Follow TV Tropes


Terrorists Without a Cause

Go To

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...

Terrorists in action movies generally 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, whoever), they will be described as a Renegade Splinter Faction, not the parent organisation. In many cases, they actually represent no identifiable cause at all, beyond making things go BOOM.

Apparently, terrorists are willing to kill, maim, torture — not to mention putting their own lives at risk — merely 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.

Obviously, this is not a realistic representation of how terrorism actually works. Terrorism, by its definition, is intended to further some ideology or goal. Rather than engaging in random violence, terrorists generally pick their targets based on symbolic or strategic value. Rather than wearing their evil on their sleeves, terrorists generally believe they're the good guys. All of these things are often ignored in media, especially in propaganda.

Not only is this done in order to not insult anybody's religion or politics (or earn the ire of people with a known tendency to blow up people they don't like). In many cases, a cause is simply irrelevant to the plot, the terrorists are only there to give the macho Action Hero something to punch/shoot at without a second thought or consequences. Moreover, any cause, if presented, runs the risk of actually making sense (if only to some people), maybe even more sense than the hero's animalistic urge to kill with extreme prejudice. Anything that could make the audience think Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters could cause them to also picture the story to be about a Hero Antagonist versus a Villain Protagonist when the creator intended for the terrorists to indisputably be the bad guys.

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. Terrorism by anarchists was, in real life, mainly committed by Frenchmen, such as Ravachol, possibly explaining why anarchists seem to have mainly been used as villains by British writers. Anarchists however have political motives then and now (absent a few like Illegalists that might fall into this category however, saying crime itself was the motive).

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.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Played with in Ajin. The series centers around the titular ajinsnote , a new breed of humans who will immediately resurrect upon death. Due to their abilities, the government seeks to capture ajins and use them as test subjects to better understand their abilities, effectively dooming them horrible torture that they can't even escape from by means of death. Eventually a terrorist group championing the rights of ajins emerges, threatening to carry out acts of mass murder unless the Japanese government recognizes ajins as human beings. However, most of the terrorists don't give a shit about the cause they're supposedly fighting for. For most of them, any claims they have about fighting for ajins' rights is nothing more than a rallying cry they can use to gather up allies. Their real motive is to have fun playing war games and causing as much destruction as possible since they're bored with modern life and, because they physically can't die, they have nothing to lose. It eventually becomes clear that only one member of the terrorists actually believes in the cause they're fighting for, largely because he himself was horribly victimized by the Japanese government for being an ajin. Likewise, he's the only member of the group to pull a Heel–Face Turn.
  • 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's the only thing he finds meaning in doing; with the series' usage of Black-and-Grey Morality, he's actually presented sympathetically for it.
  • The Teddy Bomber in the Cowboy Bebop episode "Cowboy Funk" 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.
  • 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? Because fuck you, that's why. The Major not only admits that "[Millennium's] purpose is the total absence of purpose," but also openly states to his mooks his main drive for doing what he does: "Gentlemen, I like war."
    • Millenium's former high command — a group of aging non-vampire nazis —, on the other hand, actually did have a cause: establish the Fourth Reich, et cetera, et cetera... can you guess what happened to them? If you guessed "they got eaten alive by their mutineering vampiric subordinates during Millenium's Establishing Character Moment," you guessed right.
    • Near the end, when Seras and Integra fight the remnants of them, Integra notes how excited they are that they are going to die. Seras is infuriated since she wonders why they didn't just kill themselves instead of becoming vampires. The Major admits that they are remnants of a bygone eranote  and that for them, it was not just dying, but dying in battle like soldiers. So while they have no real grand goal besides their love of violence, the endgame does seem to be for them to die in a blaze of glory.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00: 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. He's a mercenary, and he makes money while he's at it, but it's fairly clear that he does what he does primarily for the sheer fun of it, and he would never stop no matter how much money he accrued. The main reason he wants money in the first place is so that he can buy the latest weapons for use in the wars he helps to create.
  • Turkes from Mother Keeper is this, as is supposedly the rest of Chaos Tide. Most of the resistance groups are fighting Eden for the rights of those living in the slums or for revenge; however, Turkes is fighting purely to cause terror and kill random people for his own entertainment.
  • Deidara of Naruto thinks of his 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. When Pain summarizes the Akatsuki members' motives for fighting, he states that Deidara's reason is "a whim."
  • Rosario + Vampire: Kuyou is given this treatment in the anime. As Fairy Tale was Adapted Out, Kuyou was changed to be nothing but a generic human-hating thug who just makes people miserable For the Evulz.

