Although terrorist acts are commonly thought of as being the work of terror groups or cells, the reality is that many acts of terrorism or ideologically-motivated violence are the work of lone individuals motivated by the ideology of a movement without belonging to any organized groups.
What follows is a selected list of lone wolf incidents in the United States over the past twenty or so years in which one or more individuals were killed.
Starting in 1978, Ted Kaczynski, dubbed the "Unabomber" by the media, engaged in a serial bombing campaign that lasted until his apprehension in 1996. He committed 16 bombing attacks that killed a total of three people and injured 23. Most of the targets were directed against academics, airlines, or people involved with computers, reflecting his anti-technological “green anarchist” attitudes. He pleaded guilty and received a sentence of life in prison without parole.
On March 10, 1993, Griffin, an anti-abortion extremist, confronted a physician, David Gunn, during a protest outside an abortion clinic and shot him three times in the back, killing him. He surrendered quietly to police. He was convicted of murder in 1994 and received a life sentence.
On August 6, 1993, Haynes, a self-declared neo-Nazi, shot and killed a Chicago-area plastic surgeon, claiming that he wanted to warn the world about the coming extinction of Aryans. Arrested a day later, he subsequently confessed to having also killed a San Francisco hair-colorist in 1987 for similar reasons. He was convicted of the Chicago killing in 1994.
On December 30, 1994, anti-abortion extremist John Salvi embarked upon a shooting spree at two abortion clinics in the Boston area, killing two and wounding five others. He then drove to Norfolk, Virginia, where he opened fire at an abortion clinic there until police arrested him. He was convicted in 1996 of murder and other charges and received consecutive life prison sentences. He committed suicide not long after.
On April 12, 1996, white supremacist Larry Shoemake opened fire at a shopping center in a largely African-American neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi, killing one person and wounding 10 more. A standoff with police developed, during which Shoemake committed suicide by setting on fire the building in which he took refuge.
On August 19, 1997, self-declared sovereign citizen Carl Drega opened fire on two New Hampshire state troopers following a traffic stop, killing both of them. Drega then drove to the office of a local judge with whom he had had previous quarrels and killed her. He also killed a local newspaper editor who came to the judge's aid. Drega returned to his booby-trapped property, set it on fire, then died in a subsequent shootout with law enforcement across the Vermont border after wounding several more officers.
On July 27, 1996, Eric Rudolph detonated a bomb at the Atlanta Olympics that killed one person and injured more than a hundred others. Raised with exposure to white supremacy, Rudolph developed an extreme antipathy to abortion and homosexuals as well. He subsequently bombed two abortion clinics and a lesbian bar in Georgia and Alabama. He was arrested after five years as a fugitive and confessed to his crimes.
On October 23, 1998, anti-abortion extremist James Kopp shot and killed a physician who provided abortions in Amherst, New York. The attack occurred at the doctor's home. Kopp fled the United States but was eventually arrested in France in 2001. In 2003, Kopp received a conviction of second degree murder and a subsequent sentence of 25 years to life in prison. Kopp is a suspect in other abortion-related shootings in New York and Canada during the period 1995-1997.
On October 29, 1998, self-described "Constitutionalist" (a term often used by sovereign citizens to refer to themselves) Scott Merrill of Spokane, Washington, opened fire in an ambush-style attack on a county road worker in Utah, hitting him nine times. The motive was not clear, though Merrill did steal some of his belongings. Law enforcement officers arrested him. Merrill subsequently pleaded no contest to aggravated murder and received a life sentence.
On January 29, 1999, white supremacist Paul Powell went to the home of a teenaged girl he knew to confront her for dating an African-American boyfriend. He assaulted the victim, stabbed her in the heart with a knife, then stomped on her throat. Powell then waited until the victim's younger sister came home from school and attacked her as well, raping, strangling and stabbing her and leaving her for dead. However, she survived and identified her assailant. Eventually, Powell received the death penalty for his crimes and was in fact executed in 2010.
Racist skinhead Jessy Joe Roten fired shots into the home of a multi-racial family in St. Petersburg, Florida, on April 3, 1999. His shots killed a six-year-old girl and wounded two other girls. Roten was subsequently convicted of murder and other charges and received a life sentence.
