Student Investigates Motivations Behind Lone Terrorism

This week’s mass shooting in Las Vegas has one College of Arts & Letters student thinking about the importance of her research on lone terrorists.

Guin Overly, a senior with a double major in Arabic and Psychology, is analyzing the motivation behind lone terrorism as a Research Assistant for former MSU Assistant Sociology Professor Bernard Finifter. 

“Our work is really important because there hasn’t been a lot of research done on this topic,” Overly said. “A lot of people have these false ideologies that terrorists are always foreign, but there are people in the U.S. who commit these acts too, so it’s important to look at everyone as a whole, which includes the man who committed that crime in Nevada. I definitely think he will eventually be included in this study.”

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Guin Overly on study abroad in Jordan.


The research Overly is working on, Finifter first began in 1995, the same year Overly was born. Similar to the research assistants who have come before her, Overly is charged with creating biographical timelines of prominent lone terrorists throughout history.

“Once we get the life course biographies compiled, we can look and see what all these people have in common or identify some sort of pattern,” Overly said. “If we get that, it will be a huge advancement.”

Lone terrorists are individuals who commit an act of terrorism without being affiliated with any larger group.

“When a terrorist is affiliated with a group, they feed off of specific ideologies,” Overly said. “Lone terrorists grab from their own ideas. They have their own specific beliefs, which makes them the hardest to predict.”

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After she graduates from MSU in December, Overly hopes to work in the forensic psychology sector as a criminal behavioral analyst.

In addition to participating in Finifter’s research, Overly has had two internships. This past summer, she interned in San Francisco with the International Institute of the Bay Area, where she used her Arabic skills to assist women from Yemen with their citizenship test. She spent the previous summer researching virtual reality therapy for the VR Therapy and Counseling Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Overly also completed a study abroad to Jordan where she studied Arabic and was immersed in the language, having lived with a host family. 

“Without those experiences, I don’t think I would be where I am today,” Overly said. “This research position in addition to those opportunities is what’s going to help me get a job. It all adds up.”

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Overly showing her Spartan pride in Jordan.