A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Patterns of Lone Actor Terrorism in the United States: Research Brief


In the early 1990s, law enforcement authorities became increasingly concerned about the advent of “lone wolf” terrorism.  The extreme right began advocating this “uncoordinated violence” approach in 1992 under what was called a “leaderless resistance” model. It was around this time that the emergence of the Internet allowed cyberspace to become a major source of radical propagandizing for environmental terrorists and al-Qaida-inspired movements. The rise of the Internet also provided a way in which leaders of movements could identify targets, allowing subordinates or non-affiliated extremists the opportunity to commit acts of terrorism.  All of these strategies developed as a means of minimizing the civil and criminal liability of group leaders. They also thwarted traditional law enforcement efforts that usually employed confidential informants or undercover operatives within identified cells or groups of terrorists.

This research explores the differences in geospatial and temporal patterns between lone actor and group-based terrorists in the United States. These include differences in demographics, precursor activities, proximity to the terrorism incidents, and longevity of conducting terrorist activities.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Smith, Brent L., and Paxton Roberts, Jeff Gruenewald, Brent Klein. 2014. "Patterns of Lone Actor Terrorism in the United States: Research Brief" START College Park, MD. October. http://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/START_ATS_PatternsofLoneActorTerrorismUS_ResearchBrief.pdf