What is Leaderless Resistance?

Part of the Leaderless Resistance Collection <-

Note this set of pages is under construction during the first week of September, 2017

Why this page? Because of the article below:

Alt-Right website (ed. Richard Spencer), 2017-08-31
Author calls for armed challenge to US government
using Leaderless Resistance
Article by Vincent Law

…NOTE: Much information online about Leaderless Resistance is not accurate, makes false assumptions, or encourages government repression of free speech.

The Roots of the
Leaderless Resistance Concept

This set of pages is revised from a series originally published by Political Research Associates and written for PRA by Chip Berlet.

A scholarly discussion of Leaderless Resistance appears as: Chip Berlet, 2009. “Violence and Public Policy,” Criminology and Public Policy, special issue on terrorism, Vol. 8, Issue 3, (October), pp. 623-631.

A leading expert on the topic, Simson Garfinkel, explains that the term “Leaderless Resistance” is sometimes used too loosely “to refer to networked organizations with hub-and-spoke architecture. Such terminology is incorrect. Rather, ‘Leaderless Resistance’ applies specifically to groups or individuals that employ cells and that lack bidirectional vertical command links — that is, groups without leaders.”

The theory of Leaderless Resistance as proposed within U.S. right-wing insurgents, many with ties to militant religious ideologies, is frequently discussed among those making policy suggestions for combating domestic terrorism. Therefore an accurate assessment of its roots and application would seem imperative, but misconceptions are common, and some of them trace back to books by well-known authors Marc Sageman and Bruce Hoffman.

View the Publishing History

  • The Amoss Version 1953-1962
  • The Cuba Airdrop Leaflet – circa 1961
  • 150 Questions for a Guerrilla version – 1963
  • The Beam Version 1983-1992

View a Timeline  of Events important to Leaderless Resistance

Other pages in this collection:

By Chip Berlet, for Political Research Associates, on September 10, 2008

Martin Durham on Leaderless Resistance <-Reliable early analysis by expert 

Garfinkel-on-leaderless-resistance <- Reliable early analysis by expert 

Sageman-and-leaderless-resistance  <- Notes errors in first edition of book

Hoffman-and-leaderless-resistance  <- Notes errors in first edition of book

Lieberman’s “Leaderless Jihad” Fetish: Bogus Theories Feed Islamophobia

View the cuba-airdrop-leaflet-circa-1961

  • Cell Structures What is Leaderless Resistance & What is Not?<- In Queue
  • Leaderless Resistance and Lone Wolves <- In Queue
  • When Hate Went Online <- In Queue

The History, Definition, & Use of the Term
“Leaderless Resistance”

by Chip Berlet

The terms “Leaderless Resistance” or “Phantom Cells” generally refer to spontaneous, autonomous, unconnected cells seeking to carry out acts of violence, sabotage, or terrorism against a government or occupying military force. The concept is often attributed to Louis Beam, but Beam himself credits the concept to Ulius Amoss. Although Beam cites a 1962 version, in fact, Amoss first wrote about Leaderless Resistance in 1953.

 Ulius “Pete” Louis Amoss was an operative in the WWII Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

After the war Amoss established a research center International Services of Information (INFORM), as well as a newsletter INFORM to fight communism.

INFORM was circulated to anti-communists worried about the influence of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe and the United States

Click here for the Amoss text from 1962

Unlike Louis Beam, Amoss had no connection to organized White Supremacist groups and had no interest in overthrowing the United States government. On the contrary, Amoss was frustrated that the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies were using outdated methods to build resistance against communism in Eastern Europe.

