The Changing Threat Landscape of Terrorism and Violent Extremism: Implications for Research and Policy
This panel will provide an overview of the current terrorist threat landscape, how it has changed in the last five to ten years, and strategies to best address this threat at the local and national levels. Emphasis will be placed on how several key events in 2021 have shaped the way we think about research and policy in the fields of radicalization and extremism. Panelists will provide data on fluctuations of the most imminent terrorist threats posed to the U.S. over the last 10 years, why and how possible changes to the threat landscape have taken place, and ways in which the current terrorist threat should be combatted.
DARYL FOX: Good afternoon, everyone. And welcome to today's webinar, "The Changing Threat Landscape of Terrorism and Violent Extremism," hosted by the National Institute of Justice. Important notification about today's webinar, the opinions, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed here are those of the presenters and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice. At this time, it's my distinct pleasure to introduce Aisha Qureshi, social science analyst within the National Institute of Justice for some welcoming remarks. Aisha?
AISHA QURESHI: Hi, thanks so much, Daryl, and thanks to everyone for joining us today. As Daryl said, my name's Aisha Qureshi, and I'm one of the social science analysts in the research and evaluation division here at NIJ managing the domestic radicalization and violent extremism portfolio. It's my honor to start off this event and welcome everyone to today's research for the real world which is a long-standing NIJ seminar series that features research that is changing our thinking about policies and practices.
Today's seminar is focused on the current terrorist threat landscape, how it has changed in recent years, and strategies to best address this threat at the local and the national levels. We've got an excellent lineup for speakers today for you who will be introduced just momentarily. They are researchers and experts who have made significant and very impactful contributions to the field of radicalization and extremism studies. We're incredibly grateful that they've joined us today to share their knowledge with us at a time where perhaps it's most critically needed to navigate a new and existing challenges being faced by the field at large. So much has happened in the space even just within the last year, so many historical events and of course the release of the new national strategy for countering domestic terrorism.
To guide us through this very critical conversation, Dr. Matthew Levitt, who is the director of the Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy will be moderating today's discussion. Dr. Levitt brings with him a wealth of experience and a very unique perspective as he engages our other experts today and takes questions for you—from you all in the audience. Again, I'd like to thank all of you so much for joining and I hope that you all find this seminar to be beneficial in your respective lines of work. So without any further ado, I'll turn it over to Dr. Levitt.
MATTHEW LEVITT: Thank you very much, Aisha. It's a real pleasure to be able to moderate today's NIJ webinar research for the real world. You're in for a treat. As your heard, I direct a program in counterterrorism at a think tank in Washington called Washington Institute for Near East Policy. And I'm a professor in Georgetown University. My connection to this really is that I run a working group on preventing and countering violent extremism with academics, practitioners, and government officials from around the world. And I'm very involved in the space and I'm very familiar with some of the speakers you're going to hear from today. Today we have a really great program, you're going to hear some introductory remarks, then you'll hear from excellent panelists who are either themselves NIJ grantees and/or experts in the field. We will have ample time for Q&A from the audience. I do want to ask you in advance and I'll remind you later that any questions you have, you are welcome to put them into the Q&A function, which you should find on the right-hand side of your screen. Please try to remember to ask questions in the Q&A function as opposed to the chat function. In the chat function, they might get lost. Let me introduce Chris Tillery who's the director of the Office of Research Evaluation and Technology at the National Institute of Justice. Chris, the floor is yours.
CHRIS TILLERY: Thank you, Matthew. Good afternoon. I want to thank you all for being here today and in particular I want to thank our moderator Matthew Levitt and our distinguished panel of experts for their participation in today's discussion on this important and timely topic.
NIJ has been involved in research to combat terrorism since the late 1990s with the passing of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, subsequent to the Oklahoma City bombing. The focus of that initial effort was on but not limited to homegrown violent extremism. Since 2012, NIJ at the request of Congress, has sustained a program of research to develop a better understanding of the domestic radicalization phenomena and advanced evidence-based strategies for effective intervention and prevention. NIJ now has 50 studies that shed light on questions about a variety of subtopics including the drivers of radicalization, the role of the internet and the social media play in the radicalization process, comparisons of terrorism to other forms of mass violence and what works and what doesn't work when it comes to prevention and intervention programming. In the most recent FY21 solicitation, NIJ called for applications that sought to address three primary objectives. To conduct research to inform terrorism prevention efforts, conventional research in the area, to conduct research on the reintegration of formally-incarcerated individuals being released from terrorism-related charges back into the community, and to evaluate programs and practices to prevent terrorism.
Last year, for the first time since the program's inception, Congress directed a portion of our funding to research white supremacist radicalization and terrorism. A total of eight grants were awarded, many of which included but were not limited to the study of domestic terrorist ideologies. NIJ has always been committed to funding research that studies radicalization to all forms of extremism regardless of its ideological basis. As this seminar will highlight while FY 2021 may have been the first year in which NIJ was directed to conduct research on white supremacist radicalization, it was not the first year in which NIJ funded research examine this topic. In FY 2022, this year, we'll be paying special attention to applications focusing on white supremacy and utilizing the funds specified for this particular form of extremism accordingly in our solicitations. NIJ remains fully committed to advancing the science that addresses our most pressing research needs and the most pervasive threats to our country at any given time. I will now return the seminar to Matthew.
MATTHEW LEVITT: Thank you, Chris. Let's now transition to our slideshow and allow me to introduce your first panelist, William Braniff. Bill Braniff is the director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism or START at the University of Maryland. He previously served as the director of practitioner education at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center and he will introduce START and provide an overview of the current terrorist threat in the United States. Bill, thanks for being with us, the floor is yours.
WILLIAM BRANIFF: Thank you, Matt. And on behalf of all the panelists, I just want to thank NIJ for hosting us all today. So I have the privilege of representing START, which is a 17-year-old research center primarily utilizing the behavioral and social sciences. It's based at the University of Maryland, but we've had the pleasure of working with many researchers from around the country over the last 17 years. We got our start as a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence. But over the years, we've really diversified our funding streams as well as our portfolio. So now we're spending as much time and energy looking at asymmetric threats beyond terrorism as we do spend on terrorism responses to terrorism. And I think that's actually quite relevant for the conversation today as we get into it. As Matt suggested, I've been asked to do kind of a scene-setter, cover the waterfront, and it's a broad waterfront. So I'm going to just drive right in, please. If we can go to the next slide.
START has been incredibly fortunate to receive a lot of support from NIJ dating back to our work in 2013 to create the PIRUS dataset, the largest dataset in the country on the individual perpetrators of extremist crime. And then since then we've been able to build on PIRUS looking at things like the disengagement, desistance, and deradicalization of violent extremists. Looking at the perpetrators of hate crime with our bias dataset. And then extending PIRUS in other ways, including two datasets which will culminate this year and be made public, one on the perpetrators social networks, and another on their failed and foiled unsuccessful plots. You'll notice on this slide that my name is not here, so I'm honored to be representing Mike Jensen, Lizzy Yates, Shihan Cane, Garry LaFree, and other collaborators from START with you today. Slide, please.
Now I want to start by putting some illustrative numbers to a phenomenon that I think many of us are observing. In this particular slide, I'm representing Dr. Aaron Miller and the Global Terrorism Database team. Now, this slide is not portraying a count of attacks. This is a count of the number of different sub-ideologies and named groups or movements that are motivating terrorist attacks in the United States in the last decade when compared to the one prior. From an ideological standpoint, terrorism and especially domestic terrorism is morphing incredibly rapidly in the United States, and in dangerous ways. I'm going to spend a little time on this slide.
