I’m very proud to be included in this series of papers on ISIS media, organized by the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication (CARGC) at the Annenberg School, University of Pennsylvania, and published by Global-e at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
A Lone Wolf in the Hypertext: Radicalization Online addresses the myths and misperceptions that tie self-radicalized lone wolf terrorists to Islam. Citing the case of Omar Mateen, and psychological profiles of spree and serial killers, it argues that men such as Mateen are not devoted religious traditionalists, but mere criminal narcissists. Their connections to Islam are tenuous at best, and reflect the illogical, even contradictory, biases of hypertextual media.
Case studies of lone wolf terrorists—particularly those who follow a pattern of self-radicalization—reveal that violent extremism grows not from the specific cultural or historical practices of Islam, but from a general affect of sadism, thrill-seeking, and personality disorder. The lone wolf’s pathologies are only Islamically-inflected, often through an accretion of mediated encounters linking representations of violence, Islam, and the lone wolf himself. This points us to the conclusion that in the case of these violent extremists, pathology usually—perhaps always—precedes theology/ideology.
In a network of meaning wherein any data point is potentially juxtaposed to any other, all equivalence becomes false. We may reasonably speculate that the hypertextual path of radicalization is often experienced as a straying, arbitrary zigzag, where the rules of linear thought and logical conclusion are suspended, taking the lone wolf through illogical and even contradictory ideological watersheds. A capricious, dis-integrated multiplicity of personae emerge, figureheads fronting impossible chains of identity and belief whose links and pieces will never fit together.