Athena Institute


The Lone Wolf

A lone wolf has no co-conspirators, thus leaves a smaller trail. It brings to mind images of an unknown, malicious plotter working alone and silently to perpetrate an unpredictable, undetectable and unstoppable attack. As economic hardships continue to take their toll and subsequent social tensions arise, there is a growing risk of further radicalization - especially of individuals who just cannot be controlled. Early Warning Dispatch #5

We are yet to know all details, but it is confirmed that National Bureau of Investigation - involving tactical units of the Anti-Terrorism Center - arrested a man in Miskolc who had an improvised explosive device, tattoos on his body “possibly related to extremist organizations” and mental disorders. While searching the house, law-enforcement officers also found articles describing the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Jitzhak Rabin.

While the device itself was not meant to cause mass causalities - it was designed to be a car bomb -, but according to the National Police it was fully operational. The other thing we know is that National Bureau of Investigations is carrying out an operation that seems to be a nationwide, systemic effort aiming to collect illegal weapons cashes and arrest illicit weapons holders. This law enforcement project is active at least for a year.

Timothy McVeigh

Since its establishment, Athena Institute representatives often used the example of Timothy McVeigh to highlight the potential threat posed by lone wolf perpetrators who might be both motivated and able to carry out significant attacks motivated by extremist ideologies.

The Oklahoma City bombing, carried out by McVeigh, was a terrorist bomb attack in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. It was the most destructive act of terrorism on American soil until the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Oklahoma blast claimed 168 lives, including 19 children under the age of 6 and injured more than 680 people. The blast destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a sixteen-block radius and was estimated to have caused at least $652 million worth of damage. McVeigh, an American militia movement sympathizer was motivated by his hatred of the federal government and angered by what he perceived as its mishandling of the Waco Siege (1993) and the Ruby Ridge incident (1992), McVeigh timed his attack to coincide with the second anniversary of the deadly fire that ended the siege at Waco.

In the past, Athena Institute representatives were often criticized because they mentioned this example. Critics regularly claimed that Europe or Hungary has nothing to do with far flung cases that took place more than 15 years ago in the United States.


This criticism was clearly mistaken as evidenced by the Oslo twin terror attacks carried out also by a single individual.

As it is now widely known, the Oslo twin terror attacks were two sequential terrorist attacks against the government, the civilian population and a summer camp in Norway on 22 July 2011. The first was a car bomb explosion in Oslo within Regjeringskvartalet, the executive government quarter of Norway. The car bomb was placed outside the office of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and killed eight people and wounded several others, with more than 10 people critically injured. The second attack occurred less than two hours later at a summer camp on the island of Utøya killing 69 attendees. The Norwegian Police Service arrested Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian right-wing extremist and subsequently charged him with both attacks. Breivik held anti-Muslim views and a hatred of Islam, and considered himself as a knight dedicated to stemming “the tide of Muslim immigration” into Europe.

The Threat

As economic hardships continue to take their toll and subsequent social tensions arise, there is a growing risk of further radicalization - especially of individuals who just cannot be controlled.

Just as in several other countries in Europe, Hungary has seen a resurgence of organized extremist groups in the past few years. The Athena Institute has identified and monitors 16 such organizations. Although these groups pose a serious challenge, but they can also be controlled. These groups have memberships, most of them maintain a public presence, organize events, etc. This also means that they can be identified and monitored by law enforcement. Domestic extremist groups will still regularly violate human rights, degrade the quality of democracy and almost for sure enter into a cat-and-mouse game with law enforcement (and mainstream politics) - but law-enforcement agencies are also going to have the option to intervene to prevent physical attacks.

Thus, active domestic extremist groups are posing a threat not necessarily by themselves, but by the environment they create.

Zsolt Tyirityan, leader of the Outlaw’s Army proclaimed in August, 2011 that „we must reach a point when if one sees another skin color, he is able to pull the trigger of an automatic weapon” and „are we going to be firm enough to shoot down a rotten, crappy Jew?” That time, a nation-wide outcry followed condemning his ‘comments’. Three month later, the extremist leader repeated the same in an event commemorating the ’56 revolution - and no reaction followed. While we could cite many similar speeches that the Athena Institute registered, the point is that in extremist circles, these previous exceptions become the norm: that it is legitimate to speak about killing Jews, Roma or Muslim immigrants.

Besides, many extremist groups monitored by the Athena Institute regularly organize small rallies, ‘lectures’ and hundreds of other small events. For those involved or closely following these events, it thus may seem that domestic extremist groups have crowds of supporters (which they don’t: estimated membership numbers, also shown on the Hate Groups Map indicate that membership numbers range from a few dozen to a few hundred).

Perpetrators who committed the first racially motivated serial killings in Hungary in 2008 and 2009 murdered six people, fired 78 shots in total, threw 11 Molotov cocktails and put 55 people in clear physical danger. During their course of radicalization - detailed by the Athena Institute in another article -, the serial killers attended a rally organized by the Hungarian Guard - and they decided that the Guard was “not tough enough”. As they later told prosecutors, they committed the attacks hoping to trigger a civil war between Hungarian Roma and non-Roma - thus they also thought that there is widespread support for their agenda. It took Hungarian law-enforcement a 14-moths effort involving hundreds of officers to identify and arrest the group. During the investigation, senior law-enforcement officials repeatedly stated that it is the hardest to break such closed groups.

A lone wolf has no co-conspirators, thus leaves a smaller trail. It brings to mind images of an unknown, malicious plotter working alone and silently to perpetrate an unpredictable, undetectable and unstoppable attack. It is also true however that individuals who possesses the requisite combination of will, discipline, adaptability, resourcefulness and technical skill to carry out an attack are rare: for every Timothy McVeigh and Anders Breivik there are scores of half-baked lone-wolf wannabes who either botch their operations or are uncovered before they can launch an attack.


The solution to prevent serious attacks carried out by a lone wolf - or for that matter, an organized group - while also maintaining high standards of civil rights and personal freedoms has been crystalized in the past ten years by Western countries, mostly as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In short, the transition made by Western law-enforcement agencies focused on changing their operational models from one focusing on investigating and prosecuting crimes after they happened to one that aims to prevent major new attacks. To achieve this with quite limited resources as well as to balance security and civil liberties, law-enforcement agencies developed the concept of ‘grassroots defenders’ aiming to bring on board not just counter-terrorism officers, but police personnel and citizens - as neighbors, store clerks, landlords and motel managers are much more likely to observe suspicious activities. In recent years, we have seen examples of such efforts, like the National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative or the ‘If you see something, say something’ program launched by the U.S. Government.

Best practices are thus available. It is now up to us to choose whether we are to wait until the risk materialize or we launch serious efforts to isolate domestic extremist groups and invest in programs to tackle the threat posed by their by-products: the lone wolves.