The Mindsets of High-Technology Terrorists

Future Implications from a Historical Analog

by David Ronfeldt, William F. Sater


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An examination of the thoughts and actions of nineteenth century dynamite terrorists, as an historical analog that may provide insights into the psychological and political attributes of possible future nuclear terrorists. Some central themes of the dynamite terrorists are identified, including the philosophical nature of the powers they attributed to dynamite and the uses to which they felt such powers should be put. Then, as now, the use of high-technology super-explosives appeared to be particularly appealing to terrorists interested in wielding "scientific power," rather than in providing "power to the people." Historical analogy suggests that similar patterns will exist among possible future terrorists, especially if they are able to make or acquire improvised nuclear devices. In that event, the most dangerous type of terrorist will probably be one whose objectives combine vengeful punishment with millennial destruction.

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