A leaderless campaign by “Anonymous” against the Church of Scientology. Is this “leaderless resistance“? It sure sounds like it except for the fact that there is no violence, just ridicule and some performance art (to put it exceedingly generously).
Some people are skeptical that “leaderless resistance” is actually possible. I think that it is entirely possible. There is no a priori reason why this campaign couldn’t have involved violence, it simply happened not to. (In case you are a lawyer for the Church of Scientology, let me be perfectly clear, I do not condone religious violence. Nor do I condone anti-religious violence, with the possible exception of military operations against Salafi jihadism, but that’s a different story.) I think that the “flash mob” phenomenon is another case of something which has many of the characteristics of leaderless resistance.
Leaderless resistance is interesting because as far as I know, it is the only important idea about revolutionary war or insurgency to come out of the political right.
Louis Beam, a white supremacist, generally gets the credit for popularizing the term and the idea of leaderless resistance during the 1980s and 1990s. See his essay here. However, Beam correctly gives credit to Colonel Ulius Amoss for originating it. Amoss (about whom more in a future post) was the man behind Grecian Formula. He was also a right-wing, retired Air Force officer, veteran of the OSS, and chief of a private intelligence firm during the 1950s. He published two somewhat different essays entitled “Leaderless Resistance” in his company’s newsletter in 1953 and 1962. His concern at the time was resisting communist oppressors. (By the way, I have the 1962 version. If somebody knows where to find the 1953 version, please let me know. The Library of Congress and the usual places don’t have it.)
The idea of leaderless resistance has found its way abroad, too. Though originating from the right, it is now used by the left (notably by SHAC, originally a British endeavor) and other environmental/animal rights groups. Simson Garfinkle had an excellent article in First Monday in 2003 looking at the general concept and how it has manifested itself in these groups. Leaderless resistance has also shown up in the work of the famous Abu Musab al-Suri, probably the leading intellectual strategist of the Salafi jihadist world. He calls his concept “individual jihad.” It is interesting, however, that I can find no evidence (yet) that al-Suri read Beam or Amoss, despite the fact that he is very widely read in western military theory. At the moment, I’d have to say that this looks like a case of parallel development, but I reserve the right to change my mind.
Abu Musabl al-Suri lecturing in Afghanistan
By the way, Brynjar Lia has written a truly remarkable intellectual biography of al-Suri entitled Architect of Jihad is a truly remarkable book, sort of an intellectual biography, of al-Suri. It includes a translation of the two main chapters from al-Suri’s masterwork, Call to Global Islamic Resistance. These are the chapters in which he enunciates his idea of individual jihad. For a précis of the rest of al-Suri’s 1600 page magnum opus, see Jim Lacey’s A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad.