As terrorist attacks continue around the globe, more and more focus is put on stopping the attack before it happens, not just in apprehending the radicalized individual, but in stopping the radicalization before it takes place.  A large part of that is mapping the radicalization cycle and identifying those at risk.  Then, the correct intervention tactics must be applied to stop the cycle.

But how do you map the cycle and identify those at risk?  Well, a new, as yet unpublished study funded by the Department of Justice and titled with the thrilling name of Across the Universe?  A Comparative Analysis of Violent Behavior and Radicalization Across Three Offender Types with Implications for Criminal Justice Training and Education hopes to shed some light.  If you actually made it past the title, I’m going to attempt to condense 117 pages into a significantly smaller summary.  First, as you can see, they actually look at both mass murderers and “lone actor terrorists.”  The primary difference, they note, is motivation.  Lone actor terrorists are typically motivated by an ideology, whereas mass murderers (here defined as people who murder 4 or more individuals in one place and event) are typically motivated by a personal wrong or grievance.  Second, the study encompassed 71 lone actor terrorists and 115 solo mass murderers.  Third, “socio-demographic data” reveals very little difference between the two study sets, “(h)owever, their behaviors significantly differ with regards to (a) the degree to which they interact with co-conspirators (b) their antecedent event behaviors and (c) the degree to which they leak information prior to the attack” (Page 4). Fourth, the mass murders in the study do not follow the same path to violence as the lone actor terrorists.

The authors are quick to point out that this study is just one study, and isn’t complete, as it doesn’t actually get around to recommendations for how to intervene, but it still provides some useful information.  The first tidbit, stated on page 12, is that “(a) review of the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports from 2000 to 2012 shows that the number of mass murders (four or more victims) was approximately one-tenth of one percent of all murders (excluding the 9/11 deaths).”  While not necessarily germane to the terrorism issue, it does shed some light on the over-representation of sensational mass murders in the media versus “real life.”

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Image courtesy of Federal Bureau of Investigation