Profiles of Violent Radicalization: Challenging Key Premises on Root Causes Leading to Terrorism

28 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2021

See all articles by Timothy Clancy

Timothy Clancy

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)

Date Written: November 6, 2021


This study challenges the key premises of the current debate on radicalization's root causes, leading to predatory mass-violence. The current debate's three key premises are that there are only two radicalization templates: top-down (fishermen) or bottom-up (swarm). Additionally, these templates of radicalization are more useful to understand terrorism than regional or violent ideology. Finally, there is only one primary dynamic, a trade-off of prevalence, between the two templates. These premises arose from case analysis of a sample set of terrorist incidents. We used the University of Maryland START Global Terrorism Database (GTD) to create a total population sample of 4,646 terrorist incidents in Western Europe (WEUR) and the United States (US) from 1995-2018. We classified them into seven different violent ideologies: Anti-Government, Crime & Hate Crimes, Left-Wing, Right-Wing, Separatism, Takfiri, and Unknown and then categorized them for indications of swarm or fishermen suspected radicalization. From this data, we assembled a catalog of profiles, which we then subjected to statistical testing using a total population sample rather. We found that regional and violent ideologies had significant differences. Even though radicalization templates in aggregate had some differences when tested to control for the region and violent ideology, those statistical differences disappeared—suggesting that region and violent ideology, as system-level contingencies, have more influence than the radicalization template. We also found evidence suggesting a third kind of radicalization template, that of copycats or wannabe. Furthermore, we found evidence that the interaction between the three templates varied from the presumption of a trade-off of prevalence. We suggest that radicalization templates are manifestations of contingencies within a general system of radicalization. The system structure and contingencies are the root causes of radicalization, not the manifestations that emerge from it. This evidence establishes a starting point for a new path of systems sciences research to bear on the important questions of predatory mass-violence and radicalization, which leads to it.

Suggested Citation

Clancy, Timothy, Profiles of Violent Radicalization: Challenging Key Premises on Root Causes Leading to Terrorism (November 6, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Timothy Clancy (Contact Author)

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) ( email )

100 Institute Road
Worcester, MA 01609
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics