Locating Extremists Where They Strike: Ideological and Geographic Influences on Terrorist Target Selection


The posts below are brief summaries of 14-week research projects designed and carried out by our student team. tPP plans to release the full studies as peer-reviewed publications in the future.


Locating Extremists Where They Strike: Ideological and Geographic Influences on Terrorist Target Selection

Isabel Bielamowicz and Kayla Groneck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The purpose of our research was to identify the relationships between geographic location, ideological affiliation, and physical target for cases of politically motivated violence coded in the Prosecution Project’s (tPP) dataset. We contended that population density will be reflected in clusters of attack locations, and that higher population urban hubs will likely have greater diversity of both ideology and target type, with more obvious trends being revealed in lower population regions. Furthermore, we proposed that Leftist affiliated attacks and prosecutions will see higher concentration on the West and East coasts with targets focused on Private Sites; whereas Rightist affiliated attacks and prosecutions will see greater presence in the South and the Midwest, with target type focused on Religious Institutions, Federal Sites, and Individual Person(s). Additionally, we hypothesized that Salafi/Jihadist/Islamist attacks will be nearly exclusive to high population density urban areas with target type focused on Federal Sites and Public Sites.

Methodologically, descriptive statistics were employed to reveal that over half of our selected sample is composed of those sharing Rightist ideology acting uniformly across the United States; that Leftists act predominantly in the West, targeting Private Sites almost exclusively; and that Salafi/Jihadist/Islamists act across the spread of the country, but most commonly in high density areas. We found that mapping through GIS software augmented our statistical findings by visualizing the spread of attacks and prosecutions in our dataset by ideological affiliation. Based on our findings, we concluded that geography is helpful in defining political violence in the United States to the extent that is has strong correlations to the ideological affiliation of a defendant. Ultimately, this relationship between geography and ideology and the relationship between ideology and target type culminate in an understanding of the geographical spread of target selection employed by delineated ideologies across the United States for political violence attacks and prosecutions.

The following datatable shows the two most frequent physical targets selected by the four most common ideological affiliations found in our selected sample (N611 set) divided by circuit court regions. The most prominent findings of this research are that Rightist attacks and prosecutions composed over 50% of our sample; Salafi/Jihadist/Islamists were over four times more likely, than is proportional to the population, to attack and be prosecuted in the 2nd circuit; that Leftists were most likely to attack and be prosecuted in the 9th circuit.

Because this research is based on a the tPP dataset, which tracks prosecutions rather than attacks, it would be negligent not to mention that many of the cases included in the N611 set have multiple co-defendants for singular events. Without this clarification, some data points may be misleading. As it stands, our hypotheses regarding this research were predominantly correct for geographic concentrations of ideology and the most frequent target types selected by the most prominent ideological affiliations within the given dataset. Conclusively, the most prevalent ideological affiliations (composing >10% of the N611 dataset) for attacks on physical targets within the United States which have resulted in prosecutions are as follows: Rightist: government-focused, Rightist: identity-focused, Leftist: eco-animal focused, and Salafi/Jihadist/Islamist.

The geographic sprawl of these ideologies across the United States varies categorically based on a set of factors including population density, spatial and temporal considerations, and target type.

This research identifies the relationships between geography, ideology, and target type as related to political violent attacks and prosecutions, and ultimately concludes that ideology has a stronger direct relationship to physical target selection than geography. The extent to which the geographic sprawl of persons having shared ideological affiliation which motivated political violence is not predictive of future attacks or prosecutions; however, it is indicative of trends which may continue in the future. Trends in geographic concentration of ideologies are very useful as they aid both in understanding patterns in selection frequency of classifications of physical targets and in predicting – to a degree – the regions in which certain physical target classes are most at-risk or in which regions individuals of certain ideological affiliations are likely to be indicted for targeting them.

The Influence Ideological Affiliation Can Have on Length of Prison Sentence


The posts below are brief summaries of 14-week research projects designed and carried out by our student team. tPP plans to release the full studies as peer-reviewed publications in the future.


The Influence Ideological Affiliation Can Have on Length of Prison Sentence

Monica Gomes

When it comes to the ideological affiliation of a criminal and its influence on a potential or carried through crime with a focus on material support charged crimes, the length of sentence can seemingly be predicted. Not predicted in a way that we are able to figure out what the exact length of sentence will be, but perhaps a direction it may go. The findings for this research study signify just this. To easily compare the data, I compiled a chart of basic math calculations including the median, mode, mean, and range. The categories where the crimes are not ideologically affiliated or are unclear of the affiliation, if there is one, produced the lowest values in terms of length of sentence compared to any other ideological affiliation. This is possibly due to the fact that these crimes in particular are not associated with any large entity or terrorist organization with the potential to endanger the greater society.

 

 

Ideological affiliations that do pose as a potentially larger risk are the rightist and leftist affiliations. Although there are separate categories within the leftist and rightist ideologies, for this study I decided to combine all leftist and all rightist ideologies because the number of cases included in the subject sample were very low and putting them together would produce more significant results. The values that were calculated for this dataset to observe showed that the rightist and leftist ideological affiliations were not the highest but not the lowest values.

These two affiliations traded off with one being higher than the other and then being the lower value of the two. Therefore, that places these affiliations at similar outcomes to each other. The highest values lie within the nationalist- separatist and salafi/jihadist/islamist affiliations with nationalist- separatist having slightly higher values overall. The only exception to this portion of the data is that the greatest number for length of sentence among the ideological affiliations is salafi/jihadist/islamist, however, the highest average for lengths of sentence is nationalist- separatist.

A potential factor that goes into this result is that there are only eighteen cases that are identified as nationalist- separatist while there are two hundred and forty-three salafi/jihadist/islamist. The nationalist- separatist, salafi/jihadist/islamist, and leftist ideological affiliations have a sentence length of zero for their least number of months. This is due to those cases being acquitted but the case still being included into the original tPP database. Criminal charges against perpetrators who engage in material support and are prosecuted for that crime is incredibly complicated and prosecutors must consider many different factors.

First of all, previously prosecuted crimes must be taken into account as well as the intent of the perpetrator. High profile criminal charges call for a more severe sentencing, which becomes increased even more with high intensity previous crimes. Another important factor is intent, this could be an intention as part of a terrorist organization or just the intent to promote or support one. These factors are considered into the criminal cases included in this dataset that ultimately determine and explain the trends shown through the collected data.

The subject and focus of this research is an important extension to the wider field of study of crimes throughout the United States, with an additional lens looking at terrorism crimes. Crime, specifically incarceration, has been and is a prevalent distinction that sets the United States and other nations apart which leaves people curious as to why this is the case. Because of that, endless amounts of research have been done to unveil the possible meanings and reasons behind this fact.

This study is able to contribute to that knowledge and give an explanation to those high incarceration rates. The ability to apply previous findings and knowledge to this less recognized area of crime studies can be of practical use when creating future policies regarding the subject. More specific data and observation of that data, particularly speaking towards ideological affiliation and length of sentence, will help redirect or reevaluate current policies and what producers can do to create a more just system.

The hypothesis created in the proposal wanted to examine material support cases pre-9/11 and post-9/11. In doing this, the research would have found trends and themes from the data to observe any disparities between ideological affiliation and if that was a determiner for the proposed length of sentence of the perpetrator. This kind of data would have been able to make assumptions and locate any forms of discrimination within the justice system against individuals who possessed certain beliefs and if it has been a persistent issue. The justice system supposedly does not have any prejudices against certain individuals and purely look at the facts when determining a length of sentence, but as we know, human error is an inevitable factor when dealing with these types of situations.

Bias and emotions, as well as opinions, are factors that will be included when involved in the justice system while dealing with crime cases whether it is intended or not. The original hypothesis wanted to explore this concept to evaluate and analyze if these types of injustices occurred, however, I had to reroute my research topic because there weren’t enough cases pre-9/11 to build a strong enough database to compare to post-9/11 crime cases. I will say that in regard to material support, there are many salafi/jihadist/islamist ideologies, which is expected because this group of individuals is heavily associated with larger groups of people, or organizations, with the intent of material support for their plans to carry out action.

The world of crime and criminal studies is such a large entity that has an unlimited amount of data and information that it is difficult to find an area of concern that hasn’t been researched already. Today’s society comes with an enormous list of issues and occurrences that are considered disturbing to the majority of society which provides researchers with the resources to examine and create their own inferences and their own basis of knowledge that they can eventually share with others. In relatively recent years, terrorism studies have been more thoroughly explored due to the occurrences that took place on September 11, 2001.

Crimes that  are committed who are in affiliation with a foreign terrorist organization are not dealt with lightly and it has been a mission to eradicate any forms of associations with these organizations throughout the United States. Because of this incident, terrorism crimes have been under the eye of many researchers who haven’t left much room for different thought. In exploring different areas of this field in particular, I think it would be important to look at mapping as a methodology to locate where future crimes may occur based on tactic and the perpetrator’s ideological affiliation. I believe that these components to a crime can say a lot about where others may target next and how they will go about doing their crime. It could possibly prevent future occurrences by recognizing the patterns that previous criminals have pursued.

Age and Ideological Affiliation in Terrorism: As Reported in tPP


The posts below are brief summaries of 14-week research projects designed and carried out by our student team. tPP plans to release the full studies as peer-reviewed publications in the future.


Age and Ideological Affiliation in Terrorism: As Reported in tPP

Preet Patel

The results of my research represent various statistics regarding age, ideological affiliation, and number of people killed per attack in the Prosecution Project database. The graphs representing the statistical analysis that I ran reflect some averages and ranges that should be considered in understanding the subset of data that I finalized for my research.

Based on these findings, we can make conclusions regarding the average age of an attacker, the average number of people killed per attack, and the most common ideological affiliations for cases that resulted in one or more deaths per attack.

This research fits into the wider field of study in the Prosecution Project in its ability to offer understandings as to who commits certain acts of terrorism, as well as how and why those people committed those acts.

Further, in accordance with a variety of theoretical frameworks, conclusions can be drawn to further elaborate on why individuals commit terrorist acts and how these acts can be deterred by people in positions of authority such as police officers, prosecutors, judges, etc.

For future study of this material, I would first recommend sticking with a smaller subset of the full Prosecution Project database. This is beneficial because it allows researchers to analyze the data in a more detailed manner and reduces potential confusion, misinterpretation, and/or overlooking of data and details. Additionally, I would suggest considering multiple secondary coders depending on the type of research and analysis one is planning on conducting.