Chapter 3

Changing Group Structures and the Metamorphosis of Terrorism

If psychopathic killers are excluded from the equation, modern terrorism tended to be a group activity until about 1990. Even today most terrorist groups are socially organized, managed, and maintained. Successful groups must be structured according to the same principles as any other organization. Labor must be divided in particular ways, and each subunit must complete its assigned specialty to complement the work of other units. Even though its goals are more difficult to accomplish because the work must be completed with extreme secrecy, a terrorist group must be organized and managed for success. Yet, an alarming trend has developed in the past few years. Individual terrorists have been taking action on their own or with the support of a very small group. This chapter discusses the more conventional organizations and the emerging solitary trend.

After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

1. Describe the relationship between group size and effectiveness.

2. Describe the basic organizational patterns common to terrorist groups.

3. Outline the management problems facing terrorist groups.

4. Summarize Adams’s thesis on the importance of financing terrorist groups.

5. Describe the emergence of leaderless resistance, lone wolves, and berserkers.


( a) In 1970, a small group of radicals joined together in San Francisco to form the New World Liberation Front (NWLF). According to John Wolf (1981, pp. 63–64), the NWLF was responsible for 30 bombings over the course of the next 7 years. The NWLF claimed to be a "moral" revolutionary group, and it attacked only "legitimate" targets symbolized by corporate capitalism. Utility companies were a favorite, and the NWLF also bombed two sheriff’s vehicles in the San Francisco area. They were at war with the establishment.

As the NWLF attempted to expand its operations, its leadership may have come to see the irony of its campaign. Even though the NWLF had hoped to be the vanguard of a revolutionary movement, few people were willing to join the revolution. In an attempt to compensate, the NWLF "expanded" its operations by forming a number of revolutionary brigades. In reality, these brigades represented nothing more than the same few radicals operating under a variety of new names (U.S. Marshals Service, 1988).

In frustration, the NWLF turned to a final ploy to obtain support. Linking up with another small band of militants, the group joined the prison reform movement and allied itself with a group of militant ex-convicts called the Tribal Thumb. This sealed the fate of the NWLF; whatever chance it had had to obtain even the slightest political support was lost through the alliance. Its association with violent felons cemented public opinion against the group. The NWLF was denounced and alienated. Aside from improving corporate security and law enforcement investigative techniques, the NWLF was a dismal failure.

The experience of the NWLF is an example of the failure of many modern terrorist groups. To make a major impact, a terrorist group must have the resources to launch and maintain a campaign of terrorism. Technological weapons and industrial sabotage are starting points, but they do not provide the basis for extended operations. Groups have to be large—at least larger than a few social misfits armed with bombs. To become large, the group has to generate popular political appeal with a cause acceptable to a large segment of the public.

Most terrorist groups do not have this appeal. They are organized like the NWLF, developing ornate organizational schemes and grandiose plots but lacking the ability to carry out a meaningful campaign. Small groups generally sponsor small amounts of violence. Individual acts may gain the public’s attention through media exposure, but they lack the ability to maintain steady pressure on their opponents.


Ted Robert Gurr (Stohl, 1988, pp. 23–50) conducted an empirical analysis of terrorist groups operating in the 1960s in an attempt to identify some of their operational characteristics. His work remains an important study of their organizational structure. In the past, many people assumed terrorism was the result of revolutionary activities, just as many today assume it is state-sponsored or a product of the right-wing. Gurr’s data calls such simplistic conclusions into question.

Gurr’s analysis produced some interesting conclusions. First, most actions involve only a few terrorists who generate more noise than injury. Second, although it is popularly believed that political revolutionaries dominate terrorist groups, the majority of successful groups embrace other doctrines, such as nationalism. Third, in most instances only large groups achieve results by mounting campaigns of terrorism; small groups cannot do so. Gurr concludes that there are diverse causes for terrorist violence and many remain to be identified. No matter what the cause, however, most terrorist campaigns end within 18 months of the initial outburst of violence.

Terrorism is short-lived because it seldom generates support. A terrorist campaign promises the greatest opportunity for success, but many terrorist activities remain isolated because they lack support structures. As a result, terrorists seldom challenge authority. Political revolutionary and radical groups do not generate the popular appeal needed to gain support for their activities. Gurr believes large groups become large because they embrace popular political issues. Only a few groups have been able to adopt popular positions since 1945.

