Date of Conferral
Public Policy and Administration
Lone wolf terrorism has received considerable media attention, yet this phenomenon has not been sufficiently examined in an academic study. National security officials must distinguish between terrorist activities carried out by lone wolves and those carried out by terrorist networks for effective intervention and potential prevention. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the phenomenon of the leaderless lone wolf terrorist and the underlying mechanisms and processes that lead individuals to be drawn to or away from an existing radical movement. The theoretical framework for this study was leaderless resistance theory. Secondary data from interviews, field notes, and surveys from the RAND-MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base and the Global Terrorism Database were analyzed using open and selective coding. Findings revealed 3 individual-level underlying mechanisms and processes (personal and political grievance, risk and status seeking, unfreezing) that lead individuals to be drawn to or away from an existing radical movement and to act unilaterally without direction toward violent ends. Findings also indicated that no single typology fits all perpetrators. The findings benefit national security officials and intelligence agencies by identifying lone wolf individuals, weighing the actual threat versus the perception, developing better counterterrorism strategies for the lone wolf phenomenon, and enhancing relations with outside agencies. Results may improve understanding of lone wolf terrorism and may be used to develop new policies to predict and track future threats.