Why don’t we include extremists who commit non-extremist related crimes?


This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.


Why don’t we include extremists who commit non-extremist related crimes?

Meg Drown

As a follow-up to my previous blog post regarding the inclusion of sovereign citizens and financial crimes to tPP, I wanted to explore the characteristics of another sub-category of the rightist ideological affiliation we include in our dataset. As a refresher, we regard rightists as those individuals who embrace values such as limited government, socially conservative thought, individual rights, and authoritarianism. This is a wide-ranging spectrum, and we divide it into four separate subcategories in which we see most extremist crime occur, including government-focused, identity-focused, abortion-focused, and unspecified.

My previous blog post focused on individuals who fall under the Rightist: Government-focused subcategory of the dataset, specifically sovereign citizens who reject the legitimacy of the federal, state, and local governments. For the sake of this blog post we will focus on individuals who fall into the Rightist: Identity-focused bucket, or those who desire social political change in identity-based prejudice.

Rightist identity-focused crime has recently wrought worldwide media attention, in part, due to the rise of nationalism across the world and the spike in far-right crimes in the United States and abroad. Some would attribute the rise of far-right groups to the specific platform the current President of the United States (POTUS) has provided to far-right voices. While there is an argument to be made for the spread of far-right views due to POTUS’s legitimizing of far-right voices and media outlets, right-wing extremists have a deep-rooted history in the United States that far precedes the rise of nationalism in the United States. Specifically rightist, identity-focused organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) derive their identity and political agenda from the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era during which African-Americans gained new, albeit limited, rights under the United States government.

The historical context of the KKK is important to understand their current platform and positioning in the far-right ecosystem because their ideology centers around racial, identity-based politics. Moreover, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and Identitarians glean much of their ideology from early to mid-20th century nationalist movements. The United States Holocaust museum claims that “the eruption of neo-Nazism and White Supremacy on display in Charlottesville in August 2017 and at other rallies across the country has exposed the public to symbols, terms, and ideology drawn directly from Nazi Germany and Holocaust-era fascist movements”. Additionally, Identitarians draw their inspiration from the Nouvelle Droite (New Right) movement that arose in France during the 1960s. To put it bluntly, far-right crime and extremism is far from new, and, in fact, has been around for hundreds of years.

Nonetheless, the recent spike in far-right crime and the subsequent media frenzy motivates a re-evaluation of the rightists who are included in our dataset, and, more importantly, those who are not included in our dataset. Particularly, why don’t we include the ranks of far-right organizations who are indicted on charges that are unrelated to extremist crime? While the answer is fairly simple – because they are not indicted on charges related to political violence or else labeled as a terrorist or an extremist through the state speech act – it is important to motivate our decision to exclude them from our dataset. Keeping in mind that we strive to identify incarceration trends in the United States justice system on such factors as race, ideological affiliation, group affiliation, citizenship status, and religion as it relates to extremist crime.

So then, why is an individual such as Kevin Alfred Strom, the founder of National Vanguard, not in our dataset? Strom a friend and close associate of William Pierce, author of an influential white nationalist book called the Turner Diaries, was indicted on charges of child pornography and witness tampering in 2007. Hosting a website devoted to neo-Nazism, Strom was known to have fetishized young girls on his online platform. However, his blatantly illegal actions of publishing promiscuous images of young girls on his site led to his eventual conviction on child pornography crimes. To be clear, Strom did propagate neo-Nazi propaganda on his site. Furthermore, he served to recruit and organize radical individuals into a group that espoused distinctly hateful and violent language against minorities, and while his crimes were directly related to the website that served to circulate these extreme views, he was not indicted on a crime that was extremist in nature.

There is a rather distinct trend of white-nationalist and neo-Nazi leaders being indicted on child-sex charges, and certainly this trend is important in understanding the patterns of behavior in different extremist organizations. Yet another crime trend that is prevalent amongst specifically identity-based far-right extremists is domestic violence. Some high-profile individuals on the far-right have been accused of assaulting their female partners. Richard Spencer’s wife publicly accused him of physical abuse, though he was not charged with any crime, while others, such as Matthew Heimbach, a prominent white nationalist, was indicted on charges relating to domestic abuse.

Again, while we see certain crimes associated with those who identify with the far-right, and, in fact, observe that these crimes could be a direct result of the misogyny propagated by their extremist views, their inclusion in the dataset for domestic assault or sexual felonies would not be in line with the mission of tPP to examine political violence. This is unless, of course, the reason cited for engaging in violent behavior against women is specifically extremist in nature AND the individual who carried out the crime is indicted on a charge relaying this information about their political intent for abuse.

