Searching for the ‘Lone Wolf’

by | Dec 7, 2015


The post incident analysis of events in San Bernardino is quite amazing to behold. Rather than admit that so-called terrorists might just be products of Washington’s follies overseas, the American media, government, and chattering class all seem to be in search of new labels to explain away their inability to understand, anticipate, and possibly even stop terrorist attacks.

Today’s spin is that we are now going through a phase of “lone wolf,” which is an insult to wolves everywhere, though one quickly discovers that “lone wolf” is somewhat interchangeable with another heavyweight academic concept called “leaderless resistance.” By alleging that there is a new type of enemy out there operating under a couple of serious sounding labels requiring adjustments in counter-terrorist procedures it is possible for those in charge to avoid any blame for innocent civilians being massacred.

In reality no one in Washington should be surprised because nothing has changed. Revolutionary and anarchist groups, going back to Czarist times if not before, were not stupid. They figured out that if you have a broadly based movement the government will inevitably insert informants and you will all wind up in jail. Or worse.

So you make much smaller the circle of people who are privy to what you are really doing. The first response by such groups to penetration by the authorities historically speaking was the employment of unconnected cells that might individually be rolled up without revealing the identity or plans of other cells.

But even cells could be penetrated, so more narrowing took place. Recently, groups like al-Qaeda have gone over to what has been referred to as a franchise arrangement whereby supporters pledge allegiance in a nominal way but raise their own funds, obtain their own weapons and select their own targets. As they are not communicating their arrangements with “headquarters” the risk of exposure is reduced dramatically. That is the essence of what is now being referred to as “lone wolf attacks” or “leaderless resistance.” The bombings of transport systems in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005 were attacks of that type, so the concept is not exactly new and did not originate with Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, as has sometimes been alleged, even if he picked up pointers during his upbringing in a US allegedly overrun with angry heavily armed rednecks plotting insurrection.

The Boston Marathon bombers were also local products, self-supporting and self-directed. Which of course leads to the other cute phrase for the media to pick up on to describe yet another grave threat to the Motherland – “home grown.” If this process continues eventually we will likely have a cornucopia of labels to describe every single terrorist incident, each one fitting like a bespoke suit. But we will be no closer to ending terrorism as we know it or understanding its motivation even if we do create a data base of all American Muslims as has been suggested by some politicians and security “experts.” Or we could convene a board of very smart university professors who can construct a mathematical model to identify those reported thousands of Islamic militants that are running around loose in the United States waiting to go ballistic. Once we know who they are we can deal with them appropriately.

Of course since we would already have an all-Muslim data base comprising innocent and guilty alike we could either lock them all up, which would be a great boon to the economy through building hundreds of new prisons, or we could just ship them all off to some uninhabited island somewhere.


  • Philip Giraldi

    Philip Giraldi is an American columnist, commentator and security consultant. He is the Executive Director of the Council for the National Interest, a role he has held since 2010.