Double trouble: the terrorists’ alter ego

Monday, 16 January 2017

Alter ego terrorist research

Last year the world saw a number of terrorist attacks, including the bombings at Brussels airport, the lorry attack in Nice on Bastille Day, the mass shooting at the Orlando nightclub in the US, the attack on the Christmas market in Berlin and the recent Istanbul nightclub shootings as people celebrated the New Year.

Professor Roger Griffin, increasingly recognised internationally as an authority on terrorism, discusses his research into understanding the mindset of a terrorist and approach to spotting the early signs of radicalisation.

The new book that I am currently working towards will be entitled Double Trouble: The Destructive Role of the Alter Ego in Totalitarianism and Terrorism.

For this I will be going into considerable depth about a significant theme I first became aware of while writing a previous book, Terrorist’s Creed (Palgrave, 2007). I found that time after time those who had committed acts of fanatical violence had undergone a process which I termed ‘heroic doubling’.

In so many cases of terrorism I examined, someone who had previously led a broadly ‘normal’ existence, (from a family background, whether middle class or underprivileged, not significantly dysfunctional or violent than millions of others and certainly in no way outwardly fanatical about an ideology or religion), had produced either under considerable propagandistic pressures or apparently spontaneously from within, a secondary personality.

I intend this analysis of the terrorist double to make a direct contribution not just to understanding radicalisation, but also to devising strategies to enable family and friends to see the early signs of it taking place, for they, not the police, politicians or even teachers, are on the front line.

Professor Roger Griffin, Oxford Brookes University

This ‘second self’ or alter ego, comparable to a videogame avatar, was prepared to kill and die, or certainly abandon any prospect of a long, fulfilling existence within society, and do so with no compunction or fear, in the name of what had gradually or suddenly become a ‘higher cause’, and thus created a ‘heroic double’ with a transcendental mission.

The book will also be addressing the state manufacture of heroic doubles by totalitarian states, or ‘gardening states’, which attempt to exploit the malleability of human nature and potential to mass produce the heroes necessary for an anthropological revolution to be carried out as the basis of the new society.

The results of this research into the tendency for human beings to create imaginary, virtual or real doubles and for totalitarian movements to mass produce them, will feed directly into my current project to collaborate with a cybersecurity IT expert to create a prognostic database to aid with the identification of individuals undergoing radicalisation.

I intend this analysis of the terrorist double to make a direct contribution not just to understanding radicalisation, but also to devising strategies to enable family and friends to see the early signs of it taking place, for they, not the police, politicians or even teachers, are on the front line. With enough help, radicalising individuals may even be able to create a benign heroic double, re-radicalised towards devoting his or her life to making the world a better, more harmonious, more human place.

You can read more detail about this research project in the Autumn 2016 edition of Research Forum magazine.

REA logo 2016

Professor Roger Griffin is a recipient of the University’s inaugural Research Excellence Awards and the funding is enabling him to undertake this project and write this new book. The Awards were launched earlier this year as part of Oxford Brookes’ commitment to supporting research-active academics and in supporting the aims of the Research and Knowledge Exchange Strategy 2016-2020.

Keep reading the University’s  news pages for further information on the winners of the Research Excellence Awards.