On May 15, 1999, a Palmer, Alaska, police officer encountered anti-government extremist Kim Michael Cook sleeping in a parked car. A confrontation, then an exchange of shots, ensued, in which Cook killed the officer. Authorities believe that Cook killed the officer in ambush because of his hatred of law enforcement. Cook was subsequently convicted of first degree murder.
During the weekend of July 2-4, 1998, white supremacist Benjamin Smith embarked upon a three-day, two-state shooting spree, targeting racial and religious minorities. He killed two people and wounded eleven before he killed himself as police closed in on him.
On August 10, 1999, white supremacist Buford Furrow traveled from Tacoma, Washington, to Los Angeles, California, where he opened fire inside a Jewish day care center, injuring three children and two employees. Later that day, Furrow shot dead a Filipino-American postal worker. He fled to Las Vegas via taxi, but surrendered at the FBI office there. He stated that he wanted the shooting to be "a wake-up call to America to kill Jews." He pleaded guilty to murder and other charges and received a sentence of life without parole in 2001.
On April 28, 2000, white supremacist Richard Scott Baumhammers embarked upon a shooting spree in his home town of Pittsburgh. He murdered a Jewish neighbor, set her house on fire, shot at a nearby synagogue and vandalized it, murdered a Southwest Asian man and shot and paralyzed another (he would die from complications seven years later). He shot at a second synagogue, then entered a Chinese restaurant where he murdered three Asian-Americans. Finally, he killed an African-American man. Shortly thereafter, police arrested him in his vehicle. Baumhammers eventually received the death penalty for his crimes but in 2010 was granted an indefinite stay of execution.
On May 18, 2001, white supremacist Tracy Hampton shot and killed two people, a man and his pregnant girlfriend, at whose house he had been staying. Hampton was angry at the man for purportedly providing information about him to police. He later said that he had killed the woman because he thought she had been made pregnant by a black man. He was arrested two weeks later and eventually convicted of two murders and one manslaughter (of the unborn child).
On July 26, 2001, two Butte County, California, sheriff's deputies went to a remote cabin belonging to Richard Bracklow to question him about allegations of threats and stolen weapons. Bracklow engaged the two officers in a gun battle, killing both of them but being mortally wounded in turn.
On August 22, 2001, anti-government extremist Larry Peck fled from a traffic stop to his home in Reno, Nevada, where he engaged police in a standoff and shootout. Peck fired at officers with a shotgun, then a rifle, killing one Reno police officer. Peck eventually surrendered to police. He was subsequently convicted of first degree murder and received two sentences of life without parole.
In a multiple shooting incident on September 9, 2001, which would soon be eclipsed by the 9/11 terror attacks, white supremacist Joseph Ferguson embarked upon a shooting spree after losing his job and his girlfriend. Ferguson first killed his ex-girlfriend and a co-worker of hers, both of whom worked for the security firm from which he had been fired. He killed another employee of the firm at a second location, as well as someone else at that location. He then tracked down another former co-worker and handcuffed her but stole her car instead of killing him. He drove to the home of a former supervisor, filmed a video suicide note, killed the supervisor, and stole his car. After engaging police in a high-speed chase (in which he wounded a bystander and an officer), he subsequently committed suicide.
In "retaliation" for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, white supremacist Mark Stroman walked into a convenience store in Dallas on September 15, 2001, and shot to death its Pakistani owner. On September 21, Stroman shot and wounded a Bangladeshi gas station attendant. On October 4, in Mesquite, Texas, Stroman robbed, shot and killed an Indian convenience store worker. Police arrested him for that crime the next day. Stroman was executed in 2011--ironically, one of his victims had long sought to prevent his execution.
On August 9, 2002, sovereign citizen Donald Matthews drove away from a traffic stop in northeast Ohio. A pursuit ensued that ended in Massillon, Ohio. Both Matthews and officers got out of their vehicles; Mathews pulled out a gun and shot and killed a Massillon police officer. He himself was killed in return fire. Earlier, Matthews had been recorded saying he would kill police officers who tried to pull him over.
On November 19, 2002, left-wing extremist Andrew Mickel ambushed and killed a Red Bluff, California, police officer, leaving a "Don't Tread On Us" flag next to the body. Subsequently, using a pseudonym, Mickel posted a message on the Internet admitting the crime and explaining that it was done to oppose "police state tactics" and "corporate irresponsibility." He fled to New Hampshire. After he confessed to his parents, his parents turned him in. He represented himself during his trial. He was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death.
