The Invention of Terrorism in France, 1904-1939
Chris Millington



Cultures of Terrorism

“Terrorism.” When you saw this word, what came to mind? Was it planes flying into buildings or massacres in nightclubs? Maybe it was government offices or hotels gutted by bombings. Or wedding parties obliterated in a drone strike. When you read the word “terrorist,” whom do you imagine? A balaclava-clad paramilitary fighter? A bearded “martyr” in a suicide vest? A white supremacist? Or maybe a suit-wearing statesman? Few other words have the power to evoke such immediate mental images and to trigger prejudices and preconceptions about what we “know” of a phenomenon. Yet save for students and scholars, we rarely stop to consider the origins or accuracy of this “knowledge.” From where and from whom do we “learn” about terrorism? The answer is, from an array of sources, from the news media and the political establishment to cinema, literature, and video games. We rarely question the content of, or motives behind, these sources yet we are nevertheless sure that we “know what terrorism is.”

People in the past also “knew” what terrorism was. This book is the first work to reconstruct this “knowledge” through an examination of representations and perceptions of terrorism in French political and cultural discourse during the period of the late Third Republic. It analyzes the interpretations of terrorism by antagonists and observers to understand how these actors perceived, experienced, and reacted to terrorist violence. The investigation uses the narratives produced about terrorist attacks and their perpetrators, as well as the responses of the police, army, and ministers of the democratic Third Republic, to uncover “cultures of terrorism,” defined as the frameworks of values and qualities that informed common beliefs about the nature, operation, and goals of terrorism and its perpetrators. “Terrorism” is therefore understood here not only as a “brute fact,”1 but also as a political and cultural construction of violence composed from a variety of discourses and deployed in particular circumstances by commentators, witnesses, and perpetrators. The political and cultural battles inherent to perceptions of terrorism spoke to numerous concerns, not least anxieties over immigration, antiparliamentarianism, representations of gender, and the future of European peace. The book thus recognizes terrorism as a stake in early twentieth-century political conflict. It sheds light on the previously understudied historical antecedents of French notions of terrorism in the twenty-first century, the roots of which scholars often locate in the post–Second World War era of decolonization. In doing so, it offers an original and highly significant contribution to the field of terrorism studies and European twentieth-century history.

The years under examination here broadly coincide with a period of sharp political conflict in France that some scholars (though by no means all) have characterized as the “French civil war.”2 The global ideological conflict of the time marked the French profoundly, as competing visions of a future France—primarily the democratic Republican, the fascist, and the communist—vied for supremacy. Persistent economic depression, governmental instability, and factional rivalries in parliament undermined confidence in the Republic. French groups from the extreme right-wing extra-parliamentary leagues to the extreme left-wing Communist Party drew inspiration from foreign models to offer alternatives to democracy. Theirs were not voices crying in the wilderness. Hundreds of thousands of French joined associations committed to a radical shakeup of the nation. Regular street violence between political opponents and the police heightened the sense of crisis.3

French involvement in episodes of fighting abroad—notably official intervention in the Russian Civil War of the early post-war years and unofficial intervention in the Spanish Civil War after 1936—as well as the suspected presence in France of hostile foreign spies, agents, and terrorists further implicated the country in wider European political struggles. The Franco-French conflict reached a bloody climax during the years of Nazi Occupation. Marshal Philippe Pétain’s Etat Français at Vichy persecuted minorities and repressed dissenters with legal sanction and violence. Resistance groups initially reacted with caution, uncertain of the loyalties of the population and in fear of reprisals from the German Occupier. Following the invasion of the Soviet Union in summer 1941, communist operatives committed the first violent attacks against German soldiers and French collaborators. Vichy responded with ferocious repression and exceptional judicial measures that stripped “terrorists” of their basic legal rights. In the final year of the war, numerous resistance groups took the fight to their enemies as best they could, with limited supplies of weapons and in the face of bloody violence from the regime’s Milice Française.

Historians have mined this period of internecine strife extensively, yet terrorism as a subject of analysis has received relatively short shrift. It is treated as either tangential to, or the backcloth of, other subjects, namely the paramilitary politics of the years after 1934. The relegation of terrorism as a subject of secondary importance in the scholarly literature may reflect historians’ belief that people living during the 1930s and 1940s likewise dismissed the phenomenon. Heinz-Gerhard Haupt and Klaus Weinhauer claim that after 1918 civil war and revolution “absorbed public attention leaving only little room for the pre-1914 discourses on individual acts of terrorism.”4 Newer paramilitary cultures subsumed terrorism.5

It is to some extent true that the 1930s ideological conflict in Europe informed interpretations and representations of terrorist acts, organizations, and perpetrators. Yet in France, aspects of a pre-1914 culture of terrorism persisted and adapted to the new political climate. French perceptions of terrorism were not “reset” in the wake of the Great War. Rather, they evolved, retaining aspects of understandings from the pre-war period while acquiring new meanings derived from the context of the interwar years. As the home-grown anarchist threat of the 1890s subsided (but did not disappear), terrorism as a political strategy came to be associated with the struggles of Russian revolutionaries. The press and popular cultural productions framed the Russian population of Paris as a nihilist enclave that exported terrorism back home.

