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The Virtual Pack & Its Lone Wolf Jihadi

Wikicommons Ben Goodwin

A Deeper Dive with a Few Additional Thoughts

This past week Dr. Irwin J. Mansdorf and Brig. Gen. (res) Yossi Kuperwasser published a very important essay entitled Understanding the Psychology of Terrorist Behavior: How the virtual “pack” stirs the lone wolves to action which can be found here I am in total agreement with their analysis. However, I want to add a deeper level of observation for those who wish to understand the behavior in light of early childhood development as that is where the violence begins. The prologue to violence is early childhood where one learns attachment styles with the mother, the primary caregiver.

In order to take a brief look at this deeper terrain I turn to my Jihadi Dictionary to highlight the role of the virtual or cyberspace with regard to the jihadis.

The Virtual is a maternal world and it discloses the defective “Motherboard” of the Mind of the Jihadi

But why is cyberspace so crucial to understanding the propagation of lone wolf violence?

The connection to the computer is a maternal one, bordering on an addiction. “Logging on” is really “plugging in” to the maternal. Think of Harlow’s monkeys and their attachment to metal grates as surrogate mothers. The computer is such a mother, and its oceanic feeling of space expands the omnipotence and grandiosity of the jihadi. This is quite autistic, as a computer is a hard object. The electronic connection is as if the jihadi is being enlivened by the maternal connection, thus paving over maternal deprivation. The jihadis’ unconscious expands its omnipotence and grandiosity through consuming the entire Internet. Their goal is to deplete the mother of all her “goodies” and contents. This unconscious attack on the mother expresses the jihadis’ greed, interpolated and projected onto their innocent victims, those targeted for recruitment. Because the jihadis are involved in crime, theirs is a misuse of the computer as an object, which constitutes a perversion. The Jihadi Dictionary, p. 68

On the Virtual World and its “Detached” Jihadi Lone Wolf

Detachment differs from withdrawal in that a detached person completely disconnects from emotions and feelings. The jihadis are so detached that they can only seek out a connection or bonding by becoming violent with their designated victims. Their “connections” within the family remain superficial. They can only achieve pseudo- intimacy. Their detachment signals the depths of their primitive states, which impede connecting healthily with people. This is also why the Internet and cyberspace are so appealing to jihadis, allowing them to connect in a pseudo way through machine substitutes, much like autistics. To be in a real relationship is scary to them, and yet they deeply envy those that are in relationships; hence, they attack and destroy manifestations of intimacy. An example of how they violently bond could be seen during the Paris Black Friday massacre in 2015. They “bonded” through the attack with those who were enjoying themselves at a rock concert or simply sipping a glass of wine at a café. The Jihadi Dictionary, p. 78.

The lone wolf is reminiscent of the suicide bomber. Attacking alone though as the authors point out there is a more elaborate concrete chain in the suicide bomber’s development – the recruiter, handler, manufacturing of the weapon etc. and yet they come from a pack that views itself as victims. Theirs is a reverse world – where good is bad and bad is good. Victimhood is seen in borderline personality disorder as well as psychopaths i.e. blaming and shaming with annihilation of the other. Like Marx said “accuse them of what you do.” The accusation comes from this reverse world.

On their fused group which Mansdorf and Kuperwasser have cleverly named the virtual wolf pack

The jihadi group is highly fused together so emotions are “shared” intensely and spread quickly. Since they lack emotional intelligence, jihadis do not have control over their emotions and display them fiercely at funerals and during their attacks with the shout of “Allahu Akhbar.” The jihadi predilection for vengeance facilitates emotional contagion as they vent the rage outwardly by attacking the designated enemy, who is always perceived unconsciously as the devalued female. The emotional contagion of the jihadi is dependent upon projection, evacuating their own feelings, such as terror, into the other. In other words, jihadis terrorize to try to rid themselves of their own terrors. The Jihadi Dictionary, p. 85.

Interlocking Links of Violence – The Virtual Fused Group and the Alleged Lone Wolf

Kuperwasser and Mansdorf are also correct in underscoring the link between the “virtual pack” and the lone wolf. It is as if the lone wolf “hooks into” the virtual pack as if it were a charismatic leader in order to not only package his or her rage through the shared ideologies but to carry out unconsciously the perverse wishes found on the internet’s social media incitement to violence.

It is worthwhile to factor in the idea that rage is an emotion coming from the body – it is a “body” politics. It has a lot to do with the fact that the jihadis grow up in a society where individuation-separation from the mother is a social taboo. It is rare to hear in the west some man saying of his mother that “you are my everything” and yet this is common parlance in Arabic culture. The mother is more important than the wife. So the fused group of the hamula or clan can easily morph into a virtual terrorist pack on the worldwide web reminiscent of and an extension of “the open university of jihad.”

While it is true that there is a broad spectrum of opinions in the Arab Muslim communities, Palestinian in particular from acceptance, encouragement of violence to rejection, this has to do with the nuanced kinds of behaviors that one experienced early on in his or her maternal attachment with their mothers. Fundamentally lone wolves bond violently to us. This behavior is very revealing as it shows that the problem precedes ideologies and is intimately connected to unmet needs and emotional deprivation. This is not to say that ideologies are not important. They are very crucial to the packaging and the expression of acting out the violence – moving it from fantasy to a bloody reality.

Is a lone wolf an individual?

Perhaps I am splitting hairs here with regard to nomenclature but on account of the fused dysfunctional violent virtual wolf pack, perhaps it would be wiser not to speak of the jihadi as an “individual” precisely because he has not individuated. Moreover, the nonverbal communication of the lone wolf’s attack reveals that once again he seeks out a violent attachment with the other who is an unconscious stand in for his mother. In psychological parlance this is nothing more than projection and annihilation in object relations theory pointing to the topic of paranoia. Alas, paranoia, its psychological terrain and the use of the term paranoid seem to have been “cancelled” by many who remain unaware of this extensively elaborated field of psychoanalysis.

Finally, the “social” in social media is really anti-social with regard to the virtual wolf pack and its alleged lone wolves. Pealing back the veneer of such a lone wolf attack, scrutinizing how the lone wolf “bonds” to its victims, it is evident that the prologue to violence for Palestinians is early childhood development. Shaming continues to play a major role, cleansing honor with blood, clearly a psychotic delusion.

What can be done about this? First early childhood development must be overtly discussed concerning political violence, not just given cursory lip service. Second empowerment of women is not the cure-all because in these kinds of environments the female has formed an identification early on with the aggressor without even being aware and hence also potentially violent. She is programmed to violence too. This should not be overlooked. Third developing programs with artificial intelligence to monitor cyberspace with regard to issues of early childhood in these populations could help speed up the profiling and identification of potential lone wolves. Fourth because as noted above, social media in this instance is really anti-social by breaking this illusion, it will also help disarm the virtual pack and its lone wolf jihadi.

A shout out to Esther for reminding me about the Mansdorf Kuperwasser essay.

The Jihadi Dictionary will appear in French translation in 2023 to be published by David Reinharc Éditions, Paris.

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Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin, Ph.D.

Psychoanalyst Counter Terrorist Expert

Psychoanalyst Counter Terrorist Expert

The aim of this blog is to promote and advance an understanding of the relationship of early childhood to the jihadis’ violent behavior and externalized hatred. Many aspects of culture will be addressed in order to do a deep dive and a deep dig into the unconscious behavior behind all the political ideologies and the verbiage. 


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