WASHINGTON — A State Department official today blamed the media for perpetuating the “cliche” term “lone wolf” to describe terrorists carrying out attacks on their own.
At a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting to review government efforts to stem the influence of ISIS online, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel said the terror group was targeting “places with unhappy youth,” unemployed sympathizers and the mentally ill.
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) emphasized that “when we say ‘lone wolf,’ these folks that are engaged in this cause of theirs, that attack Americans, that attack all around the world, they’re not ‘lone wolves.'”
“They’re not the Unabomber. They’re not holed up in some cabin somewhere only to themselves. They’re connected to a network where they were inspired and they were urged on and commanded and supported. And I think we do, potentially, a disservice to seeing this for what it is if we consider them in the ‘lone wolf’ context and I would just urge you to maybe reconsider a different terminology for them,” Perry said.
Perry also named terror leaders who are “people of means, people of education, people of status in their communities” as evidence against the narrative that terror groups lure recruits upset about economic grievances.
“These are people committed to their religious cause … they feel that the people they’re killing are perverting Islam,” he added. “They are not what we classically consider ‘mentally ill.’ They know exactly what they’re doing and they have their faculties about them and they’re committed to a cause.”
Stengel said he shared the congressman’s “wariness and concern” about the term “lone wolf.”
“I think it’s a misnomer. I think it’s a term that is in part created by the media because it’s a cliche,” the undersecretary said. “One of the things that we’ve seen is — the idea that someone that is self-radicalized by himself or herself almost doesn’t exist.”
Stengel added that “I had a very smart person say to me it’s much more of an epidemiological model for radicalization, i.e. frequent Internet contact over and over.”
“Everything we’ve seen with any of these so-called lone wolves is that it wasn’t about being radicalized about content it was being touched repeatedly over and over by particular recruiters who were trying to get them to go down that road,” he said.
“Lone wolf” is a term frequently used in the Obama administration.
“As good as they are, as dedicated as they are, as focused as they are, if you have lone wolf attacks like this, hatched in the minds of a disturbed person, then we’re going to have to take different kinds of steps in order to prevent something like this from happening,” President Obama said while visiting Orlando after the Pulse nightclub attack.
In a press briefing after the attack, White House press secretary Josh Earnest used the term eight times.
“When you’re dealing with home-grown, bound extremism, the so-called lone wolf, lone actor, it is the case that almost always somebody close to that person saw the signs, somebody close to that person was aware of the gun purchase, saw suspicious behavior which is why our efforts to build bridges to various communities around this country are so important,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told CNN after the attack. “At this point, it looks as if the gunman acted alone, that he was terrorist inspired, that he was not directed from a terrorist organization overseas.”