Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

7.3: Alienated Citizenship and Sub-state Terrorism

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    Timothy McVeigh and Anders Breivik

    If we consider Timothy McVeigh, and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, we can see the extreme lengths some alienated citizens can go to in trying to get their message across. McVeigh was motivated and called to action by his involvement in the American militia movement, a movement which claims to be legitimate, constitutionally-backed, and acting in the best interests of the US and its citizens (Crothers, 2002). Militias have significant historical roots in the US, dating back to the American War of Independence (1775-1783). According to Crothers (2002), apart from the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the John Birch Society, both of which have a long and continuous history in the US, America’s modern-day militia movement began around 1994, and was spearheaded by citizens who were concerned by the Ruby Ridge incident (1992) [9] and the Waco incident (1993) [10] For the modern day militias, these two incidents were seen as evidence of the corruption of the US government, and they, the ‘sovereign citizens’ Sovereign citizens are defined by Crothers (2002, p. 229) as “those whose forebears entered into the social contract that created the US Constitution.” This classification excludes any Americans whose forbears were not present at the time of the American War of Independence, most Native Americans and African Americans, as well as those who have migrated to the US since that time, regardless of the length of time their families have lived in the US, which could be generations. According to the militias, only sovereign citizens have the right to evaluate, sanction or abolish actions/decisions made by the government. Therefore, there are many US citizens, who have long lived in the US and participated in its nation building process, who are excluded by this limited definition. [/footnote] of America, had a duty to all Americans to challenge the illegal actions of the government. Timothy McVeigh, a former US soldier and militia sympathiser, heeded this call to arms and on 19 April 1995, with earlier assistance from his accomplices Terry Nichols and Michael and Lori Fortier, McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Building, a Federal government complex. The bombing killed 168 people, including 19 babies and children in attendance at the childcare centre housed within the building. In 2001, McVeigh was executed by lethal injection for his crime.

    Until 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing was the worst terrorist attack on US soil. McVeigh’s attack represented sub-state terrorism or terrorism from below (Haynes et al., 2011). It was not an act of political violence committed by an ‘outsider’. Instead, Americans were challenged when they learned that US citizens had planned and committed the bombing. The ultimate goal of sub-state terrorism is the formation of a new society and system of governance. It is believed this can be achieved by directly attacking the state, thereby bringing down existing governance systems. However, it can also be used to garner attention and sympathy to a particular cause. While McVeigh’s act of terror was a direct attack on the US government for perceived suppression of far-right groups, it is unlikely that he believed his actions would bring about change. Rather, the act of terrorism would attract national and global attention to McVeigh’s cause (D’Anieri, 2011). However, was McVeigh motivated purely by his involvement in the militia movement?

    McVeigh has been characterised as an “angry young man…from a broken family” who found camaraderie in his membership of the fringe culture of “American Patriots” (Whittaker, 2004, p. 63). Prior to Ruby Ridge and Waco, McVeigh had already started to self-isolate by buying land and building a bunker-style complex on it when he was just 20 years old. According to Whittaker (2004), prior to Ruby Ridge and Waco, McVeigh’s anger was already directed toward “the White House, Communist fellow-travellers, Jews and blacks” (p. 64) and after active service in the first Gulf War, his fellow soldiers became a target, with McVeigh labelling them “sickos” (p. 64) for their violence on the front line and at base. In a local paper, McVeigh vented his anti-government rage stating: “America is in serious decline and I am too. Do we have to shed blood to reform the present system? I hope not—but it might be so” (cited in Whittaker, 2004, p. 65).

    Clearly, McVeigh was troubled by both his early home-life, his experiences in the military, and by what he felt America had become—a departure from his patriotic notions of the ‘real America’ he belonged to. If we compare McVeigh and Anders Behring Breivik, another sub-state terrorist, who confessed to committing the 22 July 2011 Oslo bombing and the massacre on the island of Utøya (Hewitt, 2011) we see striking similarities in their roads from alienation to sub-state terrorism.

