Inside Dangerous Minds

Robert Beckhusen investigates the psychological shifts underlying extremist behavior:

First, the would-be extremist “splits” the world into a rigid division between good and evil as a bulwark against feelings of — real or perceived — helplessness. Unfortunately, there are any number of ready-made ideologies which can serve to encourage this splitting. Next, the extremist constructs a double life that enables him to design, plan and carry out an attack in a “deadly calm state” characterized by single-minded determination.

Only a tiny few ever make it to this stage, but this “deadly calm” means it’s probably too late. “When you are on a mission with a gun or a bomb, you are not just creating another self, you are acting out a role like in a Rambo movie,” Griffin says. They appear outwardly normal to friends, associates and family members. But inside, the extremist believes himself to be preparing for a heroic mission that entails committing acts of violence that are anything but heroic.