Although not all apocalypticism is violent, in its extreme forms radical apocalypticism gives rise to terrorists as varied as members of Al Qaeda, Anders Behring Breivik, or Timothy McVeigh. In its secular variations, it also motivates ideological terrorists, such as the eco-terrorists Earth Liberation Front or The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. This book provides an original paradigm for distinguishing between peaceful and violent or radical forms of apocalypticism and analyses the history, major transformations, and characteristics of the apocalyptic thought system. Using an inter-disciplinary and cross-cultural approach, this book discusses the mechanisms of radicalization and dynamics of perceived oppression and violence to clarify anew the self-identities, motivations, and goals of a broad swath of terrorists. As conventional counter-terrorism approaches have so far failed to stem the cycle of terrorism, this approach suggests a comprehensive "cultural" method to combating terrorism that addresses the appeal of radical apocalyptic terrorist ideology itself.
1. What first attracted you to this topic as an area of study?
I am a religion scholar with a research specialty in apocalypticism, specifically, the origins of apocalyptic thought in ancient Persia and its subsequent transformations in early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I wanted to understand as much about the phenomenon throughout history as I could and I approached apocalypticism from a wide variety of angles. To my surprise, this took me straight into the study of religious terrorism, a long jump from antiquity to the present day. This shift happened about two years before 9/11, and after that terrible event my desire to understand the relationship of apocalypticism to terrorism only deepened. I threw myself into intelligence analysis methodologies and terrorism studies, but I never found any full exposition of the apocalyptic nature that characterizes so much terrorism today. Eventually, I began to interface more directly with the intelligence community, advising them about the radical apocalyptic worldview. When I found that this was indeed a genuine gap in their knowledge base, I decided to write this book.
2. Do you have a favourite example in the book?
I find the personal story of Kerry Noble not only to be interesting, but also to be deeply inspiring. Noble was one of the top leaders of a radical apocalyptic Christian Identity militia called the Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord (CSA). CSA was an anti-federalist sect preparing to instigate the war of Armageddon in America. However, through a personal transformation that occurred simply by meeting gay people whom the CSA had demonized, Noble began to change his outlook. What I found surprising was that his transformation unfolded during an attempted terrorist act, since Noble’s encounter occurred as he was attempting to bomb a gay church. This gives me some hope, as does the power of a single person to change a situation: Noble’s deradicalization changed the dynamics of the CSA’s later standoff with the federal government, which ended peacefully, against all odds.
3. What findings in writing/researching the book surprised you?
I wrote this book after researching the material for around fifteen years, so by then not much could surprise me with respect to the outlook, motivations, and long-term goals of radical apocalyptic terrorists. However, I can say that I was surprised to discover the vulnerabilities of our nuclear facilities and materials, which I had assumed would be a top security priority.
4. What makes your book so unique to others in the field?
Although a few excellent books on violent extremism have been written by scholars of religion, (far too few, in my opinion), I don’t know of any studies written by biblical scholars who specialize in apocalypticism. I believe that my depth of mastery in understanding the apocalyptic phenomena, gleaned from hundreds to thousands of examples of apocalyptic groups from antiquity to the present day, allows me a fairly rare perspective in grasping the worldview that motivates so many terrorists. Only by fully understanding this worldview can we understand the root causes that fuel the cycle of violent extremism.
5. Who do you think would be interested in reading your book?
I am happy to say that I have received feedback not only from scholars and intelligence practitioners, but also from many undergraduates and members of the public. My hope is that the general public will read this book and initiate a new conversation about terrorism.
6. Do you have plans for future books? What’s next in the pipeline for you?
With Rodney Werline, I am currently co-editing a book for T&T Clark/Bloomsbury Press entitled The Bible and Political Debate: Does the Bible Really Say That? It is due out in the summer of 2016. After that, I would welcome working with Routledge again, as it has been an excellent experience!
Frances L. Flannery is Professor of Religion and Director of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Terrorism and Peace (CISTP), James Madison University, USA, and author of Dreamers, Scribes and Priests: Jewish Dreams in the Hellenistic and Roman Eras (2004) and co-editor (with Rodney Werline) ofExperientia, Volume One: Inquiry into Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity(2008).
This book explores a cross-cultural worldview called 'radical apocalypticism' that underlies the majority of terrorist movements in the twenty-first century. Although not all apocalypticism is violent, in its extreme forms radical apocalypticism gives rise to terrorists as varied as members of Al…
Hardback – 2015-08-24