Terrorism: Ted Robert Gurr, Size of Terrorist Groups

What is the argument about the size of terrorist groups, and what is its importance as it applies to terrorism? Who is the major contributor to this argument? Are there examples?

Ted Robert Gurr is the major contributor to the argument about the size of terrorist groups and its application to terrorism.  Gurr orchestrated an empirical analysis of terrorist groups operating during the 1960s in order to identify some of their operational characteristics.  His data has questioned some of the most popular beliefs like: political revolutionaries dominate terrorist groups; which in his understanding it is groups that embrace other doctrines, such as nationalism or religion, which are most successful.  He also shows that most terrorist actions involve only a few people “who generate more noise than injury” (White, 2006, p. 32).  Furthermore, the larger the group the more likely that such a group embraced popular political issues.  An example of such a group is Hezbollah and their Lebanon political operations.  Additionally, larger groups are capable of orchestrating a terrorism campaign, but small groups cannot do so.  Small groups are ephemeral and do not have the same possibilities as the larger terrorist groups (White, 2006).  An example of a large, successful group is al Qaeda.


White, J.R. (2006). Terrorism and Homeland Security. (5th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson-Wadsworth.

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

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