Finishing off the Terrorists

In my last two posts, I discussed creating a believable terrorist for your novel. Today I’ll finish the discussion, using information from Sean Mactire’s book Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think

Terrorists are not insane or morally depraved, according to Mactire, but are highly intelligent and are usually male. (There are some women terrorists, and Mactire says they are more cunning and deadly than the males, but that’s a discussion for another time.) Terrorists usually begin terrorizing around age 20 – 25, are generally single, and come from middle- to upper-class families. The average terrorist has a college education and a history of being a campus radical or involved in protest movements. Here are some other traits common to terrorists (copied right out the book):

1. Low self-esteem among follower types, but not among the leaders
2. A desire to take high risks
3. Feelings of not being able to control one’s life
4. Places unrealistic demands upon self
5. Tends to raise expectations, rather than lower them when confronted with failure
6. Unable to cope with rejection or failure
7. Feels life is controlled by external forces
8. Externalizes bitterness over failure and desires to take wrath out on “the enemy” that is allegedly responsible for the problems in the terrorist’s life
9. Deep feelings of weakness, self-denigration and self-hatred, which they project onto the society being attacked
10. Single minded; has same organized hunter/killer traits as most serial killers, especially mission-oriented killers
11. Sees society as the “bad enemy” that must be punished–especially common among terrorists leaders
12. Idealizes self; sees self as “good person” who has been victimized–especially common among terrorist leaders, who exhibit a grandiose self-image that projects confidence and purpose and attracts followers.
13. Extroverted, narcissistic and aggressive behavior, more prevalent in leaders than followers, with a further disposition toward sadistic “appreciation of ‘work'”
14. Followers usually drawn by leader’s charisma, not the cause; tendency among followers to use group to compensate for feelings of inadequacy
15. Ability to control impulsivity and apply reflective thought to actions–a sign of mental stability
16. Restrained, able to suppress need for gratification until goals are obtained
17. Inconsiderate, self-centered and emotionally cold
18. Sometimes displays sociopathic traits, e.g., lacks remorse or is easily provoked to violence, but most often displays either ambivalence or abhorrence toward harming people, sometimes even going to great lengths to avoid killing people.

Using these traits, you should be able to come up with a well-rounded, believable terrorist/antagonist for your novel. Keep in mind number 14: if the leader of the group dies, most likely the followers will scatter. Use this to complicate (or simplify) your plot if you need a shake-up.

Mactire has quite a bit more to say about terrorists (the group mentality, strategy, tactics, and victims), but I’m not going to cover any of that. Find his book if you’re interested in the rest. What I’ve pulled from this chapter should be sufficient for you to get a head start on building your bad guy. 

The next couple of posts will cover women who kill. Stay tuned, you don’t want to miss them.

-Sonja
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