Problems with Pacer and How it Affects Our Team

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

Problems with Pacer and How it Affects Our Team

Sara Godfrey

Access to electronic court documents is crucial to the Prosecution Project (tPP). Our team is reliant on numerous platforms while collecting case information. Typically, our case coders start with a simple Google search to get a briefing on the selected case, continuing on to more specific and advanced google searches in hopes of finding court document PDFs. Next, our coders will look to the Department of Justice, and then to local or regional news sources. Finally, our coders continue on to search library databases. The collection of court documents and case information is a long, and tedious process. As a new member of our team, I was alarmed to see how difficult this process can be. I was especially shocked to come across cases in which our team struggles to find any information and sources at all.

As the United States has the largest incarceration rate per capita in the entire world and is prideful about the country’s constant strive for innovation and technological advancements, I was appalled to see the outdated and inefficient system called PACER.

PACER, the “Public Acess to Court Electronic Records”, should be a logical solution to many of our team member’s struggles. PACER provides electronic dockets, summaries and filed documents for federal cases. These dockets often contain crucial information for multiple variables in our data set that other resources can not provide. However, access to these documents is far from free.

PACER comes at a cost, and that cost is 10 cents per page (and 10 cents per search) for each document accessed. As the document price caps at three dollars, one can only imagine how quickly PACER fees accumulate (Carver, 2015). As a new member of the team, collecting source files has been much more difficult than I could have ever imagined. It is shocking to have to struggle to find access to court documents which are supposed to be public information. As James B. Haines Jr, a Maine bankruptcy judge explains “‘the information is free at the courthouse, as it’s always been… What you’re paying for is the delivery system and maintaining the delivery system. It’s not a price for the law. It’s a price to have it handed to you on your desktop at your convenience at your command”’ (Browdie, 2018).

However, PACER is far from convenient and the cost is not only monetary. PACER is an outdated system that takes time, practice, and patience to navigate. The system is far from advanced modern search engines. To use PACER you need to know exactly what you are looking for, as PACER has no ability to search by any variable besides the litigant’s name or docket number (Browdie, 2018). There is no way to search a word or phrase related to the case, making it extremely inefficient for research projects like The Prosecution Project. Imagine how effective it would be to search keywords such as “terrorism,” “extremism,”  “bias-motivated crime,” etc. Unfortunately, this is not currently possible with PACER.

To further our team’s frustrations with collecting source documents, federal court documents come from ninety-four district-level courts all with varying filing processes. These small discrepancies in each district’s filling processes can often cause mixed, and sometimes failed search results. This adds to our frustrations with PACER as an unsuccessful search still results in a charge (Hughes, 2019).

As terrorism researcher (and tPP Advisory Board member) Seamus Hughes explains in regards to PACER: “one must know the quirks in the system,” and this could not be truer (Hughes, 2019). After just weeks of joining the tPP team, I, along with many of my peers are quickly realizing that, like most things in life, PACER will surely take some time to learn how to successfully navigate.

Works Cited:

Browdie, Brian. “The Cost of Electronic Access to US Court Filings Is Facing a Major Legal Test of Its Own.” Quartz, Quartz, 10 Aug. 2018,

Carver, Brian. “What Is the ‘PACER Problem’?” Free Law Project, 20 Mar. 2015,

Hughes, Seamus, et al. “The Federal Courts Are Running An Online Scam.” POLITICO Magazine, 20 Mar. 2019,

Initial Reflections on a New Semester of Coders

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

Initial Reflections on a New Semester of Coders
Margaret Kolozsvary

Stated on the “about tPP” website, our mission is “to develop and disseminate relevant findings concerning crime, criminal justice, and public policy through research, public scholarship, and student engagement,” (tPP, 2019). In order to successfully support that mission statement, it is important to understand how we classify our research and how we work to make sure that it is a “relevant [finding] concerning crime, criminal justice and public policy,” (tPP, 2019).

When coding cases, it is crucial to our team that we understand many different categorical factors about a crime. Some of those categories include religion, citizenship status and gender, to name a few. However, two of the most important categories are “ideological target,” and “ideological affiliation”.

According to Kevin Borgeson, “sometimes members can belong to more than one [hate group], making the population under study heterogeneous and hard to define,” (Borgeson, 193). However, it is crucial that when we code a case, we, as a team, know what was pushing the criminal to commit their act of violence but also what the group was that they were targeting and if the ideological target and ideological affiliation are related. This act of coding is one of the most important tasks that members of the Prosecution Project take part in.

Within the “ideological target” variable, there are numerous divisions that the defendant can be classified as. To name two: we have government officials, and those who work in a specific industry and members of a specific religious group. Within each of those divisions, there are subcategories to further narrow down the target group. Understanding who or what the target is can help us understand the act of the crime and what types of crimes are related so as we code more, we can relate similar cases to new ones.

The other category, “ideological affiliation,” is just as important as the ideological target, if not more so. Within this division, there are subcategories, similar to the target subcategories. For “ideological affiliation,” the divisions include, but are not limited to “rightist” (with subcategories such as “identity focused”, “government focused”, “abortion focused” or “unspecified”). Each affiliation category begins with a general topic, such as “rightist” or “leftist” and then branches out into the subcategories of each grouping. The Project is rooted in understanding political violence, so once we understand the ideological affiliation of the defendant, we can distinguish between types of politically violent crimes and the nature behind them. While there is not always a specific affiliation to motivate the defendant, the basis of finding one is crucial to the details within the project.

For the new coders and the new undergraduate researchers, like myself and many of my peers, the differentiation between types of affiliation and targets can be hard to understand at first, but eventually does make sense. In order to teach the new members about these divisions

Works Cited

Valeri, Robin Maria, and Kevin Borgeson, eds. Hate Crimes: Typology, Motivations, and Victims. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2018.


tPP’s first journal publication!

We at tPP could not be more pleased to announce that in April 2019, two members of our Steering Team published the first peer-reviewed journal article based around the Prosecution Project data set!

The stellar team of Athena Chapekis and Sarah M. Moore published, “The prosecution of ‘others’: presidential rhetoric and the interrelation of framing, legal prosecutions, and the Global War on Terror“, as part of a four article Special Section in the journal Critical Studies on TerrorismThe journal portion, titled ‘Emergent Voices in Critical Studies on Terrorism,” featured five undergraduate student researchers each acting as first time authors. The papers were able to pass a standardized double blind peer review, and met strict academic and professional standards.

The abstract for the article is included below, and we invite you to read the complete article, available here!


In examining the Global War on Terror, the effects of presidential rhetoric on the framing of terrorism has been well documented. However, little previous work links terrorism and its status as an “othered” phenomenon to differential legal prosecution in a post-9/11 era. Using the Prosecution Project data set, we compared “othered” individuals, as defined by a Muslim, Arab/Middle Eastern, and/or foreign-born status, to “non-othered” individuals charged with terroristic felonies. Furthermore, we subdivided the dataset into three analytical time blocks: the George W. Bush administration immediately post-9/11, the latter half of the Bush administration, and the Obama administration. For the first and third time blocks, we found that “othered” individuals were prosecuted significantly more frequently than “non-othered” individuals. These findings call into question the effect of presidential rhetoric and the national framing of terrorism on the legal prosecution of “othered” individuals.

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.


[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.

Gender, Jail, and Injustice: Gender Interaction Effects on Judicial Sentencing Rhetoric

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.

Gender, Jail, and Injustice: Gender Interaction Effects on Judicial Sentencing Rhetoric

Maddie Weaver & Alexandria Doty








The following report analyzes court documents that correspond with the Prosecution Project’s dataset as of mid-April 2019. There is a clear and statistically significant relationship between gender and sentence lengths, but there are no prevailing theories on the reasons behind this correlation. The purpose of this study was to find out why defendants that have similar backgrounds in all other coded variables still face different sentences, as decided by a judge through the federal sentencing guidelines. There is no written record of how a judge uses the guidelines or any other logic for that matter to show how they reach the sentence that they do. We wanted to find the patterns between how sentences are given and connect it with the rhetoric that judges use during sentencing hearings for both men and women. It was hypothesized that, when analyzing judge’s sentencing transcripts, there will be gender-based biases within the rhetoric.

