Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2013, $148,941)
This award will collect the life histories from approximately forty "homegrown" terrorist offenders inspired by Al Qaeda. The project seeks to ascertain the importance of online extremist social networking in shaping the trajectory of early radicalization, and to gain an understanding of the motivations and processes that moved subjects to become terrorists or to engage in criminal activities in support of terrorism. The research complements the PI's ongoing NIJ-funded research charting domestic Islamist terrorist networks.
A quasi-experimental research design will contrast and compare extremists who radicalized before and after the launch of YouTube in 2007. The inmates targeted for the study are either American citizens or permanent residents, who were convicted on terrorism charges after 9/11. Nearly half are converts. Many were radicalized between 16 to 25 years of age. All are current inmates in correctional institutions in Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, the Midwest, and in the Boston, New York City, and Washington D.C. metro areas. Structured interviews will probe Internet usage and identify the major turning points and influences that put the subjects on the path to criminality. Inmates will be asked to produce time-diaries of online activism and prodded about their lives before radicalization. Differences and similarities between the two cohorts (those who radicalized before 2007, and those who radicalized after) will be identified. The inmates' autobiographies will be compared against the timeline of their criminal records. The analysis will identify recurrent themes and patterns. Responses will be broken down into component elements, highlighting reiterated ideological phrases.
The research will assist law enforcement in targeting programs aiming to mitigate online radicalization.