The first implication of the increasing diversity of extremism is that the typologies used by government cannot be static or they will fail to capture emergent ideological strands that are motivating violence. This underscores the importance of longitudinal data collection that is agnostic as to the specific motivation in question. But that's instead based on inclusion criteria focused on perpetrator behavior. And only when the perpetrator's behavior meets an inclusion criteria then do we look at motivations as a second order of business. This allows us to capture the new and emergent kinds of ideologically-motivated criminals in the U.S. The second implication, misogyny is appearing more overtly across the ideological spectrum. But unless misogyny is recognized as an important ideological driver, misogyny may met—make acts of violent extremism look like more commonplace acts of interpersonal violence. We have to take the misogyny seriously as we study this threat. A third implication, increasing xenophobia among U.S. white supremacists means that to a much greater extent than in the past, U.S. and European white supremacists are now seeing eye-to-eye and they have greater reason to travel back and forth to coordinate, or at a minimum to reinforce one another's propaganda. A fourth implication, self-described right-wing terrorists are increasingly engaging in both mass casualty plots and more revolutionary, versus reactionary rhetoric, calling for the overthrow of the government. This invites hostile foreign influence operations. Fifth, while conspiracies have always been a part of violent extremist ideologies in the United States, the torrents of mis- and disinformation have amplified the role of conspiracy theories. So the extent that we're seeing mass radicalization around issues like vaccines and elections, that mass radicalization is happening on the backs of conspiracy theories. Most alarmingly, to me, in a two-party democracy, we are seeing increasingly and explicitly partisan terrorism in the United States. In which violence against the opposing political party or in favor of one's own is seen as legitimate and even necessary. Again, this invites hostile foreign influence operations. Slide, please.
Of course we can also plot the numbers of attacks by ideology, and our data, like other sources, bear out that the most significant trend line over the last decade is the increasing frequency of right-wing terrorism in the United States and among right-wing extremism, white supremacy. I should note that we have secured funding for the Global Terrorism Database after a hiatus, and we're currently through about quarter three in 2020, we'll be updating our analysis accordingly. So I apologize if these appear out-of-date. We actually are catching up, so bear with us. Slide, please.
And here in this slide, in relative percentages, we see the motivation of perpetrators of hate crime broken down by ideology. This is from the bias dataset, which is the first and largest of its kind of a sample on the perpetrators of hate crime. Anti-African-African violence remains the most common motivation. But we see a significant increase by percentages of anti-Hispanic motivation, and this really coincided with the militant and political rhetoric about Latin-American immigrants as invaders starting in about 2016. So that's perhaps the biggest percentage change within the graph. While anti-Semitic motivations are not the most frequent, Jewish targets make up the plurality of mass casualty attacks in the United States. So if we dig into the data, we can see other trend lines that aren’t really presented on this slide. Anti-gender and sexual identity motivations command a significant percentage of those motivations here, maybe 20 percent. In total, white and male supremacist motivations therefore make up about 90 percent of the motivations of hate crime perpetrators in the United States. When you factor in the fact that there are about 9,000 hate crimes in a given year in the United States, like, orders of magnitude more common than there are acts of terrorism about 60 to 70 terrorist attacks in a given year in the United States.
The idea that we would allocate resources to address ideologically-motivated violence and not factor in hate crimes is absolutely irrational. So in terms of implications, while we're very pleased to see that hate crimes were referenced in the congressionally-mandated ODNI, FBI, DHS report on the state of domestic terrorism, as well as in the recent Department of Defense counter extremism activity working group report, the U.S. government really needs to more formally incorporate hate crime into its threat assessments if we're going to drive rational resource allocation. The overlap between terrorism and hate crime, especially the blurring of these phenomenon in online spaces, and the fact that hate crimes can have the same psychological and political impact on our broader society than an act of terrorism may, we really need to treat these threats on par instead of relegating hate crime to some sort of local issue which is what we've done in the past. Slide, please.
In terms of trends regarding tactics, one story over the 2010s has been the continued preference for incendiary devices in the United States which I think is a surprise to many because these attacks don't grab the headlines. One very simple implication is that our fire services are wildly underrepresented on our JTTFs around the country. They're just not a part of them by and large. I think that's a mistake. A second story in these data is the increasing use of firearms over this past decade. Slide, please.
Now here on the first two columns of data which are about the United States, you see that firearms are responsible for 88 percent of the fatalities due to terrorism over this past decade, while they're only used in about 30 percent of the attacks. The implication is that much of the target hardening that we do under the guise of antiterrorism is only able to address a small minority of the fatalities due to terrorism if we don't address the gun issue. I know many of us are focusing on things like vehicles being used as contact weapons, it's attention-grabbing, sometimes those attacks do produce a high number of fatalities. But if we want to address 88 percent of the—of the problem when it comes to fatalities in the United States due to terrorism and we don't address the gun issue, we're fooling ourselves, frankly. Slide, please.
I know that many of us are interested in the responses to terrorism. Specifically, how should we be addressing domestic terrorism given its increasing prioritization. Through 2018, domestic terrorist plots that were intended to kill or injure someone succeeded over 68 percent of the time, right? Compared with about 23 and a half percent of violent plots conducted by international terrorists, right? The implication here is that our current posture for domestic terrorism fails more often than it succeeds. But it remains to be seen if that 60-plus percent success rate has been due to a lack of political will, a lack of resources, a lack of training or legal tools. It's likely a combination of all of the above. So that's a—that's a big topic of discussion, we're not going to address that in this—my short panel. But, what I do want to stress here is the absolutely hypocritical posture that critics take towards CVE for violence prevention approaches. We are somehow okay with the 60 percent failure rate when it comes to traditional counterterrorism. But if a deradicalization program experiences one instance of recidivism, people want to condemn the entire CVE PVE paradigm, right? We hold CVE and PVE to just this unrealistically high standard that we don't hold any of our other policy prescriptions to. We need to be investing more resources in the violence prevention programming that Matt mentioned in his introduction, in addition to taking steps to improve our traditional counterterrorism posture when it relates to domestic terrorism while protecting civil rights and civil liberties. That is a really difficult thing to do in the counterterrorism space. It's much easier to do in the CVE PVE space. If we take a public health strengths-based approach, as the Department of Homeland Security is taking now, we can address I think this success rate, while still protecting civil rights and civil liberties, we just have to resource it. Slide, please.
My colleague Shihan Cane recently wrote a paper outlining six hypotheses based on the piracy data about how COVID-19 will exacerbate individual level risk factors. And while we've seen—certainly seen some COVID-19 related acts of violence over the past two years, these individual level risk factors, in reality are mingling with a host of other stressors, other uncertainties, and other ideological drivers. This is not a one-dimensional story. Slide, please.
The challenge with COVID-19 is in part about how long the crisis is taken to play out and the compounding crisis that we've experienced along the way, right? While these compounding crises have played out, emergent online discourse and hostile influence operations have really stirred the pot. And so it's very, very difficult to disentangle a specific risk factor when it comes to a violent extremist outcome, when we have all of these intermingling factors and events that are driving political discourse in the United States, and therefore violent political behaviors in the United States as well. I'm not going to walk us all the way through this slide, but I think it suggests that we are a long way from understanding what the implications of COVID-19 will be on violent extremism in part because of how complex this landscape really is, and how it's continually evolving. Slide, please.
So the final implication that I'll leave you with is that we can't only consider hate crime and domestic terrorism in a vacuum. Right? It's good that we consider hate crime and domestic terrorism more holistically like we—like I suggested earlier. But we really have to also understand the way in which these domestic violent extremist phenomena are becoming increasingly internationalized. Right? The extent that our domestic terrorism was ever purely domestic is a little bit intellectually dubious. But certainly, our domestic terrorism and hate crime offenders are becoming more internationalized over time. And we also know that foreign powers are very opportunistically increasing the polarization that is occurring in the United States by amplifying these polarizing acts of violent extremism in the United States. And so really, as we think about this threat, we have to think about it in concert with these other phenomena, if we're really going to get our arms around it. Slide, please.
So I've got some implications for anyone who, you know, request the slide deck at a later date. But with that, I'll—slide, please. You've got my contact information. Happy to answer any questions during the Q&A. Thank you so much, again, to our hosts for having us.
MATTHEW LEVITT: Thank you, Bill. That was fascinating, really excellent coverage in a very short period of time on a very broad waterfront. I'd like to next introduce Dr. Pete Simi. Pete is an associate professor at Chapman University and a member of the NCITE at University of Nebraska, Omaha. He is also co-author of an award-winning book Manuscript American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movements Hidden Spaces of Hate. Dr. Simi will provide an overview of his NIJ-funded research project, Empirical Assessment of Domestic Disengagement and Deradicalization, and speak on domestic terrorism more broadly. Pete, thanks for being here. The floor is yours.
