Skip to main content

A Comprehensive Application of Rational Choice Theory: How Costs Imposed by, and Benefits Derived from, the U.S. Federal Government Affect Incidents Perpetrated by the Radical Eco-Movement

Abstract

Objectives

In this study, we examine the effect of both the costs and benefits of perpetration, along with the rewards of abstention, on the behavior of a uniquely rational, yet frequent perpetrator of ideologically-motivated crime: the radical eco-movement.

Methods

We combine data on U.S. federal government actions and incidents perpetrated by the radical eco-movement to assess multiple components of rational choice theory. Our investigation employs Granger causality and autoregressive Poisson analyses.

Results

As a whole, we find that what the government does seems to influence the behavior of the radical eco-movement; namely, when government behaviors increase the costs of perpetration, eco-incidents decline. Further, we find partial evidence that raising the marginal benefit of perpetration is associated with more incidents.

Conclusions

Theorizing as to why such nuanced findings were discovered, we conclude that the decision-making process of the radical eco-movement is more complex than originally anticipated.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    While this piece is explicitly designed to counter RCT’s dissidents, other scholarship has also evaluated the effects of benefit perceptions (Matsueda et al. 2006; Piliavin et al. 1986; Uggen and Thompson 2003) and found evidence that illegal monetary gains and psychic rewards affect offender decision-making.

  2. 2.

    While we would ideally include punishment by both state and federal governments, resource limits preclude us from collecting data on all state-level arrests and prosecutions. However, we also argue that federal level activity is more salient to the movement as it signals precedent. In addition, this type of deterrence is less vulnerable to displacement to another jurisdiction.

  3. 3.

    Although this entity had a focus on animal enterprise attacks, its chronology did include attacks against environmental targets as well.

  4. 4.

    For example, Walter Edmund Bond was solely responsible for a series of arsons but had the Animal Liberation Front’s (ALF) “press office” release a statement saying they were committed in the name of ALF.

  5. 5.

    We did not include the unit-root tests in the paper to save space. The test results are available upon request.

  6. 6.

    In the economic literature, when using the Granger causality test, people tend to use the term “Granger causes” when describing causal associations. However, this is not the norm in criminology. Thus, we mostly use “cause” instead of “Granger cause” in this manuscript to avoid awkward language.

  7. 7.

    There is one important point that needs clarification regarding the Granger causality test. Enders (2004) points out that Granger causality is somewhat different from a test of exogeneity (Enders 2004). An exogeneity between two variables requires a temporal order and causal connections between the occurrences of the two. Granger causality examines whether the use of current and past values (or changes) of one variable help predict future values (or changes) of another variable. Therefore, the Granger causality test satisfies the temporal order requirement of an exogeneity test. Without the inclusion of all possible independent variables in the model, however, the Granger causality test cannot be used to identify the true causes of a variable. In addition, a contemporaneous effect between two variables would also be considered as causal under the Granger causality framework. This type of relationship is usually referred to as “Granger Causation” to be distinguished from “true causation”.

  8. 8.

    Per the suggestion of the reviewers, we tested the effects of each time lag to see if the differential effects due to different time length could possibly cancel out each other and render the overall findings insignificant.

  9. 9.

    We appreciate the reviewer’s suggestion of adding the VAR block Granger analysis tests to the paper. The null hypothesis of this test is Granger non-causality. That is, a significant finding indicates the existence of Granger Causality running from one variable to the outcome variable in the model.

  10. 10.

    These marginal effects were calculated by exponentiating the estimated coefficients. As this shows the change in the baseline rates, we subtracted the exponentiated value from one.

