Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Terrorists and Mass Murderers Are Lonely Guys

Terrorists are lonely men, not al-Qaeda mainstays

A mass murderer has been discovered each of the last three days. When we examine the men's lives, we are struck by their loneliness and yearning for intimacy, which leads some to strike out in bizarre and violent ways.

November 4, 2009. The home of Anthony Sowell, 50, a convicted sex offender, was searched, revealing 10 bodies, along with one skull. Mr. Sowell had served 15 years for sexual assault. Since 2005, he had lived alone in the top floor of a duplex in a shabby Cleveland neighborhood. Police had come to Mr. Sowell's house because a 21-year-old woman reported that he had assaulted and raped her after luring her to his home. Other reports of women whom he either lured, or else dragged, into his house suggest that this was his modus operandi. It was a strange, violent, lethal pattern for seeking female companionship.

November 5, 2009. Nidal Hasan, 39, shot 40 people at Fort Hood, Texas, 13 of whom have died so far. Dr. Hasan was an Army officer and psychiatrist. He lived alone off base in an inexpensive apartment. Before his assault, he gave away his frozen food and an air mattress and lamp to his next-door neighbor, Patricia Villa, whom he barely knew. Ms. Villa said "he seemed like a real nice person." Dr. Hasan's parents are dead, and he didn't give his few American relations any inkling of his plans. He attended religious services, but worshippers there remembered him as "a quiet, shy man who always left immediately after prayers." A store owner reported to the Times that when he shopped there, "Mr. Hasan would talk to him about the military, about attending prayer services and about wanting a wife."

November 6, 2009. Jason Rodriguez, 40, returned to his former place of employment in Orlando, and shot six people - one of whom has died. Mr. Rodriguez was fired from the research firm where the attack took place "for performance reasons" in July 2007, after working there about a year. He filed for bankruptcy this year when he reported he was working at a Subway sandwich shop. Public records indicate that Mr. Rodriguez was divorced twice, most recently in 2006. Little additional has come out about him personally, but do you want to bet he's a lonely guy?

Remember Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who lived in an isolated Montana cabin? According to Robert D. McFadden, of The New York Times, "It was just a dusty, cobwebbed cabin high in the Rockies, as remote as a cougar's lair. But it suited a man who had always been alone, this genius with gifts for solitude, perseverance, secrecy and meticulousness. . . but never love, never friendship."

According to Jeff McMahon, the attackers on 9/11 were "sullen spoiled narcissistic brats and bullies. One of the most prominent of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta, in particular is an extreme personality study in repressed sexuality, narcissism, and sociopathic hatred . . . . Atta, like the others, is misogynistic; women are shunned and held in contempt."

Obviously not all lonely men are mass murderers, or even bad guys. But, to judge from their worst examples, lonely men are a high-risk group.

And, so, the answer to mass murder is to reach out to lonely men.

P.S. (January 8, 2009) - A couple of additions:

London, Dec. 30 : Umar Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian bomber who tried to blow up the Detroit-bound US airliner on Christmas Day, is a sexually frustrated loner.

January 7, 2010: "Murky Trail for 'Loner' in Attack on C.I.A.," by Stephen Farrell, New York Times: Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, 32, was a Jordanian doctor who blew himself up in Afghanistan, killing seven Americans and one Jordanian intelligence officer. "His mother, Shanara, 64, described her son as such a loner that he would not even attend his sister’s birthday parties."

Stanton Peele has been empowering people around addiction since writing, with Archie Brodsky, Love and Addiction in 1975. He has developed the on-line Life Process Program. His new book (written with Ilse Thompson) is Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict with The PERFECT Program. You can follow Stanton on Twitter and Facebook.

More from Stanton Peele Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today