PETE SIMI: Thanks for the introduction and thanks for moderating the panel. And like Bill, I'd really like to thank the NIJ for organizing this and providing support over the years. I'm going to be commenting on the United States specifically, but certainly recognize that this is a global problem more broadly. If we could have our next slide, please.
And just to start with a little bit of background, I started studying violent extremism in 1996, shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing. I wanted to understand how certain cultural and environmental conditions can produce a person like Tim McVeigh. In 1997, I began conducting ethnographic fieldwork with active members of anti-government militia and white supremacist groups and informal networks. I lived with families attended cross burnings, and neo-Nazi music shows, among other things, to try and learn about these cultures, how they're organized, how they recruit new members, and various other aspects of their lives.
Since 2012, we've been conducting intensive life history interviews with more than 100 former extremists from across the United States and several other countries as well, much of which was generously supported by multiple NIJ grants. And in terms of legal consulting, along with Kathleen Blee, we just completed a three-year consultation on the Sines v. Kessler civil trial, which was related to the Unite the Right rally in 2017 in Charlottesville, where on behalf of the plaintiffs, we drafted a report that was submitted to the court and provided testimony about our findings during the trial. And certainly happy to discuss that case in more detail if there's any interest during the Q&A.
And then one other quick point, I really started my career in the mental health field working in a small institutional facility and then moving into community-based group homes, actually living in some of these group homes as a caregiver. And one of the things that I took from that experience is how important mental health is for all of us, not just for those who may be diagnosed with serious mental illness. And I think about that a lot in terms of studying violent extremism. But I also think we have to think about mental health more broadly in terms of society, not just as an individual level characteristic. In other words, different societies, as a whole can have more or less mental health. And society can be organized in certain ways that may increase the likelihood of certain mental health problems. So if we could go to the next slide.
I think this photo is pretty telling in terms of how society is currently struggling with mental health. And I think there's some markers here of unresolved trauma depicted in this photo. And we certainly found a lot of trauma in our own work in terms of individual's backgrounds, going back to childhood, in many cases, and adolescence. But before going too far, I do want to really thank the NIJ for their support over the years, which really began with an award in 2006, to study the recruitment and radicalization among right wing extremists during the 1980s and 90s. And the findings from that project, along with various other studies are very helpful in discussing how we got to J6. So I want to kind of start there in terms of thinking about those decades in terms of the 1980s and 90s. But first, I want to say a few words about language. If we could go to the next slide.
Violent extremism like most violence more broadly is a type of communication. Ironically, there's a lot of difficulty related to how to best describe different types of extremism. Now, when I refer to right-wing extremism, I'm referring to a broad movement without a single central unified leadership, animated by the sense that revolution is necessary in order to achieve some type of national rebirth. Now, some may find the term right-wing extremism to be overly partisan and unhelpful. Violent extremism of any kind though, represents the threat to democracy. And my comments today are really meant to focus on one particular type of threat that has a long history but is especially prominent at the current moment. And I think it's also important to keep in mind that politics is one of the defining features of violent extremism. And if we believe one of the antidotes to violent extremism is more democracy and not less, then we should also remember that the belief in the value of democracy is itself a form of partisanship. If we could go to the next slide, please.
Okay. So I want to start with some basic characteristics that seem especially salient when looking at the ebb and flow of right-wing terror in the United States over the past four decades. In terms of the two bullet points under the continuity subheading, whether we're talking about the death of Posse Comitatus, farmer Gordon Kahl who was killed in a shootout with police in the early 1980s, or the Ruby Ridge or Waco standoffs in the early 1990s or more recently, the Bundy standoffs in Nevada and Oregon. These types of events often serve as catalysts for the far right, helping solidify various types of oppositional narratives, providing recruitment opportunities, and a rallying cry to help mobilize individuals and groups toward the necessity of violence. Over the past 40 years, we've seen the importance of armed encampments used for paramilitary training, as well as the importance of small splinter cells, sometimes emerging from larger existing above ground organizations, and single or lone actors committing violent attacks on behalf of the cause.
The bullet points under the emergent subhead are not necessarily new, but rather have been growing in importance over the past four decades. So for example, the growing decline of institutional legitimacy is a long-standing point of concern. But when looking at the trust in the mainstream media, and congressional approval ratings, we certainly are at all-time lows, at least in recent history. The growing distrust in public education officials at the K to 12 level is interesting, but it's also very disturbing. And of course, the distrust of science, which dovetails with older strains of anti-intellectualism has been widely discussed by historians and other observers. And in terms of polarization, this is also not really new when you consider past periods of racial polarization or the urban rural divide, many other splits but again, today, we seem to be somewhat in unchartered territory, with the degree of polarization in terms of disinformation and misinformation, such that there seems to be less and less shared reality among U.S. citizens.
Likewise, the diffusion of ideas and emotions have always had a viral component in the far right has a long history dating back to at least the early 1980s, in terms of promoting computer technology as a means to spread their ideas. But again, the technology that exists today, the advent of social media, it allows for the diffusion of ideas and feelings to occur at a pace and magnitude that we just haven't seen before. This last bullet, everyday insurgency, I'm going to come back to in a few minutes. So if we could go to the next slide, please.
So what was happening in the 1980s? When you—in many respects, when you think about this, every decade is kind of a continuation of the past decade. And in this slide, you see Louis Beam there in the red Klan robe on the bottom corner, who was both an implementer or an executer of terror plots. In terms of, for instance, the firebombing of Vietnamese fishing boats that happened near Galveston, Texas, but was also an influential ideologue in terms of promoting for instance leaderless resistance which remains a central feature in far right extremism today. In the middle there, you have Bob Matthews founded The Order of the Silent Brotherhood. And to the left in the white collar shirt of Matthews is Bruce Pierce, who was a co-founder of The Silent Brotherhood. The underground terror cell murdered several people, successfully robbed an armored car of more than $2 million, which was distributed across various segments of the far right. Their formation was largely the result of Matthews and other key members recruiting from existing far right networks. One point of contrast between Matthews and Pierce that's interesting to know is that Matthews initiated his radicalization very early in life around the age of 12, although he did not come from a family of extremists. While Pierce who was somewhat of a late starter, so to speak, did not have any known connection to extremism prior to relocating to the northwest, around the age of 30. Shortly after his relocation, he was doing some volunteer coaching at his son's junior high school. One day happened to intervene in a bullying incident and the victim went home and told his father that one of the coaches had helped him that day. The father went to the school the next day in order to thank Pierce in person who really didn't know many people in the area and the father invited him for dinner as a way to say thanks and welcome to the northwest. The father was associated with the Aryan Nations and eventually introduced Pierce to the organization and their beliefs.
Within less than a year, after the bullying incident, Pierce was helping found one of the most violent underground terrorist cells in US history. And in terms of outward appearance, both Matthews and Pierce presented as ordinary individuals who could be your next door neighbor or your coworker. In fact, both were those things before going underground and committing themselves to the Silent Brotherhood. We could go to the next slide, please.
So what about the 1990s? Of course, many people are familiar with the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Now there was a fair amount of domestic terrorism prior to Oklahoma City. But the second half of the 1990s is especially notable. Now you see McVeigh there next to the word terror, and just above McVeigh is Eric Rudolph.
Just a little over a year after Oklahoma City, Eric Rudolph committed the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta killing two and injuring more than a hundred. Now keep in mind, this was an attack on the Summer Olympic Games. Rudolph then went on to perpetrate three additional bombings targeting a gay nightclub and two abortion clinics. And according to Rudolph himself, he targeted the Olympics because it's—because of its association with "global socialism." You see in the smallest circle in the middle, one of the three right white supremacist who in the summer of 1998 beheaded James Byrd Jr., a black male, who the three tied behind their pickup truck and dragged him to death in Jasper, Texas.
And I want to point out one of—one of the issues that Bill raised, which I think is super important is this overlap between hate crime and terrorism. And I think this is a good example. The tragic murder of Byrd was largely seen as a hate crime, but it was also an act of terrorism and that the individuals were associated with our country's oldest domestic terror organization, the Ku Klux Klan. And so essentially, you had a beheading in the summer of 1998 by the country's oldest terrorist organization. Now, less than a year later, the Columbine school massacre happens. It occurs—it occurred—it was intended to be a bombing, with the goal of producing a larger number of victims than the Oklahoma City bombing. The mastermind Eric Harris was obsessed with both Hitler and McVeigh. Again, in many cases, Columbine, also not seen as necessarily an act of terrorism, but more specifically as a school shooting rampage, which it was, but it was actually intended to be more of a bombing than a shooting. And again, it was very much inspired by McVeigh's actions as well as Hitler's ideology.