The final sentencing hearing is focused on giving both the prosecuting witness(es) and the defendant a space to express the effects of the crime and the trial on their lives. Federal judges are elected or appointed to be impartial upholders of the law, but as shown by the creation of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, impartiality is something not commonly achieved. Thus, we believed that we would be most likely to find consistent rhetoric used by judges by utilizing sentencing hearings. Our study looked at the transcripts published from these hearings, as well as other documentation related to sentencing such as memorandums and judgements, in order to collect data of the lexicon and rhetoric used.

The hearing transcripts from 54 women within tPP database were analyzed and then compared to a comparable sample of men to look for major differences or patterns that were present. We analyzed these documents through AntConc, a corpus linguistic analysis software that allows us to look into patterns present in large selections of text and found many interesting patterns.

One interesting finding was through another software we used, R, that showed men’s memorandums being shockingly similar to women’s judgments when it came to the ratio of positive and negative words used throughout the document. Similarly, men’s judgments were very similar to women’s memorandums ratio of positive to negative words. While all had significantly more negative than positive words, the men’s judgments had the most positive to negative ratio, just exceeding the half and half point.

With more time and expertise of R and other sentiment analysis packages, this research could dive deeper into finding what these patterns describe. If bias is found with closer examination by more advanced sentiment analysis, judges could be trained and better understand their bias as well as the bias of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that could be leading men to receive disproportionally longer sentencing lengths. This could then be examined not only for gender but also inclusive of variables like race.

An Exploratory Dive into the Dark Network Links of Far-Right tPP Cases

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.

An Exploratory Dive into the Dark Network Links of Far-Right tPP Cases

Meg Drown

There has been a mass movement by far-right extremists to dark web social media platforms and the use of cryptocurrencies as a means to crowdsource. This move has largely been due to the initiatives of big tech companies to stymie the current of extremist content on their websites by removing users who express extremist views or are otherwise connected to extremist organizations. Many on the far-right have publicly renounced Facebook, Twitter, and other tech companies claiming that their actions to remove extremist content, especially that iterated from the far-right, infringes on Americans’ right to free speech [1].

Although there are detailed user agreements that place constraints on the content that is broadcast by users, prohibiting the kind of insulting and hateful speech that is often expressed by those on the far-right, leaders and organizers on the far-right have gained momentum by politicizing this phenomenon. However new sites have arisen to paradoxically give far-right extremists a “safe haven” to express their views. The creator of social media platform Gab, has told media outlets that the purpose of Gab was to create an online platform specifically for conservatives and the far-right, whom he believes have been treated unfairly by big tech. The site’s lackadaisical regulations on what would normatively be considered hate speech and its targeted advertising towards conservatives have combined to create the perfect storm, or what has been described as a “hate-filled echo chamber full of racism and conspiracy theories” [2].

Likewise, 8chan, an imageboard and offshoot of 4chan, is another well-known site that harbors extremist content. Purportedly, the manifesto released by 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, the man who murdered 50 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand was circulated via 8chan and fell into the hands of another impressionable extremist. John Earnest, a 19-year-old who has been indicted on 109 hate crime charges, carried out an attack on a synagogue in early May leaving one dead and three injured. According to a Vox article detailing the apparent perils of 8chan, Earnest was inspired to carry out the attack, in part, due to the radical ideology outlined in Tarrant’s manifesto [3].

Fintech has pursued similar action against extremist users. Mainstream digital fundraising sites such as PayPal and Amazon, have been proactively identifying and denying access to those users utilizing their sites to fundraise for nefarious purposes. Richard Spencer and prominent voices on the far-right reveled at the spectacularity of Bitcoin to fundraise for their unsettling online platforms. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are unique due to their peer-to-peer (P2P) transactional features. It is, in part, due to this feature that makes it easy to hide under the guise of anonymity while extorting money for various purposes [4]. Though the apparent anonymity benefits of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have been cited by law enforcement and those using Bitcoin as a means to fundraise as the defining feature of the platform, scholars have asserted that Bitcoin is one knock below anonymous. Rather, Bitcoin and many of its crypto counterparts are pseudonymous due to endpoint identification in straightforward transactions.

