Safety and Training

Into the Mind: Lone Wolf Attacks

NYCPD police scramble to answer a terror threat.

The lone wolf attacks of the past few years have been called a leaderless Jihad. This is essentially correct. From the Boston Bombers to the attacks in Orlando, we are seeing those with mental illness to one degree or another, marginality, and difficulty sustaining relationships becoming cyber-radicalized. The problem of cyber radicalism is a current one that sees no sign of abatement.

NYCPD police scramble to answer a terror threat.
Law enforcement officers are the designated first responders, so stay out of their way! However, in the absence of the local LEOs and first responders, citizens are the last line of defense.

This discussion could easily go off on tangents, however, just as very few children who play Grand Theft Auto have a desire to go out and steal a Chevy Truck, or fight with the police, it only takes one to bring about a tragedy. Such is the case of cyber-radicalized. The effectiveness of counter terrorism has been such that very few major attacks have reached the operational stage. The Patriot Act, and forming of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, has made America a much safer place. Due to an increased vigilance n a global scale, the internet has been more of a breeding ground for terror than clandestine meeting places.

As problems such as identity theft have risen, not only criminals, but also honest citizens and banks have developed new technology to encrypt information. While keeping the honest brokers of information safer, these new technologies make the problem of monitoring communication between criminals more difficult. It is a necessary side effect of evil, we developed technology to maintain privacy as the threats to our livelihood and savings are very real. However, covert communication is very important to the terrorists, and they will use this technology to cover their tracks.

The radicals who use face-to-face communication are becoming increasingly rare. The limited scope of this face-to-face communication means the internet communication may in fact be one-sided. The person who is radicalized may not make his master aware of this recruitment until after an attack has transpired. In the past, our own neo Nazi group leaders and others were careful not to use language that would leave them open to an incitement to violence charge or accessory charge. Those living outside of the country have no such reluctance.

Glock pistol in a Galco Scout holster
While our intelligence services have done an outstanding job of protecting the homeland, something as simple as a Glock in a Galco Scout holster may be the answer to a lone wolf attack.

The looser and more decentralized the confederation, the more difficult to pinpoint and detect. These individuals, likely to be radicalized, seem to have a shared narrative. Seldom have they endured true hardship, but they are able to rationalize some wrong or shortcoming of their own as a justification to inflict human death and suffering upon an innocent population. The hierarchal model for radicalization is outmoded—at least in developed countries. Rather, the person who becomes radicalized is able to bypass the legitimate news media and go to other sources for information.

This person supports the enemies of the United States, and while a large portion of the population may have the same belief and attitude, few act upon it. Major Nidal Malik Asan was radicalized and acted upon this evil vision at Fort Hood Texas. Adam Gadahn acted in Boston. These men were in contact with like-minded individuals but not personal contact. They were living in the real world but the digital world was their most meaningful experience due to their inadequate personalities. Radical Islam was—for them—a rationalization for murder and even death or suicide.

The problem is how much surveillance and intrusion we are willing to accept in our daily lives to detect and capture these criminals. Most Americans want no intrusion and no limits on liberty. I am foursquare American in this regard. We are not akin to the United Kingdom and other areas where privacy and freedom are more aspirational than operational. Irish have been jailed for nonviolent dissension—we do not wish to reach that point, and we will not as long as we are vigilant.

Dry Fire drills
In a defensive situation you will have to rely on your subconscious mind to control your actions. Will you be ready?

There is a well-reasoned standpoint that everything isn’t subject to analysis and some things cannot be completely understood or monitored. The reality is that we are winning the war on terror on the home front, and the organized terror attack is far less likely than an organized full-scale attack. (The possibilities remain endless however.) The lone wolf attacker is a threat the individual armed citizen is most likely to face, and the one threat and one he or she has the ability to address and defeat. Be vigilant, be prepared, and train for the worst.


While many seem not to get it, I come from a background in which public safety was more important than personal safety. Like then, my personal carry piece isn’t an ineffective pocket piece. I carry a handgun that will give me a fighting chance against a gang or an armed individual well past conversational distance. In my vehicle, I have a firearm to reach targets at farther distances or those behind soft cover. I have training in emergency medical procedures—both for others, and should the need arise, myself. Perhaps you should as well.

What measures have you taken or do you take should you be caught in a lone wolf attack? Share your answers, ideas, and recommendations in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (20)

  1. I would like to say that anything ( like a rifle) left in your vehicle is only one broken window away from being stolen
    You could buy a strong box or even a cable lock and lock it to your car
    Nobody I know does that
    As for the several states that do not allow rifles in the car, AK pistols are classified as pistols
    They are cheap enough that having one stolen would not break the bank

  2. In a bad-breath-distance personal attack, you probably won’t have time to draw your concealed weapon. In that case, you’d better be armed with personal self-defense skills. You don’t have to train for years to be able to protect yourself; a couple months of self-defense-specific training such as basic krav maga will prepare you to save your life if a maniac gets within arms reach, even with a knife or club. You can also train in gun disarms, which are simple if you are prepared to use them.

  3. Thank you for another great article Bob. I certainly agree that being vigilant and prepared, especially subconsciously, to deal with threats is paramount to stopping them. If you look outside nowadays, 99.9% of people are completely oblivious to their surroundings, mostly a result of their senses being focused on electronic devices. This of course, plays right into a lone wolf’s destructive plans. As a society, we have largely failed to learn any lessons from heinous terror attacks. The “it won’t happen to me” mindset still flourishes and anti-second amendment political agendas encourage this behavior. I find this terrifying.
    But I digress… Your rationale makes me rethink my protection strategy, being a practicing CCP (holder for many years) who mostly carries small firearms (with 1-2 additional magazines), for fear of discovery (and comfort too, if I’m honest). I’m a slim guy and concealing something larger than a small firearm on my person is difficult, especially because it’s hot for 3/4 of the year where I reside. I’ve tried many different holster and alternative carry options, as long as they can be securely attached to my person/clothes and easily accessed. I won’t conceal carry my primary firearm off-body, such as in a satchel or backpack, for various reasons. I’m always open to new conceal carry suggestions.
    You mention carrying a longer-range/higher power firearm in your vehicle. To me, this seems to be a legal grey area in many states, even for persons with a CCP, and in most states it is illegal to carry any type of loaded weapon, anywhere in your vehicle, if you don’t have a valid CCP. Even when transporting firearms on federal roads, it’s suggested that you separate all ammo from your firearm and store both in a separate, non-accessible locked container. This of course defeats the purpose of it’s intended use. I’m lucky in that my home state allows you to store a loaded concealed firearm within arms reach. However, I travel quite a bit up and down the east coast and being legally compliant is extremely difficult and a royal PITA. I welcome any tips or tricks. I prefer not to play the “they will never know that I have a loaded firearm in my car” game, because we all know Mr. Murphy likes to play games, when you least expect it, and he usually wins. Hopefully, national CCP reciprocity will pass, as this should reduce some of the inane legal requirements imposed when transporting and storing loaded firearms in vehicles, at least for CCP holders. I am certainly hopeful.
    Thanks again and fight the good fight.

    1. Excellent points.
      Since I do not live in one of the People’s Republics, I sometimes forget the many laws around the country and I cannot do that– thanks

      As for small firearms I do prefer larger gear. However, some of the slim line 9mm pistols are light and lovely. Glock 43, Honor Guard 9mm, Walther PPS– are surprisingly accurate. Not in rapid fire and not for follow up shots but they are useful.

  4. There is no such thing as a “Lone Wolf Jihadist” These terrorists enlist the assistance of others to perpetrate terror on their victims Weather at a Mosque internet or social club plain and simple there are others involved.

    1. Force Recon – you’re exactly right!
      I can’t wait to find out the names of the terrorists that were aiding the guy with the car in this weekend that murdered that girl.

      A lot of the other Nazis from the UVA protest and the next-day protest have been identified and have lost their jobs.
      Nazis, now, understand why the KKK wore those hoods!

      You can bet that, next time, they will be wearing concealment.

    2. So sick over senseless murder of a bright young woman by an evil moron.

      We need to bring back this old credo

      Here is my joke of the day

      Three Nazis walked into a BAR

    1. Anything below .38 Special or 9mm Luger is practically worthless.

      A handgun you cannot shoot well is equally ineffective even in a more powerful caliber.

      No room for argument on that one.

  5. How about what we can do!
    Start having the schools doing a pledge of allegiance to the flag every morning.
    Let the college, professors who want to teach all the far left stuff go to some other country and do it there.
    Stop all the politically correct BS
    Send people to Wash DC as well as your own state capitol who truly want to do something positive for their state and or their country.
    All politicians need a large pay cut so they know & understand what the American on the street is going through.
    Bring back Hanging for Treason!
    I don’t have all the answers but I think these are a good place to start.

  6. I never go anywhere without my primary weapon and a backup I carry Glocks over the years I have found that they will not fail when your life depends on it. I also carry an AR in my vehicle I am prepared for the worst. It’s ironic how people carry a concealed weapon and no extra mags I know if a fire fight breaks out most people will burn through their 6-12 rounds in a matter of moments. Always carry more then one mag I carry on me two extra mags and in my vehicle I have 300 rounds for the riffle and my Glock what’s nice is a Glock 21 mag will fit in the 30 unlike most weapons out there that take a specific magazine. Always be prepared one never knows when trouble is just around the corner.

  7. Not to belie any aspect of this article, but it somewhat conflates information that would better serve different interests were it separated accordingly. The categorical separation of such information is defined by the differences between civilian citizens versus law enforcement.