    Comic Books 
  • In 52, Black Adam's wedding is attacked by a suicide bomber — fortunately killed by a private detective before she blows up — sent by a Cult worshipping crime. During the brief period between Infinite Crisis and the Flashpoint reboot, the Religion of Crime was 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.
  • More like 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.
  • In the Spider-Man story "Return of the Sinister Six", Doctor Octopus claimed that his Evil Plan - which entailed reuniting the Six in order to hijack a military satellite (intended to spray dye into the atmosphere for an experiment) replace the dye with poison - had the goal of world domination via blackmail in mind. It was not. Ock's sole intention was to gain wealth and power by making cocaine unusable (the "poison" would make attempts to use it cause agonizing seizures) and selling the cure. (And he viewed the other five villains as expendable pawns.)
  • 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!")

    Fan Fiction 
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act III: Unlike the manga, where he was a member of Fairy Tale and had been serving as The Mole during his Security Committee days, Kuyou is depicted here as little more than an anti-human thug who attacks Yokai Academy in chapters 40-42 to take revenge on Tsukune and Moka for his previous loss. On top of it all, he's nothing more than an Unwitting Pawn of Hokuto, who personally orchestrated Kuyou's attack on the academy solely to distract everyone while he broke into the school's secured levels and stole an Artifact of Doom.

