Motivation and Profiling of Terrorist Groups

John Brown

John brown lived in the 19th century and was born in the year 1800. He was born in the town of Torrington as a son to his father Owen Brown and his mother Ruth Owen. He was raised as a Christian seeing as his parents were Calvinists. His family was deeply rooted to their religion and believed in all the teachings of Christianity. For this reason, his father who raised him was against Christianity.  Due to their beliefs and their humble occupation as tanners, the Brown’s continued to face great financial difficulty throughout John’s life. His financial hardships hardened him as a man and are said to have shaped who he became when he grew up. His upbringing as a Calvinist is believed to have led him to believe that the only to end violence in the world was by using force (Bonnie, 2013). 

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In 1820, John brown married his first wife Dianthe Lusk. However, she was not very fortunate and passed on 10 years later in the year 1930. The two had several children together.  Later, he took on a second wife, Mary Ann with whom he had many more children. Although John brown had been educated in the ways of the Calvinist ministry, he chose to leave the ministry and instead chose to focus on business; just like his father. His businesses involved the keeping of livestock as well as surveying. However, many of his business ventured failed. As a result, he was declared bankrupt in the year 1842. Later, he joined the underground railroad as a conductor. He had taken the goal of ending slavery as his life purpose, and he intended to achieve it in whichever way he deemed necessary. A few years later, when he moved to Massachusetts, he became increasingly convicted in his mission to end slavery. He believed that his mission was given to him by God. His belief made him more aggressive and more violent. His reputation continued to grow across the land. With a few followers, he would raid supplies which he would then use to arm the slave rebellion. His mission was further incited by the national and local disagreement on how slaves were to be treated. To him, it did not appear that people in the United States respected the fact that the slaves were human beings and children of god; just as he was. Brown was convinced that violence was the only true way to make Kansas a free state. He was sure that action was the only real answer to ensure that slavery was abolished. 

In 1847, Brown met Fredrick Douglas. The meeting was greatly motivational to brown who mentioned his involvement with the Underground Railroad to Frederick. The Underground Railroad was keen on freeing slaves, providing them with land, and helping them settle as free people. He also mentioned that he intended to start a war that would ensure that slavery came to an end in Kansas and the rest of the US.  He came up with an organization that was named the league of Gileadites. This organization’s main duty was to assist slaves who had run away to travel to Canada without being caught. In 1849, Brown moved to North Elba in New York. This was a free black farming community.  In 1855, brown and some of his sons moved to Kansas.  In that territory, there was great conflict as to whether the area would remain a slave state or whether it would be a free state. Brown soon became involved in the conflict. Because of his belief in violence, he ordered his followers to kill five unarmed men who had been known proponents of slavery. Additionally, he freed eleven slaves and then went on to kill those who had owned them. This battle led to the loss of one of his sons. However, this did not dampen his spirits and he went on fighting, very violently, to end slavery in the state (Hinton, 2007). 

His popularity grew massively after the two attacks in Kansas. However, he was still suffering from great financial troubles. This was especially due to his ventures in the abolition of slavery. He opted to take a two year leasing money in new England. He went on to gain the support of other great abolitionists at the time. These of course included the six secret benefactors. The funds he was collecting were aimed at creating havoc and bringing war to the south in an attempt to free its slaves. With his money, he rented the Kennedy farmhouse in the north of the Harper Ferry. With the resources at the farmhouse, he trained an army of twenty-one men in preparation for the upcoming war. The army had a plan to loot the federal munitions store that was located at the Harper ferry in Virginia. They also organized the different ways through which they would arm `slaves. They suggested that they would do so with rifles as well as spikes (Berrier, 2005). 

The plan he had in mind was to free and arm slaves. These slaves would then join his army and they would progress further south to free more slaves. He aimed to ensure that every person who owned slaves in the United States caught on to the word and continued to live in fear. This would mean that some people, no matter how few would opt to free their slaves without the need for violence. However, Brown was prepared to use great violence to do what he felt he was called to do; by God. As they had arranged, Brown and some of his men raided the arsenal. They held several people hostage as part of the process. However, things did not go as arranged. Some of the men from Brown’s army failed to show up for the raid. Even the slaves who were living in the area did not show up as Brown had though that they would. The commander of the US marine at the time, Robert Lee, together with the local militia, attacked Brown’s army killing some of its men and capturing others. Two of his sons were killed in the confrontation and he was seriously injured. He was captured and later tried for murder and treason against his state, Virginia. Brown is said to have defended his actions stating that he only acted in obedience to God. He was also ready to die for his actions as he believed that they had been justified in his quest to end an injustice in the country and especially in the state. Many saw his actions as an act of bravery and hailed him a hero of the land. A great division arose between the north and the south as to how the case should have been handled and if Brown’s actions were as heinous as they had been portrayed in his trial. Others also stated that the court should have had his mental state examined if a fair trial was to be achieved. However, none of their arguments bore fruit. In 1859, Brown was executed for his acts. Even today, his actions remain controversial with many seeing him as a hero rather than a terrorist. Many, on the other hand, believe that even though he had the right idea about slavery, his approach tainted his idea. 