Ideas about terrorism had changed subtly by 1919. Emile Cottin’s attempted assassination of Prime Minister George Clemenceau in February 1919 demonstrated that older ideas of anarchist and nihilist violence, while persistent, were gradually giving way to a fear of Soviet terrorism in France as continental politics reconfigured after the war. In the wake of several attacks, especially the October 1934 assassination of King Alexander I of Yugoslavia in Marseille, the French came to perceive their own country as a battleground for foreign terrorist fighters, loyal to either communism or fascism, who imported their conflict from abroad. Significantly, by the mid-1930s France was not considered the target of terrorism. This belief persisted into the latter half of the decade. By 1937, the fear that terrorists (still largely understood as foreigners) were now targeting French interests gained traction thanks to a series of bombings in Paris and the south of the country. If in the early 1930s terrorists had struck in France, as war approached at the close of the decade terrorists struck at France. This conception strengthened throughout the war years as both Vichy and the resistance accused each other of harming French interests. At the Liberation, the triumph of a democratic, Republican, and “French” vision of France (“French” because Vichy’s opponents long depicted the regime as a foreign puppet) reinforced perceptions of terrorism as an “unFrench” and anti-Republican phenomenon, perceptions that persist today.

There were two threads of continuity throughout the evolution of the French culture of terrorism in the first half of the twentieth century. First, terrorism was an “unFrench” entity, that is, a thing that was not simply “foreign” or non-French but contrary to certain ideas of “Frenchness.”6 Certainly, the figure of the foreigner loomed large in representations of the terrorist, from the Russian nihilist of the early 1900s to the Spanish Francoist agent of the late 1930s. He (and, more rarely, she) was generally an immigrant, resident in France as a refugee, an asylum seeker or illegal alien, or a spy. The terrorist abused French hospitality by committing illegal acts of political violence in the country. Terrorist violence became a factor in discussions over immigration control and the refugee crisis of the 1930s, and it exacerbated xenophobic feeling during the decade. In this sense, the French of the 1930s confronted challenges already encountered earlier in the twentieth century in Great Britain and the United States where violence perpetrated by migrant anarchists had prompted a tightening of immigration and citizenship legislation.7 Conversely, the French governments of the 1890s had responded to the threat of anarchism with the so-called “Villainous Laws” (lois scélérates) that targeted anarchist movements and publications rather than foreigners.

Beyond the framing of terrorist violence as simply foreign, the casting of terrorism as “unFrench” amounted to an appreciation of the phenomenon as different from a French “mentality.” This mentality, and the behaviors associated with it, rested on a subjective perception of national values. The right generally perceived terrorism to be a communist tactic, directed from Moscow with the intent of spreading global revolution. During the Second World War, right-wingers also blamed London for directing terrorism in France. In both cases, terrorism was depicted as harmful to the national interest: it was the unpatriotic and treacherous activity of foreign and French-born citizens in the service of a foreign government. When terrorist violence was perpetrated in the name of reactionary or fascist ideologies, right-wingers trivialized such terrorism or passed over its motives in silence. Political considerations likewise informed left-wing perceptions of “Frenchness” and terrorism. The left saw the hand of international fascism behind acts of terrorism. It considered perpetrators to be either the agents of fascist secret services or the French puppets of Germany, Italy, Francoist Spain, or a “fascist international.” In this context, terrorists sought to undermine Republican France with the intention of installing a fascist dictatorship. Consequently, when looking to discover attitudes to terrorism, we must recognize that such attitudes had political origins and aims. Yet despite the ideological differences that right and left perceived behind terrorism, and their subjective notions of “true” Frenchness, a point of agreement emerged: any French worthy of the name simply did not—could not—perpetrate terrorism.

Second, throughout the period under investigation here, gendered understandings of terrorism came to the fore when police or press investigations revealed the participation of women in terrorist plots. Some of these women played significant roles in the execution of terrorist operations. However, the female terrorist proved an object of fascination simply because of the apparent unlikeliness that women should be involved in such things. This assumption persists into the twenty-first century.

On the one hand, the perception that terrorism is a largely, if not uniquely, male act rests, first, on the marginalization of women in terrorist groups themselves. Let’s be clear: this marginalization tends to pertain solely to the public face of the organization. Women feature less frequently in propaganda, and their concerns may be presented as relating solely to assumed “women’s issues” such as family life.8 In private, the situation is more complex. It is generally the case that few women occupy leadership positions in terrorist organizations. However, the roles they do fulfill—as organizers, propagandists, recruiters, and logistical operators—are vital to the survival and success of the group.9 This is as true for the Russian terrorists of the late nineteenth century as for the Islamic-inspired fighters or white supremacists of today.