An ambition of many open-source intelligence analysts is to be able to identify and track the financial networks of far-right actors. Certainly, open-source intelligence analysts have been highly successful at identifying traditional transactional networks and, recently, crypto transactional networks. John Bambenek, an open-source intelligence researcher and professor of cybersecurity at the iSchool in Illinois, does just that [5]. Specifically, Bambenek tracks the donations received by white nationalist BTC wallets, the amount spent, and their balance, which he records in a daily wallet summary report via his Twitter account called Neonazi BTC Tracker (@NeonaziWallets) [6]. Bambenek also records whenever a withdrawal or a substantial donation is made to one of the white nationalist BTC wallets in a separate tweet. For all of the apparent anonymity benefits of using BTC, highly-skilled computer scientists are able to identify and track specific BTC wallets using mathematical algorithms and the fact that the BTC transaction log is public by design.

Keeping in mind tPP while researching the shift of far-right actors to cryptocurrencies and dark web platforms, it was an ambition of mine to be able to identify individuals who occur in tPP that exist in a crypto transactional network with some prominent members of the far-right that have rose to prominence in recent years, and have, in fact, gained traction in the Bitcoin and dark web realms. However, due to my limited capabilities in being able to identify users who send donations via Bitcoin to these prominent far-right actors and the sheer volume of transactions that occur between their accounts, I found it an improbable task to carry out in a limited amount of time.

However, I did find that individuals in tPP who are coded as Rightist: Identity-focused under the variable Ideological Affiliation, especially those occurring after the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 had maintained a presence on dark web forums and were, perhaps, inspired by extremist media purveyed on these forums. Wanting to delve deeper into the dark web links of individuals in tPP, I took an exploratory sample of those coded as Rightist: Identity-focused occuring after 12 August 2017. I created a link analysis which identified how various actors in the exploratory sample connected with one another.

To do so, I collected open-source data on the individuals via court documents, newspaper articles, and examination of dark web content that had been released online. Though the results were rather underwhelming – most individuals who were linked to one another were linked through organizational ties – I did find that several members of my exploratory sample had maintained ties with prominent far-right organizers, such as Richard Spencer and Eli Mosley, or others in tPP who had carried out high-profile attacks such as Dylann Roof and Robert Bowers. In fact, Bowers purportedly decried the prosecutions of various members of the Rise Above Movement (RAM), described as a “a Southern California-based racist fight club” [7], who appeared in the exploratory sample and had allegedly interchanged with the leader of RAM, Robert Rundo, via Gab.

Though the subject sample was small and the findings marginally supportive of a dark web network that exists between tPP individuals, my paper revealed that there are demonstrable links between actors on the right through dark web social media platforms such as Gab, Discord, and 8chan. Further studies can and should be carried out in order that we can better understand how individuals occurring in tPP interact and position themselves in the far-right movement through dark web participation.


[1] Kirkland, “Relegated To Fringe Platforms, White Nationalists Stuck In Own Echo Chamber”; “Big Tech, the Alt-Right and the Unknown Future of the Internet”; “Inside the Hate-Filled Echo Chamber of Racism and Conspiracy Theories | Media | The Guardian.”

[2] “Inside the Hate-Filled Echo Chamber of Racism and Conspiracy Theories | Media | The Guardian.”

[3] Stewart, “8chan, Explained.”

[4] Mabunda, “Cryptocurrency.”

[5] Matsakis, Koebler, and Pearson, “This Twitter Bot Tracks Neo-Nazi Bitcoin Transactions.”

[6] Tracker, “New Payment to Henrik Palmgren (Http://RedIce.Tv ): 0.00519921 BTC ($20.16) Https://Blockchain.Info/Tx/127b726aa6ad4c43d41b1b6783d1a71e05c27deeae7a393b44ced91a032948a7 … Total of Henrik Palmgren (Http://RedIce.Tv ) BTC Wallets: 0 BTC ($0).”

[7] “Rise Above Movement.”