And then following the Columbine, which occurred in April of '99, in the summer of '99, two separate lone actor attacks committed by longtime white supremacist, Benjamin Smith and Buford Furrow. Both were associated with different white supremacist organizations. Smith, the World Church of the Creator, and Furrow, the Aryan Nations. This wave of terrorism in the second half of the 1990s involved incidents that were not directly connected to each other in the sense of a single unified conspiracy, but were flowing from the same ideas and emotions, and in many cases flowing from overlapping networks. If we could have the next slide, please.
So now moving into the 2000s, violent extremism during this time period has involved various strategies and tactics. But I want to draw your attention to the prevalence of lone actor attacks in particular, and the broader culture of extremism where this violence emanates from. The point here is that in many respects, these attackers are not really alone because they are acting on behalf of a larger cause, and inspired and influenced by broader networks, and that this is a longstanding strategy that has been promoted through books, speeches, and more recently, videos and meme culture.
One of the important stories of the 2000s that helps us understand how we got to January 6th, is that during these two decades, a cultural infrastructure was being built across various types of media, but also offline in small house parties, Bible study groups and other seemingly innocuous settings. What began in 2000 as relatively underground efforts shifted to the mainstream over time, as segments simultaneously of the mainstream shifted in more extreme directions. If we could go to the next slide, please.
So I want to come back to this slide for just a second to suggest that we've entered a new phase, what you might call everyday insurgency, and help think about everyday insurgency. I want to offer an alternate point of emphasis. If we could go to the next slide.
Rather than looking at the current situation, primarily through the prism of leaders or organizations, I think we would benefit from spending more time focusing on ideas and emotions. I'm not saying leaders and organizations aren't important because clearly they are, but when we focus exclusively on them, we miss certain things. If the—if the circulation of ideas and emotions is the focus, we can see how widespread this type of extremism has actually become. But ideas and emotions don't operate in some disembodied way. They of course require people to express them through practices and in terms of our focus, violent practices.
The term everyday insurgency is meant to convey that there is so much happening right now on a day-to-day basis, it becomes easy to lose sight of interconnections. A major dimension of this everyday insurgency involves the untold number of nameless, faceless people who are threatening our election and public health officials. So much so that in some cases, these officials have been forced to resign and go into hiding. These threats or acts of terrorism, and are both directly and indirectly connected to each other through a web of ideas and emotions. Even if no overt acts of violence ever emerged such threats have a very specific political motivation and intended outcomes. Violence need not occur for these threats to be effective.
Now, just as an illustration of the pervasiveness of the problem right now, consider the following brief summary of just one ABC News article published in January 2021 and one Reuters News article published in December 2021. It produced the following discussion about threats to election officials and only one state Georgia. Death threats directed at Paul—at Brad Raffensperger and his spouse, Republican Secretary of State in Georgia. Bomb threats directed at multiple polling locations, unnamed Atlanta vote counter forced into hiding in November of 2020. A news found at Dominion voting office in December of 2020, Gwinnett County vote counter followed home and called a racial slur in December of 2020. Two temporary election workers, Ruby Freeman and her daughter targeted with hundreds of threats. Ruby was ultimately urged by the FBI to leave her home on January 5th of 2021 because it was "unsafe." The following day, on January 6, a mob surrounded her house. And again, this incident followed months and months of death threats and harassment. And unfortunately, Georgia is just one of many states where these types of threats are occurring. We could go to our next slide.
So how do we respond to the kind of just terror that we've been discussing? Well, it has to be multidimensional, we have to target multiple levels. Of course, at the broadest level in terms of society, we're going to have to start thinking, I think more creatively and more boldly. If we agree that our democracy is under threat, then that will require certain actions that maybe in the past, we didn't think were necessary. Now, at the same time, though, as I mentioned at the outset, the importance of trauma is critical. And there's some very important work that needs to be done at the individual level as well. And that's what I'll focus on in my remaining comments. Go to the next slide.
In terms of individual focused interventions, Europe and other parts of the globe have a longer history developing and implementing these types of efforts. But this area is starting to gain traction in the U.S. And I want to focus on one organization in particular Life After Hate that I've been volunteering with as a board member since 2017. And now more recently, I'm serving as their current Interim Executive Director, while we search for a permanent person to take on that role.
Life After Hate was founded by former extremist, primarily former white supremacist to help individuals leave far right—violent far right extremism. We provide services to individuals who self-refer, as well as family and friends who know someone they believe is starting to radicalize toward this type of extremism or who has already radicalized, as you can imagine a person in that situation may not know where to turn and we try to provide support for that person in various ways. Now, one of the questions or challenges in some—in some respects that we confront at Life After Hate, and I think it's a very fair question that revisits some of what we've already been discussing in terms of the scale of the problem, which is this, given the scale of the problem today, is this kind of one individual at a time approach enough? Now, the answer, quite honestly, is no, it's not enough. But it is a necessary part of this larger multidimensional approach that I just mentioned. In other words, you know, it's the cliche, we have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. The type of interventions that Life After Hate and similar programs provide are critical.
And when you think about the potential ripple effects of these types of interventions, it's even more astounding. So for instance, if you just think what if Robert Bowers, the Tree of Life shooter had received some type of intervention prior to the attack that he committed. Dylann Roof, Patrick Crusius, the El Paso shooter, so on and so forth. We'll never really know how many hate crimes and acts of domestic terrorism these types of interventions may prevent. But we do know from our interviews with formers, that a substantial amount of violence occurs at various points in a person's time while they're involved, prior to disengagement. But once a person starts to disengage, once they start to make a move to leave, violence decreases substantially. So this tells us how much harm can be reduced through more investment in these kinds of resources, and frankly, saving more lives.
And finally, as a—as a—as a note, my colleagues and I are just in—just this month actually starting a new NIJ award to more systematically track some of these issues in terms of disengagement in partnership with Life After Hate, where we plan to follow a cohort of individuals who are in the process of disengagement. And we'll try and measure in some perfect—prospective fashion the disengagement process, in hopes of better understanding how this unfolds in real time. And what types of things can be done to increase the likelihood that individuals are able to successfully disengage and remain disengaged as they move towards deradicalization. Thank you very much for your time.
MATTHEW LEVITT: Thank you for that presentation. Fascinating. I want to remind all of our participants that your questions are very much encouraged. Please post them in the Q&A function, which you should find to the right of your screen. Please post them in the Q&A function and not the chat function. Thank you very much.
I'd next like to introduce Dr. Haroro Ingram, who's a senior research fellow at The Program on Extremism at George Washington University. Haroro currently runs several infantry applied research projects, mostly focused on enhancing civil society CVE capabilities. He'll speak to his experience researching militant Islamist movements, including the so-called Islamic State, and violent non-state political movements. Haroro, thank you for joining us, especially given the time difference. The floor is yours.
HARORO INGRAM: Thank you, Matt. And thank you to the organizers for the opportunity to participate on this—on—particularly with such an excellent lineup of speakers. I really appreciate this opportunity. I received an excellent range of questions around which to focus the next 10 to 15 minutes with the remarks.
I'm particularly reflecting on my experiences in the Middle East and Asia, which I think really can be condensed down somewhat to a couple of core questions.
The first is, what are some of the key markers and milestones of the evolution of particularly the jihadist threat landscape over the last two decades? And what do they suggest to us about how to posture for dealing with a volatile security environment in the homeland, a persistent global jihadist threat and all the while dealing with the challenges of the global great power competition. Now, much of what I will only very briefly touch upon today, you can find in much more details here the Mosul and the Islamic State podcast, I was working with Omar Mohammed and Andrew Mines. The ISIS Reader, which tracks the evolution of the Islamic State movement through its own speeches, publications, doctrinal materials from about the mid-1990s to the end of its so-called caliphate and its transformation into a global insurgency. And finally, The Long Jihad, which analyzes the Islamic state's method of insurgency, in both its theory by analyzing what I call its insurgency canon, 14 documents produced by the Islamic state's insurgency thinkers and practitioners throughout its history. But also, it analyzes its practice by examining the broad history of its operations eventually leading to its capture and control of Mosul.