On the other hand, deeply rooted notions of women as less likely to commit violence than men have obscured women’s participation in terrorism.10 Yet it is precisely this belief that garners the female terrorist a disproportionate amount of attention when she “emerges” into the public consciousness through an act of violence. The assumed unusualness of the female terrorist prompts a question rarely posed about male attackers; namely how could someone of that gender do such a thing?11 In the early part of the twentieth century, responses to this question involved speculation about the terrorist’s past, her mental state, and, frequently, her sexuality. Despite the bewilderment with which some French received the news of women terrorists, there was also something familiar about the phenomenon. Quite aside from the fact that, as readers will discover, women were featured in reports of terrorism time and again (as both perpetrators, accomplices, and acquaintances of terrorists), the figure of the femme fatale appeared in popular cinema and fiction: for example, George Fitzmaurice’s 1931 Mata Hari, starring Greta Garbo as the wartime spy, played in French movie theaters throughout the 1930s.12 Accordingly, if female terrorists attracted interest from the media, they were in fact “not-so-unusual suspects.”

Terrorism: Definitions and Constructions

The study of terrorism is fraught with problems of definition. Indeed, within several years of the emergence of the phenomenon, the meaning of terrorism had changed. Originally, “terror” described the system and policy of the revolutionary government in France between spring 1793 and summer 1794. On 5 February 1794, Maximilien Robespierre set out the dual necessity of “virtue” and “terror” in his “On the Principles of Political Morality.” “Terror” for Robespierre was “nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice” served to the counterrevolutionary enemies of France.13 In practice, “terror” meant legal and physical abuse, violence, and execution: during the Great Terror of June-July 1794, thirty people on average lost their head each day.14 Only after the Terror ended did its opponents refer retrospectively to “terrorism,” with the “terrorist” described as “an agent or partisan of the Terror that arose through the abuse of revolutionary measures” (according to the dictionary of the Académie Française). Anglo-Irish writer and politician Edmund Burke put it another way: the terrorists were “Hell hounds.”15 The terrorism of 1793–94 resembled most closely the contested contemporary concept of “state terrorism.”16 The notion of terrorism as a means of opposition to the state appeared first in 1866 and became popular only during the 1890s.17 Scholars usually trace the origins of modern antistate terrorism to late-nineteenth-century Russia and the violent campaign of Narodnaia Volya (People’s Will) that culminated in the March 1881 killing of Tsar Alexander II (though some historians have located the emergence of terrorism in 1870s Ireland and 1890s France, too).18

To account for terrorism’s multiple historical forms—Walter Laqueur suggests that it is more accurate to speak of “terrorisms”19—researchers have identified a series of transitions in the history of the phenomenon. Alex Schmid identifies six stages in the history of terrorism: the Robespierrist stage (1790s); the anarchist stage (1890s); the Communist/Fascist stage (1920s–1930s); the anticolonialist stage (post-1945); the urban guerrilla stage (post-1960s); and finally the religious fundamentalist stage (1990s–present).20 David C. Rapoport famously identified four overlapping “waves” of modern terrorism since the nineteenth century, namely the anarchist, anticolonial, Marxist, and religious fundamentalist waves.21 Attempts to periodize the history of terrorism continue, as do efforts to draw attention to new and emerging forms.22

Given the multiple changes that terrorism has undergone since the 1790s, it is reasonable for the reader to ask, “What is terrorism?” It is a ritual in terrorism studies for authors to tackle the matter of how best to define this object of study, only to claim that such a feat is devilishly difficult but not too difficult to prevent the formulation of a definition that suits the author’s purpose.23 The problem is not that terrorism cannot be defined—there are hundreds of definitions in the scholarly literature—but rather that there is a surfeit of sometimes contradictory definitions.24 Attempts to draw a line under the issue have foundered. Schmid’s so-called “Revised Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism,” compiled from a survey of the field, would raise objections from scholars who consider state violence legitimate in all contexts (point eight of Schmid’s list claims the contrary).25

How is the historian to navigate this definitional quagmire? If the debate over the definition of terrorism once threated to become “the great Bermuda Triangle of terrorism research,” other approaches to the study of the subject have emerged.26 One alternative lies in “rejectionism.” Rejectionists refuse to use the term “terrorism” altogether, considering it to be too loaded with moral and political baggage to be useful.27 It is true that terrorism has acquired a “nigh-inescapable value judgement,” and its use by governments and media is seldom disinterested.28 Yet if rejectionism offers a quick way out of some definitional and moral quandaries, for a historian seeking to understand the meaning of terrorism in the past (rather than one who seeks solely to categorize) it is problematic. We must engage with the “t” word (as Dominic Bryan, Liam Kelly, and Sara Templer call it) for the simple fact that past societies used it (and our own society continues to do so).29

“Constructivism” offers a more fruitful avenue of research for historians. In this respect, Joseba Zulaika and William A. Douglass’s 1996 Terror and Taboo is salutary. In this book, Zulaika and Douglass deconstruct the discourse of terrorism that emerged in the West during the 1970s, arguing that it “becomes more relevant to examine the nature of the behavior labelled ‘terrorism,’ as well as the labelling process itself, rather than to focus upon the ostensible ‘face value’ of particular terrorist events and episodes.”30 This approach has become characteristic of what Richard Jackson has described as a “literary turn” in terrorism studies.31 It does not allow that “terrorism” is a timeless and objective phenomenon observable in the past and the present if only we might find the correct definition.32 Rather, it understands terrorism to be a “social and cultural construct, defined within a particular historical-cultural context and shaped by the assumptions embedded within it.”33 If we accept that discourse is constitutive of reality, rather than vice versa,34 terrorism may only be understood according to “the way in which it is discursively constructed through language and social practices,” in a given context.35