According to Amoss, resistance cells with members who made contact with U.S. intelligence agents or émigré ethnic anticommunist organizations were being penetrated by Soviet and Soviet Bloc intelligence agencies, broken up, the members tortures, and sometimes executed. Therefore, Amoss urged U.S. intelligence policy be shifted from an old-fashioned hierarchical model such as that used in WWII with resistance organizations, and refocused on encouraging “Leaderless Resistance to destabilize and subvert Soviet occupation of Eastern European countries such as Poland, the example he cites in detail in his essay. Amoss warned that traditional hierarchical underground cells organized by the CIA in Eastern Europe were being penetrated and liquidated by Soviet and Eastern Bloc counterintelligence operations

Amoss: “we do not need ‘leaders’; we need leading ideas. These ideas would produce leaders. The masses would produce them and the ideas would be their inspiration. Therefore, we must create these ideas and convey them to the restless peoples concerned with them.”

Graphic here

White anti-racists rescue Black youth being attacked by neonazis and White supremacists in the mob in the background. Rescuer in white shirt is being punched by a racist thug.


Leaderless Resistance in a Social Science Context

The terms “Leaderless Resistance” or “Phantom Cells” refer to spontaneous, autonomous, unconnected cells seeking to carry out acts of violence, sabotage, or terrorism targeting a government or occupying military force. These acts may or may not involve targeting civilians. When incidents do target civilians as part of an attempt to shift societal policies, the term terrorism is appropriate.

See Bibliography

Organized White Supremacist Groups

===White Supremacist groups in the United States share certain common elements and characteristics. In addition to a view of racial hierarchy, there is usually some form of antisemitism, dualism, apocalypticism, a reliance on conspiracy theories, a masculinist perspective, and antipathy towards gays and lesbians. They also share some common elements with all social movements. At the same time, there are distinctive differences among White Supremacist groups. There are several ways to illustrate these differences. In order to better explain how these groups operate in the public sphere, we separate them into the categories of: political, religious, and youth cultural (racist skinhead, racist gangs, etc.) This typology, proposed by Vysotsky (2004), focuses on how these groups recruit and mobilize supporters around specific ideologies or cultural frames.

===Organized White Supremacist groups in the United States evolved from their historic base of various predecessor Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations (Schmaltz 1999; Trelease 1995; Chalmers 1965). Over time, they spread into a wide range of competing forms and ideologies.

===These groups and organizations constitute what some have broadly termed the “radical right.” While there are some areas where the extreme right White Supremacist movement and right-wing dissident groups (usually listed as being part of the Patriot or armed militia movements) overlap, we do not include the latter in this study because there are important boundaries separating them from White Supremacist race hate groups (Durham 2000).

–Chip Berlet and Stanislav Vysotsky. 2006. “Overview of U.S. White Supremacist Groups. Journal of Political and Military Sociology,

See Bibliography

The Armed Citizens Militia Movement

===It was in [the] context of resurgent isolationism and unilateralism that a self-conscious Patriot movement coalesced [in the 1990s]. It involved some 5 million persons who suspected–to varying degrees–that the government was manipulated by secret elites and planned the imminent imposition of some form of tyranny. This suspicion has been the basic theme of the John Birch Society since the late 1950s.

===The Patriot movement was bracketed on the reformist side by the Birch Society and the conspiracist segment of the Christian Right, and on the insurgent side by the Liberty Lobby and groups promoting themes historically associated with White supremacy and antisemitism. A variety of preexisting far-right vigilante groups (including Christian Identity adherents and outright neonazi groups) were influential in helping to organize the broader Patriot movement. The Patriot movement, however, drew recruits from several preexisting movements and networks:

  • Militant right-wing gun rights advocates, antitax protesters, survivalists, and far-right libertarians.
  • Christian Patriots, and other persons promoting a variety of pseudo-legal “constitutionalist” theories.
  • Advocates of “sovereign” citizenship, “freeman” status, and other arguments rooted in a distorted analysis of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth Amendments, including those persons who argue that a different or second-class form of citizenship is granted to African Americans through these amendments.
  • White racist, antisemitic, or neonazi movement, such as the Posse Comitatus, Aryan Nations, and Christian Identity.
  • The confrontational wing of the antiabortion movement.
  • Apocalyptic millennialists, including those Christians who believed the period of the “End Times” had arrived and they were facing the Mark of the Beast, which could be hidden in supermarket bar codes, proposed paper currency designs, implantable computer microchips, Internet websites, or e-mail.
  • The dominion theology sector of the Christian evangelical right, especially its most militant and doctrinaire branch, Christian Reconstruc­tionism.