So, what are some of the key markers and milestones of the evolution of the—of the jihadist landscape? In answering this question, what kind of caused me to reflect on I guess the trajectory of my own career. I'd actually just finished high school at the time of the September 11 attacks, and a few years later started my career working in human counterterrorism operations. So basically, how equivalent UK Special Branch review in a state in Australia. Now, at that stage, Al-Qaeda and its network affiliates and supporters were the primary threats of concern. And I've also worked on far right groups, but it was primarily groups that were an individual's networks that were linked to or inspired by Al-Qaeda. So when I started, Zarqawi was the rising star of the global jihadist movement. But in the final years of that particular role, it was an American, Anwar al-Awlaki, that was at the core of our primary operations. Now, just so happened that I left that role soon after Awlaki and [INDISTINCT] were killed. And it was from the defense department that I witnessed the first couple of years of the Arab Spring sweeping across the Middle East, and the resurgence of the Islamic State of Iraq group in Iraq, and then spreading obviously, as we know, into Syria.
So by the time I leave government in early 2014 to work as a field researcher, and after that I spent time on the ground in Iraq, the Syrian opposition in Afghanistan and many other places, ISIS is the flagship, it establishes its caliphate. Over the years, it develops its network of affiliates, including in Asia. So from late 2017 and early 2018, I spent a lot of time in the Southern Philippines supporting peace process efforts there, and kind of saw firsthand what those dynamics look like on the ground. But by the time ISIS are territorially and materially decimated, it has essentially already transitioned to a global insurgency model. Now, I provide this all as context, because these perspectives have naturally shaped my own views of the evolution of the jihadist landscape. But I also do it to highlight this tendency, I think, for certain milestones, certain evolutionary markers, to emerge in our minds, almost with hindsight, and always as the outward projection or manifestation of dynamics that have actually been bubbling away under the surface for some time.
So I want to draw your attention to three in particular that I think that I would assess, looking back signaled a crucial change or a crucial pivot point in the global jihadist threat landscape. The first of these is Bin Laden's rise and extraordinary global charismatic appeal. The global Jihadism really is, you know, it's largely the exception to the rule. Jihad is local, is kind of the mantra, I guess. But Al-Qaeda emerges with the intent of being not just a vanguard, but a force multiplier for those local efforts. And so through the 1990s, it laid the foundations in very practical way, and by providing money, training, and logistical support to these local groups, local actors. I think that the real transformation comes with Bin Laden's rise as a charismatic leader. And I say a charismatic leader in the true kind of sociological sense of the word. You know, charisma is an emotion-based leader for all. It merges due to a mutually empowering if asymmetric mix of the leader's image and narrative being seen as extraordinary, and that being recognized by our followers. Now, this explanation may sound a little bit academic, but it actually really matters in a practical sense, for reasons that I'll address very soon. So Bin Laden's charisma not only holds together Al-Qaeda's network of affiliates, I would argue that it facilitates the rise of other charismatic figures who emerge, at least in part, by building on Bin Laden's charismatic capital, so the metastasizing of the jihadist threat from 1998, but especially after 2001. Yes, it's driven by very practical hard factors, but they were also tremendously important and powerful symbolic factors to the power of the charismatic figure, with both local and global spheres of influence is really significant through this period and remains so.
The second milestone I want to just bring your attention to is 2011 as a really transformative year in the global jihad. You have the Arab Spring sweeping across the region, Bin Laden was killed in May, Maliki was killed in September, and at the end of that year, the withdraw, U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. The contextual conditions, the opportunities for jihadist groups to engage and to exploit crises, especially in Syria, is greater from this point forward than at any point since the Iraq war. There is also a Bin Laden-sized hole in the global jihadist milieu and a Maliki-sized legacy in the western jihadist milieu that I think is really important for us to consider. What charismatic leadership studies teach us is that the removal of a charismatic figure creates a vacuum and a competition for their legacy, to build on their authority and to build on that charismatic capital in order for new leaders to rise and emerge. Now, I suspect that so much of the Islamic state movement's efforts to emerge as the flagship, particularly through 2013, '14 onwards, was an effort to exploit both ground level opportunities that presented across the Levant, but also top-down opportunities in the wake of Bin Laden's death. Yes, Bin Laden was largely obsolete in a practical sense, perhaps for years, sitting and hiding in Pakistan, but his symbolic significance was always important. And it remained important, not just after his death, but after his death. So the Islamic state then emerges by presenting its leader as the Caliph, a legal rational or traditional type of leadership. That type of leadership, that type of authority is comparatively more stable than a charismatic figure. And it's certainly more authoritative or at least is an effort to be more authoritative, in a strategic jurisprudential in a political military sense. So, we see the rise of the jihadist proto-state efforts that kind of reflect the transitions that I'm trying to capture in this particular milestone.
The third and final milestone and, I guess, cheating a little bit here, because this is an ongoing kind of challenge, although it has become particularly pronounced. Again, in the aftermath of ISIS territorial collapse and the rise of the Taliban to control Afghanistan once again, but it's this manhunt competition. It's the competition over what method a jihadist group will adopt to engage in its violent campaign to reach the ultimate goal of establishing a state. This is the competition that is really at the heart of the tensions between Al Qaeda and ISIS, the comparatively need to emphasize comparatively more gradualist approach of Al Qaeda and the more disruptive approach of ISIS. If we could just go to the next slide, please.
During my experiences working on the ground in the Southern Philippines, I've seen the way in which these primary exports for ISIS are deployed to its affiliates. And on the ground, if we just go to the next slide, please, throughout—and specifically in the Philippines, we see these dynamics playing out the way they have in many other places where a group like, for example, Abu Sayyaf, traditionally, historically, aligned with Al-Qaeda. You see—then see them through 20—its members through 2014, '15, '16, breaking away and aligning with ISIS. And at the heart of a lot of these were tensions about, "What are we doing?" "How can we be more impactful, more effective on the ground here?" Particularly amidst in the case of the Southern Philippines, ongoing peace process efforts, and I suspect that Taliban successes have indirectly boosted the credentials of Al-Qaeda's approach in the eyes of many jihadist groups.
So what are some of the lessons that emerge from these milestones? Focused on three, I think that the impact of charismatic figures persist, the charismatic figures remain an important part of understanding the evolution and the dynamics of Jihadist threats. Secondly, there is this ongoing competition for legitimacy of authority, and not just authority in terms of the leader but political military authority, jurisprudential authority, the legitimacy and efficacy of strategies. These are constantly evolving and changing due to counterterrorism efforts, but also intra-movement efforts. And the third point that I'd like to make is that the local retains primacy. However, there is a mutually reinforcing dynamic between top down global forces and bottom up local forces. Now, I've spoken about these three lessons, specifically from the jihadist's perspective. But what I think is important is that these three lessons are applicable across the broader threat landscape.
I want to conclude, I guess, by wrapping up with some of the broader implications for policy posture. My overarching point on the jihadist threat is that while great power competition has necessarily become a priority, we should not let the policy pendulum swing and allow focus on jihadist threats, too low or too far. Indeed, I would argue that these objectives are mutually supportive. Nowhere is this better highlighted, I think, than in the Philippines. It is kind of baffling to me to see that the lack of U.S. involvement and engagement in peace efforts in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, the Philippines is a crucial ally for the United States. And it sits at a vital geopolitical, kind of, fault line there. The aggression by China in the West Philippine Sea is just one example of the—of the types of concerns that the Philippines are grappling with and yet so much of their focus is internally. The amount of Filipino blood and treasure that has been spilled in the south is enormous. If we stop and think for a moment, the success of peace efforts in the south against the range of jihadist groups would allow the Philippines to transition its posture from internal security threats to potentially looking at more at the region, and supporting allies across the region. And so a sustainable peace in the south it may seem like a domestic internal issue, but it has really significant implications for the Philippines and in terms of U.S.-Philippines but also Australia and other allied relationships with Philippines. Peace in the south is really important. It's an example of addressing jihadist threats in a manner that I think opens up and contributes to a great power competition as well.