Despite its value for historical investigation, constructivism can lead to some ostensibly alarming assertions. Ondrej Ditrych rejects all exercises aimed at defining terrorism in favor of constructivism: “There is no terrorism beyond the discourse of terrorism,” he argues.36 While the victims of terrorist attacks would doubtless attest to its reality, Ditrych does not seek to question the authenticity of violence described as terrorism but rather the process by which it is labeled as such. As Rainer Hülsse and Alexander Spencer contend, “[Terrorist] events [do] not speak for themselves, but [need] to be interpreted.”37 The constructivist focus falls squarely on this process of interpretation.

I sympathize with constructivism when applied to historical terrorism. My academic background in the study of fascism in France has demon strated the futility of searching for a consensus definition of a contested concept.38 Historians of French fascism are beginning to move beyond the stale debate over how best to define the phenomenon, in belated recognition of Gilbert Allardyce’s contention that “[t]here is no such thing as fascism. There are only the men and movements that we call by that name.”39 I draw, too, on a genealogical approach to terrorism outlined by Martyn Frampton. Frampton underscores the importance of context and contingency in historical understandings of terrorism, as well as their centrality to modern notions of terrorist acts.40 When it comes to determining whether there was such a thing as terrorism, the historian’s objective must be to examine the thing as contemporaries understood it.

The work of Gregory Shaya and Dominique Kalifa on “imaginaries” has influenced my research. Shaya deconstructed the figure of the “anarchist terrorist” of late nineteenth-century France as represented in the “socialpolitical imaginary: the storehouse of words, images, and stories that shape social and political action, the what-goes-without-saying upon which social and political identities are forged.”41 In his examination of the “underworld” in Western culture, Kalifa defined the “social imaginary” as a “sort of repertoire of collective figures and identities that every society assembles at given moments in history.…Social imaginaries describe the way in which societies perceive their components—groups, classes, and categories—and hierarchise their divisions and elaborate their evolutions. Thus, they produce and institute the social more than they reflect it.”42 In this book, I investigate the political and social imaginaries of “terrorism” in France during the first half of the twentieth century. To label an act of violence, a group, or an individual “terrorist” relied on a framework of layered ideas, values, and meanings associated with the term at a given moment in time—a culture of terrorism.43 This discourse built upon, borrowed from, intersected with, and adapted elements of various other available discourses. Discourses of terrorism were not fixed; they formed through a process of interaction with events and broader political and cultural contexts.44 This means that, even if we accept that terrorism is a construction, there is a relationship between terrorist reality and terrorist myth.45 The real exploits of foreign terrorists on French soil—the “concrete events” of history—informed perceptions of the phenomenon in politics, the press, and cultural productions that drew on and adapted available discursive frameworks.46

A problem confronting the constructivism purists is that a cursory examination of the French sources reveals that terrorism was a nebulous term. It was applied to both the assassination of heads of state and the sinking of an ocean liner—and everything in between: armed robbery,47 state repression,48 inter-state violence,49 murder,50 arbitrary and summary punishment,51 anticolonial resistance,52 political demonstrations,53 unlawful imprisonment,54 strikes,55 mutilation, acts of vandalism, and the desecration of Church property.56 In the tense political climate of the period, the word was frequently deployed as an accusation against ideological enemies. In December 1934, the Socialist Party newspaper Le Populaire denounced the fascist Francistes as a “terrorist mafia” in the heart of Paris.57 On the other hand, speaking in the Chamber of Deputies in March 1937, Jacques Poitou-Duplessy, a deputy for the conservative Fédération Républicaine, condemned the Communist Party’s attacks on right-wing groups during the previous decade as “acts of terrorism” to which more than five thousand people had fallen victim.58

Given the wide-ranging use of the term during the period under investigation, I used a broad definition of terrorism to inform the choice of case studies in this book. The work of terrorism scholars influenced my definition as did the attitudes of the people under study here. A narrow definition can shut down important avenues of research while it can also jar with historical understandings. Bruce Hoffman’s perpetrator-focused notion of terrorism, for example, excludes the state. Hoffman claims that it is to “play into the terrorists’ hands” to draw an equivalence between wanton and random destruction wrought by terrorists and the careful and precise annihilation of targets by bomber planes.59 This position contradicts the common interwar and wartime perception that terrorists were agents of a foreign state.

At the other end of the definitional spectrum stands the concept of terrorism as merely the act of violence itself, a tactic available to all actors, state, or substate, revolutionary or democratic, and so on.60 This approach considers definitions based on the identity of perpetrators and victims as bogged down in subjective ideas of morality. Anthony Richards instead contends that the practice of defining an act as terrorist should remain separate from moral judgment. “Terrorist” is a neutral term used to describe only a form of violence; all political and social actors are capable of terrorism. Richards has no qualms about labeling the violence of the French resistance “terrorist,” on the basis of his own definition of the phenomenon as “the use of violence or the threat of violence with the primary purpose of generating a psychological impact beyond the immediate victims or object of attack for a political motive.”61 He claims that “it makes no analytical sense to seek out alternative and more ‘positive’ labels than ‘terrorism’ for the same activity just because we might agree with the cause.”62 Whether we perceive terrorism to be “good” or “bad” does not change the fact that it is still terrorism. Yet tactic- or method-focused definitions such as Richards’s come unstuck when confronted with historical perceptions of terrorism because the identity of the perpetrator did matter to contemporaries. While perceptions were inherently subjective, whether the terrorist was an anarchist, communist, or fascist helped to shape understandings of the broader phenomenon. Moreover, attitudes to terrorism during the war were overwhelmingly negative and resisters rejected the label out of hand.

Similarly, attempts to define terrorism according to its victims prove unsatisfactory in the context of early twentieth-century France. Richard Jackson’s proposition that “terrorism is aimed primarily but not solely at civilians” contrasts with interwar French understandings that terrorists chose only high-value political targets.63 Few civilians died in the terrorist attacks included in this book. Moreover, the League of Nations’ convention on terrorism in 1937 considered only civilian representatives of the state as potential victims of terrorism. French plans to broaden the definition to “private persons by reason of their political attitude” were rejected. According to French perceptions of terrorism in the early decades of the twentieth century, terrorists did not kill civilians indiscriminately.

I define terrorism thus:

Terrorism is the premeditated use of violence in pursuit of a political goal, through the injury or elimination of a person, persons, or institution, and the simultaneous terrorization of a broader audience through intimidation or violence in order to communicate a political message or cause a change in behavior or policy. A range of actors perpetrates terrorist violence, regardless of political group, party, relationship to the state, or tradition.64

This minimal definition serves as a starting point only, and no definition can ever be final.65 It is a basis from which to explore historical instances of terrorist violence in early twentieth-century France. It is not intended to constrain research through the categorization of historical violence as either “terrorist” or “not terrorist.” Rather, it permits the drawing of broad parameters around the phenomenon under investigation while allowing the freedom to explore the variable and contingent factors that shaped past perceptions of terrorist violence.66 The reader should remain aware that this definition is one of many in the literature and that this book is a history—rather than the history—of French perceptions of terrorism.

This book’s attempt to reconstruct the culture of terrorism relies to a large extent on media reportage and comment. While the analysis is not explicitly based on the theory of “news frames,” defined as the presence in the news of “persistent patterns of selection, emphasis, and exclusion that furnish a coherent interpretation and evaluation of events,” the reader may perceive in the book an exploration of historical “framing.”67 Yet this book does not rely solely on the media’s depiction of terrorism, taking into account, for example, fictional works that include terrorist characters or incidents. Consequently, the focus falls less on the mediatization of terrorism and more on a broader process of mediation that begins with the act of violence itself. It is important to acknowledge the role of terrorists themselves in this process. If terrorism is a means to communicate a political message, then this communication does not end with the attack (“The [terrorists’] message is not the violence or destruction itself,” according to Joseph S. Tuman.68) Terrorists can help to mold their own image in the media. Organizations may have sympathizers or allies in the press who are well placed to influence news coverage. Statements from groups, or interviews with their leading figures, offer another means by which to contribute to the terrorists’ self-representation. Even so-called “lone actors” can popularize their politics through manifestoes and court appearances that are widely relayed to the public via the press. Given the variety of actors involved in the mediation of terrorism, terrorist acts can take on meanings not intended by their perpetrators. This may be the case when political interests wish to take advantage of a situation to further their own agenda. Terrorists may thus lose control of the “meaning” of their act in the interactional process that helps to construct “terrorism” in the popular imaginary.69


1. Terrorism “is fundamentally a social fact rather than a brute fact”: Richard Jackson, “In Defence of ‘Terrorism’: Finding a Way Through a Forest of Misconceptions,” Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression 3, no. 2 (2011): 117.

2. Stanley Hoffmann, “The Effects of World War II on French Society and Politics,” French Historical Studies 2, no. 1 (1961): 36; Robert O. Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order (New York: Knopf & Random House, 1972), 243; Julian Jackson, France: The Dark Years 1940–1944 (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001), 65.

3. The literature on the “French civil war” is large. Recent publications that concern the political and cultural conflict of the era include Caroline Campbell, Political Belief in France: Gender, Empire, and Fascism in the Croix de Feu and Parti Social Français (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015); Sean Kennedy, Reconciling France Against Democracy: The Croix de Feu and the Parti Social Français, 1929–1935 (Montreal; London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007); Chris Millington, Fighting for France: Violence in Interwar French Politics (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2018); Kevin Passmore, The Right in France from the Third Republic to Vichy (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013); Joan Tumblety, Remaking the Male Body: Masculinity and the Uses of Physical Culture in Interwar and Vichy France (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2012); Gilles Vergnon, Un enfant est lynché. L’affaire Gignoux, 1937 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2018).

