Overview of the Controversy

Leaderless Counterterrorism Strategy Portal Page

The effectiveness of counterterrorism efforts by the Bush Administration is compromised by flawed analyses based on sloppy scholarship by two leading experts relied on by policymakers: Marc Sageman and Bruce Hoffman. In addition, Sageman's book Leaderless Jihad, lacks cites to previously published work, and in two cases involves plagiarism.

Given Hoffman’s harsh criticism of Sageman, one would hope that Hoffman’s own work would stand up to careful scrutiny. In most areas it does, but not in terms of Hoffman’s review of Leaderless Resistance, the history of right-wing violence in the United States, or Christian apocalyptic beliefs. It is this last area where Hoffman seems most confused.

Neither book has an accurate history or analysis of Leaderless Resistance.

Introduction to Leaderless Resistance.

Cell Structures: What is Leaderless Resistance & What is Not? {with slideshow}

The terms “Leaderless Resistance” or “Phantom Cells” generally refer to spontaneous, autonomous, unconnected cells seeking to carry out acts of violence, sabotage, or terrorism against a government or occupying military force.

The concept is often attributed to Louis Beam, but Beam himself credits the concept to Ulius “Pete” Louis Amoss, although Beam cites a 1962 version, when in fact, Amoss first wrote about Leaderless Resistance in 1953.


Programs of government surveillance and computerized data-collection based on the flawed analyses of Sageman and Hofman are unnecessarily undermining the civil liberties of millions of Muslims and Arabs living in this country…as well as the rights of all Americans.

This is because different investigative techniques with different levels of government intrusiveness are justified as appropriate depending on the specific social movement configurations of potential terrorists.

Government agencies are reportedly analyzing secret intelligence data scanning for networks, patterns of interaction, etc. in a search for different kinds of underground terrorist cells.

Tracking an actual "Leaderless Resistance" cell that is truly spontaneous, autonomous, and unconnected would require a much deeper level of intrusiveness and penetration of a larger community in which these cells achieve some level of anonymity. Everyone in the community would need to be suspected until their innocence had been proven.

But if in fact the "Leaderless Resistance" model is not how potential homegrown Muslim terrorist cells are actually organized, then different techniques would be needed to locate the would-be terrorists--techniques that are, ironically, much more similar to those advocated by Marc Sageman in his first book.

If our understanding of domestic terrorist tendencies is more properly modeled as an outside contagion, rather than as something spontaneously generated, then it would be more proper to monitor known terrorists, rather than conducting sweeps of all potential terrorists.

Other scholars and researchers, especially Jessica Stern, Mark Juergensmeyer, Fawaz A. Gerges, Gershom Gorenberg, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Jeffrey Kaplan, David Cook, Brenda Brasher, Simson Garfinkel, Bassam Tibi, and George Michael need to be brought into the public debate. (See the bibliography page)

Sageman and Hoffman are currently embroiled in a well publicized dispute over whether future acts of domestic terrorism by Islamic militants, such as those carried out on September 11th, will be generated by the international Qaeda net­work (Hoffman) or homegrown terrorism planned by Muslims living in the United States (Sageman).

The dispute gained public attention when Hoffman negatively reviewed Sageman’s recent book, Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty First Century, in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs. Hoffman’s book Inside Terrorism was published in 1998 and revised and expanded in 2006. Hoffman complained that Sageman’s bookwas a “brusque dismissal of much of the existing academic literature on terrorism in general and terrorist net­works in particular,” and “employs historically groundless parallels.” Sageman responded in a following issue. The debate then was covered in the New York Times and other publications.

Both Sageman’s and Hoffman’s books examine how social movements are built, how terrorism is justified within small groups, and how people in activist underground cells can reinforce a decision that vio­lence or terrorism is justified and necessary.

Critique of Current Analysis & Policy Debate



Expanding the Analysis

Conservative Terrorism Analyses

Four high profile men dominate public discussion of anti-terrorism efforts: Sageman, Hoffman, Pipes and Emerson. They each stake out a conservative analytical viewpoint, while drowning out the views of other scholars and researchers.

Leaderless Resistance - What is it?

Archival documents on Leaderless Resistance obtained through the Wisconsin Historical Society priodical archive, Burlington (MA) Public Library, interlibrary loan, Michael Paulding, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Background Bibliographies & Research

Remedial Bibliography, Definitions, and Article Links:

Leaderless Counterterrorism Strategy:
The “War on Terror,” Civil Liberties, and Flawed Scholarship

The Public Eye Magazine.Read it Here!


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