Rhetoric of Terrorism

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

Future posts will focus on gender, religion, race and ethnicity, the role played by federal informants in sentencing, denaturalization as a response to terrorism,  deciphering the distinction between hate crimes and other forms of bias-motivated violence, and a host of other topics. Stay tuned!

This week, I researched the 2016 Malheur Wildlife Refuge Occupation outside Burns, Oregon. A large group of armed militants took control over the federally-owned land through intimidation and threats, and preceded to occupy the refuge for over a month (Levin, 2016). Though the occupiers did not injure or kill anyone, this was not a victimless crime; federal employees at the refuge were unable to do their jobs for a month, local schools were shut down for a week, and the expansive police response cost Oregonian taxpayers a conservative estimate of $3 million (Levin, 2016).

I read twenty-two news articles and two court documents while researching this case; not once was the word “terrorist” used to describe the occupiers. 

The FBI defines a “federal crime of terrorism” as “an offense that is: (i) calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion or to retaliate against government conduct; and (ii) is a violation of federal statute” (Federal, 2008). The Malheur occupiers inhibited the federal government’s ability to operate at the refuge for over a month through armed intimidation, which constitutes as terrorism according to the FBI’s definition. So why were the occupiers never described as terrorists?

I do not have a conclusive answer, but I suspect the word “terrorist” was never used because all but one of the twenty-six arrested occupiers were white, Christian, American-born citizens. They were anti-government ideologues, not “jihadists”. The perpetrators were described as “activists,” “occupiers,” and “militiamen” throughout the articles surveyed while researching the case. None of these words really evoke  the sense of fear and havoc that the occupiers instilled in the Burns, Oregon community. None of these words reflect the fact that the occupation falls under the FBI’s definition of a federal crime of terrorism.

The tempered rhetoric used to describe the Malheur occupiers reflects a phenomenon I have come across during my research where white, anti-government perpetrators are rarely described as terrorists. They are portrayed in the media as patriots who love their country, but fear their government. At worst, they are characterized as erratic, mentally unstable gun-lovers. But rarely terrorists.

My involvement with the Prosecution Project has taught me that language and rhetoric have the power to shape how our team and the public understand terrorism and political violence. Rhetoric shapes cultural attitudes, and cultural attitudes shape can sometimes shape how crimes of political violence are charged and sentenced. I worry that if we use terms like “activist” and “lone wolf” to describe violent perpetrators who terrorize Americans and try to hold the American government hostage, sentencings for crimes like the Malheur occupation will be reduced and the rule of law will become diluted.

As I move forward with the project, I hope to move beyond anecdotal evidence and use statistical analysis to better understand the correlation between ideology, race, religion, and sentencing outcomes.

– Nikki Gundimeda

Works Cited

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2008, December 16). Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. Retrieved from  https://vault.fbi.gov/FBI%20Domestic%20Investigations%20and%20Operations%20Guide%20%28DIOG%29/fbi-domestic-investigations-and-operations-guide-diog-2013-version/FBI%20Domestic%20Investigations%20and%20Operations%20Guide%20%28DIOG%29%202013%20Version%20Part%2001%20of%2001/at_download/file

Levin, S. (2016, February 24). How much did the Oregon standoff cost taxpayers? Millions, says early estimates. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/feb/24/oregon-militia-standoff-cost-more-than-3-million-taxpayer-fbi

Greetings from tPP!

Beginning today, tPP will feature weekly blog posts from our student research team on a variety of topics. Stay tuned!

Greetings from tPP!

Hello, and welcome to the first blog update of the semester. We’ve only met once thus far as a class; we have one three-hour class every Thursday afternoon as well as an optional two-hour meeting on Tuesday for those who are available. The class period Thursday demonstrated how helpful having a full class period together is going to be. With just this first meeting, we were able to clear the air of a summers’ worth of housekeeping and establish the plan for the completion of coding all available cases.

We’re currently in the home stretch of coding these final cases before we begin analyzing the current data. Before tomorrow, the goal is to have added every person who qualifies into the database. This includes new cases that have made the news this summer as well as older cases we have found by combing through lists of people charged with terrorism. We understand that it is impossible to be fully comprehensive, but are hoping to get as large of a data set as possible before we start to pick apart patterns in the data.

While the final search for new cases is being completed, the majority of the team has been focusing on coding the rest of the database, both new cases and the case backlog. Much of this process is the standard coding procedure – each case is coded by two people, who then compare their results before entering it in the database as complete. Some cases are missing a few variables or awaiting charges and sentencing, while others need to be reviewed before being entered as a case that falls within our parameters.

A small group met Tuesday in order to work out some of the kinks in cases that have been up for debate in order to finalize the data available. The decision was made to hold cases to a stricter rather than a more lenient standard; if the case is in a grey area, we will be more willing to exclude it than include it. This was chosen so that our data and results truly represents what we say it does.

Wish us luck as we plow the final stretch of coding!


Slow steps forward with Twitter

Yesterday, the Prosecution Project took a bold step forward, dipping its foot ever-so-slightly into the world of social media. We now present to you our Twitter feed!

While I must admit that we’re not quite sure the function of this feed for the project, but allow me to propse two ways in which Twitter can serve to advance our work:

  1. By using Twitter, we can more easily share the progress of the project, our challenges, analysis and findings as they emerge.
  2. We can act more transparently about the sorts of cases we’re adding, and the universe of incidents and individuals which makes up our dataset.
  3. By curating a feed of governmental agencies, reporting bodies, academic and non-governmental institutions and individual scholars, we can help our team of researchers more easily locate cases. When we find cases to be added to the dataset, we’ll reTweet them!
  4. We can receive information from the wider Terrorism Studies community! We welcome anyone who hears of an arrest, prosecution, sentencing, pleas or other legal proceeding of a felony incident of political violence occurring in the US to Tweet @prosecutionthe and share with us. When we receive Tweets, we’ll run them through our decision tree, and if they fit, add them to the dataset. We have designed tPP from the beginning to be a resource to the wider community and are committed to publicizing the dataset as a free, open source knowledge bank when it is able to be shared.

If you have ideas for how we can best use this tool, drop us a line!

Featured image orrowed from: https://techxerl.net/twitter-has-vanished-125000-accounts-of-isis-to-fight-against-terrorism/

Building tPP

Hello from tPP! This blog will serve as a basis to report on the progress of our coding, analysis and reporting as we continue to study the way in which acts of political violence are prosecuted in the United States since 1990.

Beginning in September 2018, we will post weekly updates for the project. Teams of researchers will have the opportunity to share insights gained in our analysis of the data set, discuss challenges in growing the selection of cases, and provide an opportunity for experts in the field of Terrorism Studies, Security Studies, Public Policy and Law to send feedback and questions.

If you are a member of the Miami University community and you would like to find out more about the project or become involved, please send an email to Dr. Michael Loadenthal, the project’s director, and he will be in touch with you. Miami students may have the opportunity to join the team. If this interests you, please complete the application here, and we will be in touch.

In the mean time, you can learn about the project, learn about our growing team, see some of the datasets we’re including in our analysis, explore how terrorism is defined and how it is prosecuted, examine other meta-analyses of terrorism, review a growing listing of resources for studying terrorism, or suggest a case for inclusion in the dataset!