April 2014 marked the fifteenth anniversary of the London nailbombings: three separate attacks that occurred over two weeks in Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho in the spring of 1999. In total, three people were killed and over 120 were injured in blasts that targeted the capital’s black, Asian and gay communities. In the confusion after the first bombing, a number of extreme right-wing groups tried to claim responsibility, but by the time of the third explosion the police knew they were after just one suspect – 22 year-old loner David Copeland. When caught, Copeland admitted to police that he was racist, homophobic and a committed national socialist. ‘My main intent was to spread fear, resentment and hatred throughout this country, it was to cause a racial war,’ he told detectives when interviewed. ‘There’d be a backlash from the ethnic minorities, I’d just be the spark that would set fire to this country’ (McLagan and Lowles, 2000).
Copeland had acted completely on his own: a so-called ‘lone wolf’ driven by a deadly mixture of low self-esteem, chronic insecurities, intense anger at multicultural society and a hatred of minorities. Yet, while he may have acted by himself, his bombing spree was one in a long series of such hate-fuelled campaigns perpetrated solely by individuals. Jeffrey Simon (2013) identifies five broad categories of these ‘lone wolf’ terrorists: those who are inspired to act by political convictions, or by religion, or by single-issues (such as animal liberation), or the desire for financial gain, or as a result of severe personality or psychological problems. Copeland arguably fitted into the first (and perhaps last) of these categories, being heavily influenced by The Turner Diaries, a fictional work by American neo-Nazi William Pierce that depicts a ‘race war’ triggered by the activities of white supremacists. Four years prior to Copeland’s campaign, in April 1995 an American lone wolf political extremist, also inspired by The Turner Diaries, detonated a bomb outside a government building in Oklahoma City, US, killing 168 people. This was the murderous work of 26 year-old Timothy McVeigh, a war veteran furious at the actions and policies of the US government.