    Like McVeigh, Breivik’s bombing target was a government building, driven by his anger towards government policies on multiculturalism, which he felt made him ‘alienated’ from Norway and threatened his identity. He also had connections to far-right extremist groups, who shared similar views as his own. Under the pen name of Andrew Berwick, Breivik compiled a 1,518 page manifesto detailing his alienation and path to terrorism. He mentions McVeigh in two separate entries, demonstrating his understanding of McVeigh’s motives, how he carried out the attack, and the cost of the attack in a dollar sum (Berwick, 2011, pp. 950, 967). His ideas on immigration and his lack of compassion for asylum seekers are clearly communicated when Breivik praises Australia’s tough stance against asylum seekers, concluding that former Australian Prime Minister John Howard ‘has repeatedly proven to be one of the most sensible leaders in the western world’ for his border control policies (Berwick, 2011, p. 680).

    Another commonality with McVeigh is that Breivik could also be described as an ‘angry young man’. His father divorced his mother when Breivik was one year of age, and moved to Paris where he remarried. His father sought custody of Breivik, but he lost the case and Breivik was raised by his mother. Breivik became estranged from his father when he was a teenager and their estrangement continued throughout his adult life (Allen, 2011; BBC, 2012). Breivik’s personal life then, is significant when we examine much of what he included in his manifesto. In it Breivik includes his own, and others’ thoughts, on a range of issues including abortion, custody rights, divorce, eugenics, “servant classes,” feminism, traditional sexual morality, patriarchal societal structures, marriage, and sexually transmitted diseases being endemic across Europe due to “cultural Marxism” (Berwick, 2011). When discussing custody rights, Breivik’s past torment becomes clear. He stated:

    Fathers should be favoured (prerogative rights) when child custody cases are decided in courts… The goal is to re-introduce the father as the authority figure and family head and will therefore strengthen the nuclear family. It is estimated that these changes will result in a decline of the divorce rate/broken families by approximately 50%. Furthermore, the father can without fear of being punished by the law, reassert an authority role in the family. Physical disciplinary methods will once again be a factor in the upbringing of children. (Berwick, 2011, p. 1145)

    However, these writings provide only part of the story behind Breivik’s alienation. He was also strongly alienated by multiculturalism. In his manifesto, Breivik strongly criticised Europe’s multicultural policies, which he believed had led to “Islamisation” of Europe. He further believed that this would ultimately lead to “Islamic colonisation of Europe” (Berwick, 2011, pp. 5, 8-9). This was a significant motivator for Breivik to commit acts of sub-state terrorism. According to Breivik:

    It is not only our right but also our duty to contribute to preserve our identity, our culture and our national sovereignty by preventing the ongoing Islamisation. There is no Resistance Movement if individuals like us refuse to contribute… Multiculturalism (cultural Marxism/political correctness), as you might know, is the root cause of the ongoing Islamisation of Europe which has resulted in the ongoing Islamic colonisation of Europe through demographic warfare (facilitated by our own leaders). (Berwick, 2011, pp. 8-9)

    This extract identifies the motives behind Breiviks’s twin attack in Norway. The Oslo bombing killed eight people. The massacre on Utøya killed 69 people, 33 of whom were children below the age of 18, 29 of whom were young people aged between 18 to 25 years of age. The twin attacks by Breivik were aimed at attacking the Norwegian government. Both attacks attest to his alienation, not only personal, but also his strong responses to government policies on multiculturalism and social policy, even referring to the European Union (EU) as the “Eurabian Empire” (Berwick, 2011, p. 311), signalling his belief that the EU was a bedfellow to the Arabian states in the process of ‘Islamisation’. The massacre at Utøya however, demonstrated the lengths to which Breivik’s alienation extended. His intentions on Utøya were to kill the next generation of left-leaning leaders, due to his strong beliefs and convictions about ending multiculturalism and Norway’s social policies. The Utøya camp was hosting the Worker’s Youth League (AUF) of the Labour Party, and Breivik regarded these youth as a political threat to Norway due to their party’s support for multiculturalism and the social policies that Breivik opposed.