=== The most militant wings of the antienvironmentalist “Wise Use” movement, county supremacy movement, state sovereignty movement, states’ rights movement, and Tenth Amendment movement.

=== Multiple themes intersected in the Patriot movement: government abuse of power; fears about globalism and sovereignty; economic distress (real, relative, and anticipated); apocalyptic fears of conspiracy and tyranny from above; male identity crisis, backlash against the social liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and more.

===Patriot movement adherents who formed armed units became known as armed citizens militias. During the mid-1990s, armed militias were sporadically active in all fifty states, with total membership estimated at between 20,000 and 60,000. Both the Patriot and armed militia movements grew rapidly, relying on computer networks, fax trees, short-wave radio, AM talk radio, and videotape and audiotape distribution. The Patriot and militia movements were arguably the first major U.S. social movements to be organized primarily through overlapping, horizontal, nontraditional electronic media [such as online computer networks]

–Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. RightWing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford Press.

Read the rest of the chapter online.

See Bibliography

Social Movements

“A social movement is “a collectivity acting with some degree of organization and continuity outside of institutional channels for the purpose of promoting or resisting change in the group, society, or world order of which it is a part.” (McAdam and Snow, 1997, xviii).

See Bibliography

Civil Liberties

Government agencies are reportedly analyzing secret intelligence data
scanning for networks, patterns of interaction, etc. in a search for different
kinds of underground terrorist cells.

Tracking an actual “Leaderless Resistance” cell that is truly spontaneous, autonomous, and unconnected would require a much deeper level of intrusiveness and penetration of a larger community in which these cells achieve some level of anonymity. Everyone in the community would need to be suspected until their innocence had been proven.

But if in fact the “Leaderless Resistance” model is not how potential homegrown Muslim terrorist cells are actually organized, then different techniques would be needed to locate the would-be terrorists–techniques that are, ironically, much more similar to those advocated by Marc Sageman in his first book.

If our understanding of domestic terrorist tendencies is more properly modeled as an outside contagion, rather than as something spontaneously generated, then it would be more proper to monitor known terrorists, rather than conducting sweeps of all potential terrorists.

Short Bibliography from 2010

Leaderless Resistance

Amoss, Ulius Louis. 1953 “Leaderless Resistance.” INFORM.

Amoss, Ulius Louis. 1962. “Leaderless Resistance.” INFORM, revised version published posthumously.

Beam, Louis. 1983. “Leaderless Resistance,” Inter-Klan Newsletter & Survival Alert, undated, circa May 1983, pages not numbered. On file at Political Research Associates;

_____. 1992. “Leaderless Resistance,” The Seditionist, 12 (February); text at http://www.louisbeam.com/leaderless.htm, pp. 12-13.

Garfinkel, Simson L. 2003. “Leaderless Resistance Today”First Monday, online journal.

Joosse, Paul. 2007. “Leaderless Resistance and Ideological Inclusion: the Case of the Earth Liberation Front.” Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 19, No. 3, (September), pp. 351-368.

Organized White Supremacist Groups

Aho, J. A. 1990. The politics of righteousness: Idaho Christian patriotism. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press.

Aho, J. A. 1989. A library of infamy,Idaho Librarian, 41 (4): 86–88.

Chip Berlet. 2001. “Hate Groups, Racial Tension and Ethnoviolence in an Integrating Chicago Neighborhood 1976-1988.” In Betty A. Dobratz, Lisa K. Walder, and Timothy Buzzell, eds., Research in Political Sociology, Vol.9: The Politics of Social Inequality, pp. 117–163.

