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Terrorists Without a Cause
Ocelot: That's how terrorism works. You hold a country hostage and make demands. Not much of a point to it otherwise. I mean, what were you going to do? Call up the White House and say 'We've got Metal Gear, neener neener'?
Liquid: Well, not in those exact words...

In order not to insult anybody's religion or politics (or earn the ire of people with a known tendency to blow up people they don't like), the terrorists in action movies are not only mostly white guys, they represent no organisation, movement, religious sect or political tendency known to the real world. Even if they are identified with a real organisation (the IRA, the Russian Mafia, Basque separatists, somebody white but terroristic), they will be described as a "Rogue Faction", not the parent organisation. In many cases, they actually represent no identifiable cause at all, beyond making things go BOOM.

Caused by the same motives as Western Terrorists, but more so. Apparently, terrorists are willing to kill, maim, torture - not to mention putting their own lives at risk - just For the Evulz. These can actually be very dangerous opponents, being ruthless, impossible to predict, and impossible to negotiate with, and generally occupying the place once held by demons throughout world mythology.

They are related to, and might occasionally be the literary descendant of Bomb-Throwing Anarchists, who were the main type of terrorism in late 19th century and early 20th century literature, especially short stories. Violent anarchism was, in real life, mainly commited by Frenchmen, such as Ravachol, possibly explaining why anarchists seem to have mainly been used as villains by British writers.

In addition, these may be confused with terrorist groups that are just plain silly. A real life example is Comité Régional d'Action Viticole, an organization made up of French wine growers who don't like foreign competition. Not to be confused with Martyr Without a Cause, which is for characters who look for any excuse to commit a Heroic Sacrifice.


Examples:

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    Anime 
  • Cowboy Bebop engages in some Playing with a Trope in the Teddy Bomber episode. TB has a reason that's very important to him for bombing tall buildings, and he keeps trying to explain it, but every last time he tries he's interrupted.
    • He does finally get to reveal it at the end of the episode, and despite being a Mad Bomber, actually comes off as somewhat sympathetic. The whole episode works better when you know he's very obviously inspired (in looks, MO, and philosophy) by Ted "Teddy Bear" Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who actually had very well thought-out reasons for his actions. TB in Cowboy Bebop may have had a similar cause but he was never able to explain it past a fleeting generality.
  • Why does Millennium want to fight Alucard and destroy England in Hellsing? Revenge for being defeated by the Allies during World War II? Nope. Do they want to Take Over the World and have it ruled by vampires? Nuh-uh. Why then? The Major not only admits that "[Millennium's] purpose is the total absence of purpose," he openly states to his mooks his main drive for doing what he does: "Gentlemen, I like war."
    • Should be noted that some fascist philosophers actually made that as a serious case. (War Is Glorious being the essence of fascism) They also quite deliberately avoided making programs or statements that could be taken as such, seeing it as a sign of decadence and that action itself was the mark of the true fascist... Incidentally, this is one of the main reason why the word is so hard to define: They did it on purpose.
  • Ali Al-Saachez used radical Islamist rhetoric to recruit child soldiers in the Middle East. He told his followers that they fought to glorify God, but he was really a Blood Knight and Psycho for Hire.
    • Debateable as Ali does have a cause: his pocketbook. He was paid to create a child army, so he did it, using whatever methods worked and had a lot of fun in the process. Psycho for Hire yes. Terrorist Without A Cause, maybe not.
    • He makes it pretty clear that he does what he does simply because he enjoys war. He's shown killing people even when it brings no real advantage to him, just For the Evulz. He's making money while at it, but it's pretty clear that he'd never retire, no matter how much he'd make.
  • Black Lagoon actually gives this trope something of a serious treatment with Masahiro Takenaka, a villain in one of the arcs who's an ex-member of the Japanese Red Army. Having long since outgrown any notion that he'll ever get to incite a worldwide revolution through his actions, Takenaka keeps fighting as part of terrorist organizations that have absolutely nothing to do with his original goals because being an enemy of the state is the only thing he finds meaning in doing. What with the series' usage of Black and Grey Morality, he is actually presented sympathetically for it.
  • Deidara of Naruto thinks of explosions as fine art and wanted to share his art with everyone. Because indiscriminately blowing up people and villages is not acceptable behavior for a nation at peace, he went rogue and worked for various anti-government factions even before Akatsuki recruited him. Pein's own reasoning on why he became this is "Just Because."