On June 14, 2003, white supremacist George Davis opened fire on people outside a bar in Ennis, Montana, killing one and wounding six more. He fled the scene but later encountered police, who conducted a pursuit. During the pursuit, he shot a deputy sheriff in the shoulder. He was subsequently shot and arrested. Pleading guilty to murder, he received a sentence of life without parole.
On February 1, 2006, young white supremacist Jacob Robida walked into a gay bar in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and attacked people with a hatchet and a firearm, wounding three. He fled to West Virginia, picked up a female companion, then continued his flight west. Pulled over by a police officer in Arkansas, he shot and killed the officer. Later cornered by police, he killed his companion and then himself.
On January 21, 2009, white supremacist Keith Luke embarked upon a spree of violence against ethnic and religious minorities. He raped and shot an African immigrant, and shot and killed her sister, who tried to help her. Shortly thereafter, he shot and killed a homeless African immigrant he encountered. Although he planned to go to a synagogue that evening to kill as many Jews as possible then commit suicide, police intercepted him before he could do so. Luke fired at police during a chase before he crashed his vehicle. Police subsequently arrested him without incident. Luke was convicted of murder in 2013.
On April 4, 2009, after his mother called police to remove him from their home following a domestic dispute, white supremacist and anti-government extremist Richard Poplawski ambushed arriving police officers, killing three of them at his house. Following a standoff and a shootout in which two more officers were wounded or injured, Poplawski himself was injured and captured. He was subsequently convicted of the murders and sentenced to death.
On May 31, 2009, anti-abortion extremist (as well as sovereign citizen and tax protester) Scott Roeder shot and killed a physician in Wichita while attending church. Roeder was arrested several hours later. In 2010, Roeder was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole for 50 years.
On June 1, 2009, Muslim extremist Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad opened fire at soldiers standing in front of a U.S. Army recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas, killing one and wounding another. He fled but was subsequently arrested and in 2011 sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to murder.
On June 10, 2009, elderly white supremacist James von Brunn entered the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and opened fire on security guards inside, shooting and killing one of them. Two other security guards returned fire, wounding von Brunn and preventing further deaths. Von Brunn was arrested and charged with murder. He died of natural causes while awaiting trial.
On October 22, 2009, a firebombing occurred at a Seattle, Washington, city maintenance yard, damaging various police vehicles. Police found a note at the site that threatened police officers. A week and a half later, Christopher Monfort allegedly pulled his vehicle alongside a Seattle police patrol car and fired at its two occupants, killing one and wounding the other. On November 6, officers tracked a lead to the vehicle to the apartment of Monfort. Monfort allegedly pointed a gun at the officers, who wounded him and took him into custody. Charged with aggravated murder, Monfort still awaits trial as of this writing.
On November 5, 2009, U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a psychiatrist, opened fire at the Soldier Readiness Center at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13 people and wounding 29 more before two police officers shot and disabled him. Hasan, who had been growing more radical in his religious views, including frequent contact with Anwar al-Awlaki, was also upset at the prospect of being deployed to Afghanistan. He was convicted on many counts in 2013 and sentenced to death.
On February 18, 2010, Joseph Stack set fire to his house, drove to an airport and boarded a plane he owned. He then deliberately flew the plane into a building in Austin, Texas, containing local IRS offices, killing himself and one other person in the process and wounding 13 more. Stack had a past history in the tax protest movement.
Self-proclaimed white supremacist Daniel Wacht was arrested on January 5, 2011, for having kidnapped, killed, and decapitated a North Dakota State University researcher, who went missing after they were seen together on December 31, 2010. He was charged with murder and eventually convicted of that crime in 2013. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Anti-government extremist Matthew David Stewart ambushed Ogden, Utah, police officers raiding his home to execute a search warrant looking for marijuana plants. He killed one officer and wounded five more before being captured. Charged with aggravated murder and other crimes, he killed himself in 2013 while awaiting trial.
White supremacist Wade Page opened fire at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, on August 5, 2012, killing six people and wounding four others, including a police officer responding to the shootings. Page killed himself at the scene after being shot by police.