    Like McVeigh’s attack in Oklahoma City, there have been no noticeable changes to Norway’s immigration or social policies in response to Breivik’s attacks. However, the attacks have seen significant media and political attention on multiculturalism and questions have been raised as to the long term effects and sustainability of multiculturalism. However, rather than leading to Breivik’s goal of ending and even reversing multiculturalism, greater attention has been paid to the intensification of the social inclusion dimensions of multicultural policies, to avoid this kind of racially-motivated attack from re-occurring.

    Statelessness and Terrorism: Wafa Idris

    As with McVeigh and Breivik, Wafa Idris, an ambulance volunteer and the first female suicide terrorist of the Second Intifada, probably also believed in the righteousness of her actions when she detonated a bomb outside of a shoe store in downtown Jerusalem on 27 January 2002 (Dunn, 2010; Hasso, 2005). In addition to killing herself, the bomb blast killed an Israeli man and injured over 100 people. Idris did not leave behind any writings or videos on her intentions to commit the attack, so we can only speculate on her motivations. She was an active member of Fatah-aligned nationalist Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, however, so her detonation of the bomb can reasonably be viewed as an act of Palestinian militancy, and her attack was followed by a series of female suicide attacks in Israel (Hasso, 2005; Bokhari, 2007). Unlike McVeigh and Breivik however, Wafa Idris was not a citizen of the state she sought to attack – Israel. Instead, she was a Palestinian living in the al-Amri refugee camp. Therefore, the alienation that drove her to commit a terrorist act was one of statelessness, which was compounded by the human rights violations and human insecurity that she and other Palestinians around her experienced.

    For Idris, and the 5.4 million other Palestinian refugees registered with the UN at the close of 2017 (UNHCR, 2018a), citizenship remains the issue, along with dispossession and statelessness. The Arabic-speaking Palestinians, who were forced to flee or were expelled from their homes during the 1948 Palestine War, and those who have been expelled or forced to flee since then, have maintained their right of return to the traditional homelands from whence they came. The right of return for Palestinian refugees is articulated in the United Nations UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (11), passed on 11 December 1948. This resolution states:

    [T]hat refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest predictable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

    Therefore, the terrorist act committed by Idris can also be conceived as an act committed by an individual outside of the state system. Idris was truly a stateless person, born a second generation refugee to refugee parents in the al-Amari refugee camp. Her brother, Khalil Idris, had the following to say about his sister and her actions in Jerusalem:

    Wafa was my sister. We were close friends. What she did was a real surprise to us. She’d tell us that someone had been killed and she’d seen his brains splattered all over the place or the inside of someone’s stomach shot out or someone else who’d lost his leg. She was also upset by pregnant women forced to give birth at the checkpoints and then see their babies die there. She was also injured by rubber bullets. These were powerful incentives for her to avenge her people. (cited in Pilger, 2002, n.p.)

    It is very likely that Idris was motivated by her own, and ‘her people’s’, the Palestinians’, statelessness and constant human insecurity. She may also have been motivated by the violence and death she witnessed as an ambulance volunteer. Bokhari (2007) believes Idris’ act of terrorism “was arguably prompted by a sense of hopelessness under occupation and rage” (pp. 60-61). Whatever her motivation, Idris’ act of terrorism inspired other women to follow suit, and the ‘Wafa Idris Group’ a martyrdom cell for Palestinian women was formed after her death, and resulted in a wave of female suicide attacks throughout Israel (Hasso, 2005).

