Defining the Fifth Wave: Transnational Lone-Wolf Terrorism and Online Networks of Inspiration

The rise of ideologically-motivated “lone-wolf” active shooter attacks constitutes a new phase of terrorism like nothing seen before. The perpetrators of these attacks are radicalized through the Internet, via digital communities with an environment supportive of political violence. This form of terrorism is self-perpetuating, as each new act of terror provides inspiration for future attacks. Unlike domestic terrorism of the past, these attackers are motivated by ideologies not confined by national borders or physical proximity. Likewise, terrorist attacks in one country may inspire related attacks on the other side of the world. Unlike traditional international terrorism, these acts are not committed as part of any formal plan by any organized group. The patterns of inspiration by which this form of terrorism spreads appear similar to the spread of school shootings. As these types of attacks are committed by individuals without the direct involvement of others online or in person, they are uniquely challenging to predict or prevent.