Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 383–411 | Cite as

Investigating the Applicability of Macro-Level Criminology Theory to Terrorism: A County-Level Analysis

  • Joshua D. Freilich
  • Amy Adamczyk
  • Steven M. Chermak
  • Katharine A. Boyd
  • William S. Parkin
Original Paper



This exploratory study examines if causal mechanisms highlighted by criminology theories work in the same way to explain both ideologically motivated violence (i.e., terrorism) and regular (non-political) homicides. We study if macro-level hypotheses drawn from deprivation, backlash, and social disorganization frameworks are associated with the likelihood that a far-right extremist who committed an ideologically motivated homicide inside the contiguous US resides in a particular county. To aid in the assessment of whether criminology theories speak to both terrorism and regular violence we also apply these hypotheses to far-right homicide and regular homicide incident location and compare the results.

Material and methods

We use data from the US Extremist Crime Database (ECDB) and the FBI’s SHR to create our dependent variables for the 1990–2012 period and estimated a series of logistic regression models.


The findings are complex. On the one hand, the models we estimated to account for the odds of a far-right perpetrator residing in a county found that some hypotheses were significant in all, or almost all, models. These findings challenge the view that terrorism is completely different from regular crime and argues for separate causal models to explain each. On the other hand, we estimated models that applied these same hypotheses to account for the odds that a far-right homicide incident occurred in a county, and that a county had very high regular homicide rate. Our comparison of the results found a few similarities, but also demonstrated that different variables were generally significant for each outcome variable. In other words, although criminology theory accounts for some of the odds for both outcomes, different causal mechanisms also appear to be at play in each instance. We elaborate on both of these points and highlight a number of important issues for future research to address.


Social disorganization theory and terrorism Macro-level criminology theories and terrorism Domestic terrorism Political violence 



This research was funded by a series of Grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s University Program Division; and Resilient Systems Division both directly and through the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), and a John Jay College Collaborative Research Award. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of DHS, START, or John Jay College.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joshua D. Freilich
    • 1
  • Amy Adamczyk
    • 2
  • Steven M. Chermak
    • 3
  • Katharine A. Boyd
    • 4
  • William S. Parkin
    • 5
  1. 1.Doctoral Program in Criminal Justice, Department of Criminal Justice, John Jay CollegeCUNYNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Doctoral Program in Criminal Justice, Department of Sociology, John Jay CollegeCUNYNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.School of Criminal JusticeMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  4. 4.Department of Sociology, Philosophy, and AnthropologyUniversity of ExeterExeterUK
  5. 5.Department of Criminal JusticeSeattle UniversitySeattleUSA

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