Modelling Radicalisation: Applying Situational Action Theory to the Christchurch Attacks

Author: Desai, Vikrant1 

Published in National Security Journal, 19 March 2023

DOI: 10.36878/nsj20230319.04 

Download full PDF version – Modelling Radicalisation: Applying Situational Action Theory to the Christchurch Attacks (1000 KB)


The March 2019 Christchurch terror attacks were something of a turning point for both law enforcement agencies in New Zealand and for terrorism studies scholars. The growth of religious terrorism, the rise of right-wing extremism, and the imaginative use of the internet by violent extremists pose new security challenges today. This article examines the merits of a criminological radicalisation model for lone actors of terrorism specific to the New Zealand setting. The article examines the concept of radicalisation in the terrorism literature and argues for a clear distinction between the cognitive and behavioural stages of radicalisation. It analyses some of the unique domestic factors which affect radicalisation in New Zealand and provides a brief threat evaluation of extremism. The article proceeds to identify some of the reasons behind ‘why out of millions of people facing similar conditions, only the few become terrorists’ by applying the Situational Action Theory of Crime to the Christchurch terror attacks. Finally, the article recommends some specific interventions for law enforcement agencies to try and thwart future terrorists.

Keywords: Radicalisation, terrorism, violent extremism, Situational Action Theo-ry of crime, criminology, interventions

1 Vikrant Desai completed a Master’s Degree of Security & Crime Science from the University of Waikato with first class honours and is currently pursuing his PhD on the ‘Role of Online Platforms in Right-Wing Extremism’. His research interests include international security, human intelligence, and counterterrorism. Contact by email: