Inside the mind of a terrorist: Where do they come from?

Most terrorists who commit the type of acts as seen in Boston and the ricin incidents are Photo: Timothy McVeigh

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2013 - “I’ve never met anyone who wanted to be a terrorist. They’re desperate people.” John Perkins, author.

Some authorities now believe the Boston bombing may have been the work of what is known as a “lone wolf terrorist.”  A lone wolf is an individual representing a small group or acting alone, outside a command structure. Both Timothy McVeigh of the Oklahoma bombing in 1995 and Theodore Kaczynski also known as the “Unabomber” were examples of “lone wolf” terrorists.

The lone wolf either acts as a disenfranchised individual out of distorted idealism or on behalf of an organized group they have never associated with but are sympathetic to.

Immediately following the bombings, letters laced with the chemical ricin were sent to President Obama, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss. and a Mississippi Justice official.

As of now, it is unclear whether the bombings and the letters are related or whether they are two separate coincidental acts.

If these acts are coincidental, there is the possibility of two lone wolf acts.

The amateurish delivery method of the ricin letters allowed authorities to quickly identify and arrest a suspect. 

While the bombings in Boston required coordination and used shrapnel to maximize damage, they were fairly simple explosive devices. The simple construction suggests these may also have been the world of an individual.

Psychologists have identified some character traits of people who become terrorists.  These include:

~Wants change of some kind but feel powerless to have effect or impact.

~Feel alienated, disenfranchised or angry.

~Feel a need to take action when talking becomes ineffective or no one listens.

~Believe that their efforts are not immoral.

~Has family or friends sympathetic to a shared cause.

~Feels that joining a movement or acting alone empowers them bringing psychological rewards, adventure, a heightened sense of identity and perhaps camaraderie.

~ Some actually believe a violent act may attract positive attention to their cause.

~ Lone wolves and large groups both feel a need to strike out if they perceive their lifestyle or culture is in jeopardy.

~Revenge is a popular criterion for terrorist violence.

~In almost all cases, lone wolves are male.

~Lone wolves are known to be lonely people who want to be heard.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in World War II, the leader of the Japanese fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, declared, “I’m afraid we have awakened a sleeping giant.”

When a terrorist attacks on American soil, he awakes a giant. Contrary to their intent, the attacks strengthen American resolve. Equally important, authorities generally identify, arrest and prosecute the perpetrators, who often pay with their lives. 


Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association of Psychological Science.




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