Timothy McVeigh

Another known terrorist from after the WWII was Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh was born and raised in Pendleton in New York. His family was just like any other average working class family in the United States. His time was spent either in school, playing football or participating in church Bingo. Just like John Brown, his family was very religious. However, when he was still young, his parents divorced after dome difficulty in their marriage. He went on to live with his father which led him to grow in his relations with his grandfather. His grandfather introduced him to gums and taught him about their use and all else that pertained to them. Around this time McVeigh also came across the Turner Diaries written by a neo-Nazi William Pierce. The book described what it would be like if a federal building and was a great influence for McVeigh’s fear that there was a secret plan to strip the American citizens of their right to own and use guns.

When he was in high school McVeigh was bullied many times for his stature and his height being very tall and very skinny. However, he managed to graduate in 1986 and even went on to earn a scholarship to a business school. However, he could not find interest in the school and soon dropped out; going on to join the military. His service was greatly appreciated and he earned a bronze star for his participation in the Persian Gulf war. He went on to drop out of the Special Forces and was discharged from the army all together in 1991. He returned to his home in new York where he worked in a gun show circuit. In addition to this, he spent a lot of time preaching about the evils of the government to anyone who cared to listen. He also spent a lot of his free time with some of his army buddies Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier. Their shared interests fueled his love for guns and increased his hate for his government (McVeigh, 2013). 

Although his anger for the government had been growing over the years, two events can be pinpointed as the cause of his final decisions. These two events involved the FBI acting against certain people that believed in the separation of races. The first was a siege led by FBI agents who were involved at a standoff with famous separatist Ruby Ridge. Ridge had been suspected for selling guns illegally. The standoff left the wife and children of Ruby Ridges dead. The second incident involved an incidents with the Branch Davidians. FBI agents intended to arrest the leader of the Davidians on charges of illegal weapons.  McVeigh watched the event on the news that had left dozens of those in the compound dead; including children. 

His anger had finally grown to insurable heights. In September of 1994, he plotted to destroy the Murray Federal building in Oklahoma. He was to rely on the helo of his friends Nichols and Fortier. He acquired ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel in tins and gallons. The two combined would for a highly volatile explosive. His choice of the Murrah building was strategic as he believed the cameras would allow for the desired amount of media coverage (Hamm, 1997). 

In 1995, his plan finally came to pass. He had waited for the second anniversary of the Davidian branch incident to fulfill his plan. He drove his truck to the front of the Murray building at a time when the workers were arriving. There were also several children being dropped off at the daycare in the building. The explosives went off at 9.02 am, ripping off the entire north wall of the building. All floors of the building were affected and numerous other buildings in the area were destroyed as well. The explosion caused the death of 168 people, 19 of whom were children (Hamm, 1997). 

Initially, the bombing was linked to a terror group from the Middle East. However, as time progressed, McVeigh became a suspect as well. He was soon pulled over by a local officer after him and his friend Nichols were flagged for a license plate violation. The officer arrested the two when they were found with an illegal firearm. They were jailed pending their trial for the firearm but were soon linked to the bombing as well. They were turned over to the federal authorities who prosecuted them and brought them up for trial. Two years after his trial began in 1997, McVeigh was sentenced to death. His friend Nichols was found guilty of conspiracy charges and was charged to life in prison. During an interview for a biography, “American terrorist” McVeigh spoke of the incident with great pride except for the death of the children. He described his remorse for their death but referred to them as nothing more than collateral damage. 

