The spectrum of terrorism

This section covers terrorist groups from each end of the terrorism 'spectrum,' from right wing, to religious groups. When reading this page it is important to keep in mind that extremist groups often use violence or the threat of violence to achieve their political or ideological goals. 

Days following 9/11 attack

Days following 9/11 attack


The group was founded by Osama bin Laden and his fellow Saudi partners in Pakistan, 1988.  It originally was more of a logistical network that attracted Islamists from around the world to fight in the Afghan war against the Russians.

Al-Qaeda is against western governments (particularly the United States), and their goal is to remove the western powers from the ‘Muslim world’ or the Middle East. The group was responsible for the 1993 world trade center bombings which killed six people, and the 9/11 attacks which killed 2,996 people.

The group used social media prior to 9/11 to spread its message and continues to do so today (but not on the same scale as ISIS). The group also does not use extremely violent propaganda like ISIS because they worry they will upset the Muslim community which they seek to win over.


boko haram

Much like ISIS, the main objective of Boko Haram is to overthrow existing governments in their region so they can establish a Muslim caliphate. A caliphate is an area ruled by Islamic law or Sharia law. Sharia law is considered to be a version of Islamic law that can be found in the Quran, and it is often applied in extreme ways.

The group was founded in the 1990’s in their home country of Nigeria which is in central Africa. Boko Haram was originally founded because local Muslims did not like the ‘western’ version of schools offered by their British influenced government. In fact the term ‘Boko Haram’ means ‘Western education is forbidden.’ Boko Haram set up a religious complex that included an Islamic school, following this the group then set out to create an Islamic state.

They began their military operations in 2009. One of the group’s most well-known attacks occurred in 2014 when they kidnapped 276 school girls from the Borno state in Nigeria. Like most terrorist groups, they use fear and violence to intimidate the local population, assert power, and they hope that through these tactics, they will accomplish their political and ideological goals.

It is estimated that the group has killed over 20,000 individuals and displaced over 2 million people.

A sleeper cell is a group of spies or terrorists who are technically inactive until they are ordered to act.  There are ISIS/ al Qaeda supporters in many other African countries. The countries shown above are known to have active sleeper cells. Other countries act more as feeders, meaning that fighters leave their home countries to go fight in other African countries with their terrorist group. 

A sleeper cell is a group of spies or terrorists who are technically inactive until they are ordered to act. 

There are ISIS/ al Qaeda supporters in many other African countries. The countries shown above are known to have active sleeper cells. Other countries act more as feeders, meaning that fighters leave their home countries to go fight in other African countries with their terrorist group. 



Much like other Islamist militant organizations, al-Shabaab is seeking to create an Islamic state (caliphate) in their home country of Somalia, which is a small country on the eastern coast of Africa. 

In order to accomplish this, they are seeking to overthrow their country’s official government. The group became an officially individual organization in 2006, and they have been using violent force, and military style attacks on civilian populations to try and gain legitimacy and power. Overall, they want the local population to fear them and submit to their authority. Around 2008 al Shabaab pledged their support for al Qaeda, and together they have been working to promote global Jihad.

Their deadliest attack was at a Kenyan University where they killed 147 non-Muslim people. As of right now, al Shabaab has the most power in the rural areas of Somalia. They have mostly been pushed out of cities and the highly populated areas that they once controlled. The group has been weakened financially since leaving the cities, but their members still carry out suicide attacks. 


ku klux klan

After the end of the Civil War in the United States, the South went through a period of reconstruction. It was during this time, 1866, that the Ku Klux Klan was founded. They wanted to overthrow the southern republican governments by attacking white, and especially black Republican leaders. But in 1871, the group practically disappeared, but regained popularity in 1915. The group started to hold marches and rallies, as well as lynch, rape, and commit other violent attacks against Catholics, Jews, black people, and immigrants. At its peak during this time the KKK had over 4 million members.

A third wave of the KKK’s popularity began in the 1950’s during the Civil Rights movement. Klan members would actively oppose any effort to improve the rights or lives of black people by bombing their houses, schools and churches and by attacking and even murdering black people or civil right’s activists of any color. The KKK is significantly weaker today, but there are still factions of the group all over the country. While they still protest and still occasionally commit violence, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there are about 130 different Klan groups in operation as of 2016, with anywhere from 5,00-8,000 members total.

