One and the Same? An Exploration into Two Common Ideological Motivations for Lone-Actor Terror Attacks in the West Between 2010-2017
Islamic extremism (IE) and right-wing extremism (RWE) are the two most common ideological motivations for perpetrating lone-actor terrorism in the West. This study explored the similarities and differences of these ideologies by coding for specific attack and personal characteristics of attacks that occurred between 2010-2017 in Western Europe, Australia, and North America. Lone-actor terrorism included attacks perpetrated by individuals, as well as isolated dyads and triads. A codebook was developed to capture the attack and personal characteristics, and data was obtained from media and other open-source reporting. The dataset included a total of 99 cases perpetrated by 102 individual actors. The study found that lone-actor attacks perpetrated by IE and RWE had increased significantly over the time period studied. Some key significant differences were found: IE were more likely to be an immigrant to the country of attack they were born in, were more likely to target civilians, and their plots or extremist activity were more visible to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, while RWE were more likely to be single, more likely to target social minorities less likely to have experienced tertiary level education or higher, less likely to have children, and are significantly older than IEs. However, for the majority of variables there were no significant differences between IE and RWE, including variables that may indicate strain in a perpetrator’s life (mental health, social isolation and experience of stressful events), indicating that overall the attacks perpetrated by individuals of the two ideologies share more commonalities than differences.