It is difficult to comprehend how Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik who murdered fourteen people and wounded twenty-one in San Bernardino, California could be radicalized to commit mass murder and leave behind a six month old baby. The reason this is so difficult for Americans to grasp is the myth that there are universal values that every culture shares, particularly the love of life, pursuit of happiness, freedom and feelings such as maternal instincts. When people drastically deviate from these so called norms they are viewed as mentally ill or psychopathological. The reason mass murderers are designated as psychopaths is because the FBI’s analysis of violent crimes is based on behavioral science methodologies that primarily look at psychology and personality traits as opposed to a cultural methodology that interprets violence from the offenders point of view.
The American obsession with looking to psychology to explain every aspect of life is in itself a cultural construct. Prior to the introduction of the field of psychology inexplicable events were interpreted in terms of religious and moral values, in concepts of good and evil. Behavioral psychologists attempt to categorize expressions of good and evil into normative universal characteristics of human behavior. Another goal of criminal psychology is to attempt to identify the characteristics that predispose offenders to violence such as childhood abuse, social, economic and other factors. The flaw in this methodology, particularly for counterterrorism, is that it is based on the myth of universality, that all people share the same basic desires. The opposite more effective method is based on a methodology that utilizes relativism, interpreting violent crime from cultural (or sub-cultural) beliefs including ethical, religious and moral values. In cultural anthropology this difference in analysis is referred to as ‘etic’ and ‘emic’. An etic analysis is an extrinsic approach that views a culture from the perspective of an outsider while an emic analysis is an intrinsic approach that views culture from the natives’ point of view.
A cultural analysis of the motivations for the San Bernardino mass murder is based on the premise that the offenders were Islamic true believers. From this cultural perspective they would consider themselves to be good and righteous Muslims who were obligated to kill Satanic infidels (dis-believers). As Islamic true believers the violence would be justified as warriors, martyrs, waging holy war (jihad) against evil. As martyrs they believe they will go immediately to a higher level of paradise where they will be protected from the torments of the grave and significantly can intercede on behalf of the infant they left behind to join them in Paradise and be a family again for eternity not just their temporary time on earth. From this perspective Tashfeen Malik would be considered a good mother, one that sacrificed her life for her child. Farook would be considered a good father and son who gave up his life to intercede for his mother, daughter and other family members in Paradise. These beliefs do not meet any of the criteria for psychopathy, in fact their killings were rational choices based on their religious beliefs. The fact that most Americans find it incomprehensible demonstrates Western behavioral bias and the inability to name the enemy and comprehend the Islamic ideology that motivates the violence.
The lone wolf profile works well with active shooters who hold personal grievances, are reclusive and choose to opt out of society. Lone wolves are often true misfits not true believers. Examples of lone wolf attacks include the Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Virginia Tech school shootings. By definition lone wolves act on their own without any outside command or direction even if it is to advance a political or Islamic extremist goal. However, a new breed of Islamic terrorists are emerging that are better characterized as ‘Wolf Packs’ family groups who have a shared worldview, blood relations, common ancestry, unwavering loyalty, solidarity, conformity, hold an “‘us versus them”’ philosophy and most significantly identify the Islamic Caliphate as their extended family community. Those that are fighting the global jihad are deemed to be the true Muslim faithful, by virtue of which they are to be protected and secured; those outside are infidel enemies who should be subjugated or massacred.
Lone wolves often have been shunned from society or withdrawn into their own world, while wolf packs have support and gain their strength from family members and feeling part of a community of true believers. Most significantly lone wolves often kill out of a sense of alienation while wolf packs kill out of a sense of belonging and family honor. The concept of intercession in Islamic martyrdom which allows martyrs to intercede in Paradise for 70 relatives represents the ultimate family loyalty and a tremendous incentive for wolf pack attacks. Examples of wolf pack attacks include the Boston marathon bombings by the Tsarnaev brothers, the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris by the Kouachi brothers and the San Bernardino shooting by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik. In both the Boston and California attacks the mothers appeared to play significant roles in radicalization and support. Wolf packs by definition do not fit the typical loner, disconnected, mental illness profile.
In addition to the wolf pack phenomenon there has been a significant increase in the amount of lone wolf attacks occurring in Western countries. The Islamic State is waging a brilliant social media campaign that radicalizes true misfits and turns them into true believers. Their sophisticated use of social media which includes videos of sadistic violence appeals to the humiliated disaffected loner who fantasizes about making others suffer their pain. The term radicalized signifies a form of indoctrination. Current attempts to combat recruitment are based on the concept that offenders fall into certain age groups, tend to be male, uneducated and other characteristics that make some people more susceptible to indoctrination than others. However males and females of any age, ethnicity or country of origin can be recruited. Previous jihadist recruits have included Colleen LaRose an American middle aged divorcee from Pennsylvania dubbed Jihad Jane and Jamie Paulin Ramirez a 35 year old Colorado mother dubbed Jihad Jamie. It should not be shocking that Tashfeen Malik, the 29 year old Pakistani National, mother of an infant, who entered the United States on a K-1 fiancée visa, was pretending to live the American dream while plotting terrorist attacks. By massacring 14 people she achieved a level of honor that women in her culture are ever prohibited from attaining.
The lone wolf offender has emerged from the basement with a sense of purpose and belonging camouflaging their true beliefs so they do not provoke suspicion. Essentially the Islamic State recruits the misfits, the true believers and every one in between advising them through social media how to blend into society and hide in plain sight until they go operational. Even if the Islamic State has not made direct contact with the misfit, by pledging allegiance they have a sense of belonging and justification turning their personal grievances and desire for vengeance into righteous slaughter.
The Islamic State understands that to incite people to mass murder they have to remind them of their humiliation, disrespect and shame. That is one of their propaganda tactics. The misfit already longing for vengeance instinctively understands that violence will feel good. The Islamic State provides the moral justification that allows the loner to act upon his desires. ISIS makes clear that killing in the name of Islam is not only justified but obligatory. The misfit becomes a virtuous mass murderer whose humiliation is replaced with honor and respect by killing in the name of Allah. Jihadist mass murder functions to restore honor, serve vengeance, attain purity, save face and achieve everlasting life in paradise. And now they are hunting in packs.