Image Credit: Fred Lum at the Globe and Mail. A vigil held for the lives lost in the Quebec City Mosque

Profiling ‘Lone Wolves’ in Canada and the United States

The concept of ‘lone wolf terrorism’, as we understand in the contemporary, was ‘developed’ by right-wing extremists. Tom Metzger, the leader of the White Aryan Resistance, used the term ‘lone wolf’ infamously during the 1980s-1990s. Furthermore, he advocated that white supremacists should adopt a ‘lone wolf’ or ‘leaderless resistance strategy’ where the supremacists can ‘engage in criminal actions only individually or in small cells to avoid detection by law enforcement.’

Law enforcement professionals and specialised academics alike have reported that lone wolf terrorists are difficult to identify and prevent attacks for the reason that the ‘traditional’ models of profiling do not conform to that of lone wolves. There are certain patterns of behaviour and similarities between lone wolf terrorists that aid in creating a profile of the individual, however, these patterns are often identified after the horrific act is committed. In brief, lone wolf attacks are reported to be undetectable and largely unpredictable.

Examples from Canada and the United States of Lone Wolves

The purpose of this section is to draw from two separate, recent incidents of lone wolf acts of terrorisms in Canada and the United States to identify the similarities in the backgrounds and operations of the perpetrators. It must be mentioned that these incidents were chosen due to their recency in terms of occurrence and criminal prosecution.

1. Patrick Wood Crusius – 3 August 2019, Mass Shooting in El-Paso, Texas, United States
21-year-old Crusius opened fired at a Walmart store on 3 August 2019, killing 22 people in this rampage. It was reported that 19 minutes prior to the emergency call that was made, Crusius had published a ‘manifesto’ online, expressing his anti-immigrant sentiments. After his arrest, Crusius admitted to the authorities that his goal was to ‘kill as many Mexicans’ as possible.

2. Alexandre Bissonnette – 29 January 2017, Shooting in Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Canada
On 29 January 2017, the then 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette, entered the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Sainte Foy, Quebec, Canada, and opened fired on Muslim men. Bisonnette killed six men, and has been sentenced to at least 40 years in prison. Investigations from Bissonnette’s personal computer revealed evidence of his ‘fascination with anti-immigrant alt-right and conservative commentators, and mass murder.’ Bissonnette also stated his ‘worries’ about Muslim immigration in Quebec.

Though Crusius’ and Bissonnette’s cases are merely two incidents of violence and loss of innocent lives, the similarities in their behaviours and core sentiments are to be examined. In the United States alone, it has been reported that one wolf terrorism is more lethal than organised terrorism. Individuals who are later identified as lone wolves manage to avoid arrest and do not arouse much suspicion because of their similar lifestyle as being isolated and keeping to themselves, while planning their attack alone.

Specialists report that these individuals often suffer a history of personal anguish and personal grievances, further fuelling their justifications and anger leading up to an attack. Modern online spaces, such a popular forums and chat rooms, provide a cyberspace for these individuals to spread their messages of anti-immigration sentiments and other messages of hatred. As seen in the cases of Crusius and Bissonnette, the ‘fear’ of the United States or Canada being ‘overcome’ by Mexicans or Muslims (in their case) was voiced, and was stated by the perpetrators themselves as a motivator for their attack.

As previously mentioned, the identification or prevention of an attack is rendered extremely difficult as there exists no single profile of a lone wolf. In fact, would-be perpetrators exhibit behaviours that are not uncommon to most adolescents or young adults (such as social isolation, signs of depression). Moreover, as lone wolf acts have shown to be conducted by primarily men, it would be unreasonable to expect authorities to be able to identify beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual is a lone wolf terrorist by these slim criterion.

Countering violent extremism: How is a lone wolf stopped prior to action?

Considering the foregoing, at the current stage of profiling and identification of lone wolf terrorists, it is difficult, if not impossible, to detect and halt a lone wolf terrorist attack before it happens. The reason being that lone wolves do not usually discuss their motives or ideas with others, coupled with the fact that their motivation is often only discovered tragically after an attack has happened.