A policy implication may be drawn from Gurr’s study: If his conclusions are correct, they imply that most terrorist organizations are small, short-lived operations. Small groups are a law enforcement problem. Although terrorism is waged to gain political ends, the scope of most terrorist activities is too restricted to pose a serious threat to the state. The level of most terrorist activity would seem to dictate a police response. Small groups are not able to alter the political environment substantially. As in the case of the NWLF, standard investigative procedures can be used to stop small terrorist movements. Weapons of mass destruction may change these assumptions, but the analysis seems correct for conventional terrorism.


(a) Vittorfranco Pisano (1987, pp. 24–31) illustrates the importance of group size with an analysis of terrorism in Italy from 1975 to 1985. There were a tremendous number of terrorist actions in Italy during the 10 years of Pisano’s study, along with the relatively large number of groups responsible for the attacks. The reason for the plethora of groups, according to Pisano, was that most terrorist organizations were not capable of mounting a long-term campaign against the government. They could only strike a few times before their resources ran out or they were captured. Large Italian terrorist groups took advantage of this situation, using many different names in an attempt to confuse authorities. Yet, investigators came to realize only large groups were involved in sustained actions. Everyone else became "single-incident" terrorists; that is, they could mount only one operation.<

Hizbollah serves as an example of a large successful group. In separate studies Hiro (1987) and Wright (1986, 1989) find that Hizbollah began as a political movement inside revolutionary Iran. In 1982, Hizbollah moved to the Bekka Valley in Lebanon in response to an Israeli invasion. The Israeli Foreign Ministry (1998) claims Hizbollah’s movement to Lebanon allowed it to grow. Utilizing local support and continued financial backing from Iran, Hizbollah has emerged as a strong, semiautonomous structure. Its size allows Hizbollah to conduct extensive terrorist attacks against Arabs who disagree with its objectives, as well as against Israel. Hizbollah is large enough to maintain a campaign of terrorism.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elaam (LTTE) is in a similar position. The LTTE began fighting the Sri Lankan government in 1976, claiming to represent the Tamil minority on the island nation of Sri Lanka. Because Sri Lanka has an extensive Tamil population, the LTTE has been able to recruit an extensive fighting force. O. N. Mehrota (2000), writing for the Institute of Defense Studies in India, estimates that it may number up to 10,000 members. Not only has the LTTE mounted an extensive terrorist campaign, including a track record of successful suicide bombings, but it also crossed the threshold into guerrilla warfare in 1983. Size is the crucial factor in LTTE operations.

As terrorist groups become larger, however, the level of response to the problem must be raised. Christopher Hewitt (1984) considered this issue when he began a study of the effectiveness of counterterrorist policies. Hewitt reflects Gurr’s position by stating that small groups do not have the resources to damage an opponent over an extended length of time: They cannot launch a campaign. He believes terrorist campaigns are more important than isolated acts of terrorism, and terrorist campaigns demand expanded political responses.

Hewitt argues terrorist campaigns became important after World War II for two primary reasons. First, the campaigns of large terrorist organizations accounted for the majority of terrorism around the world. Small, isolated terrorist organizations failed to match their larger counterparts. Second, large terrorist organizations have prompted governments to employ macropolicies. Large terrorist organizations can actually bring about a change in government political response because they represent a problem far beyond the means of local law enforcement. Therefore, large groups represent political threats.

Yet, extremists rarely attract a political base—except among other extremists. In general, people do not readily flock to small terrorist organizations. Large groups like the Basque Nation and Liberty (ETA) and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) have gained support because their causes are so popular among their reference groups. Their methods may be extreme, but their political appeal has a broader base. Many small groups recognize this and attempt to follow the examples of the larger groups. By rhetorically abandoning their extremist positions and taking on a more popular political cause, small groups hope to broaden their appeal.

Extremists try to hide the most radical positions in nationalistic and religious messages. Murder and theft are disguised as patriotic acts. For example, in an anonymous tract titled "Wann alle Bruder Schweigen," a romanticized account of The Order, the writer claims the terrorists to be nothing more than American patriots fighting for their constitutional rights. Posse Comitatus reflected the same sentiments in "The Last Letter of Gordon Kahl," the story of a man who shot it out with police officers instead of paying taxes (Sapp, 1986). American militias maintain this tradition, and the left-wing German Red Army faction made similar claims from the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Despite attempts to expand and develop a broader political following, most terrorist groups fail miserably when they try to increase their size. Walter Laqueur (1987, p. 9) says this is because they are composed of fanatics. Such people do well to convert even other fanatics, and they have virtually no appeal in mainstream society. Terrorist groups remain small because they cannot see beyond their immediate agendas.