    My point is that information towards understanding the “why” one becomes radicalized is more applicable to law enforcement as a preventative tool. However, such information does very little to assist the civilian when bullets start flying.

    So whether it be a disgruntled employee, a domestic homicide at your workplace, desperate criminals taking hostages, or a radicalized terrorist(s) – the properly prepared civilian will respond to all of these threats in the same exact manner, and without regard to “how and why” the actors are doing what they are doing.

    That is not to say we wouldn’t benefit if more civilians took an active interest in learning the preventative side of the fight; because doing so would allow them to better detect and report potential threats. But as I’ve stated, just knowing the “how and why” does nothing to prepare you for the unexpected actual event when it goes down.

    Nothing will serve to protect you and your family better than consistent training and constant vigilance.

    1. The better informed the better for all of the public.

      I think we all like to know the how and why of crime and terror. It is important in finding the solution.

      Yours is an institutional outlook I am afraid.
      It is worthy discussion as freedom is quite important.

    2. Bob Campbell,

      As I wrote that post I figured it would be misinterpreted. I probably should have worded it differently. In no way was I implying the information should not be imparted to anyone willing to read it, whether they be law enforcement or civilian.

      My intended point was that the subject matter seemed to be comprised of two distinct topics which may be better served up separately. For example one topic as say: “Terrorist Prevention through Detection” and another separate topic as say: “Terror Defense Preparation”.

      Never would I ever advocate withholding knowledge (unless classified). Matter-of-fact I am really keen on the idea that everyone in the public domain has just as much a right to know as the government. I’ve even clashed with my law enforcement superiors over the years on that.

      You’ll get no arguments from me that I hold an “institutional outlook”. However, my outlook is not in withholding information, so much as the desire to release it in the most logical and systematic manner.

      That is all I was attempting to convey. It is really a personal preference that I should have kept to myself and so I apologize for the misunderstanding.

  8. No, it’s not mental instability. They are perfectly rational, just not Western in their mindset or thought patterns. The closest we in the West get to where they are is the Pentateuch narratives and following histories of the kings of Judah and Israel.

    The period in the West, called the Enlightenment, cut off the West fm the kind of religious passions that all these killers share in common. We survived bloody, seemingly never-ending religious wars in Europe which the Enlightenment put to bed when it introduced separation betw the political life of ppl and the religious life of ppl.

    To understand these killers, you need to understand the wild variety of Islam that is preached and practiced in the Middle East and South Asia.

    1. Elena,

      Your comment is misguided because you are referring to the deadly aspects of Islam as it is taught and practiced in the Middle East. However the author is talking about the “radicalization” of otherwise ordinary “Westerners” here in the U.S. – there is a big difference.

      This makes for a very distinct and unique problem unto itself. The term “radicalized” in this context almost exclusively refers to persons born and raised in the U.S. or other heavily Westernized cultures.

      Therefore it is of particular concern, especially because most of these U.S. or Western radicals had to go out of their way to seek out their own indoctrinations. Even the Muslim families of these American-born would-be terrorist often reject their actions; thus creating the “Lone Wolf” aspect as mentioned in the title.

      Moreover, at no point did the author state “mental instability” as a cause for you to refute, yet you did so anyway. Instead he mentioned how they may “rationalize” their thoughts, which then leads to terrorist desires and acts.

      But again, he did this as it relates to Westerners that later become “radicalized”, whereas your mention of their “rationale” was strictly in reference to the full-blown Islamist who is raised from birth in the Middle East. So yet again, in lies another extremely big difference which places you off the mark.

      But for you to claim under any circumstance that murder and terrorism is “not mental instability” or that it is somehow “perfectly rational” to Middle Easterners of Islamic faith is simply preposterous. Anyone willing to kill another outside of self-defense must be to some degree “mentally unstable”.

      Even within their own culture, from my personal experiences visiting the Middle East I can unequivocally tell you there are millions of modern Muslims that disagree with your assessment and find these terrorists and radicals just as crazy as we do.

    2. G Man,

      A problem with the Muslim Brotherhood and sleeper was that the children quickly became westernized and realized that is a benefit in a free society with religious freedom.

      Just the same– there are millions that are not active terrorists but hate the ground we walk on. Unfortunately the reverse is true toward Muslims in many minds. It is unfortunate.

    3. This is an incredibly important post, thank you Elena. All Americans (not just law enforcement/military) must understand that Islam is not a religion in the modern Western sense, as Elena has pointed out. It is a complete political, religious, philosophical and social construct that requires total adherence in all parts of life.

      Even before the Enlightenment (or Reformation) Christ said “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”. I don’t believe any such notion exists in Islam.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit exceeded. Please click the reload button and complete the captcha once again.

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.