The Rise of the Stupid Terrorist
Sun, May 14, 2017 - Daniel Von Fange
Modern terrorism got going in 1972. But of the dozens of hijackings and bombings in 1972, in only four incidents was even a single terrorist killed.
The terrorist organizations survived, the operatives survived, and the competent ones grew even more deadly.
After an attack, terrorist could simply travel home. If caught in the act, terrorists could simply trade a few hostages for safe passage home and millions in ransom.
Of all the terrorists of the golden age of terrorism, Carlos the Jackal most epitomized the time. Born in Venezuela, he was a cold blooded professional working for hire for Arab states. In a five year span, Carlos personally killed Jews, personally planted car bombs, personally threw grenades in restaurants across Europe, personally shot rockets at airplanes, and personally killed a entire team of French police sent to arrest him.
Then, after angering his Arab backers by keeping millions of ransom from the OPEC raid, one of the flashiest terrorist attacks of all time, Carlos switched to organizing attacks. Supported and given a staff of 75 people by Moscow, his teams bombed targets all over Europe, including high speed trains, a newspaper, and even an attack on the Superphenix French nuclear power station in 1982.
The most important thing about Carlos the Jackel is that he lived after each attack. After each attack, he was smarter. After each attack, he was harder to catch, knew how to play the public better, and had even more contacts he could call on.
Importantly, too, the backing organizations lived on too. They knew what plans worked, which one’s didn’t. Over time they could build up specialists in safe countries, safe houses in hostile countries, recruiting pipelines in colleges, and a bureaucracy to handle the paperwork.
Western response to the new world of terrorism was to build specialized counter-terrorism units intended to win high profile hostage attacks.
This succeeded at solving one slice of the problem. At the end of the huge media event that was a terrorist hostage situation, the terrorist attackers would be dead, and the government would be look good on TV. (see the Iran embassy seige in the UK, Air France Flight 8969, and the Achille Lauro)
But the bombings continued at an ever increasing pace. In just four months at the start of 1986, 400 people were killed or injured by Libyan sponsored bombing attacks alone.
Reagan ended the golden age of terrorism in mid April, 1986. When American bombs came crashing through Gaddafi’s residence in Libyan, overt state sponsoring of terrorism came to an end, worldwide.
It was no longer safe to brag about attacks, nor safe to use government money to sponsor attacks, nor use government personel to assist attacks, nor indeed to have anything that could to be traced back to a nation.
The big terrorist nations stopped funding. The secondary front organisations slowly faded into obscurity. Carlos the Jackal was sent into retirement.
But the peace was short lived.
The second age
If every armed attacker would be killed, why not plan for them to be killed? Then missions could be one way. Easier to plan, far more deadly, and when the attackers were killed, they could be hailed as martyrs.
And rather than coming from governments, funding could come through wealthy donors, or powerful government officials acting off the record, or drug money. Many of these funds could be routed through charitable organizations for deniability.
Terrorism entered it’s NGO phase, and its silver age. Individual terrorist attackers would die, but the organisations would live and grow after each attack.
Al-Qaeda’s first attack was two car simultaneous car bombs at two different hotels in Africa, choose because American solders were staying at them on their way to Somalia for humanitarian relief. The bombs went off. People were killed. But Al-Qaeda had chosen the wrong hotels. American soliders were instead staying at a third hotel. Still, Al-Qaeda survived to learn its lessons.
For nine plus years, the Al-Qaeda grew without hindrance, and carried out bigger and bigger attacks. Next came attacks on US embassies that killed 200 people, then an attack that put a giant hole in an US warship, and finally 9-11 and with it an attack on the largest skyscrapers in the US, a hole in the side of the Pentagon itself, and the biggest death count of any terrorist attack in modern history.
This NGO style of terrorism was far more deadly than the previous era. Instead of a attacks planned to meet the political objectives of a few nations, hundreds of terrorist organizations sprang into existence, competing with dead bodies for donor money. There were more attacks and more deaths per month in 2004 then the entirety of the year 1972.