(a) James Fraser, a former counterterrorist specialist in the U.S. Army, discusses the organization of terrorist groups by analyzing two factors: the structure of the organization and its support. According to Fraser (Fraser & Fulton, 1984, pp. 7–9), terrorist groups are necessarily designed to hide their operations from security forces, and so analysis is difficult. Still, certain organizational principles are endemic to all terrorist groups. Organizations employ variations of command and control structures, but they are frequently organized along the same pattern no matter what causes they endorse.

The typical organization is arranged in a pyramid (see Figure 3.1). It takes many more people to support terrorist operations than to carry them out; therefore, the majority of people who work in terrorist organizations serve to keep terrorists in the field. The most common job in terrorist groups is support, not combat.

According to Fraser (Fraser & Fulton, 1984), the hierarchical structure of terrorist groups is divided into four levels. The smallest group is at the top and is responsible for command. As in military circles, leadership makes policy and plans while providing general direction. Other researchers have often pointed out that the command structure is not as effective as in legitimate organizations because of the demand for secrecy. The command structure in a terrorist organization is not free to communicate openly with its membership; therefore, it cannot exercise day-to-day operational control.

The second level in Fraser’s hierarchy contains the active cadre. (Cadre is a military term; these are the same people most of us call "terrorists.") The active cadre is responsible for carrying out the mission of the terrorist organization. Depending on the organization’s size, each terrorist in the cadre may have one or more specialties. Other terrorists support each specialty, but the active cadre is the striking arm of the terrorist group. After the command structure, the cadre of active terrorists is the smallest organization in most terrorist structures.

(a) Under the active cadre is the second largest and the most important level of a terrorist organization. Active supporters are critical to terrorist campaigns. Any group can carry out a bombing or kidnapping, but to maintain a campaign of bombings and kidnappings takes support. Active supporters keep the terrorists in the field. They maintain communication channels, provide safe houses, gather intelligence, and ensure all other logistical needs are met. This is the largest internal group in the organization.

The last and largest category is the organization’s passive supporters. This group is extremely difficult to identify and characterize because supporters do not readily join terrorist groups. Many times they are used without their knowledge; they simply represent a favorable element of the political climate. When a terrorist group can muster political support, it will have a relatively large number of passive supporters. When its cause alienates the mainstream, passive support dwindles. Passive support complements active support.

Most terrorist groups number fewer than 50 people and are incapable of mounting a long-term campaign. Under the command of only a few people, the group is divided according to specific tasks (see Figure 3.2). Intelligence sections are responsible for assessing targets and planning operations. Support sections provide the means necessary to carry out the assault, and the tactical units are responsible for the actual terrorist action.

Larger groups are guided by the same organizational principles, but they have major subunits capable of carrying out extensive operations. In particularly large groups, subunits have the ability to act autonomously. Large groups have the tactical units and the support sections to conduct terrorist campaigns.

Anthony Burton (1976, pp. 70–72) describes the basic structure of subunits. Terrorist organizations have two primary types of subunits: the cell and the column. The cell is the most basic type. Composed of four to six people, the cell usually has a specialty; it may be a tactical unit or an intelligence section. In some organizations, the duties of tactical cells vary with the assignment. Other cells are designed to support the operations.

Groups of cells form to create columns. Columns are semiautonomous conglomerations of cells with a variety of specialties and a single command structure. As combat units, columns have questionable effectiveness. They are too cumbersome to be used in major operations, and the secrecy demanded by terrorism prevents effective intercolumn cooperation. Their primary function is combat support because elements in a column can be arranged to support the tactical operations of cells.

While both Fraser’s work and Burton’s analyses appear to be dated, the structures they outlined are still applicable to groups. Patrick Seale (1992) finds the same type of structure when examining Abu Nidal. Reuven Paz (2000b) sees similarities with the organization of the Lebanese-based terrorist group Hamas. Religious terrorists such as the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo also copy the group model (Brackett, 1996). The only terrorists who do not follow typical organizational models are the emerging individualists. These are examined at the end of this chapter.


