The Lone Wolf Gunman

Lone Wolf seems to be the current terminology affecting U.S. terrorism. Definition of a Lone Wolf is critical. Lone Wolves are individuals that act on their own without orders or links to an organization. They are often classified as Leaderless Resistance. Meaning they take orders from no one and have no obligation to any individual person. The year 2010 has brought unprecedented Lone Wolf attacks on U.S. soil: three to be exact. Without immortalizing their names, the first was the individual who lost a court battle regarding his social security benefits and decided to engage in a gunfight in a federal court house injuring a U.S. Marshall. The second resembled the September 11, 2001 attacks, fortunately at a much smaller scale. An individual irate at the Internal Revenue Service flew a small aircraft into the Internal Revenue Service’s Austin, Texas building, killing an innocent civilian. The third and final Lone Wolf attack year to date is the Pentagon shooter. This individual opened fire and injured two police officers before being killed. Lone Wolf attacks are on the increase. Analyzing this year’s attacks, it appears that they are all targeted towards government facilities. The logical follow up questions are why and what can we do as a community or law enforcement to stop them?

The research is clear. Lone Wolf attacks are spontaneous and difficult to pre-determine. Luck seems to be the prevailing cause for preventing Lone Wolf attacks. Lone Wolves are solitary individuals who strike alone. This makes their detection prior to them striking very difficult. This is in contrast to terrorist cells, which consist of more than one person. Terror plots of radical cells are often disrupted by intelligence leaks. These leaks stem from militants having second thoughts about the mission and consequently revealing the plot to law enforcement officials. Another compromise of terrorist cell organizations is discarded and found documentation or communication intercept. Regardless the cause, radical terrorist cells plans can be compromised.

Motivation for Lone Wolf attacks vary. Lone Wolves motivation ranges from mental instability to political and religious reasons. Lone Wolves such as Theodore Kaczynski and Eric Rudolph are perhaps the most visible examples of elusive yet effective Lone Wolves. Their terror and destruction will be remembered for decades to come.

Identifying Lone Wolves is difficult. These individuals can speak about hate and radical ideas. However, they are protected by the First Amendment. Additionally, they are often self-sustaining, making them even harder to detect. Detection of Lone Wolves cannot be left to luck. Even though Lone Wolves are solitary predators, they are predators that adhere to the same four evolutionary stages of any criminal predator, as outlined in a previous article, The Enemy Within. The four stages and their relation to the Lone Wolf are as follows:

  • Visionary Stage - The Lone Wolf will day dream about attacking. This visualization spawns from various motivations. This is a difficult stage for officials to immobilize the Lone Wolf, as nothing criminally prosecutable has resulted at the completion of this stage.
  • Developmental Stage - During this stage the Lone Wolf will enhance his/her skills. He will use the internet as one avenue to educate himself on the most effective tactics to inflict terror. He will systematically target a physical structure, organization or individual. He will identify threats and develop countermeasures. Mental preparation is being transformed from fantasy to reality. Because overt actions are now being performed by the Lone Wolf, the probability of discovery by law enforcement increases.
  • Advance Stage - This is the last stage that intervention can occur. The Lone Wolf is now completely mission focused. He has practiced and prepared for his mission. He has conducted dry runs and knows the layout of his battlefield. The further the Lone Wolf progresses in these stages the easier it is for him to compromise his plans, consequently becoming more dangerous if confronted by law enforcement.
  • Execution Stage - Natural evolution brings the Lone Wolf to this stage. The massacre will begin and law enforcement will be forced to become reactive and in a containment mode. The opportunity for proactive diffusion by law enforcement has ceased at this stage.

The modern terrorist era has burdened law enforcement at an ever growing and accelerating rate. Tracking every lead is draining to human resources and technology. Prevention for Lone Wolf attack should focus on intelligence gathering by law enforcement officials and the community. It is very difficult to predict what or who a Lone Wolf will identify as his prey; however, these individuals do not operate in a vacuum. They need to acquire skills and equipment to orchestrate their attack, whether it is internet browsing history or the attainment of chemical substances. They will more than likely bring suspicion to themselves as they progress through the four stages of a criminal predator.

This is the new Leaderless Resistance plaguing America’s freedom. As stated earlier, 2010 has encountered three Lone Wolf incidents this year to date. With equal importance, all three targets were symbolic of the United States Government. Perhaps this is the new trend for Lone Wolf attacks. The ideology of these individuals should be examined and from that lessons learned should be applied. Regardless, Community Awareness and Education, proactive law enforcement strategies and target hardening of facilities should become the triad for Lone Wolf defense.