References

  1. Awokuse TO (2003) Is the export-led growth hypothesis valid for Canada? Can J Econ 36(1):126–136

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Becker G (1764) On crimes and punishments. Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis

    Google Scholar 

  3. Becker G (1968) Crime and punishment: an economic approach. The economic dimensions of crime. Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp 13–68

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bentham J (1789) An introduction to the principles of morals. Athlone, London

    Google Scholar 

  5. Carson J (2014) Counterterrorism and radical eco-groups: a context for exploring the series hazard model. J Quant Criminol 30(3):485–504

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Carson J, Bartholomew B (2016) Terrorism outside the proverbial vacuum: implications for the moral context. Deviant Behav 37(5):557–572

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Carson JV, James P, O’Neal T (2019) The radicalization of the Kanes: family as a primary group influence? Dyn Asymmetric Conflict 12(1):67–89

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Carson J, LaFree G, Dugan L (2012) Terrorist and non-terrorist criminal attacks by radical environmental and animal rights groups in the United States, 1970-2007. Terror Political Violence 24(2):295–319

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Chenoweth E, Dugan L (2016) The Canadian way of counterterrorism: introducing the GATE-Canada data set. Can Foreign Policy J 22(3):316–330

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Chermak S, Gruenewald J (2015) Laying a foundation for the criminological examination of right-wing, left-wing, and Al Qaeda-inspired extremism in the United States. Terror Political Violence 27(1):133–159

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Chiricos T, Waldo G (1970) Punishment and crime: an examination of some empirical evidence. Soc Probl 18(2):200–217

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Clarke R, Gemuseus V, Newman G (2006) Outsmarting the terrorists. Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport

    Google Scholar 

  13. Cochran J, Chamlin M (2000) Deterrence and brutalization: the dual effects of executions. Justice Q 17(4):685–706

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Cornish D, Clarke RV (1986) Situational crime prevention, displacement of crime and rational choice theory. In: Heal K, Laycock G (eds) Situational crime prevention: from theory into practice. Home Office, London

    Google Scholar 

  15. DeHaan W, Jaco V (2003) A crying shame: the over-rationalized conception of man in the rational choice perspective. Theor Criminol 7(1):29

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Deshpande N, Ernst H (2012) Countering eco-terrorism in the United States: the case of “Operation Backfire”. Final Report to the Science & Technology Directorate, US Department of Homeland Security

  17. Dugan L, Chenoweth E (2012) Moving beyond deterrence: the effectiveness of raising the unexpected utility of abstaining from terrorism in Israel. Am Sociol Rev 77(4):597–624

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Dugan L, LaFree G, Piquero AR (2005)Testing a rational choice model of airline hijackings. In: International conference on intelligence and security informatics. Springer, Berlin, pp 340–361

  19. Efraim B, Berrebi C, Klor E (2010) Counter-suicide-terrorism: evidence from house demolitions. National Bureau of Economic Research, No. w16493

  20. Enders W (2004) Applied econometric time series, 2nd edn. Wiley, Hoboken, NJ

    Google Scholar 

  21. Enders W, Sandlers T (1993) The effectiveness of antiterrorism policies: a vector-autoregression-intervention analysis. Am Pol Sci Rev 87(4):829–844

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Enders W, Sandler T (2000) Is transnational terrorism becoming more threatening? A time-series investigation. J Conflict Resolut 44(3):307–332

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Enders W, Sandler T, Cauley J (1990) UN conventions, technology, and retaliation in the fight against terrorism: an econometric evaluation. Terror Political Violence 2(1):83–105

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Erickson ML, Gibbs JP, Jensen GF (1977) The deterrence doctrine and the perceived certainty of legal punishments. Am Sociol Rev 42(2):305–317

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Fisher DG, Becker MH (2019) The heterogeneous repercussions of killing Osama Bin Laden on global terrorism patterns. Eur J Criminol. https://doi.org/10.1177/1477370819850103

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Freilich J, Chermak S, Simone J (2009) Surveying American state police agencies about terrorism threats, terrorism sources, and terrorism definitions. Terror Political Violence 21(3):450–475

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Freilich JD, Chermak S, Belli R, Gruenewald J, Parkin W (2014) Introducing the United States extremist crime database (ECDB). Terror Political Violence 26(2):372–384

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Gibbs JP (1968) Crime, punishment, and deterrence. Elseiver, New York

