After 9/11, most people in the industrialized modern world asked ourselves an important question. How could anyone do such a thing? For most of us the question was merely rhetorical. But for social scientists the last twenty years have seen a great deal of research attempting to determine what factors, conditions, and mindsets contribute to the radicalized mind. What makes a person a terrorist? In an article for MONITER, the journal for the American Phycological Association, Tori DeAngelis wrote about the work of John Horgan, PhD who interviewed 60 former terrorists. He found that people vulnerable to racialized beliefs have several things in common. Let’s start with the most obvious:
Believe that violence can solve problems?
In 2015 while running for president, Donald Trump said of ISIS, “I would Bomb the Shit out of them!” To thunderous applause. Trump believes he can solve the problem of terrorism by killing all the terrorists. In other words, his solution for violence is violence. If one believes that the solution to violence is violence, they have that in common with terrorists. If one believse that it is possible to hurt an enemy so badly that they will stop fighting out of fear, they have that in common with terrorists. The terrorist believes that violent acts will instill fear. Senator Ted Cruz once said that he would bomb ISIS until he found out if sand could glow in the dark, of course the word “glow” implies nuclear violence. If a person agrees with Ted, then they agree with terror as a weapon.
Feel alienated, disenfranchised, or angry?
Since his first successes during the primaries, pundits and political theorists have been trying to figure out the allure of a man so obviously and brazenly cruel and dishonest. Talk with Trump supporters and they express the felt need to elect an outsider, to shake things up, they talk about identity politics and how it makes them feel alienated, they talk about illegal immigration, and they express contempt for government. Of course, it is no secret that white supremacist groups endorsed Trump.
If a person feels this way, Congratulations! They have something in common with the radicalized terrorist, who according to Horgan usually feels “Angry, alienated, or disenfranchised. Terrorism is always an extreme attempt to effect change. People only go to extremes when they feel that traditional methods don’t work for them. One Trump supporter told me: “I know he’s an asshole. I want to blow the whole fucking thing up.” In other words, his vote was a small act of terrorism.
Go to church? Or worse, watch religious television?
Another thing terrorists have in common is the belief that joining a group or movement offers phycological rewards, such as a feeling of belonging, adventure, or empowerment. Even though it is extremely well documented that Donald Trump is amoral to immoral, he has bragged of sexual conquest and infidelity, and even sexual assault, Fundamentalist Christians openly support him. Even though his entire life has been devoted to an assault on those values Christians claim to support. This shows that it’s not about Values, it is about belonging. American Nazis, Klansmen, Fundamentalist Christians, Tea Party members, and other groups all support Trump.
Why is it worse to be the sort of person who watches Christian TV? Because those people are lonely. They want to join. They fetishize belonging to a point where radicalization becomes not just possible but likely. Look at the reported lives of the so called “lone wolf terrorists” and you will see that they all watched YouTube videos incessantly that preached the message of belonging through terror. Look at American home grown terrorists like Tim McVeigh. They all were acting in an attempt to ingratiate themselves into a group. If a person goes to church, congratulations, they have that in common with terrorists.
Believe that Christians or white people in America are persecuted?
Another thing terrorists have in common is that they identify with a group they believe is being persecuted. This could be real or imagined. The only criteria is belief. Radicalized Muslims spend a great deal of time and energy reading about, watching videos, and talking about the persecution of Muslims.
This is the wrong article to talk about how the American fear of Muslims contributes to the radicalizing of Muslims, but it is the right article to examine how people who believe they did not get the job because they are white, essentially share another belief with terrorists. People who believe in the Fox News so called, “War on Christmas,” who think minorities get special privileges, think they didn’t get the job because they are white, if a person chafes at so called “Political correctness” because they feel persecuted by it, then congratulations! This is another personality trait shared with terrorists.
When politicians call terrorists cowards, they are almost correct. Of course, a person willing to blow themselves up doesn’t fear death in the traditional sense. When an American soldier leaps on a grenade to save fellow soldiers, we call that brave, so personal sacrifice depends upon context. Every suicide bomber believes that their sacrifice will somehow save others. But the radicalized mind lives in a state of constant fear. It fears persecution, disenfranchisement, powerlessness, violence against them or their group, loss of culture or cultural values, loss of identity, loneliness…this list is virtually endless.
If a person owns a gun or other weapon “for protection;” If a person is afraid that gay marriage will ruin traditional marriage; is worried about immigrants; is worried that a more diverse culture will destroy traditional American values; fears certain parts of town, or parts of the country; is afraid god will punish America for immorality; has ever worried about what might happen if a crazed person on bath salts bursts into their home when the gun is in the other room?
The terrorist mind is a terrorized mind. Any person who is controlled by fear, also believes that others can be controlled by fear. This is necessary criteria for the radicalized mind, a state that all terrorists share. Unfortunately, too many Americans live in irrational fear.
While there may be some truth to the adage, to catch a thief one must think like a thief, it is also true that one cannot believe like a thief. Because if a person shares the beliefs of a thief, then they are the problem, not the solution. And so also it goes with terrorism. One simply cannot defeat terrorism if they share the values and beliefs or terrorists! Retired admiral James G. Stavridis once said, “You cannot kill your way to success in a counter insurgency effort.” Similarly, one cannot terrorize their way out of a terrorist problem. All terrorists simply want to get to a place where they do not live in fear. They try to control the world around them through the thing that motivates them: fear. They do not understand that the fear they cause only guarantees their failure, because the fear they cause only motivates the fearful opposition to try and control them through fear.
Neither side realizes that the fear they feel is generated internally, not externally, so no external act will ever abate the fear they feel. They are stuck causing their own misery—which is the best definition of a Trump supporter I’ve heard yet.