Steven Windmueller
Where Jews and Judaism Meet the Political Road!

Encountering the fifth wave of global terror: The new national tribalism

In 2004 UCLA emeritus professor, David Rapaport, one of this nation’s experts on terrorism published his “Four Waves on Modern Terrorism”:

Wave One: Anarchism                      1880-1920

Wave Two: Anti-Colonialism           1920-1960

Wave Three: New Left                      1960-2000

Wave Four: Religious                        1979-2010

Contemporary history would produce a new form of political expression; terror served that niche.  Rapaport ascribed certain commonalities to these four different expressions of terrorism.  Each of these periods would exhibit the rise of distinctive organizations, operating for approximately one generation, or about 40 years, and committed to some form of “revolution” although the nature and intent of these radical ideas varied according to the specific wave.  Terror was understood to represent both the quickest and most effective means in uprooting the status quo.

Accordingly, each successive revolutionary period would contribute certain attributes to the terrorist model.  For Rapaport, terrorism was employed as a strategy, not as an end product. “Revolution was the overriding aim in every wave, but revolution was understood differently in each. Most terrorist organizations have understood revolution as secession or national self-determination.[1]

During this first wave, one found the introduction of doctrine and culture as one key outcome. Another critical factor associated with this anarchist expression involved the use of technology:

The transformation in communication and transportation patterns is the second reason that explains the timing and spread of the first wave. The telegraph, daily mass newspapers, and railroads flourished in this period; and subsequently throughout the 20th century, technology continued to shrink time and space.”[2]

 While the anti-colonial second wave adopted some of the tactics and tools of the first, it focused its energies on guerilla-like actions directed as military units, “attacks that went beyond the rules of war, however, because weapons were concealed and the assailants had no identifying insignia.”[3]

Among the more prominent actors during this period included the American Weather Underground, West German RAF, Italian Red Brigades, Japanese Red Army, and the French Action Directe, all of whom described their actions as representing the interests of the Third World in their war against Western colonial powers. Rapaport noted that groups such as the  Irgun and the IRA who operated in this time frame, provided warnings in order to limit civilian casualties.

In the third wave, according to Rapaport, radicalism of the New Left was aligned with nationalism, “as in the Basque Nation and Liberty (ETA), the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), the Corsican National Liberation Front (FNLC), and the IRA.” This wave would be identified for the specific introduction of international targets, as one of its central operational tactics:

Teams composed of different national groups cooperated in attacks; from the Munich Olympics massacre (1972) and the kidnapping of OPEC ministers (1975) to Uganda (1975) and Somalia (1977). Libya, Iraq, and Syria employed terrorists in other countries as foreign policy instruments.”[4]

The fourth wave of religious terrorism introduced a series of “sacred texts” or “revelations” that gave these radicalized movements a degree of justification and uniqueness. During this wave, massive attacks would be carried out against government and military installations. Islam would be a key player in this phase, joined by other radicalized religious expressions.

In fact, Rapaport saw in each of these four different frames the presence of religious ideologies.  Commenting on Rapaport’s findings,  Jeffrey Kaplan observed:

The trilogy of “Fear and Trembling: Terrorism in Three Religious Traditions,” “Terror and the Messiah: An Ancient Experience and Some Modern Parallels,” and “Messianic Sanctions of Terror” mark the beginning of the contemporary study of religiously motivated terrorism. All three brought home the vital importance of religious zeal in maintaining a prolonged campaign of terrorism. They stressed the primacy of sacred text in the ancient world as the key factor in motivating and sustaining terrorist violence. Moreover, they conclusively demonstrate the fact that terrorism, heretofore believed to be a purely modern phenomenon, was a timeless reaction to existential threats that were beyond the faithful’s capacity to survive without compromising or abandoning their faith. Salvation must therefore be metahistorical in nature. Only divine intervention could save the faithful while punishing both the guilty and those whose inaction or simple indifference were deemed as tacit support for the oppressors.  In a terrorist campaign there are no innocents and no bystanders.[5]

Are we entering a fifth wave?  Indeed, with the rise in recent years of a distinctive nationalist, even tribalist form of political behavior,  we seem to be experiencing the birth of a new brand of terror? Within the United States, we can track the origins of this wave in response to the Obama Presidency. The ideological baseline for this new form of violence would be nurtured during the Trump Presidency, with a marked increase of radicalized organizations.

This tribalist pushback is associated with the forthcoming cultural and demographic change taking place within Western societies. Traditional white societies are becoming multicultural, multi-racial nation-states. An entrenched base is resisting these social outcomes, fearing the loss of status and believing the resulting national image to be disruptive and problematic in preserving core values and institutional cultures. Their definition of patriotism and their understanding of nationalism are being overturned and replaced. Many of these emergent groups share an anti-Jewish bias. As a result, these actors are committed to creating a war against the existing state order and its Jewish defenders, as they seek to maintain a particular nationalist image.

What are some of the distinctive characteristics we see present across the globe associated with this tribalist/nationalist behavior?

  • Rise of a new racial nationalism in the United States and elsewhere, i.e. the emergence of Patriotic Militias-Proud Boys-White Supremacists.
  • The rebirth of nativism and nationalistic expressions in Europe and elsewhere: i.e. among the emerging political movements, Alternative for Germany, AfD; the Movementfor a Better Hungary (Jobbik Magyarországért Mozgalom); and Law and Justice Party in Poland.
  • A shared pullback from global and regional arrangements that had been an integral part of the post-Second World War era, viewing internationalism as a contributing factor in undermining and eroding their nationalistic beliefs.
  • As with earlier “waves” there are distinctive religious features to this current modality. Several religious assertions accompany this expression, including the rise of “Christian Nationalism” and a clear push back against other faith traditions.
  • The creation of a counter-cultural language designed to target and demean particular institutions, individuals and ideas.

As part of this model, we see the tactical use of bigotry and the imposition of conspiracy theories, as opponents are singled out, marginalized and vilified. Enemies of this tribalist wave are charged with seeking to control reality.  As a result, they invoke references to “fake news” and “the deep state” as a way to both define and deflect the existing condition. Existing state structures are seen as needing to be liberated as part of the upending of the current political culture.

This fifth wave has already seen physical attacks directed against a number of primary targets with more terror likely to be directed toward:

  • Minority Groups: Attacks directed against religious communities, racial groups, and ethnic constituencies
  • Politicians: Targets have included the Governor of Michigan and the January 6th assault on the Capitol
  • Journalists: Tweeter and Facebook threats directed against press and media figures
  • Symbols of the Society: Assaults on the institutions and images of the nation

As we move into the second decade of this century, we are likely to see the unleashing of different forms of terror being employed to create fear, to foster change and to remind audiences of the presence of these extremist voices and messages, both within the United States and among other Western nations.


[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.


About the Author
Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. is an Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Service at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to HUC, Dr.Windmueller served for ten years as the JCRC Director of the LA Jewish Federation. Between 1973-1985, he was the director of the Greater Albany Jewish Federation (now the Federation of Northeastern New York). He began his career on the staff of the American Jewish Committtee. The author of four books and numerous articles, Steven Windmueller focuses his research and writings on Jewish political behavior, communal trends, and contemporary anti-Semitism.
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