4. Heinz-Gerhard Haupt and Klaus Weinhauer, “Terrorism and the State,” in Political Violence in Twentieth-Century Europe, ed. Donald Bloxham and Robert Gerwarth (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 191.

5. Haupt and Weinhauer, “Terrorism and the State,” 192.

6. Contemporaries perceived terrorism as “foreign” in a sense broader than that of its basic legal meaning, that is, to originate from a country other than France. “Foreignness” could also imply difference and incompatibility with a French “mentality.” While I use “foreign” throughout this book to describe non-French actors, and, less frequently, as a term to describe behaviors and attitudes perceived as different to those of the French, I prefer the term “unFrench” when describing notions of terrorism for it captures the sense of the culture of terrorism more effectively. On the terms “foreign” and “foreignness” in French, see Mathieu Couderc, “Etre étranger. Pour une histoire sociale de l’extranéité,” Hypothèses 20, no. 1 (2017): 15–24. On the changing meanings of “foreign” and “foreignness” in France since the nineteenth century, see Clifford Rosenberg, Policing Paris: The Origins of Modern Immigration Control Between the Wars (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006), 3; 21; 28.

7. See Constance Bantman, The French Anarchists in London, 1880–1914: Exile and Transnationalism in the First Globalisation (Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2013); and William Preston, Aliens and Dissenters: Federal Suppression of Radicals, 1903–1933 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994).

8. See, for example, Tammy Castle, “Morrigan Rising: Exploring Female-Targeted Propaganda on Hate Group Websites,” European Journal of Cultural Studies 15, no. 6 (2012): 679–94; Maura Conway, “Determining the Role of the Internet in Violent Extremism and Terrorism: Six Suggestions for Progressing Research,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 40, no. 1 (2017): 77–98; Orla Lehane, David Mair, Saffron Lee, and Jodie Parker, “Brides, Black Widows and Baby-Makers; Or Not: An Analysis of the Portrayal of Women in English-Language Jihadi Magazine Image Content,” Critical Studies on Terrorism 11, no. 3 (2018): 505–20.

9. See, for example, Mia M. Bloom, “In Defense of Honor: Women and Terrorist Recruitment on the Internet,” Journal of Postcolonial Cultures and Societies 4, no. 1 (2013): 150–95; S. V. Raghavan and V. Balasubramaniyan, “Evolving Role of Women in Terror Groups: Progression or Regression?” Journal of International Women’s Studies 15, no. 2 (2014): 197–211.

10. See, for example, Karla J. Cunningham, “Countering Female Terrorism,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 30, no. 2 (2007): 113–29; Kathy Laster and Edna Erez, “Sisters in Terrorism? Exploding Stereotypes,” Women & Criminal Justice 25, no. 1–2 (2015): 83–99; Mia Bloom and Ayse Lokmanoglu, “From Pawn to Knights: The Changing Role of Women’s Agency in Terrorism?” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism (2020): 1–16, (last accessd 27 October 2022).

11. About women in terrorism, and representations of women in terrorism, I recommend reading the work of Mia Bloom (Bombshell: Women and Terrorism [Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011]) and Caron E. Gentry and Laura Sjoberg (Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Women’s Violence in Global Context [London: Zed Books, 2007] and Beyond Mothers, Monsters, Whores: Thinking About Women’s Violence in Global Politics [London: Zed Books, 2015]).

12. Rosie White, Violent Femmes: Women as Spies in Popular Culture (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2007), 34–43. Fitzmaurice’s film is mentioned in newspaper movie listings as late as 1935.

13. David Andress, “The Course of the Terror, 1793–94,” in A Companion to the French Revolution, ed. Peter McPhee (Chichester, UK: Blackwell, 2013), 303.

14. Mike Rapport, “The French Revolution and Early European Revolutionary Terrorism,” in The Routledge History of Terrorism, ed. Randall D. Law (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2015), 70.

15. Rapport, “The French Revolution,” 4.

16. On this debate see, for example, Lee Jarvis and Michael Lister, “State Terrorism Research and Critical Terrorism Studies: An Assessment,” Critical Studies on Terrorism 7, no. 1 (2014): 43–61.

17. Alex Schmid, “Terrorism: The Definitional Problem,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 36, no. 2 (2004): 399.

18. See Lindsay Clutterbuck, “The Progenitors of Terrorism: Russian Revolutionaries or Extreme Irish Republicans?” Terrorism and Political Violence 16, no. 1 (2004): 154–81; John Merriman, The Dynamite Club: How a Bombing in Fine-de-Siècle Paris Ignited the Age of Modern Terror (London: Jr Books, 2009).

19. Walter Laqueur, The Age of Terrorism (Boston: Little, Brown, 1987), 9.

20. Schmid, “Terrorism,” 399.

21. David C. Rapoport, “The Four Waves of Modern Terrorism,” in Terrorism Studies: A Reader, ed. John Horan and Kurt Braddock (London; New York: Routledge, 2012), 41–61. Rapoport develops this model in his book Waves of Global Terrorism: From 1879 to the Present (New York: Columbia University Press, 2022).

