Centralized Leadership: How to Counter Extremist Groups

There have been ongoing terrorism activities in the world and terror groups, such as ISIS, have been seen to issue detailed reports concerning their extremist operations since the year 2012. Such reports contain information on geographical and numerical data about the number of assassinations, bombings, suicide missions, checkpoints, ISIS new converts, and cities besieged. Two years ago, ISIS issued a report that claimed over 1,000 assassinations, over 10,000 Iraqi operations, freeing of radical prisoners, and planting of over four thousand improvised explosive devices (IED). There are terror groups such as al-Qaeda with an emergent and informal leader who ensures that the group has good operational network flexibility. Such groups with centralized leadership have a bottom-up approach of individuals’ coordination and provide the vision and mission of the group after voluntary membership. 

In the 21st century, the most commonly used extremism is leaderless resistance in which individuals and cells fight against well-established powers by advancing independent activities of violence. Such groups do not have a centralized coordination and explicit communication, which makes them resistant to traitors and informers. According to Garfinkel, such technique of advancing the course of extremists was popularized by Louis Beam, an anti-government activist. Consequently, terrorism has taken a new dimension and the United States has been battling with the constantly changing facets of terrorism. When one group is terminated, another one appears with versatile change of tactics. One of the recent forms of terrorism is environmental extremism that identifies environmental features or natural resources as the main target.  This form of terrorism comes amidst a constantly increasing population globally that rely on such resources. Such move by environmental terror groups is consistent with both the increasing environmental public awareness and the rise in terrorism lethality in the last period.


The current paper provides information to compare, contrast and evaluate the past and present United States attempts to counter the extremism practiced by two different extremist groups, namely: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF). The aim of the research is to examine the effect of centralized leadership on the spring back effect of the extremist movements in counterterrorism attempts. The paper also addresses the changes that can be adopted in the fight against proliferation of extremism. In order to do that, different types of literature materials are reviewed in depth.

Research Study Questions

The current research paper examines two critical questions in regard to countering the terrorism proliferated by the extremist groups with and without a centralized leadership. The questions are:

  1. What is the impact of a centralized leadership on the resiliency of extremist groups to counterterrorism efforts?
  2. What changes need to be implemented to counter the proliferation of each group type?

Purpose Statement

The purpose of the integrated methods is to render evidence to the efficacy of counterterrorism towards groups with and without a centralized leadership. The current study will examine two groups, namely: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) that operate with and without a centralized leadership respectively. Despite the use of, and lack of leadership, both groups have been effective in the proliferation of their agenda, without being reduced by the countering efforts of the varied governments involved.  The aim of the study is to provide a basis for each group style, give information on how they function, recruit, and conduct operations. The study also undertakes to postulate materials regarding the approaches in which counterterrorism operations could be more effective in the nonproliferation of the particular groups, and others comparable to them.

Review of the Literature

Ackerman examines the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and reports that it is an environmentalist extremist group that is radicalized and has been engaged in profile works of arson in the past without consequential effect of casualties. He further, corroborates that there is an average to high possibility of their activities escalation to global scale targeting people around the world. There is also temperate probability that the members of the group may cause mass casualties by the use of unconventional weapons. In addition, the given group was at its peak of proliferation by the end of 1990s and at the beginning of 2000s. During this period, the United States FBI head, Jarboe, connected the given extremist group to the six hundred criminal activities that were registered. Hitherto, many United States locations have experienced attacks and as it was witnessed in the year 2003, San Diego’s 206-unit building complex came under terror attack. Consequently, over 100 million US dollars have been spent as a result of the impact caused by the group’s attacks.

In his study to investigate the effect of legal sanctions (legislation) on the radical eco-groups such as ISIS, Carson found out that the group members evaluate the benefits and costs. While undertaking his study, Carson employed hazard modeling technique. He investigated the time lapse between events, specific occurrences and serious occurrences in finding out the results of the legislation. He established that the Anti-Drug Abuse Act (ADA) increases the chances of a terrorist, animal-related and damage attacks while at the same time decreases the chances of environmental attack. A similar trend is observed when dealing with the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (AEPA). However, the author also observes that the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) do not give any significant results in regard to attack hazards.

