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6 Jul 2022
Strategic Trends Series (11)

From Leaderless Resistance to Streaming Video Strikes: The Evolution of Lone Wolf Terrorism

Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan

Abstract

When Texas Klansman Louis Beam wrote his seminal screed “Leaderless Resistance” in The Seditionist in 1992, he also wrote a lesser-known companion piece advising ‘Patriots’ on how to use a computer or, failing that, offering instructions on setting up a telephone bulletin board for tech-challenged adherents. Beam was tactically prescient, but it took Bill Gates and Windows 95 to make his lone wolf dream a reality. The transnational radical right adopted Beam’s strategy by necessity given their inability to form secure organizational capabilities. This article will follow the evolution of the right-wing lone wolf from such early avatars as Joseph Paul Franklin in the 1960s through the social media-driven killings in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019. The article will argue that the lone wolf tactic has not only gone viral for the radical right but, of greater importance, that the technological, social, and political changes that have impacted mainstream society in the 21st century has changed the way the lone wolf tactic is employed and understood by contemporary lone wolves on the radical right. The article will begin with two contrasting case studies, Joseph Paul Franklin, who began it all in the 1960s, and a group of more recent lone wolves, most notably Anders Breivik and Brenton Tarrant, the latter of whose live-streamed shootings at the Christchurch, New Zealand Mosque, and his accompanying manifesto, “The Great Replacement” served to bring the lone wolf tactic into the 21st century. It will then turn to academic theory on lone wolf terrorism.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Jeffrey Kaplan is an American academic who has written and edited 20 books and 90 articles on racism, religious violence, terrorism and the far right. His most recent monograph is Apocalypse, Revolution and Terrorism: From the Sicari to the American Revolt Against the Modern World, which was published by Routledge in 2019. He was an Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh (USA) and a member of the Board of Academic Advisors of the university's Institute for the Study of Religion, Violence and Memory.

Dr Kaplan sits on the editorial boards of the journals Terrorism and Political ViolenceNova Religio and The Pomegranate. He is currently a Visiting Professor at the Doctoral School on Safety and Security Sciences, Óbudai University and a Visiting Fellow at the Danube Institute in Budapest, Hungary. He has also taught at Habib University (Karachi, Pakistan), King Fahd Security College (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) and Jilin University, School of International Relations and Public Affairs, Changchun, China).