However, this does not mean that there is a lack of sincere effort and measures that can be taken in the prevention of such attacks. Modern day technology plays a significant role in the dissemination of ideas and speech, therefore, there are methods in which potentially dangerous ‘hate speech’ or threats can be identified in chat rooms and reported to authorities for further investigations. It is understood that of course, this sort of monitoring is subject to certain restrictions and limitations as set out in the fundamental human rights related to privacy.

Lone wolf attacks have been reported to be rare, however, when they are carried out, they take with them many innocent lives. They are devastating and scarring to communities. The situation concerning lone wolf attacks, as it currently stands, requires further research into intervention and prevention methods, and would greatly benefit from mutual cooperation between national, international authorities and members of professional societies hailing from a variety of backgrounds.

Image Credit: Fred Lum at the Globe and Mail. A vigil held for the lives lost in the Quebec City Mosque

Hezbollah and the Terror-Crime Nexus

Image Credits: Foreign Policy illustration and Getty Images

As the US security apparatus continues to publicly focus on Iran’s expansion in the Middle East, it has done little to actively address the threat posed from Iran’s favorite proxy, Hezbollah, on the southern border. Hezbollah has been known to operate international money laundering and drug trafficking operations via Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico for years. These operations, other than, notably, the Lebanese Canadian Bank case, have most often been prosecuted as drug-related crimes, rather than crimes of terrorism.

Hezbollah’s drug enterprise is not separate from its terrorist activity. Hezbollah, as directed by Iran, began engaging in the drug trade from its inception in the 1980’s, “for Satan—America and the Jews. If we cannot kill them with guns, so we will kill them with drugs.” As such, the American strategy of prosecuting drug crimes connected to Hezbollah as just that, rather than as crimes of terror shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Hezbollah’s motives.

According to a 2018 CDC study, cocaine was involved in 19.4% of drug overdose deaths in 2016— cocaine which has often made its way into the US via Hezbollah channels. In recent years, the spike in prescription drug related deaths has led the Trump administration to declare a national emergency. The opioid epidemic has at least partially driven the decline in US life expectancy, and opioid overdose victims are often found to have also taken cocaine.

The CDC study claims that in 2016 alone, more than 10,000 Americans died from drug overdoses involving cocaine; that number is more than three times the amount of Americans that died in 9/11. When you take into account the stated goal of Hezbollah to use drugs as weapons to neutralize its enemies, one wonders why the American government has yet to address this activity with the same severity as it does traditional acts of terror.

There is a law on the books that could have been used to prosecute this enterprise: the United States enacted a federal terror financing statute in 1994 after 1993’s World Trade Center bombing, under which entities can be prosecuted for knowingly providing “material support or resources” to another entity to conduct terror operations.

While money laundering can often remove the evidence needed to prosecute terror financing under the 1993 statue, the proof uncovered by the Project Cassandra task force directly ties the drug trafficking funds to Hezbollah. However, up until now, the failure to do so appears to be political, as the Obama administration allegedly did not want to engender bad faith during the Iran deal negotiations.

This has resulted in severe immediate threats to US homeland security. In May, a New York court indicted Ali Kourani, a naturalized US citizen and Hezbollah operative who allegedly attempted to identify Israeli targets in New York and obtain information on John F. Kennedy International Airport security protocols. Prior to setting up shop in New York, Kourani was previously involved with a dealership in Michigan that sold used cars to Benin; it is not unlikely this business was part of the network of used car dealerships used to launder Hezbollah’s drug profits.

Even as the United States aims to keep tensions away from its soil by announcing its intent to establish a military coalition to protect commercial shipping vessels in the waters surrounding Yemen and Iran, it leaves its doorstep unguarded by failing to take direct action against these networks.

Now that the current administration has pulled out of the deal, and is faced with rising tensions from Iran, the next move should be to go after Hezbollah’s crime-terror infrastructure under terror financing laws. Project Cassandra amassed the evidence; the Trump administration should use it to protect US citizens and put pressure on Iran.