22. See, for example, Bruce Hoffman, “A First Draft of the History of America’s Ongoing Wars on Terrorism,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 38, no. 1 (2015): 75–83; Or Honig and Ido Yahel, “A Fifth Wave of Terrorism? The Emergence of Terrorist Semi-States,” Terrorism and Political Violence 31, no. 6 (2019): 1210–28; Jeffrey Kaplan, “Terrorism’s Fifth Wave: A Theory, a Conundrum and a Dilemma,” Perspectives on Terrorism 2, no. 2 (2008): 12–24; Michel Wieviorka, “Une nouvelle ère du terorrisme?” 29 May 2013, (accessed 30 April 2020).

23. Contrarily, Laqueur postulated that to define terrorism is impossible: Walter Laqueur, A History of Terrorism, (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2017, originally published 1977), 7. For an introduction to the debate over the definition of terrorism, see Randall D. Law, “Introduction,” in Law, The Routledge History of Terrorism, 1–11; Schmid, “Terrorism,” 375–419; Anthony Richards, “Conceptualizing Terrorism,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 37, no. 3 (2014): 217–19; Anthony Richards, “Defining Terrorism,” in Routledge Handbook of Terrorism and Counterterrorism, ed. Andrew Silke (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2018). 13–21; Leonard Weinberg, Ami Pedahzur, and Sivan Hirsch-Hoefler, “The Challenges of Conceptualizing Terrorism,” Terrorism and Political Violence 16, no. 4 (2004): 777–94; Andrew Silke, Terrorism (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014), 1–13.

24. Lisa Stampnitzky, “Can Terrorism Be Defined?” in Constructions of Terrorism: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Research and Policy, ed. Michael Stohl, Richard Burchill, and Scott Englund (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017), 12–14.

25. Alex Schmid, “The Revised Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism,” Perspectives on Terrorism 6, no. 2 (2012), 158–59.

26. Stampnitzky, “Can Terrorism Be Defined?” 12.

27. Dominic Bryan, Liam Kelly, and Sara Templer, “The Failed Paradigm of ‘Terrorism’,” Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression 3, no. 2 (2011): 80–96.

28. Caoimhe Nic Dháibhéid, Terrorist Histories: Individuals and Political Violence Since the 19th Century (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2017), 11.

29. Bryan, Kelly, and Templer, “The Failed Paradigm of ‘Terrorism’,” 80.

30. Joseba Zulaika and William Douglass, Terror and Taboo: The Follies, Fables, and Faces of Terrorism (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 1996), 17.

31. See Richard Jackson, “The Literary Turn in Terrorism Studies,” in Law, The Routledge History of Terrorism, 487–501.

32. Jackson, “In Defence of ‘Terrorism’,” 117.

33. Jackson, “The Literary Turn in Terrorism Studies,” 487.

34. Rainer Hülsse and Alexander Spencer, “The Metaphor of Terror: Terrorism Studies and the Constructivist Turn,” Security Dialogue 39, no. 6 (2008): 576.

35. Jackson, “The Literary Turn in Terrorism Studies,” 488.

36. Ondrej Ditrych, Tracing the Discourses of Terrorism: Identity, Genealogy and State (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 1.

37. Hülsse and Spencer, “The Metaphor of Terror,” 584.

38. For an overview of the debate about the definition of fascism in the historiography of France, see Chris Millington, A History of Fascism in France: From the First World War to the National Front (London: Bloomsbury, 2020), 149–65.

39. Gilbert Allardyce, “What Fascism Is Not: Thoughts on the Deflation of a Concept,” The American Historical Review 84, no. 2 (1979): 369.

40. Martyn Frampton, “History and the Definition of Terrorism,” in The Cambridge History of Terrorism, ed. Richard English (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 31–57.

41. Gregory Shaya, “How to Make an Anarchist Terrorist: An Essay on the Political Imaginary in Fin-de-Siècle France,” Journal of Social History 44, no. 2 (2010): 522.

42. Dominique Kalifa, Vice, Crime, and Poverty: How the Western Imagination Invented the Underworld (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), 7. In his earlier work on the Belle Epoque, Kalifa wrote, “Indeed, [t]o name is never neutral. The practice always bears intentions or effects—sometimes technical, but sometimes also political, cultural, commercial [etc]”: Dominique Kalifa, La véritable histoire de la “Belle Epoque” (Paris: Fayard, 2017), 16–17.

43. See Michel Wieviorka, “Espaces, niveaux et temporalités du terrorisme,” The Conversation (French edition), 31 August 2017, (accessed 30 April 2020): “[T]errorism distils in a matter of seconds, in a specific place questions that concern as much individuals, people in their singular existence, victims as well as the guilty, as [they concern] communities [whether] local…regional…national… supranational…[or] global. Terrorism is a total phenomenon, spatially complex and of a certain historical thickness, but [one] that shows itself in the form of an instantaneous and localised synthesis, while analysis [of it] quickly uncovers multiple dimensions, concerning spaces, temporalities and distinct levels.” Relevant to my approach, too, is the concept of the “genealogy” of terrorism: see Michael Livesey, “Historicising ‘Terrorism’: How, and Why?” Critical Studies on Terrorism (2021), DOI: 10.1080/17539153.2021.1982467 (last accessed 27 October 2022).

