CAN WE STOP CALLING THEM LONE WOLVES?
If you enter the phrase “lone wolf attack” in your Internet browser you will find page after page of links to articles about terrorists who act alone but are inspired by foreign terrorist organizations. The headlines for the top three in my browser state “Orlando Shooting: Lone-Wolf Attack Illustrates Islamic State’s Far Reach,” “Hillary Clinton Declares Stopping ‘Lone Wolf’ Attackers is National Priority,” and “Orlando Attack: ‘I am the lone wolf that terrorizes the infidels.”
Wikipedia even has a definition. A lone wolf is “is someone who commits violent acts in support of some group, movement, or ideology, but who does so alone, outside of any command structure and without material assistance from any group.” It goes on to say that “the lone wolf prepares and acts alone. . . [and] may be influenced or motivated by the ideology and beliefs of an external group.”
The phrase has become ingrained into our lexicon. It is used by law enforcement when they name groups to track and target these solo slaughterers. It is used by media and political candidates.
You may think it’s no big deal. It’s only a phrase after all. But language matters. Language is what people use to communicate. It’s what authors toil over to reach just the right phrase to convey meaning and emotion. And we all know from experience that the right phrase can provoke action or defuse a situation.
And, phrases like 'lone wolf' are what terror groups use to recruit and what their recruits use to justify their deadly attacks on innocent people. According to the Christian Science Monitor (the last article identified above) “IS supporters were quick to promote the Orlando attack on social media, posting a flurry of images of wolves with the hashtag #OrlandoExplosion in Arabic, promising further IS-inspired terror.”
A wolf is certainly a predator. But the similarity to people who kill and justify their unjustifiable behavior with religion ends there. A wolf is a beautiful wild animal, created by God or genetics or both depending on your world view, that kills only to feed itself and its group. Wolves don’t slaughter just to slaughter. And, of course, they don’t use bombs or machine guns to accomplish their ends.
You might be interested to know where the phrase comes from. I was surprised to learn that the phrase is attributed to white supremacists from the 1990s. Leaders of the White Aryan Resistance, which the Southern Poverty Law Center designated as a hate group, advocated underground activity with individuals they called “lone wolves” who were charged with attacking government and other targets in anonymous acts. The term was picked up by the media and law enforcement and spread through our language.
So what we have done as a society is let the agents of terror define our terminology. And, not surprisingly, they are using it to their advantage. Using the romantic image of the majestic wolf, ISIS and other terror organizations are posting pictures of wolves on the Internet to recruit cold blooded killers.
Which begs the question: Why can’t we use a different and more descriptive phrase to describe these anti-social killers? When extremists started strapping bombs to recruits we called them suicide bombers. The expression is simple and accurate. And it doesn’t paint a romantic image of the perpetrator or his associates.
Why can’t we stop using the phrase ‘lone wolves’ and call these killers what they really are? We may not be able to stop terrorists from using the phrase but do we have to use it ourselves?
Public domain image of a stone age cave painting of a wolf from Font-de-Gaume, France. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
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Clinton Richardson, has been writing and photographing for decades. His acclaimed venture strategy series is now in its 5th edition. His Ancient Selfies is an International Book Awards Finalist and an eLit Award Gold Medal Winner. Many of his images can be seen online at TrekPic.com.