American Journal of Criminal Justice

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 83–105 | Cite as

Loners, Colleagues, or Peers? Assessing the Social Organization of Radicalization

  • Thomas J. HoltEmail author
  • Joshua D. Freilich
  • Steven M. Chermak
  • Colleen Mills
  • Jason Silva


This study explores the utility of a sociological model of social organization developed by Best and Luckenbill (1994) to classify the radicalization processes of terrorists (i.e., extremist perpetrators who engaged in ideologically motivated acts of violence) who are usually categorized as loner or lone wolf attackers. There are several organizational frameworks used to define or classify violent acts performed by individuals who may or may not have ties to extremist groups, but these studies largely ignore the role of social relationships in radicalization and the extent to which they inform our knowledge of terror. To address this gap, we apply the Best and Luckenbill model of social organization using a qualitative analysis of three case studies of four lone actor or small cell terrorists. The findings demonstrate lone actors are not always true loners in the context of radicalization, and highlights the ways that the Internet and social ties foster the radicalization processes of terror.


Social organization Radicalization loners Lone wolf Terror Extremism 



This project was supported, in part, by Award No. 2014-ZA-BX-0004, awarded by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, and U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not reflect those of the Department of Justice.


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Copyright information

© Southern Criminal Justice Association 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas J. Holt
    • 1
    Email author
  • Joshua D. Freilich
    • 2
  • Steven M. Chermak
    • 1
  • Colleen Mills
    • 2
  • Jason Silva
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Criminal JusticeMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.John Jay College of Criminal JusticeNew YorkUSA

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