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Understanding The Enemy: Profiles and Motivations of an Arsonist

Kendra Weikman | - For sources, see Editor's note.

Revenge-Motivated Arson

A revenge-motivated fire is set in retaliation for some injustice real or imagined perceived by the offender.

This offense may be a well-planned, one-time event compared with the other categories of arson or the offender may be a serial arsonist taking revenge against society with little or no pre-planning.

Many arson motivations have an element of revenge in addition to the main motive. The types of revenge motivated arson included in this category are personal retaliation, social retaliation, institutional retaliation (against the government), group retaliation, intimidation and other.


The victim of a revenge fire generally has a history of interpersonal or professional conflict with the offender. It also tends to be an intra-racial offense.

Female subjects usually target something of significance to the victim such as a vehicle or personal effects. The ex-lover revenge arsonist frequently burns clothing, bedding, and or other personal effects.

Residential property and vehicles are the prime targets. Arsonists seek revenge against society may exhibit displaced aggression by choosing targets at random. Other offenders retaliate against institutions such as churches, government facilities and universities or corporations.

The revenge fire setter is predominantly an adult male with 10 or more years of formal education. If employed, this offender is usually a blue collar worker in the lower socioeconomic status. A revenge arsonist typically resides in some type of rental property. Even though this offender tends not to be a loner and has close relationships, the relationships generally are not stable or long term. An exception is the revenge motivated serial arsonist who is often a loner.

The revenge arsonist most often will have some type of prior law enforcement contact for crimes such as burglary, theft or vandalism. The use of alcohol with this offense is common. The offender also may use drugs during the crime but alcohol use is more prevalent. The offender is rarely accompanied to the crime scene and seldom returns once the fire is set. In fact he wants as much distance between himself and the fire as possible and concentrates on establishing an alibi. The offender usually lives within the affected community.

Mobility is a factor with him so he often uses a vehicle to get to and from the crime scene. This is in contrast to the revenge-motivated serial arsonist who frequently walks to the scene. After the fire, the offender may increase alcohol consumption. He expresses a short-lived sense of relief and satisfaction and an uncaring attitude toward the victim.

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