these cases, those carrying out destructive acts operate as "lone wolves" and small cells, with little or no connection to formal organizations. Ultimately, Michael suggests that leaderless resistance has become the most common tactical approach of political terrorists in the West and elsewhere.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-6

The face of terrorism is undergoing considerable change. There is a noticeable trend indicating the increasing frequency of lone wolf attacks by individuals and small cells with little or no connections to formal organizations. In the past few years, numerous lone wolf incidents carried out by assorted radicals have gained headlines. For instance, in April 2009, Richard A. Poplawski, a man who expressed racist views on extremist websites, fired on police in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, killing three officers...

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1. The Evolution of Warfare, Conflict, and Strategy

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pp. 7-28

To place leaderless resistance in context, a discussion of previous generations of warfare and conflict is instructive. To be effective, strategy must evolve to reflect the current operational environment. Throughout history, modes of warfare have been influenced by a number of social, political, economic, and technological factors. Earlier observers of warfare, such as Marquis de Vauban (1633–1707), understood the importance of science and technology and their implications for warfare...

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2. Leaderless Resistance and the Extreme Right

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pp. 29-60

Political extremism has long been a feature of US history. Some historians cite the Anti-Masonic Party of the early nineteenth century as the first reactionary movement in US politics.1 A few decades later, the Know-Nothing movement arose as a backlash amid an influx of largely Irish Catholic and southern German Catholic immigration. Shortly after the Civil War, the fraternal vigilante group known as the Ku Klux Klan emerged in Pulaski, Tennessee, and along with it came the...

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3. Ecoextremism and the Radical Animal Liberation Movement

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pp. 61-78

For more than two decades, elements of the radical environmental and animal liberation movements have demonstrated skill in implementing the leaderless resistance approach. Although the two movements have separate origins, over the years they have converged. Today there is considerable overlap in membership and a high degree of cross-fertilization. An element of misanthropy often runs through both movements as well. And both have adopted a similar decentralized organizational...

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4. The Strategic Implications of the New World Order

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pp. 79-88

The collapse of the Soviet Union drastically changed the security environment within which terrorists operate. During the Cold War, several Eastern bloc states were covert supporters of terrorist groups. At the time, supporting terrorism was viewed as furthering the foreign policy objectives of the Soviet bloc.1 In her classic study The Terror Network, Claire Sterling maintained that for much of the period from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, the Soviet Union was at the center of...

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5. The Wiki Revolution and the New People Power

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pp. 89-100

Recent technological developments have transformed organizational models and methods of collaboration. The Internet is at the center of the ongoing revolution in communications, enabling new forms of organization and greater dissemination of information. Prior to the Internet, physical proximity usually determined one’s associates, but now people are linked across great distances and national borders.1 Over two billion people worldwide now have Internet access, and when they organize...

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6. Weapons of Mass Destruction and Leaderless Resistance

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pp. 101-118

What makes leaderless resistance so potentially dangerous is the prospect of an individual or small cell obtaining a WMD or employing innovative tactics in a particularly lethal manner. Historically, technological advances enhanced the disruptive potential of terrorism. In fact, one reason for the rise of modern terrorism was the increasing availability of firepower to groups seeking to overthrow the government. For example, the introduction of dynamite in the late nineteenth century was a...

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7. The Global Islamic Resistance Movement

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pp. 119-154

The global Islamic resistance movement has endured despite a multinational effort to eradicate it after 9/11. To some observers, militant Islam, or Islamism, is a retrograde phenomenon, a rearguard action against the inexorable march of modernity and globalization.1 To its supporters, however, it represents an effort to return humankind to the righteous guidance of Allah as expressed in the Koran. Islamists seek to revitalize the universalistic fervor of early Islam and repackage it...

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Conclusion: Fifth-Generation Warfare and Leaderless Resistance

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pp. 155-172

Throughout history, various political, social, and technological factors have influenced the development of conflict and warfare. Whereas first-generation warfare involved the amassment of huge forces on the battlefield, the latest generation of warfare—the fifth generation—involves small cells and individuals linked by ideology. The current long-term trend is a miniaturization of forces. Just as technological developments such as the machine gun made large troop formations untenable...


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pp. 173-224

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 225-238


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pp. 239-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780826518576
E-ISBN-10: 0826518575
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826518552

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2012