    The suicide attack by Idris is also noteworthy because it challenged the gender narrative of women needing male protection in times of conflict, and represented a significant call to arms for both Palestinian men and women. As Hasso (2005) has argued, Idris’ act of terrorism also challenged gender assumptions held by Israeli forces that it was male bodies, not Palestinian female bodies, which threatened their security. Furthermore, there was fierce debate among fundamentalist Islamic organisations as to whether or not women could participate in the Palestinian struggle in such a militant way due to the religious principles and traditional Islamic social norms that prevented unmarried men and women from having such close contact with each other, as would be the case in planning and carrying out a suicide attack (Bokhari, 2007; Dunn, 2010). Therefore, the entry of women into what had largely been a male dominated arena, conflict and terrorism, was challenging and confronting to some political and religious leaders.

    By targeting civilians who were going about their shopping, Idris’ actions also received a great deal of attention largely focused around the question ‘why.’ Why would a young female ambulance volunteer commit such a brutal act and deliberately try to kill innocent civilians? Separating the Utøya Massacre from the Oslo bombing, McVeigh’s and Breivik’s choices of bombing locations signalled attacks against the government, as they targeted government employees, [11] still innocent civilians, but people who represented the government they were attacking. Idris targeted regular citizens in an indiscriminate fashion (like Breivik did on Utøya), as well as taking her own life in the process. The act of killing people was the statement, albeit linked to Palestinian statehood and to ending the Israeli occupation. This reinforces the findings by Callaway and Harrelson-Stephens (2006) who argue that:

    [w]hen looking at the genesis of terrorism around the world it always occurs in conjunction with the denial of basic human rights… the basis for terrorism is found in the deprivation of political, subsistence, and security rights, and therefore any policy designed to decrease terrorism necessarily implies addressing these rights.’ (p. 774)

    The recruitment of women into suicide terrorism has proven to be an innovative, inexpensive and effective political tool. However, female suicide attacks remain a rare occurrence globally, with estimates suggesting that between 1982 and 2015, only nine percent of suicide attacks were carried out by female suicide terrorists, and they were mostly located in the Middle East (Thomas, 2018, p. 513). The recruitment of women is innovative and inexpensive in the sense that women are not generally viewed as threats due to the gender roles ascribed to women, which regard them as passive, weak and nurturers. Therefore, women can pass more easily through checkpoints than their male counterparts, allowing them to get closer to their intended targets and increasing the success of their suicide attack (Thomas, 2018, p. 514). Therefore, by simply recruiting women, terrorist groups can increase their chances of success and potentially, the lethality of their attacks without any significant outlay on equipment or deflection techniques.

    Female suicide terrorists are an effective political tool in the sense that they draw greater attention to ‘the cause’ compared to their male counterparts. For example, because Idris was a woman, her act of terrorism drew more attention to the human insecurity and persecution of the Palestinians than may have resulted had the act of suicide terrorism been committed by a male suicide terrorist. Due to the identified gender stereotypes, when a woman commits a suicide terrorist act, attempts to rationalise the act sees much focus drawn to the social context – Why did she commit such an act? What drove her to such a decision? As part of this attempt at rationalising the act, death tolls become a secondary concern. Instead, the focus centres on an attempt to understand what could have caused, in Idris’ case, an attractive, educated, young woman to take her own life and the lives of others (Bokhari, 2007). If we consider Bueno de Mesquita’s (2000) definition that terrorism is aimed at the “spread of fear and anxiety (terror) through a population so that it will, in turn, put pressure on its leaders to change policies in a way favoured by terrorists” (p. 339), female terrorists are very effective in achieving these goals. By committing terrorist acts, they draw attention to the problems, human insecurities and prolonged conflict situations that lead to such extreme acts in the first instance. This point was reflected in media reports about Idris following the attack. They reported on her life under Israeli occupation and on the Palestinian struggle, drawing considerable attention and some sympathy to Idris’ cause.[12]

    Although it is not a new phenomenon, terrorism has become a serious threat to human and state security in the 21st century. Increasingly, states are grappling with how best to respond to terrorists and how to prevent future attacks from occurring. We now turn our attention to counter terrorism, in particular, the impact of counter terrorism measures on individuals and groups.

    7.3: Alienated Citizenship and Sub-state Terrorism is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

    • Was this article helpful?