    Film — Live Action 
  • 22 July: While he proclaims himself to despise Marxists and that it was a "righteous" execution, it is heavily implied that Breivik's actions are motivated more by a desire for a massive media spotlight towards himself above all else.
  • The Ace of Hearts: The "brotherhood" is a group of terrorist bombers. Although the implication is that they are left-wing or Bolshevik terrorists, the film actually never does state just what it is the brotherhood is trying to accomplish. The only hint comes when their assassination target is eventually revealed as an arrogant rich fat cat.
  • Air Force One never explains why Gibbs, a veteran Secret Service agent, decided to betray his country and help a group of Russian ultra-nationalists take over the titular airplane.
  • A comedic example in the "midequel" to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Wake Up, Ron Burgundy! The Lost Movie. This movie was composed of deleted subplots from the actual movie, the main one concerning the Channel 4 News Team's investigation into a terrorist group called The Alarm Clock, who seek to "wake up" San Diego. The problem is, they don't know what they mean by "wake up", and they're incompetent to boot.
  • 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 plot of Blood Red Sky is driven by a group of European terrorists hijacking a plane and planning to blow it up over London while making it look like the work of Islamists. While the passengers speculate on their motivation (suggesting that they're trying to short the stock market or influence an election), no explanation for their actions is ever given.
  • 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. He doesn't really deny it.
  • Broken Arrow (1996) and Speed were penned by the same guy, and both feature disgruntled, ex-government types. Payne was a bomb squad guy who felt short-changed by the city when he retired. Deakins' motives for stealing the warheads are never explained in full. The hero, Hale, psychoanalyzes him at several points, and Deakins doesn't confirm or deny anything. Allusions are made to Deakins getting old and being passed over for promotions because he can't take orders. (Tellingly, he kills the guy who orchestrated the theft.) There are clues that Deakins doesn't live in the same moral universe as the rest of us, such as his bemusement at killing somebody with his bare hands rather than a fighter jet, and his willingness to blow himself up (along with his henchman) rather than lose face.
  • Cobra: The New Order movement is based entirely around murder and torture for its own sake (with some Social Darwinistic rhetoric thrown in), yet seems to attract a surprisingly large member base.
  • Cyberjack: The terrorists don't seem to be in it for any cause in particular; they just want the virus so they can seize power for its own sake.
  • 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.
  • The group in Day Night Day Night make a propaganda video before their attack is to be carried out in the style of Islamic terrorists, but we never actually see what statement they had prepared for it, and the diverse nature of the group was deliberate on the part of the filmmaker to obscure any presumption on the part of the audience as to what their motivation might be.
  • Marcus Cole and his gang in Derailed (2002). After seizing the train, Cole even announces to the hostages that he has no political or religious agenda.
  • 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.
    • The first Die Hard set the template with Hans Gruber. While he was once legitimately part of a left-wing terrorist group, he had long since abandoned any ideals and turned to crime for profit. He specifically posed as a terrorist as a Batman Gambit, as the FBI's standard response to a hostage scenario included cutting the power to the building, which was necessary to get the vault's magnetic lock open. In one scene, as he's reading off a list of terrorist organizations whose "comrades in arms" he wants released as part of the hostage negotiations, Karl quietly asks what he's doing, to which Hans quickly replies that he read about them in Time magazine.
    • 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, a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Oliver North and Manuel Noriega.
    • Played perfectly straight in Die Hard with a Vengeance with Mathias and Katya Targo. Freelance terrorists who work by written contract.
  • On a smaller scale, Gus Van Sant's Elephant (2003) showcases a pair of School Shooters Without A Cause. Sure we are given multiple potential causes (neo-Nazism, closeted homosexuality, violent videogames, Loners Are Freaks, bad parenting, etc), but the story never quite decides to point to a specific cause for the two to take up arms and kill everybody they can inside the school (and the shooters never explain themselves). At least one critic felt that giving the shooters such a contrived "perfect storm" of reasons to be violent psycho-killers in an attempt to make the reason a Riddle for the Ages made them much more of a caricature instead.
  • 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 white crooks in it purely for the money, while pretending to be radicals themselves.
  • In Face/Off, Castor Troy is a flamboyant "freelance terrorist" and assassin who only shows a flicker of dismay when he kills a kid by accident. His brother Pollux later mentions the pair were hired by some "militia nuts" to plant a bomb intended for three SCOTUS Justices in a major urban center. Money, women and drugs are his main motivations. In the novelization he's a former Central Intelligence Agent using his skills for personal profit.
  • In the John 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 of mercenaries from High Risk only care about money and causing destruction. The Doctor in particular has a fascination with bombs and is not above killing innocents to satisfy his own sadism.
  • The Ten Rings terrorist organization in the Iron Man Films have no discernible cause beyond conquest and power. It's eventually revealed that they're an ancient international organization ruled by the mysterious Mandarin, not that his own motivations are particularly clear. That said, the Afghan cell that kidnapped Tony Stark in the first film was actually hired by Obadiah Stane to kill him as part of an exchange for money and weapons; they decided instead to keep Tony alive and make him build weapons for them because Stane wasn't paying them enough.
  • 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.
  • 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 are apolitical, as they're willing to accept the services of anybody who's willing to pay them to cover their tracks, regardless of political orientation. The boardroom meeting in Thunderball shows the French hiring SPECTRE to kill a defector to Russia, while Red China is paying them to smuggle in drugs to the United States.
    • In the film Spectre, they're motivated as much by money as they are in taking over the world's intelligence networks so they can subvert investigations against themselves.
    • Stromberg, from The Spy Who Loved Me and Drax from Moonraker (basically a 2.0 version of Stromberg, who in turn is an expy of Blofeld) 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).
    • Le Chiffre from Casino Royale (2006) shorts large quantities of stocks in major companies using the money of his terrorist clients, then orchestrates terrorist attacks on said companies' valuable assets to sink their stock values while he walks away with a fortune. The plot happens when Bond thwarts one such attack, forcing Le Chiffre to call a poker game to recuperate his losses.
  • Mission: Impossible III gives us the character of Owen Davian, an Arms Dealer Without A Cause. The man provides weapons to anybody who pays him, without caring what the weapons are for or how horrifying they are. He never even raises his voice, let alone tells any reasons he may have to be such a monster.
  • New Order: Something is going on in Mexico that is both more than rioting and looting, and less than a full-on revolution or civil war. We never hear what it's about. In one of the set pieces, looters attack an upper class wedding reception. They don't make any demands or speeches, they just steal stuff, smash the place up, and murder a few people. The colour of the insurrection is green, but it has no visible environmental motive.
  • The villains in Next are terrorists. Just terrorists. They seem to be a bunch of French-speaking Eurotrash led by a guy that looks like Gavrilo Princip. The best we can 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.
  • 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", though his cause was international communism.)
  • Thrax in Osmosis Jones is a Serial Killer virus who wants to kill Frank (portrayed as a city-state of cells in the movie). His sole reason is recognition.
    "Medical books aren't written about losers!"
  • 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 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, Jackson Rippner, mentions that their organization "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. In any case, Rippner himself is clearly just a Psycho for Hire.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Under Siege, Tommy Lee Jones is Strannix, a rogue CIA operative who specialized in hijackings. He and his men disguise themselves as musicians in order to seize a battleship with the help of a crooked Naval officer, Gary Busey. Strannix plans to load the ship's Tomahawk missiles onto a waiting sub (which he stole from the North Koreans!) and sell them.
    • In Under Siege 2, mercenaries team up with an ex-government hacker to blow up a nuclear reactor and irradiate the eastern seaboard on behalf of mideast terrorists.
  • 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 Zack Snyder's Justice League, the Evil Luddite terrorists fought by Wonder Woman suffer an Adaptation Explanation Extrication from the theatrical version, omitting their lines blaming the Kryptonians for their motivation. As a result, they come across as a nonsensical Apocalypse Cult trying to kill themselves and as many people as possible without even attempting to spread their message in order to fulfill their supposed goal of toppling civilization.