(a) It is easy to outline the organizational structure of terrorist groups. The reason is plain. Terrorists need to organize like any other group. You could probably make a fairly accurate diagram of most terrorist groups after taking an Introduction to Management class. Indeed, terrorist leaders face operational problems and seek to solve them with the same strategies you would learn in such a management class. Terrorist leaders also have special organizational problems (see Box 3.1).

The first problem is the need for secrecy. It dominates the operational aspects of terrorism and leads to a variety of problems not encountered in open organizations. Ironically, while secrecy is the greatest strength of the terrorist organization, it also reveals its greatest weakness. Sometimes a terrorist group’s work is so secret that even the members do not know what they are doing. Terrorism demands secrecy, and secrecy prevents effective communication.

Because the necessity for secrecy is so great, each cell and each column is usually allowed a relatively high degree of autonomy. Terrorism is a decentralized affair, and the larger the group, the greater the degree of decentralization. This is not the most desirable kind of organization, but it is an operational necessity. Terrorists know a centralized structure is easily infiltrated and destroyed by security forces. One well-placed informant can destroy an entire organization.

Decentralization offers relative security: Very few people know many other members of the organization. This approach affords great protection but difficult administration. The organization of the Provisional Irish Republican Army can be used to illustrate the problem. The IRA is organized like most large terrorist groups. It is governed by a Supreme Council whose members are drawn from IRA battalion or column commanders. Column commanders are responsible for a number of cells, which in the IRA are frequently called by military names such as platoons, squadrons, and companies. The command of the IRA, however, has problems that emanate from secrecy and decentralization.

On paper, the organizational chart looks extremely logical. In practice, that logic is modified by the need for each unit to be protected from discovery. This means members of various cells and columns usually have no idea who the other members of the IRA are and what they are doing. They get their orders from one man, and that person supposedly represents the Supreme Council. This paves the way for potential splintering or, at the least, misunderstandings. It is easy to see why the IRA is difficult to manage.

To prevent factionalism and excessive autonomy, terrorist commanders turn to internal discipline for control. In essence, what the commanders continually threaten to do is to terrorize the terrorist organization. Factionalism and autonomy are controlled through fear of retribution.

Ironically, internal discipline can become a major stumbling block in the terrorist organization. There are two opposing dynamics at work, one pulling for cohesion and cooperation through fear and the other pulling for autonomy through decentralization and secrecy. Sometimes attempts at discipline backfire. For example, when leaders attempt to punish errant members by assassination, they may find themselves the target of disgruntled followers. As a result, large terrorist organizations frequently find themselves splitting.

Another problem of terrorist management is gaining immediate tactical support for operations. As Fraser (Fraser & Fulton, 1984) suggests, the most important element of a terrorist campaign is the amount and structure of active supporters. Without active supporters, launching a campaign is impossible. Though the press has frequently pictured terrorist leaders as secretive plotters controlling hidden armies of true believers, in reality terrorist leadership must exert itself to develop and maintain active support. The majority of time is spent creating networks of active supporters, not launching headline-grabbing operations.

Yoseff Bodansky (1986b) illustrates this point in his analysis of state-sponsored terrorism. According to Bodansky, the logistics of mounting a terrorist campaign are massive. To maintain political pressure on an established government through the use of terrorism, a vast infrastructure of active supporters must be created. Bodansky outlines the types of activities that accompany terrorist campaigns. At a minimum, terrorists need three basic operational supports. Intelligence is necessary to plan and carry out an attack. This includes everything from the selection and observation of the target to the forging of documents and travel papers. A direct logistical network must be established to supply terrorists with weapons, which is complicated by security procedures designed to detect them. Finally, a support network for safe houses, transportation, food sources, and medical supplies has to be arranged. Bodansky concludes that it takes 35 to 50 support people to keep a single terrorist in the field. Bodansky’s (1999) subsequent work reinforces these initial findings.

Training is another need that complicates the business of terrorism. True believers may have the political motivation to engage the enemy, but they frequently lack the practical skills to do so. Terrorists must maintain bases to prepare for such tactical necessities as target practice and making bombs. True believers are easy to find, but trained fanatics are not. Terrorist groups must have both facilities and resources to support training activities.

Managing a terrorist campaign is also a complicated matter. It is conducted in secrecy, and yet the demands on the terrorist command structure are as great as the demands on the leaders of any organization. To compensate for the difficulty, some large international organizations have routinized their approach to terrorism by developing large bureaucratic organizations to manage their affairs. It is an alternative to allowing a state sponsor to dominate the internal affairs of the group.

