On January 29th, 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette implemented a Lone Wolf attack on the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City. Regardless of your opinion of Islam, in a country like Canada, this kind of thing should not happen yet it does.
I look at these kinds of events, as horrific as they are, and I am reminded why I teach Krav Maga for a living. The reality is that no matter how safe you think you are, it only takes one person to rock the boat and remind you that humans can be violent regardless of societal norms or laws.
So one may walk in peace.
The other thing I am reminded of is how little the general public seem to know about, well, a lot of things. I also knew that Canada’s media would immediately, or soon after the attack, take a strike at the already strict gun laws in Canada. In this particular event, the amount of BS I have seen on the internet within hours of the attack were quite shocking. Generally, I give the Canadian media some more points than the American media, for the Canadians tend to wait a little longer for facts to come in the midst of such chaos before spewing out nonsense. However, in this case, they also get the initial details wrong.
Not all terrorist attacks with a single attacker are Lone Wolf attacks, but all Lone Wolf attacks are considered terrorist attacks (most of the time)
Right away, I started seeing politics thrown around and read several articles about the topic of Lone Wolf vs terrorist attacks, with many claiming this attack to be purely terrorist and not Lone Wolf. This tells me that writers of such articles know little about conflict, violence, and terrorism. Aside from the fact that the perpetrator will most likely be charged with terrorism, his attack was most definitely a Lone Wolf attack. The distinction is very important.
As stated, a lone attacker does not signify a Lone Wolf attack, but a Lone Wolf attack is usually terrorism in nature (but not always). To me, a clear distinction is whether or not they had help. If they had help, it is most likely part of a larger terror network, such as Al-Qaeda or some nefariously well-hidden Muslim brotherhood affiliate. Or, to be fair, could also be is part of some right-wing Neo-Nazi group planning their “big return.” If they did not have help, it is most likely a random guy who woke up one morning and decided to go on a rampage (of course, this is an understatement).
If your general definition of terrorism is simply “to cause terror,” then any violent attack such as a simple murder in a home could be called a terrorist attack since it definitely causes terror in a community. But does this now make such situations terrorism? I am not a big fan of word policing, but sometimes definitions matter, especially when there is so much confusion about specific things.
When a Lone Wolf attack becomes terrorism
Attacks targeting these groups can be considered terrorism:
Also, if the attack was premeditated in any way, it can also be considered terrorism.
Definitions are important because the right or wrong word can be the difference between accurate or misleading information. Attacks that come from a single person who just snapped one day would be more appropriately termed “mass murder” which is an attack resulting in 5+ deaths depending on the regional definitions. If the media calls a mass murder situation a “terrorist attack,” it would most likely cause public terror since there could be the potential for another attack. However, in the case of the attack in Quebec, while the attacker turned himself in later, it is fairly safe to say it was a terror attack.
Another important reason for distinguishing the concept of a Lone Wolf attack is that it tells you whether or not law enforcement could have done more to stop it. Whenever a terrorist attack is not Lone Wolf and there are links to larger networks, it shows a failure in law enforcement agencies to do their jobs effectively in that particular case. However, in the case of a Lone Wolf attack, it is often unreasonable to blame law enforcement for lacking effort in prevention regardless of whether it is deemed terrorism or mass murder. The fact is Lone Wolf attacks are not on the LE radar and incredibly difficult to predict, especially when it’s by an individual with no criminal records like the Quebec case. Of course, the community could take responsibility to notice the behaviour of those close to them and recognise erratic behaviour in days leading up to an event. For example, family members should pay attention to each other and teachers should pay attention to their students, react appropriately, and possibly report to LE. However, sometimes Lone Wolf attacks can happen without warning.
The only thing people can do to prepare for the unexpected situations like a Lone Wolf attack is to acquire the skills to protect themselves. The goal of getting people home safely every day is why I’ve dedicated my life to Krav Maga and training people how to avoid fights and how to end conflicts. In the moment of an attack, the people who can really do something to stop the violence are the people hiding in the building. The unfortunate truth is that waiting for LE to show up can be too late.
The political nature of attacks and terrorism
The word “terrorism” in modern times usually refers to Islamic terror, but it isn’t always the case. It is undeniable that Islamic terror is one of the biggest problems in the world, and people who refuse to believe it are incredibly naive, but it is also wrong to think that Caucasian people and Christians don’t participate in terrorist activities. However, there is a difference between the two. By and large, terrorism from Caucasians and Christians nowadays are Lone Wolf attacks by disgruntled and, sometimes, racist people. On the other hand, Islamic terrorism is usually more systematic and linked to large terrorist groups capable of repeat or other attacks.
Again, if you are going to pick a side, then you must understand the distinct and general difference. If you want to get into history, there was a time in which Caucasians had large organized terrorist groups, such as the IRA in England or the Basque in Spain. However, to be realistic, these groups are not a problem at the moment and the immediate threat is Islamic terrorism.
To the left-wing people in Western North America, please stop pretending that Islamic terror is not a problem.
To the right-wing people in Western North America, please stop pretending that Caucasians do not sometimes create plans to cause terror.
A perfect example of the latter is the Oklahoma City Bombing, one of the largest domestic terrorist attacks in American history. One April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blew up a Federal building, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more (which combined with the 9/11 are the largest terrorist attacks on American soil in modern times). This shows how Caucasians can be as dangerous as Islamic terrorists. Over the last several years, there have been numerous attacks in America, such as the Sandy Hook shooting, San Bernardino shooting, and the Charleston S.C. shooting. Notice the trend?
