About Profiles in Terrorism

Profiles in Terrorism was born when author Robert Riggs became intrigued with office lunchtime chat about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  By now, of course, millions of words have been written about the “conspiracy” to assassinate Kennedy.  The U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations published in 1978 its official findings which concluded that the assassination was the probably the result of a conspiracy and that there was probably a second shooter involved.  Riggs, the amateur Johns Hopkins-trained historian and professional Stanford-trained attorney, was obsessed to know . . . where was the “beef”?  Where was the evidence to support this startling finding?

Riggs reviewed the published volumes of material about the assassination in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, and about the perpetrator indicted by physical and eyewitness evidence, Lee Harvey Oswald.  As it turns out, when all of the pseudo-science is stripped away, the predominant support for the “conspiracy” is simply the notion that it is incredible that Oswald could have been the lone assassin.  A loser like Oswald simply must have been a “patsy” . . . so the theory goes.  Because Oswald was from a relatively well-to-do family, as a teenager he was profiled extensively by professional psychologists.  Riggs tested the “patsy” theory by expanding his investigation to compare in depth the available information about the “lives” of other assassins, zealots and terrorists.  Riggs’s studies over thirty years have revealed that Oswald has far more in common with the profile of the historical terrorist than “patsy” theorists imagine.

As Riggs got deeper into his studies, he discovered an even more intriguing phenomenon.  Terrorists and assassins tend to share a common constellation of background and personality traits.  As a matter of fact, he discovered that this phenomenon has already been noticed by the leading historian of terrorism, Professor Walter LaQueur.  LaQueur noted that terrorism, throughout history, has seldom been politically effective, that it frequently brought about the opposite of what it sought to achieve.  He also saw that many misunderstandings about terrorism are founded on politicial reasons.  Writing in 1977, LaQueur observed:

[T]errorism is not merely a technique.  Those practicing it have certain basic beliefs in common.  They may belong to the left or the right, they may be nationalists or, less frequently, internationalists, but in some essential respects their mental makeup is similar.  They are often closer to each other than they know or would like to admit to themselves or others.

Riggs dedicated himself to carrying on with further inquiry in the direction suggested by LaQueur’s work.  Profiles in Terrorism is a series which highlights the mental makeup and background of the terrorist.  Among the constellation of tendencies in historical terrorists and assassins which Riggs has through his series of profiles are:

  1. Suicidal ideation
  2. Great native intelligence and high IQ
  3. Tremendous drive and determination
  4. Thirst for fame and glory
  5. Personal asceticism and capacity for an austere lifestyle
  6. Political views that are imbued with fantasy and lack of realism
  7. Lack of formal education – extensively self taught as an “auto-didact”
  8. Uncritical faith in their own ideas and plans of action (however hopeless or far-fetched they may seem to others)
  9. Draw essential inspiration from works of literature
  10. Highly resistant to authority and organizations – even ones allied with or dedicated to their cause
  11. Domineering and intolerant; impose their views on others
  12. Extremely self-righteous micro-managers
  13. Can be a failure in their ordinary walks of life (particularly with respect to a peer group of similarly intelligent, motivated, and self-disciplined individuals), with the failure often caused by a slightly distorted vision of reality
  14. Military training or military experience
  15. Aristocratic or noble birth, or at least, a middle class to upper middle class upbringing.  These are not people who have been personally abused, persecuted or oppressed!
  16. Strongly influenced in the direction of a parent’s political views
  17. “In search of” . . . adopting . . . a cause to champion unto death, a cause as to which they are not personally aggrieved

The terrorists Riggs profiled also tend to share a pattern of common “means and methods” in which they engage.  Often, these were used even when not carrying out the terrorist scheme itself.  So again, the use of these chosen “means and methods” is indicative to a degree of personality, and not just criminal intent.

A. Use of false names and/or disguises
B. Use of subterfuges
C. Use of religious style ideation and an appeal to the “authority of God” to justify violence and to whip up support for violent acts
D. Act out in cold blooded violence within a relatively short time after adopting the cause
E. Substantially overestimate the willingness of the oppressed people whose cause he or she champions to rise up en masse and engage in revolution to throw off the oppressor (relates to dissociation from reality, above)
F. Apply enormous pressure to radicalize persons who sympathize and agree with the “cause”
G. Maintain a love-hate type relationship with sympathizing “legals” who do not share the willingness to engage in absolute dedication to the “cause,” but who are willing to give money and other aid and comfort

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