Chip Berlet and Stanislav Vysotsky. 2006. “Overview of U.S. White Supremacist Groups. Journal of Political and Military Sociology, 34(1), (Summer), pp. 11-48. Special Issue on the white power movement in the United States, ed. B. A. Dobratz and L. K. Walsner.

Blee, Kathleen. Inside Organized Racism: Women in the Hate Movement. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Dyer, Joel. 1998. Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City is Only the Beginning . Revised. Boulder, Colo.: Westview.

Ezekiel, Raphael S. 1995. The Racist Mind: Portraits of American Neo-Nazis and Klansmen. New York, NY: Viking.

Hamm, Mark S. 2002. In Bad Company: America’s Terrorist Underground. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

_____. 1997. Apocalypse in Oklahoma: Waco and Ruby Ridge Revenged Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Hearst, Ernest, Chip Berlet, and Jack Porter. “Neo-Nazism.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Eds. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 15. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 74-82. 22 vols. Thomson Gale.

Mudde, Cas. 2000. The Ideology of the Extreme Right. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press.

Noble, Kerry. 1998. Tabernacle of Hate. Prescott, Ontario, Canada: Voyageur

The Armed Citizens Militia Movement

Berlet, Chip and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. RightWing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford Press.

Berlet, Chip. 2004. “Militias in the Frame.” Contemporary Sociology 33:514-521.

Chermak, Steven M. 2002. Searching for a Demon: The Media Construction of the Militia Movement. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Crothers, Lane. 2003. Rage on the Right: The American Militia Movement from Ruby Ridge to Homeland Security. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Ferber, Abby L. and Michael S. Kimmel. 2004. “‘White Men are this Nation:’ Right-Wing Militias and the Restoration of Rural American Masculinity.” Pp. 143-160 in Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism, edited by Abby L. Ferber. New York: Routledge.

Freilich, Joshua D. American Militias: State Level Variations in Militia Activities, by Joshua D. Freilich. New York: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2003;

Gallaher, Carolyn . On the Fault Line: Race, Class, and the American Patriot Movement. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.

Levitas, Daniel. 2002. The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. New York: St. Martin’s.

Mason, Lorna. 2006. Insurgency on the Populist Right: A Case Study of the Contemporary U.S. Patriot Movement. Dissertation at Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York.  Frances Fox Piven advisor May 2006.

Van Dyke, Nella and Sarah A. Soule. 2002. “Structural Social Change and the Mobilizing Effect of Threat: Explaining Levels of Patriot and Militia Organizing in the United States,” Social Problems 49(4):497-520.

Lieberman/Collins ReportTerrorism, Counterterrorism, and Repression
Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007
$22 million for the establishment of a “ National Commission On The Prevention Of Violent Radicalization And Ideologically Based Violence.” Read More.

An inflammatory report, “Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorism Threat,”(PDF), issued via the Senate Committee on Homeland Security was drafted solely under the direction of Committee Chairmen Joseph Lieberman (DI-CT), a pro-war “Independent Democrat,” and ranking Republican Susan Collins (R-ME).

Leaderless Analysis:

The Public Eye Magazine.

Leaderless Resistance
Read More.

Repression and Ideology:

How Police Justify Labelling Demonstrators as “Terrorists” by Chip Berlet & Matthew N. Lyons

These selections relate to the issue of government use of terminology to demonize dissent. The first is the government’s attempt to include under the term “terrorism” a variety of methodologies, some of which are not even violent. The next two are Rand studies with a similar theme.

Louis J. Freeh (Director Federal Bureau of Investigation),
Congressional Statement on the Threat of Terrorism to the United States
before the United States Senate Committees on Appropriations,
Armed Services and Select Committee on Intelligence, May 10, 2001,
full text at http://www.fbi.gov/congress/congress01/freeh051001.htm

Networks and Netwars:
The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy
John Arquilla, David Ronfeldt (editors)
Rand Corporation

See especially the following chapter:
Gangs, Hooligans and Anarchists
The Vanguard of Netwar in the streets.
John P. Sullivan
Rand Corporation