Lone Wolf Terrorism by Jeffrey D. Simon (book review).

As we’ve all seen from the press, terrorism isn’t restricted to groups but also to the acts of individuals. The fact that they can inflict so much murder and carnage before being apprehended or killed, either by their own hand or that of others, is mostly because they can appear to be so ordinary or do they? Many people have similar tastes or views as these lone terrorists but few go as extreme as them. Jeffrey D. Simon’s view from this book is that the problem is likely to get worse, especially as the Internet can provide far too much information on how to make weapons and bombs. Considering that in our genre, there has always been such people around, it does make sense to read about the real thing. Not so much to give these people ideas of what to do but more to do with showing it doesn’t achieve anything.


Looking at the examples Simon shows, I don’t think these people care for anything other than their personal interest. Most of them have ambitions that will ultimately end their own lives and see it as score settling, although one of the earliest was for profit from his mother’s estate. Politics rarely comes into it…yet! Indeed, politically motivated terrorists don’t trust such people to join their groups because they aren’t likely to obey their orders. The biggest thing the lone terrorists share in common is being below the police radar and unlikely to be noticed until they begin shooting or detonating a bomb. How can you anticipate against such actions although, again, I think there’s a good argument that certain types of literature shouldn’t be freely available on the Net. If they are going to do something dangerous, why make it so easy for them to do it?

It’s hardly surprising that the organised group and lone terrorists share some categories. There’s protest, religious, single issue, financial and the last, purely because they are loners with a grudge. I suspect the last one is what is giving us genre loners a bad name if you think about it, especially as the media reveals an interest in our genre as sometimes being in their effects. Oddly, I suspect most of us prefer our violence to be on film than ever think of doing it ourselves. Then again, I suspect that was probably the thoughts of family and friends of the loners who committed such acts as well. One thing that Simon does point out from his ten main examples is that none of them have little difference in tactics indicating a certain lack of imagination, although contradicts himself a little on that further in the book by showing some who did. From my POV, I doubt if being imaginative has anything to do with their aims.

However, Simon points out in chapter three, it isn’t just about killing people but also idealists who expect to survive. Rather interestingly, he does highlight that the potential terrorist does learn from books about the subject, including the one I’m reading, not helped by the fact that he points to source books of interest in the extensive notes. There might be information on the Net but you still have to be pretty good at word choice in the likes of Google to find and evade security word scans that will track you as a person of interest. Whether fiction will give them ideas is debatable but based off recent incidents, films seem to be the medium of choice because it shows things visually. The only reason that WMDs like biological agents or dirty bombs haven’t been used is largely because the terrorists realise that they risk infecting or contaminating themselves, not to mention the difficulty in obtaining them. With the self-sacrificing zealot, that would probably be immaterial but would probably affect the people they leave behind.

Simon does spend rather too much time going over the same examples throughout the chapters and although this is essentially his top ten, there is a tendency to come away from this book believing that there are far fewer lone terrorists than there are. If you want a worry, there are far too many who live/lived in America and certainly does indicate that there is a need to tighten up the laws there. Simon pointing the availability of information off the Net is something that is already known but I doubt if the lone terrorist or criminals are making more use of it which suggests that there is, gratefully, a certain amount of computer illiteracy preventing any expertise in that area.

The book does give some insight into the problem and if you’re planning to use such people as characters in your own stories then it will provide some insight.

{Side note: This review was written shortly before the Boston Marathon 2013 bombing.}

GF Willmetts

April 2013

(pub: Prometheus Books. 335 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: $26.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-646-7)

check out websites: www.prometheusbooks.com


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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