MiamiHerald / Lone offender attacks – sometimes called “lone wolf” attacks – make headlines fairly regularly. It’s not just the single shooter killing dozens and injuring hundreds in Las Vegas, but also shootings in Washington and Texas shopping centers. In Nice, France; Orlando, Florida; and elsewhere, atrocities committed by individuals apparently acting alone have surprised and concerned the public and authorities alike.
Because just one person is at the center of the event, these sorts of attacks can seem more puzzling and be harder to explain than, say, bombings or shootings by organized terrorist groups. That also makes them more difficult to detect and prevent.
As law enforcement and military efforts attempt to reduce attacks from organized groups, lone offender attacks may become a more prevalent threat. My colleagues and I have worked to understand what we can about these attacks and the individuals who carry them out with the goal of helping to prevent them.
Although these recent attacks are troubling, the phenomenon of individual attackers acting largely alone is not new. In the late 1800s, anarchists (mainly Russian and European) were calling for individuals to target government, authorities and the bourgeois as a way to bring attention to their cause. They referred to this type of publicity-seeking violence as “propaganda by the deed.”