During the last century, the “lone wolf” evolved from a repented outlaw to a criminal, to a right-wing terrorist, to an Islamic terrorist. This is the erroneous phenomenology of an erroneous metaphor…
The lone wolf: a terrorist associated to extremist Islamism, free from any link with major organizations, who acts by his own initiative, using the brand Isis (or whatever) like it was a franchising. But the idea we have on those subjects is misleading.
Lone Wolf was the nickname of the fictional character Michael Lanyard, former jewel thief who became a private investigator, created by Louis Joseph Vance in his book series. The first publication, named The Lone Wolf, goes back up to 1914. Three years later the first movie of the same series was broadcast. While the first comparison to the character was made in 1925, when a molester from Boston decided to call himself after him, as the chronicles of that time report.
More than fifty years went by before “lone wolf” became synonym of terrorist and not just of a common criminal. And it wasn’t referred to radical Muslims, but to American right-wing extremists, white supremacists and anti-government. Louis Beam was the theorist of the capacity of a single man to overturn power basing on ideological principles and not on hierarchy. Born in 1946, Beam was a Vietnam war veteran who joined the KKK in Louisiana and then the Aryan Nations, to protest against the State policies that helped Vietnamese fishermen in the U.S.
Beam’s strategy of a “leaderless resistance” was taken, but not realized, by Tom Metzeger, founder of White Aryan Resistance, association that bankrupted to sustain the legal costs of the trial against some of its members, accused of the homicide of an Ethiopian student.
Not even Timothy McVeigh, another war veteran, responsible for the terrorist attack of Oklahoma City in 1995, was a real lone wolf. He had an accomplice, Terry Nichols, anyway he was affiliated to neo-nazi organizations.
In 1998 the FBI starts the operation Lone Wolf, to contrast the wave of hate crimes. Just three years later the attention goes from right-wing to Islamic fundamentalism. The scariest of that period is Al Qaeda: rich, gigantic, capillary group, capable of 9/11. More than twenty people are involved just for the Twin Towers attack and they are all well trained. The following anti-terrorism laws tried to define the lone wolf as a foreigner who operates on the American soil by himself but with a complex network behind him.
In 2004 Abu Musab al-Suri, born Mustafa bin Abd al-Qadir Setmarian Nasar, now prisoner in Syria, became the Muslim version of Beam and Metzeger, as he created an independent group of Afghan jihadists, actually not directly related to Al Qaeda. In the last years the typology of attacks changed, fueling the myth of the lone wolf.
Anyway, as reported by Jason Burke, correspondent from Africa for The Guardian, 95% of terrorists who acted alone told his plan to friends or relatives, 79% of them even warned the higher level of their organizations. Many of them were properly trained in North Africa, Middle East or Central Asia, not to forget the on-line propaganda, which explains how to strike and contributes to shape deviated ideas in clearly maladjusted people.
The professional database LexisNexis found out that the expression “lone wolf”was used in 300 British articles between 2009 and 2012, in 2016 the number was more than tripled. Media have a problem, they must give answers in a very short time, even on topics that require deeper and accurate analysis. So, the terrorist attacks in Europe and America (like Orlando and the Mosque in Quebec), were labeled as the supposed action of a lone wolf.
The effect on the public is dual. On one hand, a lone wolf is scarier, he can be anyone right next to you, unsuspected. On the other hand the role of paramilitary organizations is reduced, promoting the idea that it’s easier to defeat a single individual than a network.
Basically, the fallacy of the DIY terrorist traces the one of the wolf as a lonely, antisocial animal, which sure has its fascination. Actually, there is a strong hierarchy in their packs, strategical for survival. Same as for terrorism.