The west responded by massive surveillance of financial networks and mass electronic surveillance. It became harder to move money. Attacks tended to move to countries where the money already was. Organizations could still make an attack in the west, but after an attack, the organization would be rolled up relentlessly, member by member. Genius bomb makers would be gone. People who could make good plans would be gone.
The third age
And so now the third age has dawned. The age of the stupid terrorist.
The first obvious attack of this new era was in 2007, in Scotland. Two Muslim men loaded propane tanks into their Jeep, drove to the Glasgow Airport, poured gasoline over themselves, then smashed into the concrete barrier outside the terminal, dropped a match in their laps, and began screaming “Allah”,
Any self-respecting country teenager can tell you that these actions will not blow up an airport.
Instead, these terrorists lit their croches on fire and were beaten up by nearby Scottish luggage handers who came over to help with the fire.
Nobody, in these mens’ circle of acquaintances knew how to plan or carry out a terrorist attack. They just decided to kill people for Allah, and then set off to do it.
The recent knife attacks in Palestine are the most popular form of this. Consider the the teen age girls trying to kill a 70 old with scissors (that 70 year old turning out to actually be Palestinian). Consider the men who pull out their knives hundreds of feet away from their target, yell “Allah”, and charge towards their victims, in plain site of every concealed carry holder around. Or consider the teenagers who rush down a long line of cars at checkpoint with their knives out.
These attackers are doing something difficult, on their own, without training, support, thought, common sense, experience or ability. I did the math a little while ago, and the death score stood at one Israeli killed for every four Palestinian attackers killed.
At the targeting, from a PR point of view, is horrible. Wow, two men managed to knife to death a 13 year old kid on his bicycle. That will impress everyone.
The San Bernardino attacks are more of the same thing. Reasonably well off people decide it is their duty to die killing infidels, concoct a bad plan, and go off to do it. The two Columbine teenagers killed more people than the San Bernardino attackers did.
Can you image if after 9-11 it was announced that the next major Islamic terror attack against a civilian target in America would target… an employee Christmas party at school for retarded people? And yet that is what happened.
Driving cars into people is more of the same. For every one Marseille truck driver, there are a dozen that ineffectually hit a bus stop and kill no one.
How do we respond to this new type of threat?
For one thing, it’s a better problem to have. It’s better to have a toddler trying to kill you than to have the mafia trying to kill you.
A lot of the things we’ve learned in the US about responding to mass shooters and second era terrorists apply to responding to stupid terrorists. Response needs to be hyperlocal, and immediate. In Beslan there was no initial response - 400 dead. In the Paris theater, it took two hours from the start of shooting until the first police entered the theater building - 90 dead. In the US, in San Bernardino, it took only four minutes from the 911 call to the first two officers to entering the building - 14 dead.
America and Israel are better than the rest of the world at moving rapidly to gunfire and using aggressive individual initiative in the face of chaos.
This kind of stupid terrorism is also much less of a threat in America, because we have a much smaller, and a much less militant Muslim population than Europe or the Middle east.
The biggest dangers in the era of stupid terrorists come from the attack’s viral nature. Unlike centrally planned attacks, these attacks spread mostly through media. Someone watches a video and thinks, “That will give my life meaning. I could do that.”
I don’t think enforced restricting of media coverage be that effective. Stories and videos would spread anyway among interested communities.
Although there are now three genre conventions - wearing black and using AR-15s, knifing strangers, or driving cars on the sidewalk, perhaps one day someone will come up with another plan, and it will quickly spread.
There’s an inherently evolutionary improvement that happens in this kind of media carried spread. The more successful the attack, the more the attack is reported, and the more it’s copied by others. Unsuccessful attack styles don’t spread.
Secondly, successful attacks can be copied overnight. One week there were no knife attacks in Israel, and two weeks later, there were multiple attacks per day, as it became the popular new thing.