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

A Profile of Brian Isaack Clyde: What We Know About the Dallas Courthouse Shooter

Photo courtesy of Tom Fox Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

On June 17 at 8:50am, a gunman dressed in full tactical gear opened fire outside of the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse in Dallas, Texas. No officers or citizens were injured except for the gunman, who was later identified as Brian Isaack Clyde. Clyde was shot outside of the courthouse and transported to a local area hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Brian Isaack Clyde was a 22-year old U.S. Army veteran who was discharged after serving 2 years as an Army infantryman. The reason for his discharge has not been disclosed. Clyde was seen wearing a 101st Airborne Division patch on his bullet proof vest outside of the courthouse.

During Clyde’s time in the Army, he achieved the rank of private first class and was never deployed to a warzone. One of the individuals who had served with Clyde stated that he, “felt pressure to stay in the military, but after 2017 wanted to look for a ‘new path.’ ” Clyde left the military and enrolled at Del Mar College, where he received an award for being an outstanding student.

Clyde had come from a family of military veterans and was infatuated with military history and medieval weapons. He participated in war re-enactments and was noted by fellow soldiers as a gun enthusiast. Although he had no prior criminal record, an anonymous FBI official said that the FBI had received a call from Clyde’s half-brother in 2016. His half-brother reported that Clyde was suicidal and had a fascination with guns. At this time, Clyde was still enlisted in the Army and no action was taken by the FBI.

Although a motive has yet to be determined, Clyde’s social media pages seemed to have foreshadowed this event. Just before the attack on Monday, Clyde had posted a photo on his Facebook page of several gun magazines, with the caption stating, “2 40 rounders and 8 30 rounders total”. Although Clyde’s Facebook page has since been removed, several people reported seeing disturbing videos that Clyde had posted. In one video, Clyde refers to a coming “storm” but states that he “is not without defense” while wielding a gun. Another video posted on his page features Clyde looking disheveled, saying “You don’t want to get in my way when I’m angry … because I don’t see you as a person… I see you as food.”

Clyde’s video where he stated a “storm is coming” can be traced back to QAnon conspiracy theorists. The QAnon conspiracy believes that “Trump is part of a countercoup to restore power to the people after more than a century of governmental control by a globalist cabal.” The members of this group believe that a “storm is coming” and that they must be prepared to destroy everyone and everything that stands in their way of creating a state filled only with loyalists. This also includes mass arrest of those that are connived against them. Clyde’s video suggests that he may have been a QAnon conspiracy theorist, although that has yet to be confirmed.

Clyde also frequently posted memes on his personal media pages; these memes referenced incel subculture, which is a forum for men that describe themselves as “involuntarily celibate”. These men gather to commiserate and blame women for their alienation. Members of incel subculture have a history of isolation and rejection, turning to the internet in order to feel a sense of inclusion. They describe themselves as unwanted by society and find women to be the root of their isolation and distress. This incel subculture is one filled with rage, where mass killings are glorified and members are encouraged to take their frustrations out on women.

Not only did Clyde post about QAnon conspiracies and incel subculture, but he also frequently posted about Alex Jones, an American radio show host and alt-right conspiracy theorist, swastikas and confederate flags, verbal attacks against Hillary Clinton, and references to “Hollywood Pedophiles”.

Through his social media activity, Clyde appears to be involved in groups that are generally consistent of isolated, alienated, and depressed individuals. Clyde was involved in the same subculture as other mass shooters, such as the 2014 Isla Vista shooter, who was glorified in incel forums following the shooting. This suggests that Clyde was radicalized online through a combination of these forums. Whether or not Clyde was mentally stable remains under investigation; he may have been particularly vulnerable to radicalization if he was suffering from serious mental illness. Further research into Clyde’s social media activity is necessary in order to identify what influenced him to carry out an attack of this nature.

Caitlyn Ryan is a Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow at Rise to Peace. She holds a Bachelors degree from Amherst College and is also pursuing a Master of Arts degree in international security with a concentration in counter-terrorism from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. 

A Profile of John Walker Lindh — The American Taliban

John Walker Lindh in January 2002. Image Courtesy of the Associated Press.

On February 9, 1981, the man who would become known as “The American Taliban” was born in Washington, D.C. John Phillip Walker Lindh is a former foreign fighter for the Taliban, often known for his involvement in the Battle of Qula–i-Jangi; a Taliban uprising which resulted in the death of CIA Officer Johnny “Mike” Span. After serving 17 years of his 20-year sentence, Lindh was released from prison under supervisory conditions on May 23, 2019.

Lindh was raised Catholic in Marino County, California, just outside of San Francisco. He is described as a bookish teenager who began studying Islam and the Middle East through his high schools’ alternative and self-directed study programs. Lindh’s initial interest in Islam has been linked to watching the Spike Lee film, “Malcolm X”, when he was 12.