  • All-American Girl (Meg Cabot) 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 (likely based on John Hinckley's motive for shooting Reagan).
  • Discussed in The Man Who Was Thursday as the distinction between revolutionaries and bomb throwing anarchists. A revolutionary may throw a bomb to kill a specific political target, but the anarchist throws a bomb and is happy to kill anybody at all, since Anarchy Is Chaos.
    "They have but two objects, to destroy first humanity and then themselves. That is why they throw bombs instead of firing pistols. The innocent rank and file are disappointed because the bomb has not killed the king; but the high-priesthood are happy because it has killed somebody."
  • Discussed in the Modesty Blaise novel The Night of Morningstar, in regard to the Watchmen, a terrorist group who claim a different motivation for each attack and have espoused causes from all over the political spectrum including several that are mutually exclusive. Tarrant tells Modesty that investigations have established that it really is a single group behind all the attacks and that they're not just a Murder, Inc. whose goals change depending on who's paying them, but nobody knows what they're really out to achieve. It turns out that they're being run at arm's length by the USSR, with the aim that once they've established their legend they'll start carrying out attacks that serve the USSR's purposes disguised among the random ones.
  • The Panthers Modern in Neuromancer, whose manifesto is a postmodern statement on terrorism. They commit acts pretty much at random, saying that since the media and society in general seems so intent on divorcing acts of terror from the ideologies that drive them, the Panthers Modern will complete the push by committing acts of terror with no driving ideology whatsoever.
  • 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 
  • Sark from Alias. He routinely changes his alliances, and his true allegiance seems to be only to himself.
  • 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.
  • 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 gave him up for adoption, but it turns out that wasn't her.
  • The Mala 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 (and while it's not unusual for people from The Cartel to do terrorist acts for the sake of their interests-see Pablo Escobar-the series never says why this guy wanted to perform this).
  • CSI: NY: The drive-by shooters who spray a bar with bullets, killing at least one person & injuring several, as the team meets there at the end of the season 5 finale are at first believed to be targeting law enforcement, but eventually reveal their true motive by hacking the Times Square Jumbotron and demanding a ransom to stop shooting random buildings. The team being in the first location was just a coincidence.
  • The terrorists in Fairly Secret Army can be considered this, as it turns out that they are not Marxists, but have chaos as their AIM (with some bickering about whether they represent Old Chaosism or Middle Chaosism).
  • 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 Jerkass who'd latched onto that particular form 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.
  • The Black Cross Army from Himitsu Sentai Gorenger. Their cause doesn't go far beyond "Take Over the World with our legions of Cool Mask-wearing cyborgs."
  • In Painkiller Jane, the Monster of the Week for "Playback" was one of these. 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 was never revealed.
  • The Professionals
    • The episode "Kickback" has a fictional Italian terrorist group carrying out an assassination for hire, with the contemporary connection between The Mafia and terrorism lampshaded. In "First Night" the situation is reversed with London Gangsters kidnapping an Israeli minister and offering to sell him to the highest bidder.
    • Even though stories were Ripped from the Headlines, terrorists featured on the show were the No Celebrities Were Harmed version. The Organisation in "Runner" appears to be a Scottish version of the IRA, there's a German terrorist group in "Close Quarters" that's inspired by the Baader-Meinhof Group, and Ramos in "Long Shot" is likely an expy of Carlos the Jackal.
  • Americon Initiative in Revenge (2011), 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.
  • The IRA are featured in the show Sons of Anarchy, with the deconstruction of how the IRA have essentially gone 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 on Jax's son.
  • 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!"