Brian Jenkins (1987a) believes the bureaucratization of terrorist groups brings many complications to terrorism. Jenkins says some large terrorist organizations unintentionally developed into bureaucratic structures to meet the rigorous organizational demands of a terrorist campaign. Other organizations established such structures on purpose. Once the bureaucracies were in place, a new set of problems developed, essentially resulting from a standard bureaucratic problem: Once formalized, these structures must produce reasons to justify their existence.

All terrorists face management problems, and the issues involved in launching attacks are not simple. Terrorist attacks require political support, planning, organization, and resources. Every terrorist group, regardless of size, must take these factors into account. The resources must come from somewhere. Some analysts have argued that attempts should be made to uncover the resources behind the organizations. They believe too much time has been spent on examining the organizational structure of terrorist groups and not enough energy has been devoted to the support networks behind the structures. James Adams, defense correspondent for the London Times, raises this argument.


(a) In 1999 Harvey Kushner, a criminal justice professor from Long Island University, and I were discussing terrorist infrastructures with a doctoral candidate at an Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences conference. The student asked us where he could find the best analysis of the economics of terrorism. Without pausing, Kushner and I both blurted out, "James Adams." Although dated, Adams (1986) has produced the best analysis of financial infrastructures in terrorism. His work is, as Kushner aptly said to the student, a classic.

James Adams (1986) presents an excellent analysis of terrorist organizations in The Financing of Terror. His thesis is that terrorism changed between the 1960s and the 1980s and most Western defense policies failed to account for the change. Led by the United States, defense policy has been aimed at uncovering state-sponsored terrorism. Adams says this has resulted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the function and nature of terrorism. Major terrorist organizations are independent of states, and they have created independent financial support networks to stay in business. Adams concludes the best way to attack terrorism is to attack the financial structures that support indepen-dent terrorist organizations.

Adams (1986) believes modern terrorism grew from the revolutionary violence in the 1960s. As violence grew, he writes, the West developed two schools of thought to approach the problem. One school saw increased terrorism as a state-sponsored activity, used to support national military functions. The other school said terrorism could only be eliminated when the political causes of terrorism, such as injustices, were uncovered and eliminated. Adams believes both groups had a point but missed a central issue.

Modern terrorism is distinct from violence in the 1960s. It grew, was transformed, and came to possess a dynamic of its own. Nation-states became involved in sponsoring terrorism in both the West and East, but not in the manner envisioned by American defense policymakers: States do not play a major role in terrorism.

Terrorist groups tend to grow and function on their own. Just as Gurr (Stohl, 1988, pp. 23–50) and Hewitt (1984) point to the difficulties of maintaining a campaign, Adams (1986) is also perplexed by the ability of large terrorist groups to maintain their operations. If they do not enjoy overwhelming support from their client states, where do they get their resources? Adams found his answer in a variety of sources with a single common denominator: No matter how a terrorist group approaches its particular task, it has to have internal financial backing built into its infrastructure. Money is required to mount a terrorist campaign.

Adams examined a number of large terrorist groups to obtain his answer. To obtain autonomy in the struggle for Palestine, the PLO established an economic wing called Samed in 1970. Adams writes that Samed has developed into a rational business structure to support the PLO. It uses modern organizational theories providing economic benefits, salaries, and incentives to the fedayeen (holy warriors). Although Samed’s headquarters were destroyed in the 1983 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, operations have moved to Tunisia, Algeria, and Syria. Samed runs farms and is rapidly building factories. It intends to become a strong economic force in the Middle East during the twenty-first century.

Adams also focuses his attention on the Provisional IRA. He states it is popular to believe the Provisional IRA gets most of its money from the United States. America, however, is not the prime source of its income. The Provisional IRA maintains its coffers by running an organized crime network in Northern Ireland. This transformation, from revolutionaries to underground gangsters, has proven to be the best method of financing terrorism.

In what Adams calls its "Capone discovery," the Provisional IRA found it could raise vast sums of money by frightening shopkeepers and business owners into paying protection money. The payment has two results for a typical shopkeeper. First, it guarantees Provisional IRA protection for the business in case of trouble (but this is not the prime motivation for the payment). The second and major purpose is to keep the Provisional IRA from attacking the owner’s property or family. The Provisional IRA has taken in so much cash from its protection racket that it has been forced to launch a money-laundering scheme.

