The Situated Contexts of American Terrorism: A Conjunctive Analysis of Case Configurations

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This study examines how combinations of situational factors are associated with patterns of terrorist success and failure. We apply Sacco and Kennedy’s criminal event perspective and Clarke and Newman’s situational crime prevention approach to the study of terrorist opportunity structures. Using data from the American Terrorism Study (ATS), we employ conjunctive analysis to investigate how opportunities for terrorist attacks and prevention are situationally positioned. We ask, “What combinations of terrorists’ ideological and situational factors are associated with terrorist outcomes in the United States?” While our findings generally show that the simplest forms of terrorism, including combinations of lone actors using unsophisticated weapons against nonhuman targets after little preparation, are associated with successful outcomes, there is heterogeneity in situated opportunities for preparing for and committing terrorism across terrorism movements. Our findings add insights into terrorism prevention strategies and help build a foundation for future comparative research on terrorism outcomes.