Panel Paper: Lone Actors and Pathways to Radicalization

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 9:45 AM
West End Ballroom D (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Victor Asal, Kathleen Deloughery and Ryan King, State University of New York, Albany
Lone actor terrorism has increasingly become an issue of great importance to the law enforcement and policy community.  In the first 20 years of modern terrorism in the United States (1970-1991) only 2 percent of terror attacks were carried out by individuals unassociated with a larger terrorist organization.  Since 1992, that number has risen to 12.6 percent.  The Department of Homeland Security has identified radicalization as a main area of research interest. However a review of the academic literature on lone wolf terrorism shows that analysis is based largely on qualitative case studies.  While illuminating, we provide a quantitative empirical approach to the study of individuals who carry out terrorism.

This paper examines the characteristics of a community that lead to lone actor terrorism.  More specifically, we want to compare those characteristics to the communities where hate crimes and terrorist activities by groups take place.    Doing so will help us determine whether lone actor terrorism should be considered to be more similar to hate crimes or terrorism in its precursors.  This analysis will be constricted to only acts carried out in the United States between 1992 and 2010.  Data for this project comes from the FBI incident level hate crime files, the Global Terrorism Database, the Census, and the American Community Survey.  Over 500 terror attacks and 130,000 hate crimes are examined.  Attacks are all geo-coded so that our unit of analysis is the county year.

Initial work suggests that the two behaviors share practically no common determinants.  In other words, variables that are statistically associated with terrorism in the United States are by and large not the same as those associated with anti-minority hate crimes.  We plan to pull terror attacks carried out by individuals from this analysis so that only group terrorism is examined.  Then, using the models of these two outcomes, hate crimes and group terrorism, we can predict the number of each type of violent event in a specific county in a specific year.  We can compare these predictions to the number of lone actor terrorist attacks to determine which model best predicts this type of violence.  This research serves a dual purpose.  First, it will help expand our understanding and knowledge about lone actor terrorism, which is one of the frontiers in this field.  Second, this research could benefit the law enforcement and homeland security practitioner community in establishing profiles of communities at risk for lone actor terrorism.