In 1972, the Provisional IRA found another way to finance terrorism when it entered the legitimate business world by purchasing a taxi company. The endeavor succeeded, and the Provisional IRA soon realized it could make even more money if it forced other companies out of business. Terrorism was used to dominate the market. The technique worked so well the Provisional IRA has set up other front businesses. Crime pays in Northern Ireland.

Adams (1986) believes tracing the financial resources of terrorism is important for a single reason. In its battle against terrorism, the West has been focusing on the wrong target. Adams says counterterrorism should concentrate on cutting off the source of terrorism. Terrorist campaigns are not waged in a vacuum; they require organization and resources. In the final analysis, this means they must be financed. Adams concludes that behind the structure of every large terrorist group lies a financial network. A terrorist campaign can be stopped by undermining a group’s economic ability to wage a campaign.

Although terrorist organizations have transmogrified since Adams’s analysis, their financial infrastructures follow the same principles. Harvey Kushner (1999) demonstrates this with the underground economic activities that support Middle Eastern terrorism in the United States. Bodansky’s (1999) detailed analysis of the financial network that supports Osama bin Ladin shows the same type of infrastructure. On July 24, 2000, the Washington Post reported a number of Hamas supporters were arrested in North Carolina for allegedly using scams and illegal schemes to finance operations in the Middle East. Adams’s thesis continues to be verified by terrorist actions.


As will be presented in Part II, modern terrorism reemerged after World War II (1939–1945) as a combination of anticolonial, nationalist, and left-wing political ideologies. When it first appeared, law enforcement agencies were surprised, and their tactics were ineffective. In Europe, terrorists seemed to move at will; and in the United States, local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies failed to solve almost all terrorist crimes. The Middle East seemed to be aflame with terrorism and regional wars. The situation in Northern Ireland was militarized as the British Army came to reinforce the Royal Ulster Constabulary, but Republican and Unionist terrorists ruled the day. Although terrorists did not topple any governments, they were in their first modern heyday.

By 1990, this situation had totally changed. The primary reason for this new state of affairs was that Western law enforcement became much better at dealing with terrorism. The police were quite successful at either infiltrating or monitoring groups, even in countries where restricted laws limited law enforcement’s ability to collect information. Police officers in the United Kingdom developed informants in almost every segment of the Irish Republican Army. Left-wing and right-wing terrorism in the United States dwindled as police information increased. Left-wing terrorism in Europe seemed to disappear, although some ethnic groups remained effective. Just when it seemed as if law enforcement had triumphed, the terrorists changed their tactics.

The American Ku Klux Klan leader Louis Beam was one of the first to understand the situation. Group organization, infrastructure, and financing were the weakest links in the chain. Law enforcement officials had figured out methods for infiltrating extremist cells, and they placed informants and undercover officers inside violent organizations. When these methods failed, the police followed the money. These tactics threatened all but the most stable terrorist groups. Louis Beam proposed a solution. According to Mark Pitcavage (1999), Beam believed that a group, no matter how secret, simply could not evade law enforcement. As a result, Beam called for the elimination of the group.

Taking a page from Carlos Marighella (see Part II), Beam talked about "leaderless resistance" (White, 2000). Beam said extremist groups did not need to have extensive organizations; it was just necessary to do something. Resistance in any form was acceptable. There was no need to coordinate activities. Resistance was enough. Several movements followed the idea. Hans-Josef Horchem (1986) points to subversive Green extremists in Germany, doing everything from telephoning in bomb threats to placing glue in locked doors. The Animal Liberation Front (2000) advocates such tactics on its Web page. Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995 illustrates the extreme violent end of the trend. It is difficult to gather intelligence on a group when there is no group.

Another trend in Leaderless Resistance is the notion of the "Lone Wolf." This concept can be found in the right-wing fantasy novel Hunter (Pierce, 1989). The protagonist represents the ultimate small group, the individual, and the novel describes how an individual extremist can murder people of color and Jews in the name of white supremacy. Pierce, the extremist author of the novel, says the police cannot infiltrate a mind.