44. On pages 24–25 of Disciplining Terror: How Experts Invented “Terrorism” (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Lisa Stampnitzky writes, “the emergence of terrorism discourse cannot be explained as a simple reflection of concrete events, nor as a mere rhetorical creation.…While the emergence of “terrorism” as a new problem was certainly a rhetorical achievement, this was not only a linguistic transformation. To account more fully for the emergence of the problem of “terrorism” as we know it, we must focus on the trifecta of the emergence of new sorts of events, new sorts of experts¸ and the means by which these came together: the application of specific forms of expertise to the problem.”

45. This statement draws on Eric Hobsbawm’s observation about the public perception of bandits: “If there were no relation between bandit reality and bandit myth, any robber chieftain could become a Robin Hood.” See Eric Hobsbawm, Bandits (London: Abacus, 2003), 168.

46. Benjamin K. Smith, Scott Englund, Andrea Figueroa-Caballero, Elena Salcido, and Michael Stohl, “Framing Terrorism: The Communicative Constitution of the Terrorist Actor,” in Constructions of Terrorism: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Research and Policy, ed. Michael Stohl, Richard Burchill, and Scott Englund (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017), 92.

47. Maurice Laffitte, “Les bandits en auto ont commis deux nouvelles agressions,” Ce Soir, 12 April 1939, 3.

48. “Mussolini supprime le droit d’association,” Paris Soir, 19 May 1936, 1.

49. “Les principaux épisodes du drame autrichien,” Paris-Soir, 14 March 1938, 4.

50. “Revue de la presse,” Journal des débats, 28 February 1934, 3.

51. “Contre le terrorisme bolcheviste,” Paris-Soir, 16 June 1927, 7.

52. “Les sociétés d’anciens coloniaux, bannières en tête défilent devant la statue de Galliéni,” Le Matin, 1 June 1931, 2.

53. “Les bagarres sanglantes de Toulon,” Le Matin, 9 August 1935, 3.

54. “Le docker Joseph Le Pape qui, en Septembre dernier, à Saint-Mâlo, porta un coup mortel au ‘Grand Georges’, est condamné à 5 ans de réclusion,” L’Ouest-Éclair, 1 December 1934, 6.

55. “Des ouvriers agricoles grévistes pour la plupart étrangers lapident les ouvriers non-grévistes et sabotent le matériel,” Le Matin, 4 July 1937, 3; “Un acte de terrorisme syndical,” Journal des débats, 6 May 1937, 2.

56. “Les efforts soviétiques pour déclencher la révolution en Europe,” Le Matin, 4 April 1937, 3.

57. “Une mafia terroriste à Paris,” Le Populaire, 3 December 1934, 1.

58. Journal Officiel du 24 Mars 1937: Débats parlementaires 33 (23 March 1937), 1187.

59. Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 25; 40.

60. Giovanni Mario Ceci, “A ‘Historical Turn’ in Terrorism Studies?” Journal of Contemporary History 51, no. 4 (2016): 892.

61. Richards, “Defining Terrorism,” 19.

62. Richards, “Defining Terrorism,” 18.

63. Richard Jackson, “An Argument for Terrorism,” Perspectives on Terrorism 2, no. 2 (2008): 30.

64. I broadly agree with Alex Schmid’s “Revised Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism,” in particular with regard to point one: “Terrorism refers, on the one hand, to a doctrine about the presumed effectiveness of a special form or tactic of fear-generating, coercive political violence and, on the other hand, to a conspiratorial practice of calculated, demonstrative, direct violent action without legal or moral restraints, targeting mainly civilians and non-combatants, performed for its propagandistic and psychological effects on various audiences and conflict parties.”

65. On this point, see Frampton, “History and the Definition of Terrorism,” 49.

66. In his 1987 Age of Terrorism, Laqueur recommends using a “vague” definition (145).

67. Pippa Norris, Montague Kern, and Marion Just, “Framing Terrorism,” in Framing Terrorism: The News Media, the Government, and the Public, ed. Pippa Norris, Montague Kern, and Marion Just (New York; London: Routledge, 2003), 4.

68. Joseph S. Tuman, Communicating Terror: The Rhetorical Dimensions of Terrorism, 2nd ed. (Los Angeles; London: SAGE, 2010), 32.

69. On this process, see Tuman, Communicating Terror, 32–37. See also Piers Robinson, “Editor’s Introduction: Communicating Terrorism,” Critical Studies on Terrorism 2, no. 1 (2009): 1–5; Michael Stohl, “Don’t Confuse Me with the Facts: Knowledge Claims and Terrorism,” Critical Studies on Terrorism 5, no.1 (2012): 31–49.