- - Monday, October 28, 2019

Some academic writers view terrorists as psychologically normal and just like everyone else in society. They even argue that such terrorists are so altruistic that they are willing to give up their lives for their groups’ cause in order to redress injustice in their societies — with violence against adversaries being the only way to publicize the legitimacy of their cause.

The reality, however, is the complete opposite. As Joan Smith explains in this important and original account, many individuals who become perpetrators of terrorist violence — whether Islamist or white supremacist or psychologically disorder-driven mass shooters — start with domestic violence, particularly against women. Many of them concurrently engage in other criminal activities. But, the author explains, in the case of terrorists, they are attracted to such groups because they provide them an avenue to validate their worst women-hating instincts.

In cases of groups such as ISIS, sanctioning such violence-driven misogynists, provides the perpetrators the opportunity to further abuse women, to the point of forcibly marrying, enslaving and raping their female victims in conflict zones such as Syria. This was part of ISIS’s modus operandi, the author explains, as its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (who was killed by U.S. Special Forces last Saturday in Syria), was a “serial rapist” throughout his life. His rape and murder of U.S. aid worker Kayla Mueller is a searing manifestation of this brutal pattern.

Joan Smith’s experience as a journalist and campaigner for human rights in Britain, including serving as co-chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board, aids the author in forging an authentic, “on the ground” account of how the brutal world of domestic violence against women can evolve into something with more targets and across a broader sphere.

Much of “Home Grown” focuses on domestic abusers who become terrorists in Britain, who are primarily Islamist, with some becoming white supremacists. Other chapters discuss domestic abusers who become terrorists and active shooters in the United States.

What is so important about this account is that with everyone trying to figure out what drives susceptible individuals to embark on mass violence, this is the first one to connect the dots by highlighting the “close link between private and public violence” by providing a definitive list of terrorists and active shooters who had a previous personal history of engaging in domestic violence, as well as in some cases being subjected to traumatizing domestic violence by their fathers that drove them to adopt violent behavior — and misogyny — in their own lives.

With men being the overwhelming majority of attackers, the author shows how they share a sense of perverse entitlement that causes them to “seek to control every aspect of the lives of their wives and children” without any interest in “considering their long-term welfare” or “protecting them from the consequences of [their] horrific public acts of violence. It is a chilling view of family relationships in which becoming a husband and father appears to have more to do with confirming a man’s status … than forming close attachments.”

How do such violent domestic abusers turn to terrorism and active shooter violence? The author writes, “men who are used to beating, kicking, choking and stabbing women at home are considerably along the road towards committing public acts of violence.” This is because as men who engage in domestic violence “behind closed doors,” they relish “the sensation of holding the power of life or death over family members.” This desensitizes them to the “horrible [public] effects” of their acts of violence, which is a “necessary first step towards becoming a terrorist” or an active shooter.

Examples of such violent domestic abusers who become terrorists or active shooters are numerous. In the United States, these include the author’s accounts of Omar Mateen, the mass shooter at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida (June 2016), who had violently abused his first and second wives; Nikolas Cruz, the mass shooter at the Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida (February 2018), who had violently abused his mother and had stalked female students at his high school; and Stephen Paddock, the mass shooter in Las Vegas, Nevada (Oct 2017), who had a history of abusing his two ex-wives and Philippine girlfriend.

The author concludes that although not every terrorist and active shooter is a misogynistic domestic abuser, a sufficiently large number exhibit such psychological disorders to warrant placing this as a high risk for concern by social service and law enforcement agencies for pre-emptive prevention. By correlating the characteristics of domestic abusers who also show signs of being radicalized into violent extremism or, as active shooters, contemplating violent retaliation against their alleged adversaries, these heightened risks for violence can be identified. Families, friends and others associated with them are at the front lines and must report such suspicions to appropriate authorities in order to prevent them from joining terrorist groups or, as lone actors, acquiring weapons to carry out their violent rampages.

• Joshua Sinai is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant on counterterrorism issues.

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By Joan Smith

Riverrun, $22.75, 320 pages

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