    Comic Books 
  • The DC Comics series Wild Dog had an example of this, in a terrorist group that was a coming-together of factions from the fringes of the left and right. ("We're going to destroy the current order. What will we replace it with? That's for later - first things, first!")
  • In 52, Black Adam's wedding is attacked by a suicide bomber — fortunately killed by a private detective before she blows up — sent by an international crime syndicate a Cult worshiping crime. Before the reboot the Cult of Crime grows into a real force to be reckoned with. Intergang and other normally-mundane Mafia analogues were being recruited into a massive human-sacrificing cult, and the new Question was trying to prevent them from finding "The Crime Bible".
  • Kaizen Gamorra, the global terrorist / Yellow Peril-style dictator from The Authority (see Quotes to hear it from the character himself). It is even stated that Gamorra's economy is based on terrorism.
  • Not so much Terrorists Without a Cause as Terrorists With Flexible Causes: The Empty Quarter oneshot The Punisher comic had Frank Castle and a Mossad agent crashing a meeting of every major terrorist group in the world. The purpose of the meeting: terrorist groups with radically different agendas would basically trade targets, so the authorities wouldn't see them coming. This included plans for blowing up the Vatican, with no mention of how, say, the IRA members in the room felt about that.
    • This is more accurate than you'd think. Several terrorist groups as far apart as the IRA, Japanese Red Army, and Hamas actually have scarily good working relationships in spite of their ideological and practical differences. A conspiracy like the one the book details is several orders of magnitude beyond anything known to have been attempted in real life, but is just a vastly overblown example of some of the joint initiatives some terrorist groups have done.
  • The Marvel Universe has A.I.M. and Hydra, The DCU has Kobra.
    • Kobra, on the other hand, does have a cause, being fanatical worshippers of a Flanderized version of Kali.
    • Hydra was started up by an ex-Nazi, but the group no longer appear to have any Nazi ideology. When Baron Wolfgang von Strucker isn't in command anyway.
    • And A.I.M are pretty much another subbranch of Hydra. Or was originally, at least. They've since gone their separate ways despite not having any actual ideology to differ on, other than A.I.M. generally committing their crimes and atrocities For Science!
    • Hydra's deal is now 'Big Business has taken over everything. Now it's time to defeat them. And take over everything ourselves'.
      • HYDRA is effectively run by supervillains with very traditional supervillain motivations, namely taking over the world. The major difference is that instead of employing complicated doomsday devices or other traditional supervillain methods at attempting this (like say, Doctor Doom) they employ terrorism. AIM is effectively a criminal organization that specializes in selling super-science to the highest bidder, which is usually HYDRA.

