Global Dynamics

Inteligence Profiling


Recently the U.S. has seen several stunning incidents of lone-wolf terrorism, the initial incident took place in July 2012 at a movie theater, and the accused gunman James Holmes opened fire at a midnight screening of the movie The Dark Night Rises. An investigation into Holmes revealed that his apartment had been booby-trapped; law enforcement authorities were able to disarm the devices before any of them were detonated. The simple fact remains, Holmes was dressed for war (you can find the entire analysis here and his apartment was booby-trapped. Holmes is an excellent example of the lone wolf or lone wolf fighter “someone who commits or prepares for or is suspected of committing or preparing for violent acts in support of some group, movement or ideology but does so alone outside of any command structure.”(Lone wolf (terrorism) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, n.d.)

These people are not connected to any one extremist group. They either become attracted to the ideology through personal belief, through friends, family or through the internet. The lone wolf will agree with a certain type of ideology (white supremacy for example) yet will not join an established group, instead they will function alone (the lone wolf) and will engage in random acts of terror directed at a target group (homosexuals, Jews, people of color, immigrants, abortion clinics). These individuals are difficult to identify as they and they are aware of their intentions. Without being part of an established group it is difficult for law enforcement to identify these individuals before they act.

Federal law enforcement authorities have also indicated that lone-wolf terrorism poses a threat to U.S. National Security and will continue to pose a threat:

It is in the United States however that lone wolf terrorism has been considered a significant and ongoing security threat for some time now. As FBI Director Robert Mueller III states the threat from single individuals sympathetic or affiliated with Al Qaeda acting without external support or surrounding conspiracies is increasing.

In similar terms Europol Muller notes that these individuals are particularly hard to identify before they strike

In 2010 CIA Director Leon Panetta stresses the danger of terrorists acting alone by asserting that it’s the Lone wolf strategy that I think we have to pay attention to as the main threat to this country.

United States President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have recently voiced similar concerns. Obama asserts that a lone wolf terrorist attack in the United States is now more likely than a major coordinated effort like the 9/11 attacks. (Spaaij, 2012)

The second example of lone-wolf action occurred in August 2012 at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. In this case the alleged shooter Wade Michael Page was a known white supremacist (Page shot himself after the rampage). “Page had ties to white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups, reportedly being a member of the Hammerskins. [20] He entered the white power music scene in 2000, becoming involved in several neo-Nazi bands. [40] He founded the band End Apathy in 2005 and played in the band Definite Hate, both considered racist white-power bands by the Southern Poverty Law Center.” (Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, n.d.) An analysis of the Hammerskins written by Athena Research Group can be found here (


Any serious scholarly research on the nature of lone-wolf terrorism is a bit lacking. This may be true for several reasons, being a lone-wolf means the individual acts on his or her own, without a connection to an established group, the connection can be difficult to make (as in the case of James Holmes) or may be overlooked because of connections between an incident and an established organization (as the case with Wade Michael Page) or because lone-wolf terrorism tends to get lumped into the larger discipline of terrorism studies.

While lone-wolf terrorism is a form of terrorism the motivation behind violent action will be different from more traditional forms of motivation. In traditional forms of terrorism the motivation will be political (seeking political change) religions (attacking those not part of the religion) nationalist/separatist (seeking a nation or wanting to secede from a nation). The lone-wolf is more motivated by protecting something (as in a way of life, protecting the white race, protecting unborn children in anti-abortion violence) or anything that the offender believes protecting. The lone-wolf will form an ideology on his own with or without a connection to an established group. This offender will undertake violent action on his or her own and will be difficult for law enforcement to identify and prevent these acts.

White Supremacist Alex Curtis and Tom Metzger coined the term lone wolf in the 1990s. The concept included individual or small-cell underground activity, individuals working without any sort of command authority of hierarchy. Without a command structure it is difficult for law enforcement authorities to infiltrate.


It is difficult to identify the lone-wolf terrorist as he or she will function and operate on his or her own, even family members many not know that the individual harbors any extremist ideology. While research seems to indicate that anyone guilty of violent actions can be labeled a lone-wolf, with this sort of violence on the increase it is important that working definitions and identifications be created.


Lone wolf (terrorism) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved September 1, 2012, from

Spaaij, R. F. (2012). Understanding lone wolf terrorism global patterns, motivations and prevention. Dordrecht: Springer. (ebook)

Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved September 1, 2012, from