Analysis & Opinions - The Atlantic

A 'Lone-Wolf' Shooter Has an Online Pack

| May 15, 2022

Even when a shooter acts alone, their ideology is often shared.

Wolves are not a particularly special species. They are not as menacing nor as powerful as mountain lions. They are not as big as many other predators, nor as strong, nor terribly wise, nor do they have sophisticated tools or genetic dispositions that make them individually dangerous in the animal kingdom. Their ability to capture prey worthier than themselves results from collaboration—from the pack.

Once prey is targeted, the pack first disperses, then surrounds the victim—some wolves from the front, others from the back. The wolf pack's defining feared feature is that it does not work alone. The lone wolf, in the animal kingdom, is not powerful; it is weak. The wolf, acting alone, is not something to fear. Lone wolves do not massacre, because they can't.

Eighteen-year-old Payton S. Gendron allegedly went hunting yesterday at a supermarket after traveling more than 200 miles from his home. Police say he was heavily armed, wearing protective military-style gear, and proceeded to shoot and kill at least 10 people, injuring three more. Almost all of the victims were Black; the supermarket is in a predominantly Black area of Buffalo, New York. The event was, according to a manifesto apparently written by Gendron himself, a racist massacre. Almost immediately, it was described as a "straight-up racially motivated hate crime" by New York officials.

When we write about, think about, and prosecute such hate crimes in this nation, we tend to focus on whether the assailant acted alone. In this case, Gendron appears to have had no accomplices. He is an alleged solo shooter, or, in the parlance of our time, a lone wolf—a term used to differentiate the slaughter from more sophisticated acts of terrorism staged by groups like ISIS that typically involve multiple people and nuanced planning.

But that lone wolf language fails us in an era when hate and radicalization now serve as a proxy for the collaborative herd, for the co-conspirators and colluders....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kayyem, Juliette.“A 'Lone-Wolf' Shooter Has an Online Pack.” The Atlantic, May 15, 2022.

The Author

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