    Film 
  • A major hallmark of the Die Hard series of movies is that the Big Bad is usually a thief disguising his actions by acting like a terrorist.
    • Averted in Die Hard 2, where the terrorists are ex-army officers trying to free a Banana Republic dictator whom they see as an anti-communist stalwart. Probably this was a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Ollie North and Noriega.
    • Many terrorists commit robberies, mostly for financial ends (terrorism is not cheap), but often for ideological ones (the Phineas Priesthood, when not killing the associates of Midianites, robbed banks because they felt they were counterfeiting).
  • Cobra. Who would join a movement whose main activity was standing around braziers in a ruinous slum clanking axes together above their heads? What is their manifesto? "Build a better future by clanking two axes together"?
  • Nighthawks. Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer) and his "worse half" Shaka (Persis Khambatta) make it very clear that they will commit acts of terrorism for anyone who will pay. And if no one will, they'll do it anyway, either for ransom, or just because they have a desire to see civilization crumble. (Word is that Wulfgar was based on Ilyich Ramirez' Sanchez, aka "Carlos the Jackal".)
  • The Big Bad former IRA nut in Blown Away is accused to his face of not caring for the cause but merely being fascinated by bombs.
    • Well, his last bomb is basically a huge Rube Goldberg device, so the accusation isn't exactly without grounds...
    • In fairness, it's likely that a fair number of people who joined the IRA during The Troubles were in it for the violence, the power, or money. It's worth noting that these days, most of the old IRA element has exchanged terrorism for mere organised crime.
  • This characterization gets used on a group of Mooks that are former IRA gone mercenary in the first Sin City movie. They Kick the Dog early by casually mentioning that their current job "Sure beats the hell out of blowing up airports and churches without shite to show for it", but their Mad Bomber Brian who talks about not being fond of guns because a little "bang-bang" will never match the sight of roofs coming off buildings with people parts flying out is an egregious example.
    • If they used to blow things up in the cause of Northern Irish independance, and they now blow things up for money, they're not really "without a cause", more "looking for an excuse".
  • The terrorists in Red Eye, seen only briefly, are white guys who speak Russian. Their reasoning for wanting to kill the deputy head of Homeland Security are never explained, though it is strongly implied that they have one. The primary villain of the film mentions that the organizations "wants to create a big brash message", but never explains exactly what. It's something to do with the Deputy Head's controversial comments and hinted-at authoritarian international policy. In other words, they have a goal, but it's not a very important one to the plot of the film.
    • Indeed they, like Rippner, may simply be hired mercenaries. Someone else apparently wants to send "a big brash message."
  • The (possibly) Afghan terrorist organization "Ten Rings" in Iron Man 1(they operate out of Afghanistan but speak a wide variety of languages) have no discernible cause beyond conquest and power. The novelization and script note that the sequel is supposed to reveal that they're in the employ of The Mandarin, Iron Man's magic ring-wielding arch enemy, not that his Take Over the World motivations are much more complex.
    • Of course, it is revealed that they were hired by Obidiah Stane to kidnap and kill Tony Stark, so their motivation for that may have been money.
      • And Iron Man 3 reveals that the Mandarin, and potentially by extension, the Ten Rings, was just a front for AIM to control terrorism, so who knows how many levels deep this one goes.
  • The IRA splinter group in the film version of Patriot Games seem to exist solely to see how effectively they can kill people, even taking actions that are clearly counterproductive just to see stuff blow up.
    • This is explained in the book. Their real objective was to discredit the leadership of the IRA, so they could take it over and run it the way they thought it should be run. They kept doing things to make the IRA look bad, since as far as the general public was concerned, all Irish terrorists were IRA.
    • Although attempting to kidnap a member of the Royal Family seems a lot bolder and more productive than simply blowing up pubs or shooting random squaddies.
      • Kidnapping a figurehead monarchy may be bold, but it wouldn't be productive. For all her ceremonial worth, the Queen is, politically, an ultimately expendable quantity. As long as somebody sits in the throne- and there are plenty of candidates- Britain trundles on.
      • In the book after the IRA in Real Life murdered Lord Louis Mountbatten, the resulting backlash was so great that the IRA decided to put the royal family off limits. The public outcry against harming a member of the royal family would not help the IRA.
    • Bill Bailey noted this, referring to them as "not the Real IRA, not the Continuity IRA, but only-two-of-them-and-neither-of-them-knows-who-the-other-one-is-IRA".
  • Predating the Die Hard example, in Eric Ambler's novel The Light of Day (filmed as Topkapi), the Turkish Secret Police believes a group of individuals to be terrorists, since they captured the Anti-Hero protagonist driving a car stocked with weapons. Eventually, they figure out that the group are actually international criminals and are overjoyed.
  • The Joker, as portrayed in The Dark Knight, fits this trope to a T. He has absolutely no motivation except to inspire terror. And he's really good at it.
    Alfred: Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn
    • There's a subtext, as with some versions of the comic book Joker, that the Joker has an actual belief system that he seeks to instill in others with his terrorist actions. It's nihilistic and deranged, but what do you expect from the poster boy for Chaotic Evil?
  • The Red Triangle Circus Gang, who work for The Penguin in Batman Returns, could be classified as terrorists. They are never seen stealing, robbing, or doing anything else that is normally associated with ordinary criminals. Moreover, they seem to delight in random bombing, machine-gunning, hostage-taking, and general scaring of people, all with apparently no endgame in mind. As it turns out, the Penguin is using them as a political weapon to embarrass Gotham City's mayor so that he can run against him - and the members of the Red Triangle Gang themselves obey Penguin only because he'll shoot them dead if they even think about defying him.
  • The Big Bad of Face/Off, Castor Troy, is a "freelance terrorist".
    • He explicitly refers to his profession as "terrorism-for-hire", which suggests that he's a mercenary hired by organizations which actually do have causes. That said, he quite clearly doesn't have an actual cause besides For the Evulz. Money isn't his main objective.
  • The villains in Next are terrorists. Just terrorists. They seem to be a bunch of French-speaking Eurotrash lead by a guy that looks like Gavrilo Princip. The best I could figure, they were trying to liberate Quebec from California and have it form a part of a new Greater Serbia. Or maybe it was just the ennui.
  • Despite initial appearances, few of the James Bond villains really fit this mould... they're usually in it for the money, and if it isn't the money then they have some grander vision (probably involving ruling the world).
    • SPECTRE has "Terrorism" as its middle name, but as often as not they're just in it for the money. Possibly their space program and more pointlessly destructive plans need funding somehow. They certainly aren't politically motivated.
    • Stromberg, from The Spy Who Loved Me and Drax from Film/Moonraker (basically a 2.0 version of Stromberg) both want the population of the earth to die; that's genocide but not terrorism because inspiring terror is an unwanted side effect.
    • General Orlov from Octopussy and Colonel Moon/Gustav Graves from Die Another Day are both communists bent on military conquest (but "rogue" communists acting without orders).
  • Twelve Monkeys: It's eventually discovered that the Twelve Monkeys were only an Animal Rights Group that wanted to release the animals from the zoo. But who was that red-haired guy with a ponytail? And why did he want to Kill All Humans?
    • Doctor Red Hair does in fact talk about his motivation early in the movie, but the character he's talking to isn't really listening, and the audience haven't been given any real reason to pay close attention to him either - he's just another weird guy in a movie full of them. He's basically a radical environmentalist who believes that humans are destroying the planet through pollution, consumption and overpopulation. In truth, a lot of people claim similar beliefs, but he was actually willing to act on them.
  • Played straight in The Enforcer. Although assumed to be black radicals by Dirty Harry's boss, the terrorist group that kidnaps the Mayor of San Francisco for ransom are actually small-time crooks in it purely for the money.
  • Although the film Vantage Point tries to be The Rashomon for a terrorist bombing, showing the same event from the perspective of the news media, the terrorists, the US Secret Service and an innocent bystander, we never really learn what the terrorists' goals were other than they are vaguely Islamist. It's never explained where their sophisticated equipment came from, how a respected 20-year-veteran of the Secret Service could be in league with them, or what the purpose of their secret plot was. They assassinate the US President, only it's actually a body double, but they know this, and manage to kidnap the actual President. Which gets them what? They've already convinced the world the President is dead, what does having him prisoner accomplish? For a movie about different points of view, they sure didn't bother explaining any.
  • In the new Travolta film From Paris with Love, the terrorist the protagonist's fiance never gives a reason for the plot to suicide bomb an African aid summit other than saying she was looking for a purpose and a man she met six years ago explained things to her. Arguably parodied because the Travolta character explains a bit during the early part of the film, but Meyers' character (and, since we're viewing the scene through his eyes, the audience) is too high on cocaine to understand it.
  • The group (that appears to be largely white and British) in Passenger 57 doesn't appear to have any real motivation for their acts, beyond a suggestion that they may be terrorists for hire and that the two leaders just really enjoy killing people.
  • The Baader Meinhof Complex portrays the RAF very much in this way. Much violence is committed, and many people are killed, but there is no system of motivations or goals; insofar as they exist, they are lost along the way. The only thing apparently uniting the members of the Faction is a love of violence and bohemian living.
    • They are presented as having goals, but they are not emphasized very much. The film seems to skirt the issue, as though the filmmakers have some sympathy with the group's goals but don't want to be seen as endorsing terrorism.
  • Thrax in Osmosis Jones is a rookie virus who wants to kill Frank (portrayed as a city-state of cells in the movie). His sole reason is recognition.
    "Losers don't get their names written down in the medical books!"
  • The bomber in Source Code was a middle class, apparently educated white guy, who's only articulated gripe is "the world is hell". His plan is apparently to destroy civilization and rebuild from scratch. His motivations seem crazy, yet he has enough intelligence and resources to build a dirty bomb.
  • The terrorist in Déjà Vu never really talks about his reasons. He's obviously unbalanced, and his only apparent gripe against society is that he wasn't allowed in the army.
  • Lampshaded by Tony Stark in Iron Man 3 while trying to analyze a new terrorist mastermind's incomprehensible background: "Named for an old Chinese war moniker... South American insurgency tactics... Talks like a Baptist preacher..." Then justified in that the terrorist turns out to have been a fiction, created by a Corrupt Corporate Executive trying to create a threat to national security so that he could sell weapons.

    Literature 
  • Meg Cabot's American Girl begins with a botched presidential assassination, but deliberately avoids political commentary in favor of examining the life of the bystander who thwarted the attack. The solution? The assassin was obsessed with a supermodel, and convinced himself that killing the president would impress her.
  • In the X-Wing Series novel Mercy Kill, the Wraiths create a mock terrorist group called the Quad Linked Militant Pacifists, whose shtick is that they are violently opposed to all acts of aggression other than their own.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Mal Noche from CSI: Miami started as some weird assassin's guild/street gang/Nicaraguan Mafia (apparently Miami has a lucrative market for hitmen) And then one of their leaders became a vaguely worded terrorist and decided to try to blow up an airplane.
    • Of course, drug lords/cartels having planes blown up isn't entirely unheard of. See Pablo Escobar.
  • Americon Initiative in Revenge, the organization behind the downing of Flight 197, initially appear to be this. However it is later revealed in the Season 2 finale that they are merely a front for a group of wealthy businessmen seeking to profit from the aftermaths of disasters.
  • One Villain Of The Week in Criminal Minds was a Unabomber-esque anti-technology terrorist, but was revealed to just be doing it because he thought a sci-fi author that wrote a book about a war between humans and robots he based his idea on was his mother who abandoned him, but turns out not to be.
    • This is used oddly later, where the team foil a terrorist plot, but the terrorist cell is left shrouded in mystery, with their motivation never revealed. This is strange given that the whole premise of the show centres around trying to work out why criminals do what they do.
      • It's indicated that they were trying to kill someone high ranking in the U.S. government who had a Secret Service protection. The team muses that they simply don't have the clearance to know who that person was.
  • An episode of Law & Order had a young white man who'd murdered two college professors claim to be a follower of radical Islam who'd killed his victims for their disrespect towards Islam. Turns out he was just a Jerk Ass who'd latched on to that particular variant of Islam to get revenge on a girl who humiliated him in front of the victim during a dinner party he was invited to. This is a sadly accurate depiction of many Islamist terrorists and how they got that way.
  • Sark from Alias. He routinely changes his alliances, and his true allegiance seems to be only to himself.
  • Subverted in the MTV series Super Adventure Team; a group of Middle-Eastern terrorists kidnap some Americans, and Team America wants to know their demands. The terrorists were taken aback; they didn't know that they could make demands. After a few moments huddling together, the lead terrorists give their demand: "We want to see Kiss!
  • The United People's Resistance from The A-Team episode The Beast from the Belly of a Boeing. They consisted of Americans, hijacking an airliner with the aim to extort money.
  • The IRA are featured in the show Sons of Anarchy, with the deconstruction of how the IRA have essentially went from terrorists to a glorified crime syndicate that focuses on selling guns to whoever will buy them. This leads to the main character Jax (and fellow biker Chibs, an exiled IRA member who fell victim to the ambition of the leader of the organized crime wing of the organization) being forced to help expose and kill the pro-crime leader of the IRA when a high ranking member of the political wing of the IRA gets his hands upon Jax's son.
  • A dash of Fridge Logic can pin this on Captain Feathersword the friendly pirate on The Wiggles. Pirates aren't nice people - they're thieves. Captain Feathersword isn't just a sailor, he's a pirate. So what's his deal? Best not to dwell on it too long.
    • Sir Francis Drake was a hero (with a knighthood) in England, but a "pirate" (with a bounty on his head equivalent to about $4 million today) in Spain. Perhaps Feathersword is in the same ... er, boat.
  • In Painkiller Jane, the Monster of the Week for "Playback". He was trying to assassinate a Chinese diplomat, simply because his mother wanted him to. While it's mentioned that the diplomat's death on US soil could start WWIII, what she planned on getting out of it is never revealed.

    Tabletop RPG 
  • D20 Modern includes one of these in a supplement — the group causes destruction, death, and chaos for its own sake as part of a bizarre, paranoid, pseudo-religious doctrine.
  • The PURGE secret society in Paranoia has no common motive beyond overthrowing The Computer.
    • Death Leopard is an even purer example, since at least PURGE has one common goal; the members of Death Leopard just like to make things go boom.
  • Mage: The Ascension has some batnuts insane groups that do this, such as...
  • The Revolutionary League of Planescape wanted to kick the factions which run the City of Adventure Sigil out of the city. Come the Faction War, this happens, and the League just has no idea what to do next.

    Video Games 
  • Counter-Strike. Well, since it's multiplayer only and has no plot. The terrorists have some backstory, but the fighting going on has no plot other than special forces and terrorists blasting each other. It doesn't need one. Subverted and played straight in Condition: Zero - the single player has you completing non-plot objects [e.g.: kill five terrorists in a row within so-and-so time], but Deleted Scenes has actual stories behind it. Although, a few episodes don't explain why the terrorists got the hostages or why there's a bunch of homicidal jihadi trying to kill you.
    • Subverted in Global Offensive, where the terrorists for each map has a specific motive: The Cartel (Aztec and Inferno), scene kids rebelling against The Man (Office), a Rightwing Militia Fanatic group (Italy), and bank robbers (Vertigo).
  • The villains in Elevator Action 2 desire to "Crash the Old Order", according to their graffiti, but they don't say what they want to make instead. Their leader mentions a New Society, but that's all.
  • Ironically, Team Fortress 2, which deliberately sought to abandon the whole "need for a believable premise" thing, averts this. The two organizations secretly control every government on Earth, and each is constantly trying to take over the other's half one resource at a time. In some maps it's unclear exactly what kind of resources are being fought over, but in any case the eventual goal hovering over everyone's heads is to Take Over the World.
    • Backstory elaborates on the conflict: two brothers convinced their father, Zachariah Mann, to purchase most of New Mexico. This is the dumbest thing the three of them ever did. He decided to pit them against each other out of spite, and gave both of them the land so that they would fight over it until they died. Which didn't happen for a long time, because his accountant seized an opportunity to rule the world and obtain the most powerful substance on earth while doing so, by playing both brothers to forcefully turn them into secret-leader FIGUREHEADS. One hundred years later, the brothers are still feuding thanks to their unobtainium-prolonged existences, not merely over the gravel pits (which they think is refined into fuel), but over absolutely everything that isn't owned by Australia, all while the former accountant (Elizabeth-Helen <REDACTED>) is in complete control of both their companies (and subsequently the world) through the power of their combined Intelligence. And stockpile of unobtainium (Australium) located in gravel pits across New Mexico. Of course, there's always a need for a distraction in any conspiracy; that's where the game starts. You play as one of nine mercenaries who perform mass murder and vehement obliteration, who are all mentally unstable and utilize awesome and destructive weaponry, laying waste to New Mexico and any other unfortunate neighbors of gravel pits worldwide for a multimillion-dollar salary and hats. Luckily, since the fake and unmanned gravel mines are basically giant wastelands, the death toll for innocents is around the dozens and not thousands.
    • Then shit hits the fan and this trope gets averted in Mann Vs. Machine, Team Fortress 2's version of horde mode: Gray Mann, the smart little brother of the two feuding brothers, decides that it's finally time to kill his moron brothers and take over the world with Australium. And by smart, he's still an idiot Mann, but he's WAY more genre savvy and has common sense. And a Ph.D in advanced robotics in 1970. He proceeds to attack with a semi-dumb, semi-smart strategy: throw millions of suicidal robots at key locations, and blow up Mann Co. until it (and the Australium) can be bought for chicken feed or all the Australium caches are found. For once, your mercs have a cause: stop Gray Mann from taking over the world, and get paid millions of dollars by stealing them from the broken robots (don't ask, not even the secretary's secretary knows).
  • The Heaven Smiles in Killer7 are, as the game goes on, manipulated to various ends, but their original purpose is, to quote the game, "terrorism for the sole purpose of causing terror". Kun Lan, their creator, is a Hidden Agenda Villain who (as the game is a Mind Screw) never quite reveals what that agenda is.
  • The Mass Effect 1 DLC module Bring Down the Sky averts this by giving the Batarians a very Disproportionate Retribution sort of reason for their terrorist attack. Given how much of an Always Chaotic Evil culture the Batarians are portrayed as having and just how psychotic Balak is, it actually makes a disturbing amount of sense.
  • Quite a few video game and anime villains are Nietzsche Wannabes that are dedicated to destroying the old order. However, their New Order is neither Social Darwinism, nor Fascism, and not even Might Makes Right - it's just a vaguely defined "make humanity stronger through fighting" idea. Oddly enough, not only do the villains themselves consider it a comprehensive socio-political ideology, but so do the heroes, who often act as though the villains are just Well Intentioned Extremists whose motives come from genuinely well-thought-out ideals.
    • Well, it's true that major conflicts have a large number of good side effects. It's just that the bad main effects usually far outweigh them.
  • The Order from Freelancer at first seems to be a bunch of terrorists without a cause. That is, until you find out their cause is to defend the Sirius system from being taken by alien parasites. So you discover they were the good guys all along and therefore you join them..
  • Jinx from League of Legends breaks havoc in Piltover only for the Evulz.
  • Most of the Metal Gear antagonists play this trope straight, but the primary antagonists avert it. Big Boss, his cloned sons Liquid Snake and Solidus Snake, and Ocelot all had the same objective: to free the world from the control of the Patriots, the organization controlling the United States government and, by extension, the entire world.
    • A few other villains do generally seem in it For the Evulz, though. Mantis expressly states he wants to kill as many people as he could. Sniper Wolf really only waits for someone to kill her.
  • Disaster Day of Crisis has SURGE, a band of elite former special forces soldiers. At first, they have a rather understandable excuse - they were fighting alongside a rebellion in a another country, then the American government at the time switched support and tried to have them all killed. Part of Colonel Hayne's demands was compensation to be paid to the familes of those in SURGE who were killed, a perfectly reasonable demand... Then Evans takes over, and starts doing it for shits and giggles, right to the point of trying to set off a nuke in the middle of a hurricane. The characters even remark that Evans is basically nuts and who knows why he does anything.
  • The terrorist group in Rainbow Six : Vegas is rather odd. They waste an enormous amount of manpower and resources including a state of the art WMD, which they try to use inside Vegas for no good reason. in their attack on Vegas. It turns out the whole point of the attack was just to distract the army so they could break into the research facility where those very same WMDs were being build. So... they went through all of that just to get weapons they already had, but lost because they were using them to steal more? And it's not very well explained what they want to do with them anyway, or how they got the first one.
    • They had one (or two, I forget), but they wanted a few dozen. Hence the plan.
    • In Vegas 2, it's ultimately revealed that the entire war was basically driven entirely by one man's petty revenge against Rainbow, and Bishop specifically. Even his co-conspirators had no idea and thought there was some kind of profit motive involved.
    • Likewise, the terrorists from Rainbow Six 4: Lockdown had generic left-wing leanings, but no clear ideology or master plan besides stealing a nanite bio-weapon and either selling it or using it to kill shit.
  • The URDA terrorist group in Time Crisis: Crisis Zone. They have neither demands nor motives.
  • The terrorists in Eugene Jarvis' Target Terror seem to be this.
  • In Modern Warfare 2 it's explicitly stated by General Shepherd that the terrorist leader Makarov has no nationality or ideology.
    • May have been subverted by the sequel, though; contrary to what Shepherd said, Modern Warfare 3 shows Makarov to have a very clearly defined goal of establishing Russian dominance over the world, with himself at the top. That, and the fact that Shepherd's traitor pulling the strings meant he was outright lying when he said that.
  • The PLR from Battlefield 3 seem to have rather nebulous motivations, though it's at least clear that they're not jihadists of any sort. Analysing some of Al-Bashir's dialogue suggests that they may simply be radical Iranian nationalists who want to oppose the West, but that's about as far as it gets, and Solomon's own motivations are a mystery.
  • The protagonist of Hitman is nominally killing for money. But while in some games there was a given reason he needed the money, in Blood Money it was only used to buy upgrades so he could do more assasinations. Meanwhile, 47 was living in derelict warehouses. There is an overarching conspiracy going on, but 47 didn't care for it. He could've probably done the first 2, 3 hits without buying upgrades and live of the proceeds for the rest of his life, is all I'm saying.
    • He kills because he's been programmed to kill for his entire life: it's all he's able to do. His attempt to retire at the opening of the second game only led to him being drawn back into the job. The money is just there to keep him afloat.
  • Happens to the Divine Crusaders in Super Robot Wars Original Generation eventually. At first they have a clear goal for their terrorism. Sabotage and kill any corrupt politicians trying to make deals with alien invaders (which would essentially sell most of humanity into slavery so a few guys at the top could live cushy lives) and fight the Earth forces army in order to get them into fighting shape for the real force arrives, with the intention to graciously surrender or die when that is accomplish to let the EFA defend the planet. However quite a few guys only signed on for selfish or personal reasons (grudges against the EFA, geninue desire to conquer the world or just the desire for wanton violence and destruction they couldn't get with a lawful organization) and keep the organziation going after most of the good people either died or left it. As a result in later games they come off as this, simply rebelling against the EFA for the sake of rebelling and blowing stuff up. Finally this all comes to a head in the 4th game where the Earth Forces are taken over by a ruthless violent faction dedicated to turning the planet into a police state....and most of the remaining Divine Crusaders sign on with them, showing that all they really want is to work for essentially "the bad guys" and cause violence and destruction without really caring about the cause.

    Web Original 
  • The motives of the terrorist group in Survival of the Fittest are, as of yet, unclear. It's not entirely certain if they even have a motive beyond trying to cripple the US with fear through targetting its children. For some reason, "ratings" are important to them; that's about all we get. Originally, they were from a country at war with the United States, and one of Danya's demands in v1 is that the American military completely demobilise, but given various retcons to the setting, it isn't clear how much is still canon; at the least, them being at war with the US isn't.
  • At the end of Doom House, the police officer is revealed to have been a terrorist who has just spent the last few days trying to scare a homeowner out of his new house. Why? Because it was built on his "terrorist burial camp".

    Western Animation 
  • The 1940s Superman episode "Destruction, Inc.", while otherwise one of the series' better efforts, never gets around to explaining why they're wreaking havoc at the factory.
    • Um, there was this war going on in the 1940s ...
    • But..."Destruction, Inc."? Those guys never corporatized.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, Catwoman's premiere in "The Cat and the Claw" involves a plot by terrorist Red Claw. At best, the prominent color red and the leader's accent rather obliquely suggest Red Scare-style revolutionaries.
    • They may have been using the word "terrorist" loosely here, as her plot centers around holding Gotham for ransom using a deadly virus.
  • Captain Planet has this kind of terrorist. They hijack an oil ship and crash it into a beach just to pollute Mother Nature when they'd be better off selling the bloody oil.
    • The Eco-Villains did have bizarre and psychotic reasons for doing what they did, however insane they seem to normal people. Three of them (Looten Plunder, Sly Sludge and Hoggish Greedly) were just greedy international corporate raiders, especially Greedly and Plunder. All they wanted was money, making them slightly better than your average Gordon Gecko-like corporate nutjob. They're pretty much the personification of rampant capitalism, with Greedly spiking into the realm of what the faux-intellectual call "anarcho-capitalism", that is, literally capitalism without boundries, either moral or ethical (or logical for that matter).
    • Verminous Skumm and Duke Nukem had reasonably clear motives as well. The former was out to destroy humanity, and the latter was a walking nuclear battery that needed to spread radioactivity so that he could feed and survive (this is severely ironic because Nukem could have been an eco-hero if he had just applied his radiation-absorbing powers to existing nuclear waste, instead of trying to cause meltdowns at nuclear plants). Of the recurring villains, only Dr. Blight and Zarm were really wayward, pointless chaotic evil. Dr. Blight claims to do stuff For Science! or for profit or both, and Zarm at least had the excuse of literally being the God of Evil.
      • According to Word of God, it was quite deliberate for the bad guys to be more about "looting and polluting" than logic would encourage; they were concerned if they made the villains believable, the kids of real-life loggers and such might become convinced that their parents were straight-up evil.
  • G.I. Joe gives us Cobra, whose motivations and ideology (beyond just being bad) are vague and open to many interpretations.
    • Cobra are terrorists with a cause: money
    • A better example of this trope would be the saboteur Firefly: more mercenary than terrorist, though for some reason he seems to hang out more with terrorists than governments (who could probably pay more). This may be because he finds tearing down social order more fun than shoring it up. In the Reloaded continuity, especially, he seems to be all about the explosions.
    • Terrorism has been defined at least once as "ideologically driven organized crime". That would make "terrorists" whose cause is money, plain ol' criminals...
    • As the stakes (and weirdness) escalated in the cartoon series, Cobra Commander was revealed to be part of a secret race of survivors from the Age of Reptiles. His mission was to bring humans under reptile control, and the Cobra organization was his convoluted means for achieving this end.
      • Interestingly, Word of God has talked about a Nietzsche figure for the Cobra organization, a spiritual leader figure who made the original doctrine for the Cobra organization, based on an amoral (if honorable) system of Right Makes Might, that Cobra Commander perverted Hitler-style. Executive Meddling prevented the character from ever appearing in-show.
      • The comics show that Cobra Commander seems to think he's making the world a better place as it shows Cobra is a faction that accepts anyone who was disenfranchised or "wrongfully" exiled by their native country which stemmed from the disillusioned fact that the world is owned by Illuminati type groups which he deemed as snakes and wanted to be the head snake . Mainly because of the aftereffects of the Vietnam War and how the American Dream was dead in his eyes when his brother was put the chopping block when after one of the of the soldiers torched the halfway house for veterans where his brother was living and it goes downhill from here.
  • There are some terrorists that the Gargoyles stop at the very beginning of one episode. They claim to have a cause, and maybe they do, but since they're such minor characters we never find out what it is.
  • In the pilot episode of Superman: The Animated Series, John Corben and his men are repeatedly referred to as "terrorists," despite being just mercenaries hired to kill people by the dictator of some Ruritania or other.
  • The Dark Kat of SWAT Kats really seems to apply here, simply wanting to destroy the city for the sake of allowing a criminal wasteland to take its place.
  • Transformers Prime has MECH, a cyberterrorist group whose goals aren't very clearly stated.
    • Specifically, the manifesto is as follows: "there is a conflict coming between the new world order... and the newest. The winner will be the side which possesses the most advanced technology." This seems true as far as it goes, but why Silas pursues this goal through massive acts of violence rather than, say, buying out Google is never explored or mused upon.
  • In the 2000 Action Man series Asazi is described as a "Terrorist for hire" until she became The Dark Chick for the Council Of D.O.O.M.

