"People make stupid decisions, especially when they're young": 5 Insights About Motivation of Terrorists

Muzamil Amar

Head of Content at a digital agency in Pakistan, content-marketing expert, scriptwriter

Head of Content at a digital agency in Pakistan, content-marketing expert, scriptwriter

In a captivating exploration, delve into the remarkable insights brought to light by Anne Speckhard, a trailblazer in understanding terrorism. 


1. Interplay of Individuals and Groups: Exploring Lone Wolf Dynamics

2. The Role of Ideology in Fostering Violent Extremism

3. Strong Social Backing for Terrorism

4. The Influence of Individual motivations and vulnerabilities

5 Insights about motivation of terrorists

6 Intriguing Viewpoint to Watch

Dr Anne Speckhard, PhD, is the project director of Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative as well as the leader of the International Centre for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE).She worked with US expats after 9-11 (at SHAPE, NATO, the U.S. Embassies to Belgium and EU) and conducted research on stress responses to terrorism in this population.  

In locales like Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union, and the Middle East, she has spoken with over 800 terrorists, their relatives, and sympathizers.

Additionally, she teaches psychiatry as an adjunct associate professor at Georgetown University.

She lectures to security professionals everywhere. She is the author of several books on terrorism and violent extremism, including Homegrown Hate, Talking to Terrorists, Foetal Abduction, Psycho-Social Stress Following Abortion, and Warrior Princess. She is also a co-author of Undercover Jihadi, ISIS Defectors, and Undercover Jihadi.

Source: https://www.linkedin.com/in/annespeckhard/

With a career marked by in-depth research and comprehensive analysis, Anne Speckhard has unravelled intricate layers of the human psyche behind acts of terrorism. Speckhard's journey is a testament to pursuing knowledge that transcends boundaries.

 In this enlightening discussion with Maria Golub, Woman Power Magazine's founder, Anne Speckhard, uncovered astonishing terrorism insights.

Join us as we navigate the complex landscape of terrorism and its psychological underpinnings, guided by the expertise and wisdom of a true visionary.

1. Interplay of Individuals and Groups: Exploring Lone Wolf Dynamics

"Very few people function without a group. So we hear about lone wolf terrorists.", Speckhard said. She emphasizes that even "lone wolves" are rarely isolated, as they often draw inspiration and support from online communities.

She says, "They are almost always looking at the group writings and the group's actions on the Internet, or they're actually involved, lots of groups. "

She stated, "can name one or two exceptions where the person acted totally alone, made their own manifesto, made their own idea, but generally they're affiliated with a group."

2. The Role of Ideology in Fostering Violent Extremism

"The ideology convinces you that you should tell these other people because they're trying to kill you that is something in your religion.", Speckhard asserted.

 She delves into the psychological processes through which individuals become radicalized, pointing out that a genuine belief in an extremist ideology can override personal inhibitions against violence.

"For the people to be violent to other people, which is one of the definitions of terrorism, you have to believe that you're righteous, that your cause is good," Speckhard stated.

3. Strong Social Backing for Terrorism

"You are justified to be violent and you should be. So there's a group, an ideology, then there's social support", Speckhard revealed. Contrary to the image of isolated radicals, many terrorists find encouragement and validation within their social circles.

 " Imagine, when I was in Golcar and Westpac, there was a really hard social support for engaging in one of these groups because pretty much everybody believed that it was righteous and there were lots of groups active", she said.

4. The Influence of Individual motivations and vulnerabilities

"If you're living in the West or where there's total conflict, you might be looking for a grand purpose, a feeling of significance. And you want to be heroic, and you want a sense of dignity. You feel that your dignity has been assaulted, you want to belong to something. You're alone and isolated, alienated in a complex alone."

Speckhard explained the influence of individual motivations and vulnerabilities.

She dives into the deeply rooted emotions that drive individuals to seek violent retribution. By acknowledging these powerful sentiments, we gain a clearer understanding of the emotional underpinnings of terrorism.

She says, "It's much more driven by revenge, anger and deep injustices other than justice. This also motivatesmotivates people in non-conflict, because nowadays everything is so mixed."

5 Insights about motivation of terrorists

1. Youth and Impulsivity: "People make stupid decisions, especially when they're young," says Speckhard. The allure of adventure and rebellion often draws youthful individuals into the fold of terrorist groups. Impulsivity combined with a search for identity can lead them to overlook the grave consequences of their actions.

2. Varied Motivations: "I'm not saying that everybody who joined ISIS instantly because some people were sadistic, horrible people, I joined because they wanted to be sadistic", Speckhard emphasizes. While some were indeed drawn to the group due to their sadistic tendencies, others joined for reasons like power, money, and even the promise of sexual exploitation. This diversity of motivations highlights the complexity of the issue.

3. Deceptive Charisma: Terrorist organizations like ISIS are adept at weaving lies that seem as alluring as dreams. Speckhard notes, "A lot of them joined because they believed ISIS lies that were spun together like a dream." This points to the dangerous charisma wielded by recruiters, who craft narratives that prey on vulnerable individuals' desires for a better life.

4. Exploitation of Relationships: The interview underscores the role of relationships, particularly in recruiting young women. "Girls would go because some guy was wowing them over the internet and telling them, come here, you'll be my wife", explains Speckhard. These virtual relationships can lead to radicalization, as recruiters manipulate emotions and use false promises of companionship to draw recruits in.

5. Illusion of Idealism: The allure of an idealized version of Islam and a utopian lifestyle can blind potential recruits to the harsh realities of terrorist organizations. "Imagine you're a poor girl", Speckhard suggests, "This guy looks kind of exciting, and he's telling you, we're going to follow the true Islam, and you're just not sophisticated enough to judge the real political issues going around."

This highlights the importance of education and critical thinking to counter the enticing narratives presented by extremists.

Intriguing Viewpoint to Watch:

One of the most fascinating takeaways from the interview is Speckhard's assertion that the line between lone wolves and group-driven extremists is often blurry. By dispelling the myth of complete isolation, she emphasizes the necessity of comprehensive counterterrorism efforts that address individual vulnerabilities and the wider ideological landscape.

As we delve into the world of terrorism insights revealed by psychologist Anne Speckhard, we gain a deeper appreciation for the intricate motivations and dynamics behind these acts. Her research serves as a crucial resource for those dedicated to understanding and countering the complex phenomenon of terrorism.

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