What psychological factors go into terrorism's impact

With the recent shooings in Ft. Hood being labeled a likely terrorist act, a handful of people I have seen in the media are getting pissed that there is not much of an uproar over this issue.

However, anyone who thinks a single shooter can compare to 9/11 really has no sense of scale.

I was reading about operation Gladio a while back (false flag terror operations in western europe to turn people against leftists) and I remember one of the statements being something along the line of ‘you want to attack people who are in no way shape or form involved in politics’. So terrorism against a parliment is one thing, but against a disco is something else.

With 9/11, terrorists attacked civilians who had nothing to do with the military or policy. Whereas the attack on the USS Cole was an attack on a military installation, which I do not think has the same effect. Even the attack on an Embassy in Kenya did not really seem to affect the public.
So what all psychological factors go into terrorism? This isn’t a post (duh) endorsing terrorism, but I am curious to understand it. My understanding is the goal of terrorism is to cause as much psychosocial trauma that a nation is forced to bow to your demands. And the more trauma (in the terrorists mind) the better.

Luckily, the worse an act of terrorism the more you turn everyone except the extremists against the movement. Support for terrorism in Iraq and Pakistan has dropped in the last few years because the public got to see up close what terrorists were capable of. Supposedly this is where the Sunni Uprising and the Pakistani takeover of SWAT came from, the public getting sick of the draconian tactics that terrorists were engaging in. I was reading parts of a declassified NIE report on terrorism a few years ago and it said one of the best ways to combat terrorism is to find ways to make the public in countries with high support of terrorism see the consequences of the actions. What would happen if the terrorists actually won and what society would look like with all the human and civil rights abuses. I remember telling some people when we were discussing the issue that I wouldn’t be surprised if the US was secretly funding radical terror groups (who attack foreign interests but not really our own) for this purpose, in the hopes that they would kill enough innocent civilians that the people in the nations harboring them turned them over and turned against them. It sounds unrealistic, but keep in mind that it wouldn’t be the first time we’d funded and supported terrorism to achieve our goals. Hell, Seymour Hersh says we are funding them now (we are supposedly funding Sunni extremists with links to Al Qaeda to combat the Shi-ite in Iraq).

So what all goes into the emotional and psychic damage of terrorism?
Proximity comes to mind. A terror attack close by (NYC) is worse than one far away (Kenya, Yemen).

The nature of the terrorists and whether they threaten the social order is a factor. Blacks in the south were more threatening than whites, even if the act were the same. An example of terrorism that threatened the social order was Nat Turner with his revolt in the 1830s.

Terrorism that upholds the social order (the KKK burning down a black church tied to civil rights in the 1960s) tends not to be viewed as bad, or is supported, by those who benefit from and identify with the social order.

Suffice it to say, black people in the south 80 years ago going around randomly raping white women and leaving notes about an uprising was going to get more of a response from the public than a few random rapists whose acts did not threaten the established social order.

How unexpected it is also seems to play a role. If a nation expects terror (like Israel) does it have less of an impact than an event like 9/11, which caught most of us in the US off guard?

Victims unrelated to subject (innocents) also seems to play a role. Like the quote I gave above, the more innocent and unrelated the victims are to the issue at hand, the more it damages people’s sense of security and predictability in life. A school bus full of children being held hostage or bombed is going to get a bigger response than a barracks of soldiers like what happened in Lebanon. As long as only people involved in the military/political conflict are targeted people feel in control and unattached. But when everyone becomes a target, the trauma is intensified.

Scale obviously is a factor. 1,000 dead is bigger than 10 dead.

Attacks on landmarks or VIPs are also a factor. Obviously. The attempt to bomb Parliment by Fawkes, or bringing down the WTCs since they were statements of US economic and political power.

It seems destroying people’s sense of safety/security, social stability and predictibility in life is a key psychological motive. However, again, the more terrorists do that the more they alienate the 98% of the public who will not and do not support terrorism. So luckily terrorism seems to function on a negative feedback mechanism where the more powerful it is at accomplishing its goals (intimidating and traumatizing innocent people), the more marginalized it becomes and the easier it is to defeat (since nations and civilians will cooperate more to stop it). After 9/11 there were marches by Iranian citizens supporting US victims. And the entire world was with us. When people in Pakistan saw the video of talibani militants caning a woman, it made them realize what they were up against and turn on the taliban.

The most important factor, I’d venture, is simply how many people are ‘terrified’ (above a notional threshold) that something might actually happen to them or their loved ones. Military targets are arguably classed as “me and mine” to only a small minority, such that the Ft Hood shootings, USS Cole attack, Kenyan embassy attack or even the approaching 1000 deaths in Afghanistan do not instil terror in much of the civilian population.

The Washington sniper, on the other hand, spread terror far and wide despite only killing 10 or so people, because people genuinely thought it could be them. (When I first heard about that, I thought Al Qaeda or Saddam had got clever - I’m glad it was ‘only’ a lone psychopath.)

I also remember growing up in Liverpool when the IRA were bombing pubs and shops in England. We felt little ‘terror’ because we knew they only operated south of Bimingham, and would not target the north west since it was their port exit home and had a large Irish population. When they bombed Manchester and killed a 12-year old and a 3-year old with a bomb down the road in Warrington, Liverpudlians thought whoa, it could be us.

I’ll read and respond to the rest of your post later, but did you forget that one of the planes hit the Pentagon? I’m not sure what the people who worked in that particular section were doing, but they worked at the headquarters of the Department of Defense, so there’s no way to reasonably claim they had nothing to do with the military or policy.

I forgot about the 3rd plane. Plus the 4th plane was supposedly heading towards the capital building. I was only thinking of the NYC attack.