    Real Life 
  • Some experts, such as Max Abrahms, have seriously argued that this may be Truth in Television for most or all terrorists. It's remarkably common for a terrorist group's policy demands to contradict each other, or to change suddenly for no apparent reason - in particular, if the group's demands are actually met, they almost never disband, but instead switch to a new issue that may be completely unrelated. In several cases, leaders of major terrorist organizations have been unable to explain exactly what they're fighting for when directly asked. So why do people join terrorist groups, if it's not really about the cause? Apparently because they're looking to make friends. No, really.
    • One could argue that the reason these groups are so wildly self-contradictory is because the leaders recruit people using little more than cultural prejudices and peer pressure to ensure that they'll be too fanatical to bother questioning their orders or listen to an outsider. End result: a handful of men can raise an army of servants ready to do whatever they're asked simply to fit in. It's like a grand, horrifying version of high school cliques.
    • There's a whole lot of sociology of why terrorist groups get started, why people join them, why their goals change, and so on. It's complicated.
    • Add in that's its a whole lot easier to blame others and kill them than it is to actually run a country and keep your citizens from throwing you out. It's easier to divert their anger outward.
  • Many ideologically-motivated guerilla or terrorist organisations devolve into this over time; the Peruvian Shining Path, for example, were originally a Marxist insurgency, but after a factional breakdown in the early 90s devolved into a string of loosely connected gangs with a thin ideological veneer. Other examples include some of the surviving Northern Irish paramilitary organisations, the pre-Taliban Mujahideen in Afghanistan and some nationalist militias in the Warlord Era of the Republic of China. It even gets to the point where their nominal allies move to take them out, cutting through the usual red tape; in Northern Ireland, for example, the Provisional IRA purged several factions of the Irish People's Liberation Organisation, an Irish National Liberation Army splinter group, which had begun to engage in organised crime.
  • Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold arguably qualify as this. They intended to use terrorist tactics (blowing up their school cafeteria and then shooting the survivors) in a suicidal attack that would "out-do" the Oklahoma City Bombing, solely to make themselves infamous. However, the failure of their bombs, coupled with the initial media coverage that tried to fit them into existing models of bullied, disgruntled students, has resulted in the incident being mostly remembered as just a particularly bloody school shooting.
  • More of Riots without A Cause, the 2011 England riots started because of a police shooting, but involved burning shops and houses down and looting, which has nothing to do with a police shooting. This was lampshaded by a woman giving a speech on the streets when she said that a protest was supposed to be about a police shooting, not about robbing Shoe Locker and other shops.
    • Interestingly enough, this is in no small part owing to Motive Decay. The initial "rioting" was the victim's family and friends protesting peacefully, and gradually more people joined in, with tempers rising as it happened. Things eventually reached their logical conclusion when somebody threw a bottle at the police, she was promptly swarmed as a result, and then the riots started hours later, which caused other people to start looting and burning stuff right and left.
  • In 2011, some acts of sabotage were commited against railway and subway lines in Berlin. Though gasoline bombs were used, damage was only limited and nobody got hurt, and many bombs were found days later without having exploded at all. A statement released on the internet is generally considered as genuine, but can be summarized as "Fighting for Freedom! And Equality! Against world hunger and stuff... We guess...". Even genuine far left activists thought the whole thing was laughable.
  • Possibly Older Than Feudalism. Herostratus burned down the most famous of Artemis's temples in order to become famous. His sentence included his name being stricken from record and made even speaking it illegal to try and prevent this, although a later historian still passed it on.
  • Szilveszter Matuska, a Hungarian Mad Bomber who blew up trains because it made him orgasm.


Tautological TemplarThe Only Righteous Index of FanaticsWell-Intentioned Extremist
Terminally Dependent SocietyOlder than TelevisionThat Was Objectionable
Tattooed CrookCriminalsTheme Serial Killer

alternative title(s): Terrorist Without A Cause
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