According to Dishman, terror extremist groups employ many ways in funding their terror operations, executing ideologically motivated goals and profit realization. Terror groups have been over the years connected to product counterfeiting criminal activities. Unfortunately, the evidence of such activities is speculative, which means that it lacks empirical support. Dishman unearths the schemes employed by the terror groups in product counterfeiting criminal activities in America since the year 1990. He uses the extremist financial crime database among others in order to find out the identity of the individual suspects and the schemes of counterfeiting products. Further, he corroborates that there is an urgent need to employ policies that can broadly focus on the terror networks without limitations.  

While investigating leaderless strategies, Joosse found out that it an oppositional strategy that creates possibilities for both groups and individuals to indulge in political violence activities independent of any support network or leadership hierarchy. The author investigated how radical environmentalist such as ELF and radical right groups, resist leadership with the view of avoiding infiltration, detection, and state prosecution. They perform it in order to avert ideological cleavages and mobilize adherents with versatile ideological orientations to give them unanimity of purpose that they have never had before owing to hierarchical and authoritarian structure. It creates possibility for the adherents to stick to their beliefs, while being used to execute direct terrorist actions. Joosse, therefore, argues that leaderless resistance concept is an essential deviation from the organization theories. The ELF extremist group launched its activities in 1992 in the United Kingdom as an earth first group. They were led by the desire of their organization to avoid legal tactics.

Joosse further states that for approximately one and a half decades: there have been environmentally prompted arsons in North America, done especially by ELF group. He says the current clandestine group has laid its focus on research facilities, ski resorts, and forestry buildings among others. Owing to that, Jarboe, the head of American FBI, confessed that ELF is the most ranked terrorist group in threatening the United States with terror activities. Media coverage of the activities of the extremist group has been an issue for different stakeholders such as moderate environmentalists, ELF spokesman and state agencies, who have sought to influence it. The main tactic that has been used by ELF radical group is sabotaging civil disobedience with the aim of stopping the natural environmental degradation. In the recent past, they have caused numerous arsons, especially in North America.

Similar thoughts about ELF are reflected by Loadenthal who underpins that economic sabotage and political violence have been propagated by the terror group. It is seen in the manner in which they target selections and reflect executioners’ tactics in their geographical location and communication strategies. He further, adds that their activities are focused on the property destruction, especially the ones situated in soft target areas, such as residential and commercial ones. The most commonly employed ways of targeting such areas are sabotage, graffiti, and arsons. The organization geographically concentrates its attacks in Mexico and the United States. Sometimes they overlap to regions, such as Australia, Europe, and even South America. The movement employs underground, self-contained, and decentralized activists to execute their attacks aimed at property destruction and this makes the terrorists immune to arrest.

Pickering recalls that the United States forest service, the BATF and the FBI examined former ELF spokesman’s (Rosebraugh) office, vehicle, and home in 2000. They recovered and seized much property for the purposes of investigation into matters related to economic sabotage on people who benefit from life exploitation and earth destruction. He remarks that the group is split into cells and each cell contains a small number people with the ability to cause much economic harm with just one activity. One needs no training to become involved but needs to demonstrate concern for the life on the planet. According to them, environmental protection is a way of self defense and it makes the activities of the group a natural response due to the earth’s threatened life.

On the other hand, according to Weinberg, the Americans’ direct military participation in the poly-sided armed war in Syria and Iraq is a result of the Islamic republic militants’ beheading the war hostages. The Americans do not need to employ such conventional mechanisms as has been witnessed during the Middle East conflicts. He argues that the idealistic aim of promoting democracy that recurs in American foreign policy cannot be realized in the future.

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Centralized Leadership: How to Counter Extremist Groups

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