Eric Rudolph serves as an example of the Lone Wolf. Wanted in connection for four bombings from a 1996 attack that drew international attention at the Atlanta Olympics to a 1998 abortion clinic bombing that killed a police officer, Rudolph is almost a real-life parody of Pierce’s Hunter. Unlike Hunter, however, Rudolph spends most of the time on the run. He has good reason to hide. Marlon Manuel (2000) of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says local, state, and federal governments have spent millions of dollars trying to catch Rudolph to no avail. Most Lone Wolves tend to be single-event terrorists, but Eric Rudolph allegedly has been able to plot four incidents: the Olympic bombing, two abortion clinic bombings, and an attack at a gay nightclub that wounded 110 people. In addition, his antics have become the legends of right-wing folklore.

I have argued that another term, Berserker, can be used to describe some individual terrorists (White, 2000). The term Lone Wolf suggests that a person suddenly pops up out of nowhere, performs a sinister act, and vanishes. In reality, Mark Pitcavage (1999, 2000) says this does not usually happen. Eric Rudolph is an exception, and his notoriety is greater than his ability to strike. Most Lone Wolves are true believers who are well known for their associations in violent extremist circles. Some Lone Wolves are better viewed as true believing extremists who go off the deep end. The term glorifies their actions and should not be used. This is why I also use the term Berserker. It is more than an academic term. It has investigative consequences.

In old Norse and British warfare, a berserker was a warrior who went crazy in the midst of battle. Bernard Cornwell (1997), the gifted author of the Sharpe’s Rifles series, provides a frightful description of such a warrior in a set of books about King Arthur. In a pericope from The Winter King, one of the young medieval heroes of the book, Dervel, is in a shield wall facing an army of Arthur’s enemies. The shield wall is crucial. As long as the warriors have their shields locked together in front of them, the enemy will have a difficult time breaking through and winning. Young Dervel feels relatively safe behind this wall of shields.

Unfortunately, to Dervel’s horror, two warriors step out of the enemy shield line and strip themselves. They dance naked, consumed by battle madness and mead, and are ready to charge Dervel’s shield wall and accept certain death. They are drunk, they are naked, and they are removed from the world of common logic. They are also dangerous. Dervel’s friends must lower their shields to strike the crazed Berserkers. In so doing, they will expose themselves to the enemy army. These naked madmen are not Lone Wolves. They are crazed true believers, though only temporarily insane. They are Berserkers.

The concept of the Berserker captures some individual extremist violence better than the term lone wolf. This is important for investigators. Berserkers can leave a trail of clues before they "charge a shield wall." For example, Buford Furrow, a right-wing extremist who attacked a Jewish center in Los Angeles, broadcasted his extremist involvement long before the attack. Benjamin Smith, another extremist who went on a murder spree in Chicago, was a public advocate of Creatorism (see Chapters 4 and 13). In practice, many lone wolves do not materialize from thin air. They are Berserkers who take violent, irrational actions. When extremists perpetually advocate violence and murder, they may produce a crazed individual who will go on a rampage.


 1. Terrorist organizations must be organized well enough to launch a campaign.

 2. Only relatively large groups have the ability to maintain a campaign of terrorism; therefore, the goal of terrorist groups is first to appear large, then to become large.

 3. Nonreligious terrorist groups employ propaganda and publicity in the hope of launching a campaign.

 4. Groups must have a substantial support network to pose a threat—a network that is many times larger than the number of people employed in tactical operations.

 5. Managing the operations of a terrorist group demands the same organizational skills that are needed to run any complicated social endeavor.

 6. Successful terrorist groups develop financial independence.

 7. Recently, some terrorists have taken individual single murderous actions to eliminate the need for group support.


Think about the way you would organize a group of 100 people to produce, distribute, sell, and service illegal computer software. Sketch your ideas in a make-believe organizational chart. Does your group look like a terrorist organization? What role does secrecy play in your organization? How would you manage 100 people? How could you keep such an organization from being discovered by the police? Could you accomplish something similar by abandoning your group and creating the software as a lone wolf?


David Rapoport, Inside Terrorist Organizations

James Adams, The Financing of Terror

FIGURE 3.1 The Structure of Terrorist Groups

Source: James Fraser & Ian Fulton (1984), Terrorism Counteraction, FC–100–37 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command).

FIGURE 3.2 Terrorist Group Organization

Source: James Fraser & Ian Fulton (1984), Terrorism Counteraction, FC–100–37 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command).

BOX 3.1  Problems of Terrorist Management

Communicating within an infrastructure of secrecy

Coordinating activities despite decentralization

Maintaining internal discipline

Avoiding fragmented ideologies

Maintaining logistics



(c) 2002 Wadsworth Group, a division of Thomson Learning, Inc.