However, his earnest interest in the faith and such related topics of study could have been marred by the extracurricular research Lindh engaged in as an active user of Internet Relay Chat rooms (IRC). Using the alternate identity “Mujahid”, Lindh communicated with others online largely about hip-hop music and racial topics. However, it is known that there are IRCs dedicated to the Taliban and Jihad, which indicates such online activity could have exposed Lindh to radical ideas.

Lindh officially converted to Islam at the age of 16, around the same time he dropped out of high school and was reported as participating in the IRCs. He also began attending mosques in Mill Valley and San Francisco. He reportedly became involved with Tablighi Jamaat, a Sunni missionary group, at this time. This group had not previously been associated with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but has recently been investigated for links to radicalized militants. While the group was not tied to radicalization at the time of Lindh’s capture, the fact that it has been investigated in more recent years suggests Lindh may have been influenced by this group’s radical ideas.

Throughout his adolescence, Lindh’s parents experienced conflict within their marriage eventually leading to their divorce in 1999. His family instability could be noted as another influence in Lindh’s turn to Islam. His participation in the online chat rooms containing extremist messaging could also have infiltrated his ideology and affected his scholarly interest in the Middle East.

At the age of 17, Lindh decided to leave the U.S. for Yemen, with hopes to study Arabic so that he could read the Qur’an in its original language. He then traveled to Pakistan in 2000, where it is said he encountered extremist groups and training that ultimately influenced his decision to move to Afghanistan and join the Taliban.

However, Lindh claims his original motivation for joining the Taliban came from a desire to fight the mistreatment of civilians by the Northern Alliance. He reported hearing about this mistreatment through various stories; While it is not clear which outlets or messages Lindh received such information, this case illuminates the importance of eliminating misinformation and propaganda from public discourse. This can be achieved through means such as media literacy programs or more robust online security and privacy measures. Since 75% of domestic jihadists knew or were in contact with another jihadist prior to becoming radicalized, it is likely that Lindh was influenced by the information shared with other users of his IRCs or people he met while traveling and studying in Yemen and Pakistan. Whether it be through online forums or verbal conversations with other extremists, misinformation is a dangerous contributor to radicalization and should continue to be a priority in counter-terrorism work.

Since Lindh’s capture, contradictory reports have emerged as to his motivations for joining the Taliban as well as his understanding of the consequences of his involvement. During his trial, Lindh condemned terrorism and indicated he never held the desire to fight against Americans. Other reports, such as one from the National Counterterrorism Center, claim that Lindh would continue to advocate for jihad and violent extremism. The confusion and lack of clarity around the context and details of such reports must be resolved quickly in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the belief system Lindh currently holds after having spent 17 years in prison. This case exposes a large question the U.S. will face in the coming years, as more extremists and convicted terrorists are released back into society without certainty of the continued existence of dangerous ideology that could pose security risks in the future.

While there are no formal procedures for re-entry of convicted terrorists and sympathizers within the U.S. Justice system at this point, there are some recommendations and best practices set in place to deal with this increasingly prevalent situation. First, counseling focused on mental health and identification of the initial causes of radicalization can be recommended; This will not only aid the individual, such as Lindh, but also provide scholars and practitioners with a broader understanding of the life circumstances that can lead individuals vulnerable  to extremist messaging.

In addition, existing re-entry programs for former prisoners involved with gangs could be modified in order to apply to violent extremists, with similar encouragement of study, job training, and programming elements. These programs could provide alternative life paths, sense of belonging, and new sources of information to help eliminate dependence and association with extremist narratives. Monitoring of compliance with such programs is necessary not only during their sentence but also upon release, ideally from mentors who have experienced a similar situation but have emerged de-radicalized.

The way in which the media and public reacted to Lindh’s initial case as well as his release should be used as an example when addressing the situation of Americans linked to terrorism reentering society. In both instances, headlines and sound bites were quick to villainize him and draw attention to his case. The recent terrorist attack in New Zealand comes to mind as an alternative example, when the Prime Minister, in an effort to reduce copycats and the fetishization of terrorism, refused to address the terrorist responsible and would not play the video of the attack. The narratives perpetuated by the media and popular discussion seem relevant to Lindh’s, and others who had become radicalized, return to society.

Since radicalization can stem from feelings of being an outsider or from being bullied, the mass public villainization of Lindh and other Americans linked to terrorist organizations seems to be counterproductive in achieving the type of reintegration that would be necessary to avoid a former prisoner’s retreat into extremist ideology. Not only will the systems and programs in place matter in how we handle re-entry, but the influence of the media and public discourse will matter as well, if not more.

Overall, the case of John Walker Lindh reminds America and the world not only of the spread of extremism but also the complex ways in which the world deals with extremism and terror. Through comprehensive research on an extremist’s path to radicalization, formalized mentorship and re-entry procedures, and an evaluation of the media’s influence on the re-entry process, the U.S. will have a chance to effectively manage the reintegration of former extremists back into society.

