Patterns of precursor behaviors in the life span of a U.S. environmental terrorist group

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Research Summary

This article discusses the paucity of data available for assessing the “life span” of a terrorist group. It introduces a new methodology that allows researchers to examine when terrorist groups perform their preincident activities. The findings suggest that differences exist in the temporal patterns of terrorist groups: environmental terrorist groups engage in a relatively short planning cycle compared with right-wing and international terrorists. The article concludes by examining a case study on “the Family,” which is a unique environmental terrorist group that conducted activities over a relatively long period of time. This group provides an interesting contrast to other environmental terrorists. Despite significant organizational differences, their patterns of preparatory conduct were highly similar.

Policy Implications

The findings suggest that (1) temporal and spatial data about preincident terrorist activity can be collected from unclassified and open sources and (2) law-enforcement agencies that are investigating environmental groups have relatively little time to observe and infiltrate their individual cells (compared with right-wing and international terrorists). Finally, the data suggest that environmental terrorists—at least so far—have engaged in attacks that are less deadly than the comparison groups.


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