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Leaderless Resistance and the Loneliness of Lone Wolves: Exploring the Rhetorical Dynamics of Lone Actor Violence

Pathways to radicalisationRadicalisationRegionsWorld

Journal of Terrorism and Political ViolenceJournal abstract

“Leaderless resistance” and “lone wolf terrorism” are concepts that have steadily gained importance in the study of oppositional subcultures and terrorist groups, being used to describe the operational realities of a variety of terrorisms, from groups like Al Qaeda to Anders Breivik. In this article, I seek to describe leaderless resistance as a rhetorical construct, a meaning-conferring “ideology of effervescence” that lifts the spirits of both movement progenitors who advocate the strategy as well as incipient lone wolves who consider responding to their exhortations. Through an examination of the case of Wiebo Ludwig and the EnCana pipeline bombings of 2008–2009, I show how these rhetorics emerge in the interactions between activists and their political enemies. With this conception, we can (a) understand more fully the discursive/rhetorical dynamics involved in asymmetrical struggle, (b) problematize the acceptance of the organizational reality of leaderless resistance in the terrorism literature, and (c) question the assertion of some terrorism scholarship that refers to leaderless resistance and other ideologies of effervescence as hallmarks of the “new terrorism.”

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