As we look at United States and domestic threats, I want to end by emphasizing the importance of those three lessons, and the broader applicability, the identification, and monitoring of charismatic figures, the kind of the competition for legitimacy, but also the strategic competition, what kind of strategies and operations are going to have the most success domestically? And that consideration of yes, local will retain primacy but there is a mutually reinforcing dynamic between top-down global forces and bottom up local forces. And I suspect having engaged with U.S. and other allies, especially across the EU, that there are these concerns that the threat landscape is so volatile at the moment. That there is this mix of state and non-state malign influence threats that are so concerning, as someone from the EU said to me the other day, "It looks like mayhem to us," and that really reminded me sitting here in January 2022 of the kind of sentiments that were expressed in 2014, that this idea of we haven't seen anything like this before when ISIS was rising. And I suspect that one of the great challenges that we have for policymakers is to provide a lens through which to understand this range of different threats. And if we just go to the—to the next slide, or rather the last slide.
It's through—what my most recent work has tried to do is to establish a lens or a framework through which to try to understand a spectrum of state and non-state malign influence actors as part of an anti-democratic malign influence effort. And it focuses in on this idea of a trinity of trusts, being the target of propaganda and misinformation threats, and that there is this reinforcing cycle that they're seeking to fuel. And while I'm going to leave it there, I'm more than happy to address any questions that people may have during the final session. And thanks very much, Matt, again for the opportunity.
MATTHEW LEVITT: Haroro, thank you for that presentation, very much appreciated. I want to jump straight into our final presentation by Dr. Hazel Atuel and Dr. Carl Castro. Hazel Atuel is a Research Associate Professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. Her research focuses on military social work, intergroup relations, social identity, and moral injury. Dr. Carl Castro is also a professor at the School of Social Work at USC. Additionally, he is the research director for the USC's—USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veteran and Military Families. And he previously served 33 years in the U.S. Army. Dr. Atuel and Dr. Castro will discuss their grant with NIJ, Exploring the Social Networks of Homegrown Violent Extremist Military Veterans and how the U.S. history of extremism relates to those with military experience. Hazel and Carl, thank you so much. The floor is yours.
HAZEL ATUEL: Thank you, Matt. We are very excited and very honored to be part of this panel. We're definitely learning a lot from the panelists. We are pretty much the new kids on the block. So let me just start off with the story of how we got here. Next slide, please.
So in 2016, there were back-to-back shootings that involved two military veterans as perpetrators, which got us thinking to what's going on here, right? So we reached in our back pockets and decided to map this out considering some of the theories that we have developed at the center and also some of the research that we have conducted and came up with this working hypothesis way back in 2016. So we said that when it comes to perhaps these two case studies, the pre-military or the civilian stage where people—this is before they enter into the military, this is where the seeds of, let's say hate, are planted. And this is also where behaviors are formed and values are acquired. Now, we also know that people have individual personalities, right? So there will be some individual level factors that will play into this. You also have various networks that people are a part of during their civilian phase and that could be the family, that could be the church, that could be their schools. And we know that each of these groups or each of these institutions have an influencing factor in the civilian life. We also know that there are certain stressors that people face during the civilian phase. And I think some of our panelists have alluded to that, particularly trauma, adverse childhood experiences, or even societal factors, like let's say poverty.
Now, when they enlist—when people enlist in the military, they carry with them these civilian predispositions, so everything in their individual level factors, what they learned from their network, and also the stressors that they have experienced during the civilian life. And as they become indoctrinated into the military institution and engage in military life, here we see various levels of factors that are operating. First of all, is the formation of a military identity and we know that the military is a value-based institution. We also know that there are different networks within the military. And so they have an influencing function as well. We also know about the various military stressors that people face, there's deployment, there's definitely war trauma. And then for military personnel, there's also the geographical mobility that they face every two, three, or four years, there's combat training. And then we were actually interested in the type of discharge, at least for the two cases that we were looking at. One of them was honorably discharged, and the other one was not. So we said the type of discharge could factor in here. And overarchingly, we call the military phase as this is the sharpening phase, right, when it comes to these two cases.
Now, when they transition out of the military, and are in the veteran or post-military phase, again, they already carry with them, not only their civilian predispositions, but their military experience, and now they're facing a whole new set of factors that they need to confront in veteran life. First of all, is the formation of a veteran identity, and we have a veteran identity theory that we have developed, where we said that a veteran identity is past military identity operating in present civilian space and time. We also know that as veterans, they have acquired several networks. They have their civilian networks, their family networks, their previous military networks, and now their veteran networks. We also know that they're facing several stressors, at least, for these two—these two veterans. In our case study, we said, "Let's need to consider perhaps PTSD or this phenomenon called moral injury," and we'll talk about that in the next couple of slides. Next slide, please.
So we said—and, you know, as social scientists we said, "Okay, let's try to collect more data." And this is our earlier work on mass shootings and mass violence. And in terms of mass shootings, we've decided as a starting point, Charles Whitman, who is a Marine veteran, is considered as the first mass shooter in modern history. And of course, you have here Lee Harvey Oswald, whom we consider as our starting point for mass violence. Next slide, please.
So based on the data that we collected on 104 people with military background, what we see here is that 79 percent engaged in their violent act after they left military services. So they already had a veteran—they were already veterans to begin with. Seven percent were training dropouts, so they were booted out during a boot camp. And 14 percent were active duty personnel. When we took a look at the motives for these mass shootings and mass violence, and we borrowed this for Fox and Levin's typology of serial and mass murderers, what we found is that almost half, 47 percent can—were because of terroristic reasons, 15 percent for mental health, 9 percent for power reasons, 19 percent revenge, more than likely workplace revenge, 7 percent for loyalty, and 3 percent for profit. So that's when we pivoted and said, "We need to take a look at some of the historical markers of terrorism and people with past military background." Next slide, please.
Because we're a little short in time, I'm not going to go through each of these historical markers. I think all of us are already familiar with the fact that in the aftermath of the Civil War, the KKK was founded by six former officers of the Confederate Army. In World War I—in the aftermath of World War I, I would just like to share that in 1933, the Friends of New Germany was established in the U.S. as an extend—as an extension of the German Nazi Party. The group which comprised mostly of German World War I veterans was mainly based in New York City, but had a strong presence in the Chicago area. The group gained the attention of Congress and was investigated for their anti-Semitic propaganda. They dissolved in 1935 and instead, the German American Bund was formed in 1936. This was led by Fritz Kuhn, another German World War I veteran, and the group's rhetoric now included anti-communism, pro-German, and also pro-American rhetoric. So the group declined after Kuhn was arrested for tax evasion and finally deported to Germany after World War II.
So, in World War II, what we find is that the American Nazi Party was created and led by U.S. Navy veteran Commander George Lincoln Rockwell, who is a known segregationist, anti-Semite, and Holocaust denier, trained as a pilot who served in the European and Pacific theatres during World War II, and transitioned into civilian life after the war. He was recalled as a lieutenant commander at the beginning of the Korean War in the 1950s. But was assessed to be non-deployable because of his political views and given an honorable discharge in 1960. And I think all of us are already familiar with Kathleen Belew's work on the Modern White Power Movement.
Okay, so some research highlights here. On World War I veterans, Willard Waller is a World War I veteran and sociologist. And in his book, he shares his own and his veteran peers' experiences during World War I, as well as his grandfather's experience as a Civil War veteran. He believes that the war experience generates a level of bitterness that veterans must confront. And a veteran's response to this bitterness will be determined by three factors: his temperament, who he is before entering military service; his military experience, what happened to him during the war; and then his transition experience, how he is coping during the integration process. It's interesting that this was written during the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe. So he was well aware how autocratic leaders can persuade and manipulate veterans. Next slide, please.
So some research highlights on World War II veterans, Bettelheim and the Janowitz monograph is an important literature for those who really want to get into military veteran extremism. So in their research, they added stereotypical beliefs of Jews and Blacks as well as history of poor adjustment in society as risk factors. Now in their particular study, what they were looking at were racially intolerant US veterans who—this was during World War II who had six—I think between six to eight months of separating from the army and is living—they were living in the Chicago area. In terms of their military experience for this intolerant group of veterans, they were also more likely to report getting a bad break in their army career and also more likely to be embittered about their army experience. And finally, in terms of their veteran experience, they reinforced stereotypic thinking with conspiracy theories, and as veterans, they held anti-government beliefs. In a follow up study, Bettelheim and Janowitz also found that this group of racially intolerant veterans were found to be susceptible to fascist propaganda and to appeals by a demagogue. And finally, next slide, please.