    Google Scholar 

  29. Granger CWJ (2004) Time series analysis, cointegration, and applications. Am Econ Rev 94(3):421–425

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Granger CWJ, Huang B, Yang C (2000) A bivariate causality between stock prices and exchange rates: evidence from recent Asian flu. Q Rev Econ Finance 40(3):337–354

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Gruenewald J, Allison-Gruenewald K, Klein BR (2015) Assessing the attractiveness and vulnerability of eco-terrorism targets: a situational crime prevention approach. Stud Confl Terror 38(6):433–455

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Hamm MS (2004) Apocalyptic violence: the seduction of terrorist subcultures. Theor Criminol 8(3):323–339

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Hepworth DP (2014) Terrorist retaliation? An analysis of terrorist attacks following the targeted killing of top-tier al Qaeda leadership. J Policing Intell Counter Terror 9(1):1–18

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Jensen GF, Erickson ML, Gibbs JP (1978) Perceived risk of punishment and self-reported delinquency. Soc Forces 57(1):57–78

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Johnston PB (2012) Does decapitation work? Assessing the effectiveness of leadership targeting in counterinsurgency campaigns. Int Secur 36(4):47–79

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Jordan J (2009) When heads roll: assessing the effectiveness of leadership decapitation. Secur Stud 18(4):719–755

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Kovandzic TV, Sloan JJ III, Vieraitis L (2004) “Striking out” as crime reduction policy: the impact of “three strikes” laws on crime rates in US cities. Justice Q 21(2):207–239

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Kruglanski AW, Chen X, Dechesne M, Fishman M, Orehek E (2009) Fully committed: suicide bombers’ motivation and the quest for personal significance. Political Psychol 30(3):331–357

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. LaFree G, Ackerman G (2009) The empirical study of terrorism: social and legal research. Ann Rev Law Soc Sci 5:347–374

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. LaFree G, Dugan L (2007) Introducing the global terrorism database. Terror Political Violence 19(2):181–204

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. LaFree G, Dugan L, Korte R (2009) The impact of British counterterrorist strategies on political violence in Norther Ireland: comparing deterrence and backlash models. Criminology 47(1):17–45

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Liddick D (2006) Eco-terrorism: radical environmental and animal liberation movements. Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport

    Google Scholar 

  43. Lipton E, Vogel K (2018) New files detail the threats made against Scott Pruitt at the E.P.A. Accessed https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/07/climate/pruitt-epa-threat-files.html

  44. Loughran TA, Paternoster R, Chalfin A, Wilson T (2016) Can rational choice be considered a general theory of crime? Evidence from individual level panel data. Criminology 54(1):86–112

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Mannes A (2008) Testing the snake head strategy: Does killing or capturing its leaders reduce a terrorist group’s activity? J Int Policy Solut 9:40–49

    Google Scholar 

  46. Marvell TB, Moody CE (1997) Age-structure trends and prison populations. J Crim Justice 25(2):115–124

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Marvell TB, Moody CE (1999) Female and male homicide victimization rates: comparing trends and regressors. Criminology 37(4):879–902

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Matsueda RL, Kreager DA, Huizinga D (2006) Deterring delinquents: a rational choice model of theft and violence. Am Sociol Rev 71(1):95–122

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Miller E (2017) Ideological motivations of terrorism in the united states, 1970—2016. Study of terrorism and responses to terrorism (START). University of Maryland. Retrieved https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/START_IdeologicalMotivationsOfTerrorismInUS_Nov2017.pdf

  50. Moody CE, Marvell TB (1996) The uncertain timing of innovations in time series: minnesota sentencing guidelines and jail sentences—a comment. Criminology 34(2):257–267

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Nagin DS (1998) Criminal deterrence research at the outset of the twenty-first century. Criminology 23:1–42

    Google Scholar 

  52. Perry S, Hasisi B (2015) Rational choice rewards and the jihadist suicide bomber”. Terror Political Violence 27(1):53–80

