Leaderless Resistance, Networked Organization, and Ideological Hegemony

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5 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines various forms of "new terrorism," specifically the structure of "leaderless resistance," in connection with Robert Michels' idea of the "iron law of oligarchy." It is usually argued that "leaderless resistance" movements lack some of the typical obstacles of terrorist (and other) organizations, given their non-hierarchical and comparatively fluid natures. However, a new form of oligarchy develops in this type of movement, located in the propagation of key ideological concepts/arguments/symbols, the assigning of target preferences, and the elevation or demotion of others within the movement broadly. Rather than oligarchy forming via the material assets of organizations, an "ideational" oligarchy is created that shapes the goals of leaderless resistance movements: those leaders who are already established, and who control the means of communicating the movement's ideas to the widest audience, will impede the growth of groups and individuals within the movement that attempt to supplant their role. This article will use the examples of certain eco-terror groups (the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front) to explicate this development.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)655-671
Number of pages17
JournalTerrorism and Political Violence
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2013



  • Michels
  • leaderless resistance
  • networks
  • oligarchy
  • terrorism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations

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