Richard Clarke, counter-terrorism expert, came up with a theory of terrorist support networks named “Clarke’s Rings of Terrorism” or “Clarke’s Concentric Circles.” What Clarke shows us is that terrorists are but a tiny minority within a wider and much more varied system of support.
The rings are as following: terrorists, hardcore sympathisers, supporters, opponents.
Above: Clarke’s concentric circles/rings of terrorism.
Terrorists themselves are the ones who commit to violence on behalf of the organisation and organisational goals. They are at the very center of their support networks. They are the celebrities of the group as they commit to it beyond the normal limits of human restraint. That is, they commit to the violence and physical force on behalf of the organisation. They are a central component to putting pressure on opposing groups in order to achieve operational goals.
Hardcore sympathisers and would-be or will-be terrorists may make up their immediate networks and supports. Non-violent terrorist group members, for example propagandists, may also be involved here. These sympathisers may radicalise and mobilize at some point in time but for now they are in a suspended state. In other words, they may be passive or active in processes leading to or directly supporting terrorism. They are the managers of the organisation. They may truly believe what the terrorists believe, but would rather push others into the pathway of violence and keep their hands clean.
Supporters may include those who agree with some components and methods of the terrorist group but otherwise keep it hidden from the public eye. For example, thousands of people may attend a Hamas rally, and yet only a small fraction of that rally may be classified or recognised as terrorists or hardcore sympathisers. Supports are like the groupies of terrorism in that they appreciate it and even view it as a “Robin Hood” type affair, as freedom fighters or holy warriors doing as they should do.
Opponents may include numerous people. An opposing army, opponent politicians, et cetera. They, as a collective, wish to pull this network apart to identify and track terrorists, and prevent further losses of life. This is why the informant system in Counter-Terrorism is so extremely important, a supporter may be superficial but may lead down a rabbit hole that uncovers leaders, bomb makers, planners, and other key figures in terrorist organisations.
In conclusion, Clarke’s rings of terrorism theory shows us that for every one terrorist, there is a vast network of support for the terrorists themselves and the organisation they may belong to.