Terrorists Without a Cause

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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. Compare with Psycho for Hire.

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.

Examples of Terrorists Without a Cause include:

Anime and Manga

  • 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.
    • Debatable 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.
    • It Gets Worse...the Cult of Crime is growing into a real force to be reckoned with, or at least it was before the reboot. 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 story arc of The Punisher 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.
  • 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.
    • Hydra's deal is now 'Big Business has taken over everything. Now it's time to defeat them. And take over everything outselves'.

Fan Works

  • In Quarter-Life: Halfway To Destruction, the "bad guy from the game" threatens to destroy Dallas with a radioactive isotope. All he says of his motivation is "If you do not agree to my demans [sic] -- TOO LATE!" before the isotope "hits quarter-life" and begins to meltdown. (Maybe he would have gotten to say what he actually wanted if he used a less radioactive material?)
  • In Desperately Seeking Ranma, the magically-inclined offshoot of Aum Shinrikyo which planted the portal bombs seems to have no purpose beyond simply causing chaos, mayhem and death. (Several dozen chapters later, though, you start seeing hints that they were part of -- or manipulated by -- a much larger, more rational consipiracy.)


  • 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 Prieshood, 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 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 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.
  • The (possibly) Afghan terrorist organization "Ten Rings" in the 2008 Iron Man film (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.
  • 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.
  • Joe Seluchi in Airplane! II: The Sequel. He tries to blow up the flight so his family can get his flight insurance money.
    • Which a second-degree Truth in Television, incidentally, since he was a parody of a character in the original Airport movie/book, who was based on a real guy who blew himself and an airliner to bits so his mother would get the insurance money.
      • Though, in Airport, the equivalent character didn't make the mistake Seluchi did, which was to buy a large AUTO insurance policy instead of life insurance by mistake
  • 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.
    • He may be closer to the 19th century Anarchist archetype, though.
      • No, they had definite motives—research anarchism. The strategy was propaganda by the deed, bringing attention to anarchism by committing terrorist acts in revenge for wrongs done by the establishment. Not a good strategy, because it caused massive backlash, painting all anarchists as crazy with belief in nothing when they had a definite plan and did not use those methods.
    • The fact that the Joker is an Ax Crazy terrorist without a cause is such a big part of the movie that it actually ends up lampshaded by the Joker in his conversation with Harvey Dent.
      • He was lying. He claimed that he had nothing to do with Rachel's death, and even Harvey didn't believe him, and claim he wasn't really into plans, even though he's blatantly portrayed as a brilliant criminal mastermind. His goal is a type of radical nihilistic anarchy.
    • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • More than one James Bond villain have fit this mold.
    • Actually, almost none of them do. Bond villains tend to use terrrorist actions as a cover for a brilliant criminal scheme. Its about some kind of profit (or sometimes, some kind of insane vision, not the violence.
  • So does the Fight Club. Their members simply go nuts.
    • Actually, they were Luddites, or anarcho-primitivists. It's made clearer in the book, though Tyler's monologues in the movie are pretty clear too. It's just that a lot of viewers seem to miss that aspect.

"Reject the basic assumptions of civilization! Especially the importance material possessions!"

  • 12 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 Jonathan Rhys Meyers' 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 Deja 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.
  • In Black Butler, we never learn what Hanae was trying to accomplish.


  • 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.
  • Pretty much inverted in Stationery Voyagers, where everyone has an agenda and the stories see no problem at all with incorporating scantily-clad analogues of real groups. The closest thing to "no cause" is the Yehtzig Pirate League, and their goal is to have Astrabolo overthrow God himself. The Drismabons come close, wanting the eternal damnation of the entire universe just because. The Muhmmaldian terrorists, however, are blatant knock-offs of real-life groups like Hamas. The Crooked Rainbow, of course, are gay terrorists. Pretty much every bad guy faction on Mantith is guaranteed to be a strawman (though how "straw" it is may vary) for some Far Left cause or another. Refuge in Audacity seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

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.
  • 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.
  • An episode of Law and 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 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.
  • 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.

Tabletop Games

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.
    • 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.
      • Gravel. No, really.
      • Backstory elaborates on the conflict: two brothers were given by their dying father equal parts of a very large, useless piece of land that the two of them convinced him to purchase. Being brothers, they'd naturally fight over it. One hundred years later, the brothers are still feuding, not merely over the gravel pits, but over absolutely everything that wasn't already owned by Australia. Their most recent gambit in the war involved an immortality machine... which obviously results it the whole thing lasting all those 100 years and probably far into the future.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 Exclusively 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..
  • 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.
  • 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 assassinations. 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.

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, apparently with nothing better or more terrifying to do. Why? Because it was built on his "burial camp". Right.

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 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, 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 has terrorists with a cause: Cobra. However, that cause is money.
    • A better version 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...
      • 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 the 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.
      • During the series' Dork Age, they decided that Cobra Commander wore a mask because he was a snake-man, leading the organization as part of Cobra-La, an ancient cult worshiping serpent-gods from beyond.
  • 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.
    • Word of God has it that their cause would (will?) be revealed... someday...
  • 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.

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.
  • Many ideologically-motivated guerrilla 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 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 Enlgand 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.
  • In 2011, some acts of sabotage were committed 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.