Terror attacks, mass murder, and guns
The anti-gun bandwagon becomes more popular after such attacks, especially when the people with a political motive and the media, for numerous reasons, often jump on the opportunity to blame these attacks on guns. However, the important point to remember is that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The weapon is nothing without a wielder. If you think about the two largest terror attacks that were just mentioned, they were not perpetrated using guns but with explosives: a massive fertilizer bomb and giant planes.
Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
While the option of using planes as weapons has now become considerably harder with increasingly strict post-9/11 security measures, it is certainly still possible. The option of using IEDs is even easier and more effective for doing greater damage in a shorter amount of time because anyone with a little bit of chemistry knowledge can create an explosive. As such, firearms as a weapon of terrorism should be the least of people’s concerns. Immediately jumping to the anti-gun rhetoric post-terror events simply shows how little people truly know about violence, conflict, and firearms use.
In addition, Canadians and Americans forget how lucky they are to live in such relatively peaceful countries. In other parts of the world where the violence rate is high, the average person uses guns to defend themselves and the gun culture is very different. People living in North America easily become complacent about safety and security.
Gun laws in Canada
It drives me nuts when Canadians talk about gun laws as if they are living in America, which they are not. In Canada, if you would like to own a gun, you must pass a firearms safety course for non-restricted (rifles) and/or restricted (pistols) firearms, submit your test results to the RCMP, and wait for them to complete a criminal record check on you. If you have no criminal record and have never been committed for a mental illness, then you should receive your license soon after.
In addition, restricted firearms such as pistols are governed by mandatory safe storage laws, which usually require a trigger lock and a locked storage container. While bureaucratic in nature, these gun laws have drastically reduced accidental firearms-related deaths in Canada. (Notice I said “accidental” deaths. Due to these laws, suicide using firearms and death involving children gaining access to firearms have dropped.) Specifically, according to all the data I have seen, the two parts of the laws that have helped reduce firearms-related death are the background checks, including the mental health aspect, and the safe storage regulations. In the case of the Quebec shooting, Bissonnette had no criminal record and had not been committed for mental health issues and have not been reported for unusual behaviour.
With that being said, it is clear that the Brass at the RCMP and many politicians have an anti-gun agenda. They also regularly target the law abiding citizens who own guns (ie. Alberta’s High River Gun Grab in June 2013), so please do not say that gun owners are paranoid about getting their guns stolen and taken away because they are not.
Getting rid of guns would have stopped the Quebec attack, right?
If someone is truly committed to performing an attack, they would find a method. Remember the Nice, France attack on July 14, 2016? Firearms were not the primary method for death, instead, a truck was used. Bissonnette could have just as easily taken a vehicle and driven into the mosque potentially killing and injuring even more people. Guns are not the problem.
People think that firearms are the most dangerous way bad people use to take out large groups. This is a myth that people believe because they do not get enough knowledge about violence and conflict. Shooting people in large groups is not the most effective way for mass murder. People have this idea simply because they are fed so much anti-gun propaganda that they believe it. If guns inherently make people wake up and decide they need to cause terror, then death rates would skyrocket in most Western countries because, well, there are a lot of guns there. The average person doesn’t wake up one morning and decide to commit murder.
People are fed so much anti-gun propaganda that they believe it.
Another issue that is more problematic than guns is mental health. It’s hard to deny that majority of the individuals who have committed mass murder in America since 9/11 had some kind of serious mental health issue. Either that or they were part of some gang violence, criminals shooting at other criminals, and thus the media never picked it up.
Finally, one more point about weapons is that people underestimate knives as a danger. I, on the other hand, am more wary of knives than firearms. Any idiot can pick up knives and use them as weapons. Only people with some kind of training can operate firearms to do significant damage. Bissonnette could easily have entered the mosque with a knife, locked the doors, trapped people inside, and started stabbing away. Firearms run out of ammo fast. Knives do not need ammo. He would have had an unlimited method of killing with a knife. For example, the Kunming knife attack in 2014 is a reminder of how quick and easy it is for a knife to yield significant damage. I emphasize this every time I teach knife-related self-defense.
The only one who can protect you is you
I wish that one day, humans would all decide they don’t want to hurt each other and then live in peace. Unfortunately, we are far from that as a species, and people attack each other all the time. What I hope for more is that, more importantly, people would wake up and recognize that humans are humans. You cannot use laws to regulate human nature and fix people’s desire to hurt others. Thus, the thing that people don’t seem to be able to grasp but need to understand is that the real weapon is the human being. The person committing the attack is the real threat and real danger, not the weapon they use. It doesn’t matter if they hold a knife, a gun, a bomb, or drive a vehicle. If a person wants to do something big and bad, they will find a way.
The best thing people can do to take real action against this issue is to acquire the skills needed to protect themselves. Whether it’s a mugging, a terrorist or Lone Wolf attack, or a school shooting, only you can protect yourself. To start, practice being alert, vigilant, and aware of your surroundings and situation (aka situational awareness), learn to identify threats immediately and get away (aka avoidance). Otherwise, you would always find yourself as a victim. Situational awareness and avoidance are tactics that people in fairly peaceful places like North America tend to forget. Just because we don’t have drug wars or tribal warfare or civil war doesn’t mean it is safe and that we shouldn’t be wary of danger.
You truly only have yourself.
It doesn’t matter what the media tells you, what you hear, and what you read about terrorism and mass murder. The most important thing you need to know is that in the moment of an attack, you truly only have yourself. Denying yourself the skills to survive is a risk. Are you willing to take that risk?