I can’t think of too many Government publications that cover pirates, Vikings, the Teutonic Knights, the Italian Red Brigades, the Irish Republican Army, and the Taliban in one volume, but that’s what Armed Groups: Studies in National Security, Counterterrorism, and Counterinsurgency does. Published by the Naval War College, it’s a collection of essays by noted experts that expands our view of “terrorism” by using the term “armed groups,” which includes classic insurgents, terrorists, guerrillas, militias, police agencies, criminal organizations, mercenaries, pirates, drug cartels, apocalyptic religious extremists, orchestrated rioters and mobs, and tribal factions. Once you start reading, it’s hard to stop, although it’s certainly not light entertainment.
For me, the scariest essays were those dealing with domestic armed groups, like militias, white supremacist groups, and large organized street gangs. Although a lot of the examples mentioned were familiar to me, such as the post 9/11 anthrax scare and the arrest in subsequent years of several biological terrorist wannabes – seeing all of the examples assembled in one place convinced me of one author’s contention that domestic armed groups are no less menacing than the international organizations that get so much media exposure.
Armed Groups is a rich source for all kinds of background on the use of violence by the politically powerless and the broad array of organizations that practice it. It may not help you sleep better at night to know that such groups are so prevalent, but it’s indispensable information for anyone who wants to delve beneath the surface of an often-described but not always well-understood cultural, sociological, and political phenomenon. The book’s editor, Jeff Norwitz, has posted chapters on his own Web site. You also can browse Armed Groups here, get your own copy here, or find it in a library here.