Adding to the literature, we have Ritzer, who is a Vietnam veteran himself and wanted to take a look at the political radicalization and Vietnam veteran. So he had done qualitative interviews. And what he found was for those who became politically radicalized, there were some risk factors that were operating before they came into the military. First of all, there was a growing sense of community alienation. And then secondly, their coping strategy was to challenge community practices based on alternative principles. And then when it came to their military experience, and this is where the moral injury comes in, they found themselves betrayed by their national leaders and appalled at their own complicity as executioners. So in Jonathan Shay's work with Vietnam veterans, he described this as moral injury, which is a betrayal of what's right by someone in legitimate authority in a high-stakes situation. We also have our own theory of moral injury, which we are saying is the experience of moral failure, whether you're a victim, a witness, or a perpetrator that threatens your character or the integrity of your character. So next slide, please.
So having gone through some of the historical markers, and also some of the research that's been conducted in the area, we have been applying for the past four years to get this project funded. And so before briefly introducing you to the military radicalization project, I would just like to say that it took five proposals submitted to three agencies across four years to get to this point. The two other agencies will remain unnamed, but we are grateful to NIJ for supporting this project from the very outset.
So the military radicalization project was funded in 2019 is both theory and evidence-informed. We are working with Dr. Arie Kruglanski who is over at the University of Maryland, on his Quest for Significance Theory as one of the frameworks that we'll be using. And in his theory, he proposes that a person's needs, a person's narratives in terms of what he hears from the different networks influence the radicalization process. We're also using military transition theory which was developed by Carl and Dr. Kinzel. Mapping, again, this out from pre-military civilian to military and from military to post-military and veteran, we are also taking a look at some of the transition challenges that military veterans are facing basic needs like housing, employment, finances, healthcare, and of course, some of the most social factors of status and reputation. We're also taking a look at veteran identity theory, which again, I said earlier is past military identity operating in present civilian space and time. And then we're also taking a look at some of the risk factors that have already been identified in NIJ-funded research and this is a great resource for those of us who are doing research in this area. Next slide, please.
This is just an illustration of what we are trying to capture in this project, we are trying to look for uniqueness and also commonalities between civilians and military veterans who have engaged in domestic terrorism, we're taking a look at risk factors, and whether or not the quest for significance applies to them. We also decided to add a comparison group of veterans who have not engaged in violent extremism. And in addition to the risk factors and quest for significance, we are also looking at military experience and the transition experience. Next slide, please.
Okay, in the interest of time, I'm just going to—if you could go to probably three or four slides where it says overall findings ahead of this, there you go. Perfect. So study one is a secondary analysis of the American terrorism study database. And very briefly, we can send you the publication for this, which was recently published in the military psychologist, and essentially, our overall findings boiled down to this: compared to civilians, people with a military background are more likely to be older, be male in a domestic partnership, belong to right wing groups, hold a leadership position in a group, and target government officials and buildings as well as social minority groups. So next slide, please.
In study two, what we are actually—another slide, please. Great. In study two, we are actually conducting interviews with people from the various social networks. We have identified 30 civilians who have engaged in domestic terrorism between 2003 to 2019, and another 30 military veterans as a comparison group, we have identified through court documents and also open sources some of the family members and also some of the civilian peers or military peers or veteran peers that we can interview.
So right now, this phase of the study is still ongoing, but I would just like to share some preliminary findings. If you can just go to preliminary findings. Okay. So this is just to show all of you how our working hypotheses is work—is being applied to the data that we are now collecting. So this is a case study of a military veteran, the 2009 Holocaust Memorial shooter, James von Brunn. So pre-military phase, he was born in 1920, graduated with a journalism degree in Washington University in 1942. And it was while he was in college that he was perceived as a Nazi because of anti-Semitic beliefs. He enlisted in the military right after and served as a PT boat captain in both the Mediterranean and Pacific theatres. It was during this time—next slide, please.
It was during this time that he meets then Commander John G. Crommelin, who was a known segregationist and anti-Semite. And he was— James von Brunn was honorably discharged in 1946. Next slide, please.
In 1947, he moves to New York City, was advised to change his German last name to make him more employable. In 1964, he meets retired Lieutenant General Pedro del Valle, who is one of the cofounders of the Defenders of the American Constitution. In 1968, he gets into— James von Brunn gets into a bar brawl for anti-Semitic remarks and serves two years in prison. '75, collaborates with Florence Robinette on Zionist Rape of the Holy Land. 1981, he engaged in a failed kidnapping attempt of the Federal Reserve board that served six years in prison. And in 2009, he enacted the Holocaust Museum shooting in D.C. in 2010. He dies while awaiting trial.
Next slide, please. And this is just part of his writings from his 400-page manifesto.
Next slide, please. Okay. A future research, this is just a view from the past. And again, this is from Willard Waller, where he was advocating for the art and science of veteran rehabilitation. I think all of us have been calling for a multidisciplinary approach to radicalization. And this was his view as well, early in the past century. But I think we also—as applied to military veterans, we need to extend that line of thinking to reflect a lifecycle approach where we take into consideration what happened to military veterans during the civilian phase, during the military phase and then during the veteran phase. Okay. I am now going to turn the last couple of slides over to Carl.
CARL CASTRO: Thank you very much, Hazel. Can I have the next slide, please? So one of the things that we really want to, again, take a really hard look at is a lot of the predispositions that many individuals have when they join the military, because we think it's really, really important to take a look at the trajectory that they are on. Because we think that this provides an opportunity for the military services to do an effective intervention while these service members join in or on active duty. And as Hazel mentioned in the very beginning, the military is a value-based organization, and all of the services have taken this very active approach in working to shape the character and identity of their service members. And we believe that given the age at which most Americans join the military, they are really ripe for value and virtue development or character development that actually could serve as an intervention for the military. While service members are on active duty, there's lots of networks and in the militaries, the U.S. military in particular is working very closely to do a better job of monitoring the networks and the susceptibility that service members have to being recruited by extremist groups. But I think this quest for significance is a really, really important concept because many individuals join the military to be more than they are, to be something bigger than themselves. And if this quest is thwarted, or they fail, or they believe the organization hasn't taken care of them, we think this could really lead to a really bad transition out of the military which also then can make them susceptible to recruitment into actually joining and participating in extremist organizations. Next slide.
So there are obviously some potential threats to withdraw from Afghanistan, this sort of feeling that the wars there, in both Iraq and Afghanistan were futile, a waste of resources. The—and many service members are very angry about the extremist regulations as they pertain to the Confederate flag, as they pertain to tattoos that service members are able to get. And then, the sort of the discharge, potential and actual the non-compliance with the COVID-19 vaccinations, and then when service members are separated because of extremist beliefs, we think this could actually exacerbate or enhance a veteran's propensity for radicalization. And so there needs to be a smoother handoff in transition, and certainly an awareness of removing an extremist from active duty and just putting them back in the civilian side, doesn't really solve the problem from an American perspective, it only solves it from a military perspective, but the problem could potentially still exist. Next slide.
So that's, in a nutshell, what Hazel and I have been working on for the last—the last few years. And I will just say that I am not an expert on extremism or terrorism. I am learning a lot and but so, you know, Hazel and I both collaborate with others, you know, our contribution really is a deep understanding of the military culture and how identities and attitudes around one's time in the military can manifest itself post-military service and actually in a few cases, as we noted, while in the military service, so thank you.
