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Patterns of Precursor Behaviors in the Life Span of a U.S. Environmental Terrorist Group

NCJ Number
Criminology and Public Policy Volume: 8 Issue: 3 Dated: August 2009 Pages: 475-496
Date Published
August 2009
22 pages

This study examined the scarcity of data available for assessing the "life span" of a terrorist group, introducing a methodology which allows researchers to examine when terrorist groups perform their preincident behaviors.


Findings from the study suggest that: (1) temporal and spatial data about preincident terrorist activity could be collected from unclassified and open sources and (2) law enforcement agencies that were investigating environmental groups have relatively little time to observe and infiltrate their individual cells. The data suggest that environmental terrorists have emerged in attacks that were less deadly than the comparison groups. Although the “life cycle” of terrorist groups has been the focus of considerable recent scholarly interest, this type of research remains in its infancy with many methodological challenges. This study explored some of these methodological issues and suggests how these problems could be overcome. It examined variables affecting terrorist groups’ life spans. One terrorist organization was selected, a group of environmental extremists known as “the Family”, to serve as a case study for this analysis. “The Family” has unique characteristics and presents with methodological opportunities regarding terrorist groups’ planning cycles. This analysis of the Family’s activities was extracted from a combination of several larger projects funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security. Funding was also provided in collecting additional data on international and environmental terrorists. A third project involved the collection of geospatial, temporal, demographic, and legal data regarding terrorism incidents. Figures and references

Date Published: August 1, 2009