Developing a Law Enforcement Model for Countering Violent Extremism

Ever since the first police departments were formed in the 1800s, there has been continuous debate over the appropriate model of policing to address criminal behavior and activities. The criminal threat, combined with the demands of an ever changing society, drive this debate and dictate the desired model for law enforcement to pursue. In recent decades, the community-oriented policing model has become increasingly popular and many police forces have implemented elements of it into their procedures. Community oriented policing is believed by many to have the potential to deter some level of criminal behavior, prior to it ever happening. In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and The Global War on Terror, intelligence-led policing has received strong levels of attention as many desire to see a more direct approach to addressing serious criminal threats. While debate rages on over the appropriate model for local law enforcement to use, it is worthwhile to question whether a hybrid model would be impactful. This is particularly true when assessing how to properly address and counter violent extremism, which has underlying issues that encompass an array of psychological, sociological, and criminological aspects.

To start the discussion, a brief explanation of both community-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing is required. Community oriented policing is a model of policing that emphasizes community problem solving through partnerships between the community and the local law enforcement agency. This usually is done in conjunction with a reorganization of the police force to diminish the barriers between the force and the local community.

Intelligence-led policing is based on both qualitative and quantitative data and intelligence, leading to directed police activities based on the evidence gathered. An example of this type of policing model would be to analyze data on burglaries in an area. Police can, with enough data collected, determine the time, days of the week, geographic tendencies, and method of entry used by the involved criminals. Forces can then make informed decisions and direct increased patrols during these times and in these areas in an effort to catch the criminals.

Countering violent extremism is related to countering terrorism, but is a distinct discipline. Countering violent extremism requires an understanding of the ideological, sociological, and psychological influences that lead individuals to develop extremist ideologies which leave them more likely to commit acts of violence.

By developing a comprehensive understanding of this process and the ideology itself, one can develop solutions to prevent the radicalization process, intervene in cases where the process has begun, or attempt to roll back the ideology of someone who has been radicalized. Punitive policing and criminal justice measures do little to prevent, intervene, or rehabilitate someone who has become radicalized or is vulnerable to radicalization; in fact, punitive approaches may make the situation worse.

Both models of policing mentioned above are accompanied by challenges unique to each one. For community oriented policing, law enforcement faces the struggle of a changing power dynamic as the community becomes increasingly involved. Further, especially when dealing with organized crime and even violent extremism, law enforcement must come to terms with working with former gang members or violent extremists in order to address the issues with the involved community.

In applying a hybrid policing model which blends community-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing, public perception is critical. On the surface of the model, the focus must be on community-oriented policing as this is critical to develop ties with communities, particularly those which are marginalized. The model must present itself as a grassroots movement whose priority is helping the community, not developing criminal cases to be prosecuted. Once established, relationships with the community will serve as the primary source of methods to prevent the radicalization process from ever starting. Those cases in which the process begins, it will likely be the community members who first become aware of the trend in the individual or group towards extremism. This will allow for proper intervention, preferably led by the community members but in conjunction with local law enforcement. Local law enforcement must not treat these individuals as terrorists, as this may further develop a sense of marginalization in the individual.

In cases that are further along in the radicalization process, these community relationships will also foster intelligence collection efforts for law enforcement. A community that feels valued and important is much more likely to provide information to local police services. Through this intelligence, police can direct strategies to monitor individuals or groups. These strategies must involve other applicable jurisdictions and there must be adequate dissemination of intelligence products to all agencies involved.

However, law enforcement should be careful during this process. Overt surveillance may lead the community as a whole to feel as if the police are working against them. Another area of concern is that once intelligence is developed about an individual or group, strict protocols must be implemented and followed to ensure complete privacy rights of the individual. Being labeled as a ‘terrorist’ before one is even confirmed to be an extremist may lead further marginalization and eventually to full-on extremism.

This hybrid model is meant to be implemented by state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies. For this reason, it is highly dependent upon support from state policymakers who understand the strategy and support it to their utmost ability. While this discussion was a very simplistic and brief explanation of the reasoning for, and basic procedures of, this type of hybrid model, it serves as introductory post towards implementing this model of policing.



John Patrick Wilson is a Law Enforcement Professional and Research Fellow at Rise to Peace