MATTHEW LEVITT: Carl, Hazel, thank you for that presentation, really informative. So ladies and gentlemen, you've had four really insightful presentations, fabulous examples of the important grant making work that NIJ is engaged in. It's a sign of really smart presentations that we went a little bit long, perhaps. And so we're not going to have time for the kind of Q&A that we had hoped for. But I wanted to let you know that we will be saving the questions and we'll be posting them to the website with answers afterwards. For those who are curious, if you haven't looked, I had been bunching these together in baskets trying to get as many as possible. And to my mind, they fell into baskets of conspiracy disinformation issues, issues related to international relations such as the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the pivot to Asia, the next frontier abroad, and in particular, a couple of questions about Africa, whether we need more laws to better prosecute extremism, domestic terrorism, and hate. Here at home, for example, do we need a domestic terrorism statute? A couple of questions that got to things that frankly I wanted to avoid them a little bit which is domestic politics and whether policies of one type of a president or another type of a president leads to extremism, very, very valuable questions, but I didn't want this to become a partisan discussion or debate. And finally, social media, and what type of challenges does social media present and what type potentially of opportunities. So I want to thank all of the presenters and turn it back over to Chris for some closing remarks. Okay. I think we might have lost Chris, so let me turn it over to Aisha.
AISHA QURESHI: Thank you so much, Matt, for moderating this panel. And thank you all so much for presenting. We're very grateful to the audience for all the wonderful questions that we got. Unfortunately, like Matt said, this is a sign of a great panel and we had to go a little bit over time. But we have saved your questions. And we have also been told that you can ask any remaining questions that you might have had, obviously, that we didn't get a chance to get to at nij.ojp.gov/asknij, and we hope to be able to get back to you through that. And with that, I think we will conclude our seminar. Thank you all so much. Have a great day.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these questions and answers represent those of the audience members and speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
A: Yes. See Research and Evaluation on Domestic Radicalization and Violent Extremism, Fiscal Year 2022 for Information on the forthcoming solicitation.
See the following for previous NIJ work in this area:
- Prisoner Radicalization: Assessing the Threat in U.S. Correctional Institutions
- Prisoner Radicalization: Assessing the Threat in U.S. Correctional Institutions
- Behavioral Study of the Radicalization Trajectories of American "Homegrown" Al Qaeda-Inspired Terrorist Offenders
- Terrorist Age-Crime Curve: An Analysis of American Islamist Terrorist Offenders and Age-Specific Propensity for Participation in Violent and Nonviolent Incidents
- Toward a Behavioral Model of "Homegrown" Radicalization Trajectories
A: There are several NIJ-funded studies (some ongoing, some completed) that cover this. A few examples from NIJ-funded research include:
Virtual Extremism in the U.S. from 2012-2017, tried to help us better understand how violent domestic extremist groups and individuals use the Internet and how do people who are exposed to this extremist material get impacted or influenced by it. This study found that the use of particular social networking sites, such as Reddit, Tumblr, and general messaging boards, is positively related to the dissemination of hate material online, and that Caucasians are more likely than other race/ethnic groups to be exposed to online hate material.
An Assessment of Extremist Groups Use of Web Forums, Social Media, and Technology to Enculturate and Radicalize Individuals to Violence: These researchers reviewed over 16,000 posts from seven web forums operating on-line with a Far-Right nexus both in the US and abroad. They found that far right forums have very low network density, suggesting that there is a degree of information recycling that happens, which results in these sort of insular echo chambers, and that because of that, new information is actually spread more slowly.
Lastly, Social Learning and Social Control in the Off- and Online Pathways to Hate Crime and Terrorist Violence explored similarities and differences in the use of social media by various ideological extremists and found that the most common platform used in this sample was Facebook, which is in keeping with general patterns of social media use overall. They found a greater number of far-right actors with Facebook accounts than any other extremists, and found that Twitter use was slightly higher among radical Islamists (2; 3.8%) than far right actors (1; 1.8%). A lot more detail is available in that final report, but the bottom line from that analysis is suggests that patterns of social media use vary across ideological groups may be indicative of the interests and backgrounds of the perpetrators.
These are just a few highlights of completed projects.
A: We’ve published several articles that discuss some of these findings and have calculated ACE (adverse childhood experiences) scores for our sample of former violent far right extremists. The scores are much higher than general population and comparable to other high-risk populations such as incarcerated samples or samples of conventional street gangs. The traumas include most of the generic types of risk factors we have long known are unhealthy and often produce all sorts of negative consequences related to physical, psychological, and social development. For example, we’ve found relatively high levels of sexual abuse, physical abuse, parental neglect, abandonment, and family substance use problems. Some helpful articles related to this topic include:
A: Yes, there is definitely a segment of the far right animated by both more general Christian Nationalism and in other cases a more specific type of Christian extremism known as Christian Identity. However, other segments of the violent far-right are not especially influenced by Christianity or may be influenced by other spiritual thought systems such as Odinism (Nordic mythology). I think part of what we can learn is not to make some of the same mistakes in terms of lumping all Christians together as has often been the case with Muslims.
A: This needs a lot more attention and thought but social network analysis and network text analysis offer opportunities here. The key is changing how we conceptualize these issues away from predominantly group-centric approaches. Ethnographic fieldwork and interview-based designs can also help because they can capture the “messiness” of things.
A: Some of NIJ’s work in the deradicalization space can be found in the report “Empirical Assessment of Domestic Disengagement and Deradicalization (EAD).”
A: This is not my specific area of research so I highly recommend the excellent work of Bulama Bukarti on this topic, especially the newest paper by Bulama Bukarti being published by the George Washington University Program on Extremism in March.
A: The field is stretching and trying to catch up given how little attention was previously devoted to domestic extremism. The events of January 6th are furthering that process but as we move forward we need to be careful about losing sight of other ongoing types of extremism across the globe (i.e., be cautious of over-correcting) and we should also be cautious about the popular tendency to treat all forms of domestic extremism as equal threats. The reality is that violent far right extremism has been and remains the most substantial threat in terms of domestic extremism and the data is very clear on that.
A: This is clearly a big debate at the moment. I think before any new statutes are designed and implemented, we should be sure the existing ones are being utilized in the most effective manner possible and that we allocating the appropriate resources necessary to combat domestic extremism. A new law doesn’t help much if the resources are not appropriately allocated and we continue to be hampered by perceptions that tend to minimize or deny the extent of this problem which is clearly a longstanding one.
A: More information on extremists with military backgrounds can be found in the research brief “Extremism in the Ranks and After.”
A: Given the activities of ISIS and Al-Qaeda affiliates across the continent, Africa is one of the most concerning regions. According to the recent Global Terrorism Index, five of the top ten and eleven of the top twenty countries most impacted by terrorism are in Africa. However, I think it is also important to identify the countries where terrorism and the instability it causes may have the greatest geopolitical implications. On that criteria, I would assess the Philippines as being particularly important given ongoing peace efforts in the south, issues with China in the west Philippine Sea, and the potential for the Philippines to reposture for regional efforts if internal security threats can be addressed. As war in the Ukraine continues, it will also be important to monitor the individuals and groups traveling to fight on either side of the conflict and the potential implications for terrorist threats.
A: More information on the relationship of violent extremism to crime can be found in the research brief “Pre-Radicalization Criminal Activity of United States Extremists.”
A: Absolutely. For scholars of charismatic leadership, 'charisma' is not a trait but rather the emotion-based bond between leader and followers. It is not enough for the leader to be extraordinary, that needs to be recognised by the followers as a reason to legitimize that person as an authority figure. This is why the charismatic leader-follower relationship is often described as mutually empowering (although asymmetric) because while the charismatic leader shapes how followers see the world and behave in it, their authority comes from the followers and the maintenance of those charisma bonds.
A: Before Milgram, Zimbardo, and Asch, were Adorno and Allport. We are not advocating for a certain personality (although there is research demonstrating an increase in authoritarian scores among service members, especially if they voluntarily entered military service), but contextualizing the influence process throughout the military lifecycle. What we meant by planting/forming is that initial exposure to hate rhetoric (and perhaps even violence) occurs prior to military service.
A: Currently there are no identified evidence-based approaches to preventing domestic violent extremism in the workplace. This represents a major, yet understandable, research gap. Nevertheless, based on several theories on what factors lead to DVE, there are things that can be done in the workplace to interrupt the processes that lead to DVE. These include among others, assigning workers meaningful tasks and reducing the stress or the workplace by keeping workers informed of what is going on in the workplace and involving workers in key work-related decisions. Such actions convey to the worker that they are valued and that they perform a value service to the company. There are many other actions that can be taken, yet these have the most evidence from the organizational literature for making employees feel appreciated and wanted.
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