Chapter 1 (continued)
Classification of Motivations of Arsonists
It is in the area of motives that most of the literature on
firesetting and arson has concentrated. The literature also offers a number
of classification schemes and typologies, most often based on motives. Geller
(1992) offers an exhaustive review of that literature and identifies 20 or more
attempts to classify arsonists into typologies. Several of the earlier typologies
contributed significantly to the current understanding of the motives and profiles
of arsonists (in particular, see Lewis and Yarnell, 1951; Steinmetz, 1966; Robbins,
1967; Hurley and Monahan, 1969; Inciardi, 1970; Vandersall and Wiener, 1970;
Wolford,1972; and Levin, 1976). In a more recent work, Sapp, et al (1993a, 1993b)
followed the Crime Classification Manual typology in their study of the motives
of shipboard arsonists. Geller (1992) adds another classification to the literature,
more clinically focused than most of the others. He notes that arson may be
unassociated with psychobiologic disorders or may be associated with medical
or neurological disorders, or mental disorders. Geller (1992) also separates
juvenile firesetting and juvenile fireplay from the adult arsonists. Appendix contains a comprehensive bibliography of research literature related to arson
and motivations for arson.
Motive is defined as an inner drive or impulse that is the
cause, reason or incentive that induces or prompts a specific behavior (Rider,
1980). The National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), located
at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia engages in the research of arson motives.
Through this research, the NCAVC has determined that the identification of the
offenders motive is a key element in crime analysis. This method of analysis
is used by the NCAVC to identify personal traits and characteristics exhibited
by an unknown offender.
The NCAVC reviewed arson research literature, actual arson
cases, and interviewed incarcerated arsonists across the nation. As a result,
the following motive classifications consistently appear and prove most effective
in identifying offender characteristics:
- Crime Concealment
The motivations discussed in this chapter are outlined and
described in the Crime Classification Manual (Douglas, Burgess, Burgess and
Ressler, 1992). For purposes of reference and ease in cross referencing, the
motives are classified using the same numbering system used in the Crime Classification
200. Vandalism-motivated Arson:
Vandalism-motivated arson is defined as malicious or mischievous
firesetting that results in damage to property. One of the most common targets
is schools or school property and educational facilities. Vandals also frequently
target abandoned structures and flammable vegetation. Vandalism- motivated arson
is further discussed in Chapter 5.
210: Excitement-motivated Arson:
Offenders motivated by excitement include seekers of thrills,
attention, recognition, and rarely, but importantly, sexual gratification. (The
stereotypical arsonist who sets fires for sexual gratification is quite rare).
Potential targets of the excitement motivated arsonist run
full spectrum from so-called nuisance fires to occupied apartment houses at
nighttime. Fire fighters are known to set fires so they can engage in the suppression
effort (Huff, 1994). Security guards have set fires to relieve boredom and gain
recognition. Chapter 4 contains additional information on the characteristics
and behaviors of excitement motivated arsonists.
220. Revenge-motivated Arson:
Revenge motivated fires are set in retaliation for some injustice,
real or imagined, perceived by the offender. (See Chapter 3). Often revenge
is also an element of other motives. This concept of mixed motives is expanded
and further discussed below. The primary motive of revenge is further divided
into four major subgroups.
221. Personal Revenge:
The subgroup with this motive, as the name implies, strikes
at an individual with the use of fire to retaliate for a personal grievance.
This one-on-one retaliation may be a one time occurrence and not the product
of a serial arsonist. Triggering such retaliation may be an argument, fight,
personal affront or any of an infinite array of events perceived by the offender
to warrant retaliation. Favorite targets include the victims vehicle,
home or personal possessions.
222. Societal Retaliation:
Perhaps the most dangerous of the revenge motivated arsonists
is the one who feels he has been betrayed by society in general. This person
generally suffers from a lifelong feeling of inadequacy, loneliness, persecution,
or abuse. He strikes out in revenge against the society he perceives has wronged
him. He may suffer from a congenital condition affecting appearance or health.
His targets are random and he often escalates in his fire setting behavior.
All known cases involve serial arsonists.
223. Institutional Retaliation:
Arsonists with retaliation against institutions in mind focus
on such institutions as government, education, military service(s), medicine,
religion, or any other entity reflecting and representing the establishment.
Often these arsonists are serial arsonists, striking repeatedly at the institution(s)
against which retaliation is sought. The offender, in such cases, uses fire
to settle grievances with the institution and to intimidate those associated
with the institution. Buildings housing the institutions are the most frequently
224. Group Retaliation:
Targets for group retaliation may be religious, racial, fraternal
(such as gangs or fraternal orders), or other groups. The offender tends to
feel anger towards the group or members of the group collectively, rather than
anger at a specific individual within the group. The target may be the group
headquarters building, church, meeting place, or symbolic targets such as emblems
or logos, regardless of to what they are attached. Arsonists motivated by group
retaliation sometimes become serial offenders.
230. Crime Concealment- Motivated Arson:
Arson is the secondary criminal activity in this motivational
category. The fire is set for the purpose of covering up a murder or burglary
or to eliminate evidence left at a crime scene. Other examples include fires
set to destroy business records to conceal cases of embezzlement and the many
cases of auto theft arson where the fire is set to destroy evidence. Crime concealment
motives are discussed further in Chapter 5.
240. Profit-Motivated Arson:
Arsonists in this category expect to profit from their fire
setting, either directly for monetary gain or more indirectly to profit from
a goal other than money. Examples of direct monetary gain include insurance
fraud liquidating property, dissolving businesses, destroying inventory, parcel
clearance, or to gain employment. The later is exemplified by the a case of
a construction worker wanting to rebuild an apartment complex he destroyed,
or an unemployed laborer seeking employment as a forest fire fighter, or as
a logger to salvage burned timber. (See Chapter 5 for further details).
Arsonists have set fire to western forests to rent their equipment
as part of the suppression effort. In what may be the most disturbing of all,
there are cases of parents murdering their own children for profit, with fire
used to cover the crime. While this motive is uncommon, it is by no means rare
(Huff, 1994). Cases are documented where an insured child is murdered, but more
commonly the parents wish to profit from getting rid of a perceived nuisance
or hindrance: their own child.
Other, non-monetary, reasons from which arsonists may profit
range from setting brush fires to enhance hunting game, to setting fires to
escape an undesirable environment as in the case of a serviceman (Sapp, Gary,
Huff, and James, 1993, 1994).
250: Extremist-Motivated Arson:
Arsonists may set fires to further social, political, or religious causes.
Examples of extremist motivated targets include abortion clinics, slaughter
houses, animal laboratories, fur farms and furrier outlets. The targets of political
terrorists reflect the focus of the terrorists wrath.