Where the Extremes May Touch: The Potential for Collaboration Between Islamist, Right- and Left-Wing Extremists


Project Details


The purpose of this study is to investigate whether, in spite of their apparent ideological differences, a shared hatred of the "New World Order" purportedly sponsored and dominated by the United States might cause certain radical right- and left-wing groups in the West to collude on an operational level with transnational Islamist terrorist networks such as al-Qa`ida. If concerns about such collaboration turn out to be warranted, policymakers, analysts and researchers must be made aware of this burgeoning aspect of the terrorist threat so that appropriate countermeasures can be devised.

Primary Findings:

Formal Theory Results:

The formal theoretical model predicts that, despite incongruous, and at times antithetical, ideological orientations, an operational collaboration between left- or right-wing and Islamist terrorist groups is possible. The most important results from the game theory and qualitative literature analyses are:

1. The key drivers of whether a cross-ideological collaboration succeeds (where both parties perform) include the enhanced psychological and reputational benefits; increased security risks; risks of ideological contamination and resource costs. Increases in capabilities and internal opposition are, somewhat surprisingly, less likely to be determining factors.

2. The sequential game simulation revealed that "talk is cheap" - mutual rhetorical support is the most likely form of collaboration (except when al-Qa`ida plays first with a right-wing group, where operational collaboration also becomes possible).

3. In the simultaneous action game, the only non-trivial subgame perfect pure strategy Nash equilibrium results in dual performance under similar, but somewhat stricter conditions than those governing success in the sequential game.

Empirical Results:

As predicted by the model, quantitative analysis of the Global Terrorism Database reveals that, in the past, joint attacks have been rare (21 cases of 81,799 attacks, drops to 1 case if one controls for common ethnicity). Interviews and open source qualitative analysis suggest that so far there have been only rather minor forms of collaboration involving Left- or Right-wing with Islamist extremists, including substantial cross-ideological rhetorical support and potentially some financial and logistical support, but far less evidence of operational collaboration. At the moment, the most pressing threat in this regard seems to stem from religious conversions to Islam by former or current members of the Left or Right which forms an ideological and operational bridge or pivot between the two milieus.


The project made use of multiple methodologies including:

1. Theoretical survey of the literature on collaboration.

2. Development and solution of a game-theoretic model of cross-milieu collaboration.

3. A qualitative survey of primary and secondary open sources for instances of cross-milieu collaboration. These were assembled into a qualitative and quantitative database and analyzed descriptively.

4. Field research in Europe investigating instances of and prospects for collaboration


Project Period: