While there is no particular or distinct characteristic of a domestic terrorist, history reveals there are some behaviors that they seem to have in common.  Recognizing those behaviors and taking them seriously can alert significant others to pay attention, and to intervene before it is too late. There is a sphere of influence that family and bystanders have that, if enacted, can make a difference and possibly even prevent or change the deadly outcome of a terrorist attack.

What we know, is that domestic terrorists often have a sense of being disenfranchised. Hence, they bond with an ideology-driven group, which gives them a feeling of belonging. This experience is not unlike that of joining a gang.

As a domestic terrorist or gang member, one’s personal identity becomes wrapped up in-group identification. It is within this cocoon that the domestic terrorist becomes immersed in a cohesive view of life that is seen through the lens of the group. Here, he feels a part of something heroic and bigger than himself.

Because domestic terrorists often demonstrate low self-esteem, narcissism, and a weak center or core, they are particularly vulnerable to the inflated feelings of significance, bordering on omnipotence and immortality. Their cause develops a mythic texture and they project themselves into that theme as a heroic figure. Further, they experience a constellation of grievances, including alienation, perceived injustices and humiliations, for which revenge becomes the antidote. Nothing happens in a vacuum.  Though not at first — as it takes time to be indoctrinated and to accept the option of injuring or even killing another human being — eventually, the domestic terrorist transitions to that end through group dynamics.

Thus, the group has the capacity to both mold and design the domestic terrorist, influencing his emerging personality. This communal relationship greatly impacts the domestic terrorist, who may reject anything or anyone outside of this ideological family.

As a result, the domestic terrorist begins to isolate himself from anyone who disagrees with his growing philosophy, though it is this very group that influences his feelings. All along, the personality of the domestic terrorist is developing and changing from the group experience.

If, at this point, someone intervened — a parent, friend, teacher, or a person of influence — and acknowledged the individual’s feelings of isolation and disenfranchisement, challenged his thought process, or separated him from the group, they would have a chance to make a difference and potentially prevent an atrocity. Most important is to recognize and acknowledge domestic terrorists… by their works. Unless we call out and identify them for what they are we can’t alleviate their destructive behavior on innocent and vulnerable victims. It’s never what it’s about and domestic terrorist groups have their own hidden agenda… in this case to destroy America.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at EmpowHER.com since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Amazon.com. Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.