Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)

How lone wolves operate

29 June 2017

Acts of terror by so-called lone-wolf terrorists have reached an all-time high in the United States. Yet there is little consensus on what connects these crimes and the motivations behind them. In The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism (Columbia University Press), terrorism experts Ramón Spaaij (University of Amsterdam) and Mark S. Hamm (Indiana State University) combine criminological theory with empirical and ethnographic research to map the pathways of lone-wolf radicalisation, helping with the identification of suspected behaviours and recognising patterns of indoctrination.

Reviewing comprehensive data on these actors, including more than 200 terrorist incidents, Hamm and Spaaij find that a combination of personal and political grievances lead lone wolves to befriend online sympathisers—whether jihadists, white supremacists, or other anti-government extremists—and then announce their intent to commit terror when triggered.

Prof Ramón Spaaij

Credits: Jeroen Oerlemans

Spaaij and Hamm carefully distinguish between lone wolves and individuals radicalised within a group dynamic. This important difference is what makes this book such a significant manual for professionals seeking richer insight into the transformation of alienated individuals into armed warriors. Spaaij and Hamm conclude with an analysis of recent FBI sting operations designed to prevent lone-wolf terrorism in the United States, describing who gets targeted, strategies for luring suspects, and the ethics of arresting and prosecuting citizens.

About the authors

Ramón Spaaij is professor by special appointment of Sport Sociology at the University of Amsterdam. His books include Understanding Lone Wolf Terrorism: Global Patterns, Motivation, and Prevention (2012); Understanding Football Hooliganism (2006); and Sport and Social Exclusion in Global Society (2014).

Mark S. Hamm is a professor of Criminology at Indiana State University and a senior research fellow at the Center on Terrorism, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. His books include The Spectacular Few: Prisoner Radicalization and the Evolving Terrorist Threat (2013) and Terrorism as Crime: From Oklahoma City to Al-Qaeda and Beyond (2007).

Published by  UvA Persvoorlichting