The Psychology of Terrorism and Political Violence

by tuftsigl
Oct 30

On October 18th, Dr. John Horgan spoke at the Tufts ALLIES weekly meeting focused on “The Psychology of Terrorism: Exploring the Complex Causes of Political Violence”. Horgan is a distinguished professor at Georgia State University. On his website, he said he is “especially interested in understanding the processes through which people become involved in (and disengage from) terrorism, as well as the psychological mechanisms through which people transfer guilt and conceal disillusionment as coping mechanisms for sustained commitment to violent extremist groups. My current projects involve the development of psycho-social intervention programs for children affected by conflict, evaluating programs aimed at ‘Countering Violent Extremism’, and understanding the over-representation of religious converts in terrorist plots.” His work is largely funded by the US Department of Defense, which he shares openly in his presentations and with his interview subjects. He is the editor of the journal Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict and sits on the Research Working Group of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.

Horgan began with a brief overview of his research. He went over his findings and analysis of the reasons people engage in terrorism, as well as how they get out (if they do). He said that he believes that most terrorists hold extreme views, but very few of them are psychopaths. He said many are driven by moral outrage and a need to right some fundamental injustice. Others get into it because they may have family or friends involved in the terrorist organization. He disputes what he sees as the media’s claims that people join through internet recruitment alone. Similarly, he believes that there are very few “lone wolf” terrorists who aren’t involved in any group at all. One of the few examples is Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber. He also stated that despite media attention on the issue, terrorism is actually not any more prevalent now than it has been historically.