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • Mage: The Ascension has some batnuts insane groups that do this, such as...
  • 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.
  • 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 
  • 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. Analyzing 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.
  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare gives us the KVA who are described anti-western in a mission that has them taking a Technology summit in Nigeria hostage. The following level has them causing Nuclear Reactors around the world to meltdown (with mentioned sites including the not Western at all China, Japan, Russia, and Egypt) and ends with their leader giving a speech more akin to an Evil Luddite than an anti-western terrorist. It also doesn't help that we never find out what he was planning to do with that meeting in the mission you kill him, but seeing as it was a decoy, it's unknown if there was really meeting at all.
  • In Call of Duty: Black Ops III has the second mission has the player going through a simulation where you have to stop a terrorist group from bombing a passenger train in Zurich. No motivation or even a name is given to this terrorist group for the attack. This is subverted in the Alternative Universe Nightmares mode where both a name, the Cotardist and a motive (they believed the Undead were next step in humanity's evolution and Zurich was at the time the only city that was Zombie-Free) were given. This may just be a different group that uses the same character models as the unnamed terrorist.
  • The Global Liberation Army in Command & Conquer: Generals were Al-Quaeda with the serial numbers filed off... and these serial numbers included Islamism (AQ's main motivation), leaving the GLA with only a very vaguely defined "liberation" as motivation.
  • 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).
  • 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 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 families 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.
  • In Driver: San Francisco, gangster Charles Jericho steals components to build a hydrogen cyanide bomb, then threatens to detonate that bomb in downtown San Francisco, with no demands given. Because he never built the bomb at all. It's part of a massive Batman Gambit to get the city evacuated so he can stage a prison break.
  • The villains in Elevator Action Returns 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.
  • Far Cry 2 features two rival factions of African Terrorists who are warring to take over an unnamed central African country, despite the fact that their conflict has destroyed nearly all economic resources. We get almost nothing on their ideologies except what we can piece together from the manual or deduce from their rhetoric. One faction even uses a Communist red star in its iconography but denounces the other for being communists.
  • 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..
  • FTL: Faster Than Light does not particularly explain why is the Rebel Fleet rebelling against The Federation. That their (not automated) ships are crewed entirely by humans suggests there might be Fantastic Racism behind the cause, and few events suggest there might be economical reasons as wellnote , but the Rebels never outright state their goals beside gloating about doing away with the old-fashioned Federation.
  • The protagonist of Hitman is nominally killing for money. However, while in some games there's a given reason why he needs the money, in Blood Money, it's only used to buy upgrades so he can commit more assassinations. Meanwhile, 47 is living in derelict warehouses. There is an overarching conspiracy going on, but 47 doesn't care for it. He could've probably done the first 2, 3 hits without buying upgrades and live off the proceeds for the rest of his life, but 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 leads to him being drawn back into the job. The money is just there to keep him on top of said job.
  • 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.
  • Jinx from League of Legends breaks havoc in Piltover only For the Evulz.
  • The Mass Effect 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. Subverted in that it was supposed to be a slave raid, he basically cracked and threw the terrorist attack in at the last second. A chunk of his followers, including his second in command, will abandon the whole thing and run for it if Shepard lets them.
  • 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.
  • 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.
      • Still the OpFor in Modern Warfare 2 play this straight. The first game had them overthrowing the government of a nameless country in the Middle East because they felt their President was corrupt due to his ties to the Western countries like the United States. However, in the second game they apparently decided to move their operations to Afghanistan and are fighting with no apparent goals. The best guess is the OpFor in the second were just a Taliban stand-in and not the same group from the first game.
  • Ouma from Namco × Capcom and Project × Zone appear to have no motives as to why they want to cause chaos, though the most likely reason is to Take Over the World.
  • Palworld has the Brothers of the Eternal Pyre, which started out as a reasonable nature-based cult that worshipped fire. Under the guidance of their new High Priest, the Blood Knight Axel Traverse, they devolved into a bunch of pyromaniac Gangbangers committing random acts of violence for the sake of it.
  • 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 built. 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.
    • 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 White Masks of Rainbow Six: Siege take this even further by having no known ideology at all, never saying anything aside from the usual battlefield callouts. They simply travel the world, planting germ bombs or kidnapping hostages, until Team Rainbow comes to save the day. Given Siege's competitive multiplayer focus, the matter can be glossed over.
  • Red Ocean, a little-known FPS who's as mediocre as it's obscure, have the player battling a generic-as-hell terrorist syndicate called the United Arms after uncovering their Underwater Base, besides sabotaging their superweapons in three boss battles. The Excuse Plot is as loose as it could get in this one.
  • 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 accomplished to let the EFA defend the planet. However, quite a few guys only signed on for selfish or personal reasons (grudges against the EFA, genuine 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 organization 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.
  • The terrorists in Target Terror seem to be this.
  • The URDA terrorist group in Time Crisis: Crisis Zone. They have neither demands nor motives.
    • Wild Dog from the main series qualifies as this. Robert Baxter from the fifth game does have something against the VSSE, but the only answer he gives is to "reset the whole world".
  • Yohan in Verdict: Guilty! is out there blowing stuff up for his master's cult without really knowing why he's doing it. In truth, he's more in the cult because he wants somewhere to belong, and his master's secretly working for the Big Bad's agenda, and he hasn't told Yohan that.
  • Scoia'tael in The Witcher had basically devolved into this. In the books, they fought on the side of invading Nilfgaard Empire, hoping that in return, the emperor will help them establish an independent elven country in Dol Blathanna. After invasion ultimately failed and Nilfgaard went back on all their promises, many Scoia'tael refused to put down their weapons, remained in hiding, and continued their guerilla against Northern Kingdoms. By the time the video game adaptation takes place, they are reduced to a bunch of terrorists who randomly kill humans left and right just out of hatred and make the fate of non-humans trying to live peacefully even more miserable. What makes their modus operandi even more pointless is that for some reason, they were now joined by the dwarves (although in the books, dwarves were never a part of Scoia'tael and remained firmly on the side of Northern Kingdoms).
    • Subverted in the sequel, where you can hook up with Scoia'tael faction led by Iorveth, who actually do have a cause not dissimilar to the one their originally had. Namely, they want to create a country where members of all races are equal. And they lend their aid to Verden in attempt to achieve that goal.

