Boston University Law Review Volume 92 (2012):

Confronting the One-Man Wolf Pack:

Adapting Law Enforcement and Prosecution Responses to the Threat of Lone Wolf Terrorism.

Journal Author: Beau D. Barnes

Beau D. Barnes wrote very interesting law review article in the Boston University Law Review entitled, “Confronting the one-man Wolf Pack: Adaptint Law Enforcement and Prosecution Responses to the Threat of Lone Wolf Terrorism.  It can be found at:  The media have hyped the threat of the “lone wolf” terrorist threat in the minds of the public.  The concept is intriguing to people because the psychological state of a lone terrorist is so foreign to our minds that we can’t help but wonder how a person can do such a thing.  The public, legislators, law enforcement and prosecutors alike are alarmed by the potentiality inherent in a non-communicating, non-conspiring, and undetectable enemy of the state committed to successfully carrying out an act of terror.  This law review article concludes after much discussion that the very thing that makes a lone wolf terrorist undetectable and alarming is also the very thing that makes them not a threat.  They work by themselves with little to no communication with anybody else about their intended terrorist actions and they fly under the radar using small arms and small explosives against minor targets.  They do not do enough damage to warrant us changing drastically, nor to any great expense of man-hours nor tax dollars any of our laws, law enforcement tactics, nor prosecutorial methods.

This having been said there are actions being taken by the legislature, law enforcement and prosecution which combat the threat.  One of the most effective ways of combating lone wolf terrorism is community awareness.  Community awareness programs are of utmost importance to the public and particularly the majority of the domestic community of law abiding Muslim American Citizens.  Not all lone wolf terrorists are Muslim, but the majority tend to have been influenced by and self-radicalized after having been inspired by Middle Eastern Sunni Al Qaeda or ISIS online literature and then followed the literature or at least incorporated the literature into their own personal disgruntled philosophy.  Truly these individuals should not be given the moniker of “lone wolf” because it carries with it a mystique they simply do not deserve.  They are simply criminals and they usually become entangled prior to their attacks because of criminal activities.

The main points of Barnes’ law review article are as follows:

Terrorism is a difficult to explain phenomenon with no consistent definition around the globe.  There are different typologies of terrorism based on their philosophical origin.  From Domestic to International, Statist and non-statist, Sunni and Shia.  Title 18 of the U.S. Code defines a terrorist as anybody who has or who intends to commit any of 47 different crimes.  Title 22 defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”  The FBI defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (Barnes p. 1620). The UN fails to define terrorism because of how complex the issue is given a multinational geo-political scene.  It depends on who is defining the term is the basic issue.

There have been 4 widely accepted historical periods or waves of terrorism.  We are currently in the 4th wave of terrorism.  According to David Rappaport the four waves are chronologically: the anarchist wave, the anticolonial wave, the new left wave and the religious wave.  The current 4th wave was initially sparked by a combination of the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan both having occurred in 1979 (Barnes p. 1622).  The basic conflation of Sunni and Shia Islamic radicalism inherent in Rappaport’s combination of all 4th wave terrorism as religious misses the distinct and important differences between the two.  Shia terrorism is largely statist (Hezbollah) and Sunni terrorism is largely non-statist (Al Qaeda and Isis).  There have been 5 waves of Shia terrorism and 4 waves of Sunni terrorism.  Dr. Marc Sageman, former CIA, describes only the waves of Al Qaeda, placing our current time period in the 4th wave of Al Qaeda, who are untrained and self-radicalized without real connection to Al Qaeda Central.  These are the “lone wolves”, amateur wanna-be terrorists (Barnes p.1624).

Al Qaeda terrorism has “effectively been neutralized” because of the responses U.S. policy makes have made since 2001 (Barnes p. 1629).  Barnes goes on to talk about domestic or “homegrown” terrorism.  Al Qaeda has inspired many people to join them ideologically against the “perceived oppression of Muslims throughout the world” (Barnes  p. 1629).  Sympathizers have self-selected themselves and self-radicalized.  They are not recruited.  Therefore there are not travel routes nor are there communication lines between lone wolves and mainline terrorist groups.  There are websites which the government can watch, and there are pretextual crimes which people planning terrorist attacks commit.  Most of the attacks have been launched using small arms, legally acquired small arms.  There is nothing to note until after the attack.  Traditional methods however have convicted many people who work in groups with a 90% conviction rate and 8.5 times longer sentences than the pretextual crimes involved (Barnes p. 1641).  The pretextual crimes are similar to the crimes used to convict prohibition era gangsters like Al Capone.  Tax evasion, false statements on federal forms, obstruction of justice, false statements made to federal investigators (Barnes p. 1647).  Pretextual investigations are done when terrorists are suspected, but the conspiracy or intended terrorist act cannot be proven and they in turn are focused on because they oftentimes lead to the uncovering of terrorist plots (Barnes p. 1647).

The Lone Wolf focuses on smaller targets.  Does not communicate.  They are less devastating, but they are disconcerting because the “tools of the trade fall short” (Barnes p. 1650).  We can’t find these guys.  The people who can stop them however are the public.  There are significant signs to law abiding Muslims in Muslim communities as to the ramping up of radicalization before an attack.  Most communities know which end of the mainstream – radical spectrum of belief other members of the community are on.  When a radical type of Muslim believer starts to show signs of withdrawal from groups, and some have shown up with burns on their hands and arms from bomb making.

Many of the “lone wolves” are simply people with personal frustrations and they combine their own personal brand of anti-government with Al Qaeda.  Many are not even Muslim at all.  Many people in our modern society are disgruntled with life.  Many of them are not part of any community and also do not share their radical beliefs with anybody if they are a part of a larger community.  (Barnes p. 1653).

One big prosecutorial problem is that of lack of conspiratorial basis for prosecution.  There is no such thing as a conspiracy of one.  Not possible.  This ties right in with the lone wolf not being detectible by law enforcement.  Same issue.  Another prosecutorial issue with lone wolfs is the lack of forged documents and travel.  They are domestic, and just self-radicalized.  They don’t need passports.  Just like any attempt, until the moment the trigger is squeezed, there has been no pretextual crime (Barnes p. 1654).

In short, Barnes concludes that the lone wolf cannot be stopped but is not an existential or significant threat to the United States.  They are not well trained enough to do damage (though it is possible like in the case of Timothy McVeigh the army Oklahoma City bomber).  They would get themselves caught if they used anything larger than small arms and small explosives, it takes training not just to use weapons and explosives but to go undetected with especially explosives.  (Barnes p. 1656).  The United States would have to so radically alter its constitution to expand the concepts of attempt, conspiracy and material support and would have to spend so much money to track lone wolves that the cost would outweigh the benefit.  It is not worth it, and they cannot significantly affect us enough in a negative way for their tactics to be effective (Barnes p. 1660).

Barnes’ answer is not to do nothing, but to educate the public and make them aware.  “A small number of poorly trained and poorly equipped individuals operating alone should not cause the United States to alter the course of the ship of state” (Barnes p. 1662).




Barnes, B.D. (2012). Confronting the One-Man Wolf Pack: Adapting Law Enforcement and

Prosecution Responses to the Threat of Lone Wolf Terrorism.

Boston University Law Review Vol. 92 No. 4 (2012).

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