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They're not lone wolves, they're canaries

  • 14 November 2017


In a 2014 academic article, terrorism researchers Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko describe two types of 'lone-wolf' attackers.

On the one hand, there are the 'grievance-motivated' ones, often suffering from psychological problems; loners with few friends. Into this category we can put the Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, the Pulse gay nightclub shooter Omar Mateen, neo-Nazi James Alex Fields Jr who drove into a crowd of pedestrians protesting a White Nationalist rally, and Devin Patrick Kelley of the Texas church massacre.

Back home in Australia, we've had Man Haron Monis, the gunman behind the 17-hour Lindt Cafe siege in which hostages Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson were killed, as well as Monis himself. It is difficult to sum up in a few unbelievable sentences every dark corner in which Monis skulked — from charity-scams in Iran, to stealing large sums of money, to sexually assaulting women while posing as 'Marcus' the spiritual healer, to writing hate-mail to families of Diggers killed in Afghanistan, to being charged as an accessory to his ex-wife's murder, to suddenly pledging allegience to DAESH.

What fits with McCauley and Moskalenko's characteristics of lone-wolf terrorism is that he suffered from psychiatric problems; he expressed political and personal grievances; he was certainly marginalised from the Muslim community; he had — or at least claimed to have — weapons experience before the siege; and we can interpret the stress from being charged as an accessory to murder and 43 counts of sexual assault as his 'unfreezing' situational crisis, the trigger that motivated him to move from thoughts of spectacular violence to its actualisation.

But McCauley and Moskalenko and other researchers also describe another type of lone-wolf terrorist: individuals with twisted empathy. Unlike the first group, they may not be socially disconnected or disturbed individuals. Instead, they are agonised by others' suffering or humiliation, and take it upon themselves to seek revenge or retribution.

As Evelin Gerda Lindner wrote in an article for the journal Peace Research published shortly after the September 11 bombings, 'men such as Osama bin Laden would never have any followers if there were no victims of humiliation in many parts of the world'. There is a sense of outrage at the double-standards of Western politicians who preach freedom, justice, human rights and prosperity for their own people and yet deny the same to others.

For example, a year ago Abdul Razak Ali Artan drove a car into an Ohio State