Building Better Terrorists

In my last post, I began a discussion on creating a believable terrorist for your antagonist. Today I’ll continue the discussion, using information from Sean Mactire’s book Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think

Mactire says terrorism is “a highly premeditated act of intentional trauma” has three main categories:

1. Goals
The goal of a terrorist is always political. Keep that in mind when developing a bad guy for your novel. Terrorists see themselves as the means of righting some great social or economic wrongs, and they always blame the ruling authorities. They believe that only violence will right the great wrongs that are being done. Their goal is the moral imperative that justifies their means. On a side note, terrorists WILL act in direct violation of their religious beliefs to achieve their goals (commit murder/suicide).

2. Strategies/objectives
Their objective is to “terrorize the enemy government and intimidate the public.” They don’t intend to destroy the enemy, only to use fear as leverage to achieve their goals. Publicity is a huge part of the production, as it elevates public fear beyond what one or two acts of terrorism could locally generate. The terrorist’s best weapon is a reporter with a microphone and a camera, so keep that in mind as you plot your novel. 

3. Operations/organizations
“Terrorists always work in predatory groups,” Mactire says. Sometimes you’ll find an individual terrorist, but mostly you find groups. “Members derive self-esteem from the group and not from the cause. Thus, peer approval becomes the primary motivation for the individual to commit crimes, and the goals of the group take a back-seat… All terrorist groups need sponsors, hosts or a parental relationship with a country or a larger group in order to operate and survive,” but terrorists groups rarely have an allegiance to any one particular country. They’re usually small groups dedicated to whatever goal they’ve established.

In my next post, I’ll profile a typical terrorist (that seems wrong somehow…) so you can see what personality traits go into one.

-Sonja
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