Lone Wolves in our Culture

Gustavo Grodnitzky Culture Trumps Everything

A lone wolf or lone-wolf terrorist is someone who prepares and commits violent acts alone without substantive assistance from any group. Nonetheless, he or she may be (or claim to be) influenced or motivated by the ideology and beliefs of an external group, and may in some way act to support such a group.

Last week, the world saw a lone-wolf terrorist drive a car across the Westminster Bridge, injuring 50 people and killing three. The US is not immune to such lone wolf attacks. On June 12, 2016, a lone-wolf terrorist attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. The question that follows attacks like these often being with, “Why?”

If you’d really like to understand why lone wolves act as they do in our culture, let’s look at what we know. In a report prepared by Mark Hamm and Ramon Spaaj, funded by the US Department of Justice, looked at all the lone-wolf attacks that took place in the US, a total of 124, since 1940. Here are some of the highlights of there findings:

  1. Lone-wolf attacks are not new, but they are becoming more common. It is not that we just hear about them more frequently. They document the increased frequency since 1940.
  2. White supremacists remain the greatest inspiration for lone wolves. However, jihadist’s attacks are rising at a rapid rate.
  3. Guns have become their weapon of choice. They may occasionally use other means (i.e. Bombs, anthrax), but guns remain their most lethal weapon.
  4. They have usually told someone else about their plans. While they act alone, lone wolves usually articulate their plans to at least one other person – often through social media.
  5. Lone wolves are different from traditional terrorists. In a study done by Emily Corner and Paul Gill at the University College of London, they found that lone wolf attackers are actually difficult to profile. In this study they found that lone wolf attackers are much more similar to mass murderers than members of a terrorist group. Meaning, they tend to be apolitical. Their study suggests a new category for counter terrorism officials they call, “Grievance Field Violence.”

As a culture writ large, as a society, can we reduce the grievance of these lone wolf attackers?

I believe we can. As I discuss in my culture presentations, as well as my book, primary human drives are to connect and belong. Connect means to build relationship with other, belong means to belong something larger than us. One of the reasons “grievance field violence” occurs is that it occurs against “the other.” Perpetrators of these violent acts behave against someone who is seen as unlike themselves. They develop this perception, often, because they feel disenfranchised and marginalized from our society, or culture writ large. One of the reasons, I believe, that the phenomena of lone wolf attacks has increased is that, given internet, rather than suffer alone and in silence as lone wolves might have done many years ago, they reach out and get connected (primary human drive) to a group or organization that also feels they are being marginalized and disenfranchised from society. It is these groups and/or organizations that give these lone wolves a sense of belonging (primary human drive) – and a target to which they can act against – the rest of society.

Over the past several years, there have been thousands of people from Europe streaming into Syria to fight for ISIS and al-Quaida – the united states has only had a few hundred. Why? Historically, one of the things the US has done better than other countries is the integration of immigrants. I was born in Argentina and raised in the US – that makes me Argentine-American. A person in this country can also be Asian American, Mexican-American and Muslim-American. A person cannot be Muslim-French or Muslim-Belgian – the culture (writ large) won’t allow it – there by disenfranchising and marginalizing people of the Muslim faith in those countries and cultures. When, as a culture writ large (society), we disenfranchise people from their primary drives (to connect and belong), we see the rise of secondary human drives – hostility, destructiveness, and violence.

As a culture writ large (society), we get to choose what we offer members of our society. But clearly, there is a cost to depriving people of their primary human drives.

Let’s keep cultivating our culture – together!