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Perry S, Weisburd D, Hasisi B (2016) The ten commandments for effective counterterrorism. The Handbook of the Criminology of Terrorism. Wiley, New York, p 482

    Google Scholar 

  54. Piliavin I, Gartner R, Thorton C, Matsueda RL (1986) Crime, deterrence, and rational choice. Am Sociol Rev 51:101–119

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Pratt TC, Cullen FT, Blevins KR, Daigle LD, Madensen TD (2006) The empirical status of deterrence theory: a meta-analysis. Taking Stock Status Criminol Theory 15:367–396

    Google Scholar 

  56. Pridemore W, Freilich JD (2007) The impact of state laws protecting abortion clinics and reproductive rights on crimes against abortion providers: deterrence, backlash, or neither? Law Hum Behav 31(6):611–627

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Rogers JE, Greene M, Hoffnar E (1996) Does welfare cause increase in female-headed households? Appl Econ Lett 2:85–88

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Schrodt PA (2012) Precedents, progress, and prospects in political event data. Int Interact 38(4):546–569

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Sherman LW, Berk RA (1984) The specific deterrent effects of arrest for domestic assault. Am Sociol Rev 49(5):261–272

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Sherman LW, Weisburd D (1995) General deterrent effects of police patrol in crime “hot spots”: a randomized, controlled trial. Justice Q 12(4):625–648

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Sims CA (1972) Money, income and causality. Am Econ Rev 11:540–552

    Google Scholar 

  62. Smith BL, Damphousse KR, Karlson A (2001) Terrorism and the American system of criminal justice. Marcel Dekker, New York, pp 447–460

    Google Scholar 

  63. Smith BL, Cothren J, Roberts P, Damphousse KR (2008) Geospatial analysis of terrorist activities. National Institute of Justice Final Report. Department of Justice, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  64. Smith BL, Grunewald J, Damphouse KR, Roberts P, Ratcliff K, Klein B, Brecht I (2017) Sequencing terrorists’ precursor behavior: a crime specific analysis. Final Summary Overview, NIJ FY 13 research and evaluation on radicalization to violent extremism in the United States

  65. Tittle CR (1969) Crime rates and legal sanctions. Soc Probl 16(4):409–423

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Tittle CR, Rowe AR (1974) Certainty of arrest and crime rates: a further test of the deterrence hypothesis. Soc Forces 52(4):455–462

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Toda HY, Yamamoto T (1995) Statistical inference in vector autoregression with possibly integrated processes. J Econom 66:225–250

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Türsoy T (2017) Causality between stock prices and exchange rates in Turkey: empirical evidence from the ARDL bounds test and a combined cointegration approach. Int J Financ Stud 5(1):8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Uggen C, Thompson M (2003) The socioeconomic determinants of ill-gotten gains: within-person changes in drug use and illegal earnings. Am J Sociol 109(1):146–185

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Waldo GP, Chiricos TG (1972) Perceived penal sanction and self-reported criminality: a neglected approach to deterrence research. Soc Probl 19(4):522–540

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Yang S (2007) Causal or merely co-existing: a longitudinal study of disorder and violence at places. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park

  72. Yang S, Jen I (2017) An evaluation of displacement and diffusion effects on eco-terrorist activities after police interventions. J Quant Criminol. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-017-9367-4

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Yang S, Su Y, Carson J (2014) Eco-terrorism and the corresponding legislation efforts to intervene and prevent future attacks. Final Report. The Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security, and Society (TSAS), Canada

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jennifer Varriale Carson.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

The authorship is ordered alphabetically, as all authors have contributed equally to this work.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Carson, J.V., Dugan, L. & Yang, SM. A Comprehensive Application of Rational Choice Theory: How Costs Imposed by, and Benefits Derived from, the U.S. Federal Government Affect Incidents Perpetrated by the Radical Eco-Movement. J Quant Criminol 36, 701–724 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10940-019-09427-8

Download citation

Keywords

  • Rational choice theory
  • Eco-movement
  • Counterterrorism
  • Terrorism