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Radicalization on the Internet: Virtual Extremism in the US from 2012-2017

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Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2014, $261,503)

Since 2001, the nation's counterterrorism efforts have primarily focused on international terrorism. However, during this period, domestic extremists have committed several deadly attacks. Many of these homegrown terrorists use the Internet to organize like-minded individuals, disseminate their ideas, and recruit new members. Our study will examine these violent domestic extremists'individuals and groups that "support or commit ideologically motivated violence to further political, social, or religious goals" (U.S. Dept. of Justice 2014:4).
Our study has three primary objectives:
1. Identify active online extremist groups based in the United States by collecting information about a variety of groups, including extremist religious, nationalist, political, and ethnicity-based groups.
2. Create preliminary virtual profiles of predominant extremist groups, resulting in the construction of ideological maps and the identification frame intersections.
3. Discern the effect online extremist material has on individuals who see it and which types of material is most influential.

To meet these objectives, we use overlapping methodologies. First, we use Dynamics of Collective Action Project (see http://www.stanford.edu/group/collectiveaction/cgi-bin/drupal/) and American Terrorism Study (ATS) data sets to establish a baseline for frequently active extremist groups over time. This allows us to understand the ebb and flow of extremist activity as well as to identify extremist groups that are most prominent in the U.S.
Second, building on the baseline of extremist activities, we will use Web crawling/spidering techniques to locate current U.S.-based virtual extremist enclaves. This data will be used in two ways:
a. We will use QDA Miner to analyse subtle similarities in raw data to create conceptual maps of extremist ideologies, breaking down their requisite phrasing and keyword usage. To facilitate interpretation of our results and assist law enforcement with the practical application of our findings, we will use qualitative comparative analysis (QCA), an analytical tool which allows for a greater understanding of extremist ideological frames.
b. We will conduct a virtual ethnography of several domestic extremist groups. Using thick description to form a virtual ethnography of extremist profiles, we will identify ways extremists use Internet functionalities (i.e. YouTube, homepages, blogs) to recruit and sustain their movements and worldviews. Based on this sample, we will establish preliminary profiles of specific extremist groups.
Third, building on the identified extremist enclaves, their scope, and qualities, we will use an online survey of Americans ages 15 to 35 to estimate the extent to which people are exposed to and influenced by online extremism. We will assess characteristics associated with the exposure to and/or adoption of extremist ideas via the web, comparing and contrasting the internet functionalities extremist groups use and which functionalities and content individuals see as influential.
Thus, our objective is to parse out, catalogue, and analyse how violent domestic extremist groups use the Internet and what impacts it can have on users, particularly youth. This study will help authorities and communities identify and counteract radicalization. ca/ncf

Date Created: September 17, 2014