Micro Terrorism and Macro Terrorism May Have Similar Roots

bin Laden and his associates may have brain damage due to substance addiction
Copyright ©2000 by Doug Thorburn

Check out the Thorburn Substance Addiction Recognition Indicator.

Terrorism is tragic, whether it be a father terrorizing his wife and children or hijacked aircraft being used as weapons of mass destruction. While dramatically different in scope, there may be a common thread connecting such atrocities: substance addiction.

Consider the fact that the three most destructive terrorists of the 20th century were addicts: Adolf Hitler, amphetamine addict; Joseph Stalin, alcoholic; Mao Tse Tung, addicted to barbiturates. An obvious question is, why would those behind the atrocities of September 11 be any different?

Most serial and mass murderers have been addicts. These include Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy and Richard Speck. Amphetamine addict Jim Jones didn’t even have to murder people--he was able to talk 900 men, women and children into committing mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978. Recovering addicts admit that the ego-inflating action of drugs on their brains (vastly different than the effect on non-addicts) causes them to become the world’s greatest salesmen, charmers, liars and con artists. Osama bin Laden’s reported opiate addiction may ring true and even make sense of what seems incomprehensible.

There have been reports that three of the hijackers were at a bar the night before the event, where two drank heavily. Another is reported to have two DUIs on his police record. Friends and father of a fifth stated that he was not a drinker, but an uncle said his nephew "enjoyed" alcohol. The 12 hijackers who have been referred to by investigators as the "muscle" (those whose sole responsibility seems to have been restraining the flight attendants and passengers while the leaders took over the jets’ controls) were reported as indulging "often" in liquor. While non-addicts are far less likely to imbibe where cultural, legal or religious prohibitions exist, these have never kept alcoholics from drinking.

Some suggest that murderers known to be addicted are killers first, addicts later. Yet the incidents of mass terror in the examples mentioned--and there are countless others--all occurred after addiction had been triggered. For such criminal activity to take place, there must be some degree of brain poisoning or chemical imbalance. Addiction is the most common route to such incredibly dysfunctional brain chemistry.

Bearing in mind that the reaction to brain poisoning varies tremendously, take a look at some of the behaviors observed in addicts. Many often:

1. Habitually blame others for their own circumstances and problems, even extending such blame to hatred of entire races or classes of people.

2. Have an inordinately large sense of self-importance, known as an "inflated ego," resulting in a sense of being on par with God.

3. Have a sense of invincibility, evident in their reckless behaviors.

4. Have a need to further inflate their egos by wielding power over others, often capriciously.

5. Have non-substance compulsions that may be dangerous to self or others, including gambling, sex, and/or religious fanaticism.

6. Exhibit a pervasive "the rules don’t apply to me" attitude.

7. Have an extraordinary ability to hide the use of the substance or its extent from close persons.

8. Engage in actions that are destructive, including emotional, financial and physical abuse.

9. Engage in erratic behavior, often confused with mental illness or Personality Disorders.

10. Use "twisted logic" to justify their actions.

11. Are supremely good liars, including falsely accusing others.

12. Due to residual brain damage, often commit unethical or criminal acts in-between drinking episodes.

13. In some cases even commit such acts in a premeditated, methodical and systematic fashion. Examples include Stalin, Dahmer, Gacy and Senator Joseph McCarthy—all alcoholics.

Bin Laden and his consorts appear to exhibit most if not all of these behaviors. While most alcoholics are not killers, as addiction experts point out, "Some are sicker than others."

There are numerous other behavioral clues to addiction that can be observed by close persons. These include mood swings, verbal abuse and the actual extent of use of alcohol or other drugs. Unfortunately, reports of such clues are rare in news stories because few reporters understand the link between misbehaviors and addiction. Furthermore, even family members, friends and associates may never see visible signs of inebriation, due to the fact that early-stage addicts have extraordinarily high tolerance to their drug. That’s how 80% of them hold jobs. Like Princess Diana’s driver Henri Paul, they simply don’t look drunk at blood alcohol levels that would put the rest of us on our backs. Yet, this is when they are most dangerous to others: their brains are poisoned while their bodies have not yet been ravaged by the long term physiological effects of addiction.

This is true, perhaps, of all the drugs. The fact that the word "assassin" is derived from "hashish" (hashashin) supports this idea. Members of the Mohammedan order of Assassins, founded around 1090 and flourishing during the Crusades, used hashish before slaying Christians. Addicts do things they just don’t normally do when sober for a long period.

By no means are all addicts terrorists. However, they often act the part, if only on a micro scale, such as terrorizing family and, on the road, other drivers. Conversely, if there are serious conduct problems, addiction can usually be found. By looking for behavioral clues we may be able to protect ourselves and others when in a position to do so. We need to identify addiction as early on as possible, because actions usually become increasingly destructive over time. We should keep this in mind when dealing with terrorists and anyone who protects or aids them. We cannot negotiate with a chemical.

Other considerations:

1. Be wary of those in the intelligence services showing symptoms of alcohol and other drug addiction.

2. Consider the likelihood of those engaging in hate crimes against Arabs may be practicing addicts.

3. Consider the fact that we could improve all of our lives by helping addicts to get sober. Early identification and intervention—legal and private—is key.