Differences and Similarities

The two American terrorists have one major thing in common; they do not fit into what may be referred to as the regular profile of terrorists. Many times when the name terrorism is mentioned people’s minds immediately begin to assume that whoever is responsible must be of middle-eastern descent. Even in McVeigh’s case this had been the assumption before he was identified as a suspect and eventually found to be guilty. The two men have had great similarities in; their analogies, their actions, their beliefs and what they thought they could do to bring injustices they saw to an end. Public perception of John Brown has gone through a great amount of transformation since his execution in the 19th century. During that time, he was widely perceived as a villain. Even those who argued for his case did so by stating that even though his ideas were noble his actions ailed him. However, within a few years of his execution, many people began to view him as a premature unionist. In later years, people began to hail him as some sort of hero in a time of great evil. Many have continued to grant this same consideration for McVeigh. In fact, McVeigh is quoted to have stated that he saw himself as the modern day John Brown who in his time had committed great acts of violence in the effort to abolish slavery in the south. These analogies do not have much difference in them. Both men believed that the current systems were greatly unjust to the people and thus believed that the only way to bring justice to the country was through violence. They had no qualms about killing people who may or may not have been innocent. The two men had both come to the conclusion that they were perfectly justified to respond with violence and brutality to the unfair systems of justice around them (Lee, 2015).

Brown is especially remembered for his murder of James Doyle and his two adult sons. Although is believed to have only targeted slave owners, recent scholars have found that Doyle infarct stood for antislavery. Many believe that brown may have only targeted him for his Catholicism. Brown and his men had ordered Doyle and his son to come out of the cabin lest they be burned down in it. However when they did, they were tortured and killed in the most gruesome of ways. Similarly, for McVeigh’s case, he bombed a building full of people that he had no direct quarrel with and ended up taking the lives of nineteen innocent children. Whether or not one may agree with whatever ideologies the two men held, it is clear that they were both bent on causing terror to those around them and did not always stick to their beliefs. Their murderous tendencies strike them out from being heroes of any kind. 

Many have also argued that both Brown and McVeigh were similar in the sense that they were both tragic figures. Brown was left with no choice but to act out with violence after he felt the evil of slavery all around him. The tragedy here is that although Brown was a person of good intentions, he felt so trapped by the circumstances around him that he felt he had no choice but to act in the ways that he did. This argument has been used to describe many other terrorists and their actions over time. However, this argument has many loopholes, one of which is seen with the situation with Doyle. He tortured him even when it was unnecessary, casting doubt on whether he really was a man of good intentions. McVeigh acted in the way he did as a result of situations that he felt were unjust. He felt that the government, in the form of the FBI had been wrong in the killings of Bridges and his family as well as in the treatment of the Davideans. However, this tragic figure excuse fails in the sense that it does not address the fact that McVeigh had killed tens of innocent people, including children who were not in any way involved in the activities of the government. 

Additionally, many have also stated that comparisons between terrorists such as Brown and McVeigh are often too simplistic and fail to take into account the differences in culture, upbringing and other social differences. McVeigh’s actions easily fall into the category of murder since they were conducted in a civilized society with laws and governing bodies that are meant to protect these laws. Brown’s crimes were committed at a time where the legal standards could not be applied to their fullest. After all, there were people who were still allowed to own other people as slaves. His actions occurred at the time when the nation was facing one of its worst condition, a civil war. Many other pro-slavery people were committing similar actions to those of Brown without any consequences. This argument may be used to differentiate between what Brown believed, his actions and those of McVeigh. However, as we have learnt from history, the actions committed by the two were still brutal and instilled fear in large populations, earning them their rightful place as terrorists. 

In conclusion, teaching of false profiling in terms of terrorism has perhaps contributed to the instances of people being eager to understand why certain people act the way they do when they fall outside of certain descriptions. For instance, if a person of Middle Eastern descent had committed similar acts as either Brown or McVeigh, then very few people, if any would be trying to justify his actions as tragic or heroic. Many people would be up in arms to try and state that people that share the same description as him be properly vetted before entering the country. 


Timothy McVeigh Story: The Oklahoma Bomber. (2013).

Hamm, M. S. (1997). Apocalypse in Oklahoma: Waco and Ruby Ridge revenged. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Lee, N. (January 01, 2015). Understanding Terrorism.

Bonnie, L.-S. (July 03, 2013). The Brown Family’s Antislavery Culture, 1831-49.

Berrier, G. (January 01, 2005). Davis S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights; Peggy A. Russo and Paul Finkelman, eds., Terrible Swift Sword: The Legacy of John Brown. Annals of Iowa, 64, 4, 375-376.

Hinton, R. J. (2007). John Brown and his men: With some account of the roads they traveled to reach Harpers Ferry. Whitefish, Mont.?: Kessinger Pub.

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