General Question

girlofscience's avatar

What is the purpose of making dangerous threats (bomb, poisoning, etc.) rather than simply going through with the attack?

Asked by girlofscience (7567points) January 8th, 2009

I raise this question in response to this recent sad news.

We frequently hear of bomb threats, terrorist threats, poisoning threats, etc. What is the purpose of these threats? If truly intending to cause the harm listed in the threat, wouldn’t it be more effective to go through with the violence without warning anyone?

Sending out a “threat” in advance, in this case specifically, could likely lead to the bars closing temporarily or patrons refusing to go to the bar, thus, avoiding the poisoning. Similarly, other threats cause people to take measures in order to avoid the harm posed.

If you really want to harm people, I don’t understand why you would warn them in advance. The only purpose of threats seems to be to scare people; it doesn’t seem likely that a person intending to carry out a threat would issue the threat to begin with. So then, why believe them?

I am baffled by this concept of threats. Please enlighten me.

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14 Answers

Blondesjon's avatar


elijah's avatar

They feel powerful watching everyone get scared.

Jack79's avatar

I think it is precicely because the person’s aim is not to harm, but to scare. That’s why it’s called “terrorism” (and why I hate it when Bush uses the word so arbitrarily).

The terrorist is making his point by scaring you, hoping that this way you would change your ways. And of course his hope is that you’ll just do whatever he wants and he won’t have to go through with it.

girlofscience's avatar

@elijahsuicide: Then, do you think the majority of threats are intended to be carried out as well, or only intended to make people scared?

girlofscience's avatar

@Jack79: Ha, I asked elijah that before you posted your opinion on the matter.

Triozoo's avatar

To intimidate the opposing country etc.

elijah's avatar

I think most threats are empty. Unfortunately there’s no way to know until after the fact.

dalepetrie's avatar

It’s all about fear. You can scare people into acting the way you want them to act.

eambos's avatar

@dalepetrie exactly what I was about to write.

galileogirl's avatar

GOS: You have answered your own question. It might be this person has a belief system that includes killing is a sin. By making this threat s/he may hope to ruin these businesses and hope this kind of letter will achieve that. Of course the reality is that closing gay bars will not inhibit homosexuality.

Another option is the individual lives in a fantasy world, hence a threat that would be very difficult to carry out-the very dangerous ricin which is just as likely to kill the perpetrator as the victim. A more reasonable threat is “I will burn your building when it is full of people”

It also might be someone who feels completely powerless as well as questioning his or her sexual identity, ie s/he hates/fears gays and gets a charge out of controlling people, like people who call in false fire or police reports.

At any rate it represents multiple pathologies.

Zaku's avatar

Yeah, part of the goal may be to do damage, and part to cause a response, and/or to magnify the effect in terms of spreading ideas and fear.

Causing people to react can do more damage than an actual attack.

Look at the insane level of expenditure and distraction the USA has gone through in response to the “terrorist threat” – it’s created a new branch of government, a new security industry, and lots of wasted time, energy, talent, resources… of course it helps to have a corrupt government that embraces an excuse to siphon public resources to its friends, garner political support through fearmongering, gather excuses to wage information warfare on its own people, to mess with political opponents, etc., etc. If your goal is to cause fear and financial damage, and you can do it with words, the pen is mightier than the sword, and can be safer to wield. All especially desirable traits to cowards and knaves.

mamabeverley's avatar

We live in a society of fear. We had a “bomb threat” called in a few years ago to a local high school. Of course, they closed down the school, evacuated everyone, etc. Later it was found out to be called in by an opposing members of a baskeball team we were going to play that night. Our H.S. is huge and had a concert hall attached to it, so the game was cancelled. They new the way to do it was to play on the fear that is built into us everyday. Even if the game was not cancelled, would you take the chance and let your kid go?? No way.

SeventhSense's avatar

The type of person who carries out such threats is generally a psychotic. A psychotic by nature is the highest form of pathological narcissism. They often inflict damage with no regard for others being that they have no real capacity for empathy.

Yet likewise they have such a perverted sense of grandiosity that they want credit for their brilliant acts. Think of the Zodiac Killer, BTK Killer, etc. All of the mass murderer serial killers after being caught take great offense if they are not attributed with the entire tally of victims they murdered. Perhaps, one of the greatest examples is Ted Bundy, who represented himself as his own counsel, so much did he crave the spotlight. So, equal to the act itself, is the killer’s sense of self importance.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. All warfare is based on deception;
Sun Tzu. To say you will blow up a train has the power to disrupt that operation, give the person making the threat the power to stop even if for a few hours he train station of the whole line. It also diverts attention away form most other areas. If you want to get the bridge put the threat focus on the subway or a school. If the ideal was to get people then it would be better for them to just hit them when they had not a clue, like the numerous IEDs of Iraq. Making the threat is about controlling a situation and spreading fear.

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