    Visual Novels 
  • The Ultimate Despair in the Danganronpa series is a group without principles or morals, dedicated to spreading chaos, destruction, and despair everywhere they go. They're responsible for the murder of their friends and family, widespread terrorism, coup d'etats, forcing people into mass suicides, wars entirely for the sake of war, and other unspeakably awful things. They do it all just because they can.

    Web Original 
  • 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".
  • RWBY subverts it with Roman Torchwick. At first, he just seems like a Bomb Throwing Anarchist, destroying government property and killing people for no real reason, but he rants about his motives twice. The first time, he states that he feels the government has screwed everyone over. The next time, however, he states his real reasoning, which is fairly simple; he's on the side of whoever he thinks will win.
  • 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 demobilize, 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.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Action Man (2000) series Asazi is described as a "Terrorist for hire" until she became part of the Council Of D.O.O.M.
  • Archer has two Welsh "freedom fighters" plotting to blow up a dam, appearing in "Archub Y Morfilod". Archer asks about their cause, accidentally revealing they don't have one. They claim they are revolting because the British government flooded an ancient village. Archer is horrified that the government would something like that For the Evulz, only for the Welshmen to admit it was to bring more drinking water to the region. Archer is still appalled that thousands of people were displaced, only for them to admit only forty-eight people were affected. Archer is still upset that those people were left homeless, only for them to admit that everyone was compensated and in many cases were now living in much, much nicer homes.
  • 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.
  • 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 boundaries, 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 so he could rule the wreckage, 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 For the Evulz. Dr. Blight claims to do stuff For Science!, 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.
  • 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.
  • G.I. Joe:
    • Cobra, whose motivations and ideology (beyond just being bad) are vague and open to many interpretations.
      • The tagline for the show and movie says their goal is world domination, but despite that, they never really try to capture and control anything more than simply blow it up.
    • 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.
  • Le Papillion/Hawkmoth from Miraculous Ladybug seems like this at first- his usual tactic is "turn random person into Monster of the Week, order them to capture heroes' Miraculouses, hope they succeed, curse when they inevitably fail". You might wonder what he wants to use the Miraculous for, and it's not until the very end of the first season that the audience find out: He wants to use them to bring his wife Back from the Dead. However by the Season 5 premiere he's so driven to achieve victory the way he wants to (and the way he wants to is by defeating Ladybug and Cat Noir) that he lets go a perfect chance to save his wife through Time Travel just to keep trying to defeat them. This is an act of Stupid Evil so overt that his assistant Natalie, who up until that point was his most loyal follower, gets so ticked off that she quits.
  • The 1940s Superman entry "Destruction, Inc.", while otherwise one of the series' better efforts, never gets around to explaining why the villians are plotting to blow up the munitions factory.
  • 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.
  • 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. The leader even turns on the rest once he gets installed in a Decepticon body.

Alternative Title(s): Terrorist Without A Cause