Financial Crimes and Inclusion in tPP


This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.


Financial Crimes and Inclusion in tPP

Meg Drown

When deciding whether to include cases in tPP dataset, it is important to recall the definitions of extremist violence and terrorism around which we base our project. Ever keeping in mind the mission of tPP, which is to examine how political violence is prosecuted in the United States, explore the relationship between the perpetrator and his/her crime, and to determine any predictive effects variables, such as target, ideology, and group affiliation have on how a defendant is charged and eventually prosecuted.

The FBI defines domestic terrorism as any crime that is “perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature” (See the Defining Terrorism page). While there has been no internationally agreed upon legal definition of terrorism by the United Nations General Assembly, there is some consensus amongst academics on what officially constitutes terrorism (See the Defining Terrorism page under section Revised Academic Consensus of Terrorism). Defined generally:

“terrorism refers, on the one hand, to a doctrine about the presumed effectiveness of a special form or tactic of fear-generating, coercive political violence and, on the other hand, to a conspiratorial practice of calculated, demonstrative, direct violent action without legal or moral restraints, targeting mainly civilians and non-combatants, performed for its propagandistic and psychological effects on various audiences and conflict parties” [1].

While examining tPP dataset, we tend to see crimes that are prosecuted mostly on the grounds of political violence that were carried out, attempted, or not carried out at all but had politically violent intentions. Although there are many occurrences in which an individual who appears in tPP committed only a minor crime, such as passport fraud, and was prosecuted on terrorism-related charges (See my blog post on the state speech act), the deciding factor for inclusion in tPP emphasizes the role of political violence in prosecution of a crime. This begs an important question: what is paper terrorism and why is it described as such by law enforcement?

Paper terrorism can be understood as behavior designed to create bureaucratic inefficiencies by “clogging the courts with nonsensical, voluminous filings, phony lawsuits, and false liens against public officials as a form of harassment and intimidation” [2]. These crimes are usually carried out by sovereign citizens, defined by the FBI as “anti-government extremists who claim the federal government is operating outside its jurisdiction and they are therefore not bound by government authority” [3]. Sovereign citizens take advantage of legal loopholes, mostly, by filing false liens which are incredibly time-consuming and costly to be removed. While in the broader spectrum of the extremist milieu paper terrorism seems frivolous, false liens can be incredibly damaging to the person or corporation against whom it is filed. Liens can destroy a person’s credit score, thereby affecting their ability to buy a home, start a business, rent a car, or do just about anything that requires a half-decent credit score. Nonetheless, there is no legal definition of paper terrorism, and those who are apprehended for filing false liens are prosecuted on financial crimes, usually void of terrorism-related charges. By tPP standards, we do not include sovereign citizens who carry out financial crimes in lieu of their extremist ideology in our dataset. We do, however, include sovereign citizens who a prosecuted on different charges.

There is some overlay between financial terrorism and tPP. In particular, there is one individual, Lee Harold Cromwell, who, after ramming his car into a crowd at an Independence Day celebration, killing one and injuring 12 others, filed liens against his arresting officer and prosecuting attorney. Though Cromwell was not included in our dataset for filing the false liens, it is a defining characteristic of sovereign citizens and can serve to inform our decision on whether or not to include an individual in tPP. Cromwell and four others appear in tPP for the car ramming and subsequent filing of false liens against public officials. Sovereigns are coded under Ideological Affiliation as Rightist: Government-based due to their ideological convictions against the United States government and other governments they believe to be illegitimate. In tPP Codebook, we define Rightist: Government-based ideological affiliations as encompassing individuals who desire autonomy from the United States government, those who act to prevent government overreach, or those which act as pro-government vigilantes and paramilitary forces.

Specifically, sovereigns would fall under the “desire autonomy from the United States government” camp. The other four individuals included in tPP in relation to the violent crime carried out by Cromwell are included because they aided Cromwell in filing the liens against the government officials prosecuting his case. However, while they did not carry out a violent crime, their crimes are motivated to protect the individual who did carry out the crime. Conclusively, sovereign citizens are included in tPP and can even be included for carrying out financial crimes so long as it fits the framework we have laid out for inclusion in tPP. In other words, if the crime has no obvious socio-political aims, does not support organized violence, or does not fit the conditions for a state speech act, it will not be included in tPP.

Notes

[1] “Defining Terrorism – the Prosecution Project.”

[2] March-Safbom, “Weapons of Mass Distraction.”

[3] “Sovereign Citizens Sentenced.”

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.