Nikki Hinshaw is a Counter-terrorism Research Fellow at Rise to Peace, a non-profit organization, and a current undergraduate student at Arizona State University. She has multiple years of experience in managing communications and marketing for organizations in all sectors, as well as in conducting research on topics relating to a variety of global social issues and public diplomacy policy and practice.

Profile: Brazilian Journalist Tim Lopes

O filho de Tim Lopes, Bruno Quintela, com a avó e mãe do jornalista, dona Maria do Carmo Leia mais<\/a>

The media alerts us to human rights violations and wars between the oppressed and their oppressors. An under-reported story, however, is how journalists, photographers, and radiographers put their lives on the line to tell us the stories that must be told.

Many of them die in the process of doing so: Robert Capa, a Hungarian war photographer, took some of the best-known photographs of World War II. Capa shot the D-Day landing at Normandy. He died when he stepped on a landmine in the Vietnam War. Paraguayan journalist Candido Figueredo has covered his country’s criminal organizations for years. Figueredo has received numerous, credible death threats and has lived under government protection for 13 years.

Tim Lopes was a Brazilian journalist who was killed while covering drug traffickers. Arcanjo Antonino Lopes do Nascimento, aka Tim Lopes, was born in November 1950 in Pelotas, in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. When he was eight years old, his family moved to the Mangueira favela in Rio de Janeiro.

Lopes had a humble upbringing. However, that did not stop him from studying journalism at the Faculdade Helio Alonso (FACHA). He won the coveted Premio Abril de Journalismo award twice early in his career in 1985 and 1986.

Lopes was an investigative journalist who preferred to do fieldwork on the street over sitting in an air-conditioned office. In pieces like the newspaper O Dia’s Funk: Sound, Joy, and Terror, Lopes openly criticized the drug traffickers in Rio’s Favela. However, he also went after those he saw in the municipal government ceding control to the criminals.

In 1995, Lopes joined Rede Globo, Brazil’s largest broadcaster, and began a career in broadcast journalism. Lopes kept his focus on fieldwork, specifically on the impact of those who grew up in the favelas as he did. He excelled at the network and within a year Lopes was a producer. Lopes and his team were awarded the Premio Esso, which is the Brazilian equivalent to a Pulitzer Prize. This was for a 2001 piece on drug traffickers. Lopes exposed traffickers openly selling cocaine in Rio de Janeiro’s streets. His work often included hidden cameras and disguises.

In June of 2002, Lopes left his middle-class apartment in Copacabana and stopped at the Rede Globo office. He continued to the Vila Cruzeiro favela to work on a piece about prostitution amongst minors. The local population had pleaded for Lopes to write such an expose. Lopes was filming when traffickers who had spotted his hidden camera approached and beat him. They kidnapped him, taking him to the Morro do Alemao, another favela where he had made enemies throughout his career.

There, he was tortured and condemned by a trafficker’s court. After being dismembered alive, Lopes was executed by being put inside car tires that were then set on fire, a method known as the microwave. The police listed the 51-year-old journalist as disappeared until an anonymous tip led police to a secret grave. There, a piece of Lopes’ rib was found, along with his wristwatch, crucifix, and camera.

Lopes left behind his wife Alessandra and their sons Diogo and Bruno. He also left behind many grieving coworkers and friends. Lopes received a proper send-off during Rede Globo’s Jornal Nacional, Brazil’s most popular news broadcast. Ending the show in silence was the habit when covering gristly developments. But anchor and chief-editor William Bonner led the newsroom in a standing ovation for Lopes and his work. To the last, they prevented the drug traffickers’ violence from having the last word. They proclaimed that journalists’ work would continue.

Tim Lopes’ life and legacy reflect his work. In life and in death he brought attention to the crimes and brutality of drug traffickers and government inaction. In the arduous work of improving the security of a city like Rio de Janeiro, his journalism led to action against drug traffickers. Lopes became nationally known after his death and a national conversation ensued. Lopes’ name is alive in the Newseum, in Washington D.C. There, he is commemorated among too many other journalists like him who were murdered in pursuit of career and moral commitment. In 2012 President Rousseff posthumously awarded Lopes the Premio Direitos Humanos, Brazil’s highest human rights prize. His death was an indictment of the favelas’ brutal realities – a testament to the terror that reigned there.

His life, however, proved no matter how humble one’s origins, no one has to join the criminals. In fact, one’s living could be made fighting them. Tim Lopes’ was a vital contribution to Brazilian society. His fight against drug traffickers led to better living conditions. Though our eyes may tear up, let’s not linger in the sadness following deaths like his. Let us, too, follow Bonner’s lead and give a standing ovation. We thank them for their vitally necessary work, their positive impact on society, and their inspiration for others to follow their path. That is how we make better and more peaceful societies and as a result, Lopes and his colleagues smile in Heaven for the survival of their work and legacy. 

The Complexo do Alemão. For many years these hilltops were used by leaders of drug trafficking gangs as sanctuary from law enforcement; they now feature the stations of a gondola transport system connecting the Complexo (operational since July 2011).