The group has made use of social media in recent times, especially twitter. 

This map shows KKK chapters in the United States, state by state. 

This map shows KKK chapters in the United States, state by state. 

the weather underground: a left-wing group

The Weather Underground was a left-wing terrorist group born out of the leadership of the Student’s for a Democratic Society organization, in 1969. The Weatherman believed very strongly that the war in Vietnam at the time was wrong, that black people were being oppressed, and that they needed to take action against the United States government to put an end to these injustices.

They became more and more radical until finally they decided that violence was the only way to change society and the government. Their goal was to overthrow the government through violent revolution. At first it did not matter to them if people got hurt, so they organized what was supposed to be an enormous, violent protest with hundreds of people, known as the “Days of Rage” in Chicago in October of 1969. The violent protests only drew around 200 people and were met with hundreds of police officers, tear gas, and barricades.

The group bombed around 24 targets in the 1970’s from the Capitol Building, to the Pentagon, to the New York City Police Department. All the while never harming or killing anyone. In the late 1970s the group began to deteriorate and many members turned themselves in to the authorities. Many of the members of the Weather Underground rejoined society and left their radical and violent beliefs behind. Today, a part of the group and ideology survives as the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, which calls for an end to all forms of oppression and injustice like racism and sexism.


national alliance

Founded in 1970, in West Virginia, the National Alliance (NA) is one of the most infamous and dangerous neo-Nazi terrorist groups in the United States. They believe that Jews, among other races, must be eliminated from America in order to create an all-white, Aryan nation. The group's founder, William Pierce, formerly associated with the American Nazi Party, was one of this county's leading voices in the white nationalist movement. He wrote The Turner Diaries, a very important and influential piece of white supremacy literature, about how Jews and other non-Aryan races should be killed. This book was also the inspiration behind the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing.

 One reason the NA was so well organized and funded was because of Resistance Records, a “white-power” music label created by former neo-Nazi group and taken over by Pierce. The group made about $1 million in 2002, mostly thanks to the record label, but they also received some revenue from their advertising campaign, members' dues, and their book company, National Vanguard Books. But later that year (2002), Pierce died and the group was then led by Erich Gliebe, who was never able to keep the group as united and well organized. It lost more and more members, and by 2009, it was all but gone.

White power symbol, or symbol of white supremacy

White power symbol, or symbol of white supremacy

sovereign citizens

The Sovereign Citizen movement is made up of people who hold anti-government beliefs. These people feel that the U.S. government does not have any authority over them. They believe that the government can’t tax them or make and enforce laws. This movement has its beginnings in the late 1900’s and began with racist and anti-Semitic beliefs, namely that Jewish people were controlling and manipulating the government.

It is not known how many people belong to this movement as it is not a unified and centralized group. The Southern Poverty Law center has estimated that there could be around 300,000 sovereign believers across the country. Whenever a sovereign citizen gets into trouble with the law, whether it be for tax evasion, or a speeding ticket, they flood the courts and government agencies with documents that often don’t make sense to anyone but another sovereign believer.

But, their methods of protest are not always so peaceful. In November of 2015, 4 sovereign citizens carried out an attack against a Black Lives Matter rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where 5 people were injured. In 2014, another sovereign citizen opened fire at Forsyth County Courthouse in Cumming, Georgia, injuring a Sheriff's Deputy. The perpetrator was armed with multiple guns, homemade explosives, smoke bombs, grenades, and tire spikes.

Useful Definitions
Caliphate An area or region governed by a strict form of Islamic (Muslim) law call Sharia law.
Legitimacy To justify or show legality.
Islamist Supporting militancy of Islam, also associated with a more extreme political view.
Militant Combative or aggressive to support a cause (religious, ideological, political, etc).
Civilian A regular person who is not involved in the police or military.
jihad The fight against the enemies of Islam.
Suicide attack When the attacker kills him/ herself in an attack (generally with a bomb/explosive).
Aryan (in white-supremacist ideaology):a Caucasian of non-Jewish descent


Africa map was created using data from the following report:

America and Klu Klux Klan chapters map was created using data from the following:

Additional information and statistics on the KKK were used from the following:

Additional information and statistics on the National Alliance were used from the following:

Additional information and statistics on the Sovereign Citizens were used from the following: