Upcoming tPP Publication

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

In the 2019 “Emergent Voices” edition of the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism, myself and Athena Chapekis (two student researchers for tPP) will have our work featured using the Prosecution Project (tPP) database. Our article, entitled “The prosecution of others: Presidential rhetoric and the interrelation of framing, legal prosecutions, and the Global War on Terror”, investigates the link between presidential rhetoric and the framing of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) in connection to the prosecution of “othered” and “non-othered” individuals.

“Othered”, in this context, refers specifically to individuals who are or appear to be Muslim, Arab/Middle Eastern, and/or foreign-born. We hypothesized the United States government will prosecute, charge, and sentence “othered” individuals more harshly than “non-othered” individuals and that this discrepancy in prosecution would be directly impacted by the framing of the GWOT by the United States’ presidential administrations.

In order to test this claim, we first created time blocks based on significant periods in the presidential administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama following 9/11. The first time block constituted immediate events in the five months following the 9/11 attacks (9/11/2001 – 02/08/2002). The events included the “Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists” (AUMF) joint resolution (Congress 2001); the passage of the PATRIOT Act (Department of Justice 2001); and the authorization of military force in Afghanistan (Congress 2001). Notably, this block also saw the creation of the phrase “GWOT” as well as an increase in “othering” verbal rhetoric by George W. Bush (Hodges 2011). The second time block documented the remainder of the Bush administration (02/08/2002 – 01/20/2009). Events included the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 (“The Iraq War” n.d.) and the economic sanctions against Syria (BBC News 2018). Most of the presidential rhetoric in this time block was based less on verbal statements of “othering” and more on military action within the Middle East. The third time block examined the Obama administration (01/20/2009 – 12/31/2016). This time block included events such as the withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2009 (Jaffe 2016); military initiatives in Syria (Obama 2013); and the establishment of the Islamic State’s Caliphate (Wilson Center 2016; BBC News 2018). Notably, Obama explicitly refrained from the use of “othering” language, but utilized military action in the Middle East. The actions of the presidential administrations served to strengthen the association of terrorism as a phenomenon inherent to Muslim, Arab/Middle Eastern, and/or foreign-born individuals through verbal statements, military action, and/or divisive administrative policies.

In order to test how these shifts in presidential rhetoric affected the prosecution and sentencing of “othered” versus “non-othered” individuals, we utilized the tPP dataset. We consolidated the codes of “Religion: Muslim”, “Ethnicity: Arab/Persian/Kurdish/Bedouin”, and “Citizenship: Non-United States Citizen” (specifically from a Middle Eastern country) to create a new code “ ‘Othered’ status”. If an individual fell into one or more of the above categories, then they were coded as “othered”. Using the date range described in the time blocks, we created a sub-dataset from 09/11/2001 to 12/31/2016 that included 520 double verified cases. We compared differences in “othered” and “non-othered” prosecutions in the three time blocks across the following variables of interest: length of sentencing, life sentence status, and number of people killed and injured by the crime.

Our original prediction that “othered” individuals would receive longer jail sentences than “non-othered” individuals was not supported by our findings. This can still be attributed, however, to the “othering” rhetoric of the Bush administration immediately post-9/11. According to the tPP dataset, the majority of these prosecutions were non-violent crimes, mostly immigration violations that resulted in deportation. These prosecutions corresponded to “terror sweeps” that occurred post-9/11, in which Arab/Middle Eastern and/or Muslim individuals in the United States were targeted by the government as “possible accomplices” to the 9/11 attacks (Akram and Karmely 2004). Almost all of the over 1,200 individuals taken into custody were found to have no ties to foreign terrorist organizations, and were either released free of charge or charged with felony immigration violations.

Interestingly, we did find that the prosecution of “othered” individuals significantly differed from “non-othered” individuals immediately after 9/11 and during the Obama years.

While we previously discussed how Bush’s rhetoric led to the “terror sweeps” post-9/11, there is less evidence to suggest a direct relationship between the maintenance of “othering” rhetoric in the latter Bush years and an increase in “othered” prosecution rates, as “othered” and “non-othered” individuals were prosecuted at similar rates. Moreover, Obama’s lack of othering rhetoric in speech did not correspond to a reduction of “othered” prosecutions; in fact, “othered” prosecutions not only increased, but increased differentially as compared to “non-othered” individuals. Further research may be needed to investigate the effects of direct speech as rhetoric versus indirect action as rhetoric in the legal prosecution of “othered” individuals.


Sarah Moore is a senior team member of the Prosecution Project and a former intern at Only Through US.


Akram, Susan M., and Karmely, Maritza. 2004. “Immigration and Constitutional Consequences of Post-9/11 Policies Involving Arabs and Muslims in the United States: Is Alienage a Distinction without a Difference?” U.C. Davis Law Review 38, no. 3: 609-700

BBC News. 2018. “Syria Profile,” April 24, 2018, sec. Middle East. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14703995.

Congress. 2001. Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists. https://www.congress.gov/107/plaws/publ40/PLAW-107publ40.pdf.

Department of Justice. 2001. “The USA PATRIOT Act: Preserving Life and Liberty,” October, 4. https://www.justice.gov/archive/ll/what_is_the_patriot_act.pdf

Hodges, Adam. 2011. The “War on Terror” Narrative: Discourse and Intertextuality in the Construction and Contestation of Sociopolitical Reality. New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

Jaffe, Greg. n.d. “‘Tell Me How This Ends’: Obama’s Struggle with the Hard Questions of War.” Washington Post. Accessed April 24, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/obama-legacy/ending-war-in-iraq.html.

“The Iraq War.” n.d. Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed April 29, 2018. https://www.cfr.org/timeline/iraq-war.

“Timeline: The Rise, Spread and Fall of the Islamic State.” 2016. Wilson Center. July 5, 2016. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/timeline-the-rise-spread-and-fall-the-islamic-state.

The fine line between informants and instigators: a look into entrapment in terrorism cases

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

Getting involved in the Prosecution Project has been an incredible learning experience in research, data analysis, critical problem solving and decision making skills. During my research, I’ve become more and more fascinated in the cases where accused terrorists believed themselves to be part of a movement, or even worse, were forcibly taken from their daily lives and imprisoned, at the urging and manipulation of law enforcement officers. The federal government has been involved in elaborate schemes designed to “catch” would-be terrorists or spotlighting activities that would appear harmless if done by what America would consider to be an “average American citizen”. I’m intrigued by the how the Federal Bureau of Investigation chooses to use informants, how often entrapment really occurs in terrorism cases, and what the implications are going forward.

According to Wadie E. Said’s article, The Terrorist Informant, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is bound by certain conditions and practices regarding informants before the authorization of undercover investigations is possible. One of the main factors that must be considered is whether the target has any predisposition to commit a crime. Federal agents have the task of deciding the likelihood of criminal behavior to occur, a task that should be approached as objectively as possible. Unfortunately, human nature favors prejudice by instilling us with personal biases. The stigma surrounding Arabs and Muslims since September 2001 has resulted in increased FBI prevention efforts and controversial tactics intended to catch terrorists before attacks occur. Specifically, Said mentions the placing of undercover agents and surveillance of mosques. This tactic seems wildly outlandish given the seriousness with which we take our first amendment rights of free expression and religion. Yet the practice still occurs, creating room for the implication that the federal government believes there to be a strong connection between the islamic faith and international terrorism. The entrapment doctrine is in place to lead federal agents away from seeing terroristic activity or intent where there is none. The point of the doctrine is to focus on the conduct of law enforcement rather than only the acts of the suspect. According to Said, an entrapment defense has never been successful in exonerating a terrorism suspect in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Since September 2001, informants have played a fairly significant role in terrorism prosecutions. Many of the cases in tPP’s dataset involve the use of informants in gathering intelligence and providing incriminating evidence of suspects. My main concern is how many of these accused terrorists were either coerced into participation or had motives and intentions forced upon them. This, of course, may be an impossible task since there is no reasonable way of knowing the absolute truth. However, scholars Jesse J. Norris and Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk published a journal article in 2016 titled Estimating the Prevalence of Entrapment in Post-9/11 Terrorism Cases that provides extensive research and data analysis on the subject. In their studies on specific cases, they admit that the involvement of informants obviously muddies up the scope of involvement and the seriousness of potential terror plots. From their conclusions, it appears that a majority amount of defendants they analyzed were unlikely to have been involved in true terrorism in the legal definition. Given the volume of terrorism prosecutions since 9/11, the implications of this result could be serious for numerous imprisoned individuals. Norris and Grol-Prokopczyk acknowledge the limitations of their study in that it’s impossible to say who would or would not have eventually committed crimes without the push of an informant. That may be the most concerning part, if we are unable to discern the truth from the all the mud, how can we prevent entrapment?

– Katie Reilly


NORRIS, J. J., & GROL-PROKOPCZYK, H. (2016). Estimating the Prevalence of Entrapment in Post-9/11 Terrorism Cases. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 105(3), 609–677.

Said, W. E. (2010). The Terrorist Informant. Washington Law Review, 85(4), 687–738.

On tPP’s Decision Tree

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

Before a case can be added to our dataset it must pass a certain set of criteria, called the decision tree. There are five questions that we ask about each case when deciding if it is relevant to our project. The answer must be yes to the first three questions, and it must be yes for one of the last two for the case to be included.

        First, did the indictment for the case occur during our date range (1/1/1990 – present)? If it occurred prior to 1990 it is excluded. However, if the attack or incident occurred prior to 1990 but the indictment wasn’t issued until 1990 or later, the case can be included.

        Second, did the case end with charges filed in the United States? Our analysis is primarily interested in the prosecution of political violence, so this step in the decision tree is a very important part of which cases are included. It is responsible for the exclusion of the largest domestic terrorist attack in history, 9/11. Since all of the attackers died, there were never charges filed against them, and they are excluded. Another example is the Tsarnaev brothers who detonated bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appears in our database, but his brother, Tamerlan, was killed in a shootout with law enforcement (Boston, 2014). He is excluded. This criterion also excludes any incident which may have been claimed by an extremist group, but a perpetrator was never caught and charged. This applies to many attacks in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s that were claimed by the Earth Liberation Front or Animal Liberation Front but no charges were ever filed. On the other hand, a person may be included even if they never went to trial as long as they were charged. Benjamin Matthew Williams is an example of this. He and his brother, James Tyler Williams, were charged for murdering a couple because they were gay, but Benjamin committed suicide in jail before being sentenced. He is included in the dataset.

        Third, did the charges include at least one felony? Cases of political violence that result only in misdemeanor charges will be excluded. For example, the ELF is often known to use destruction of property and vandalism to further their political agenda. Depending on the extent of the damage, this may result only in misdemeanor charges. These cases are excluded from the database.

        The next two questions work together to determine why the case is being classified as terrorism. There are two ways in which a case can fit our definition. First, was the crime in furtherance of terrorism, extremism, or political violence? If yes, the case is included. This can be anything with a clear socio-political motive or something to aid a designated foreign terrorist organization. For example, arson attacks on abortion clinics are included due to an obvious political motive. Financial crimes with the intent of providing material support to a terrorist organization are also considered to be in furtherance of terrorism. One gray area when it comes to this question is how to separate the person from the crime. On April 22, 2018, Travis Reinking entered a Waffle House with an AR-15 and killed two people. Prior to this incident, he had breached security at the White House demanding to speak to the President and was claiming sovereign citizenship. While the FBI does consider sovereign citizens to be extremists, his actions at the Waffle House did not appear to be motivated by that identity. He has since been found unfit to stand trial and is in a mental hospital (Waffle House, 2018).  Because of this, the incident is excluded.

        If the crime in question does not have a clear socio-political agenda, it may still be included if it is designated as terroristic or extremist by any official state speech outlet. This includes, but is not limited to, reports from the Department of Justice or FBI, congressional testimony, and investigations by the Joint Terrorism Task Force. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the government arrested many immigrants from the Middle East on immigration violation charges. All of these incidents are listed as terrorism by various forms of state speech even though they are not politically motivated.

        Many cases in our dataset fall into both of the last two categories; they have a clear political motive and are designated as terrorism by state speech. Some of the most interesting cases to analyze will be cases that are included for only one of those reasons. The questions we will then have to ask are, if there is an obvious socio-political motive, why doesn’t the government classify it as terrorism? Conversely, if there is no obvious socio-political motive, why does the government call it terrorism? It will be important to investigate these questions as we move through our analysis.

-Lauren Donahoe


Boston Marathon Bombing. (2014, March 28). Retrieved October 3, 2018, from https://www.history.com/topics/21st-century/boston-marathon-bombings

Waffle House shooting suspect not fit to stand trial, ordered to mental facility. (2018, August 22). Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/waffle-house-shooting-suspect-not-fit-stand-trial-ordered-mental-n903006

Are hate crimes terrorism?

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

The Terrorism Prosecution Project has been, from the beginning, dedicated to including all crimes with a political agenda, even if the government does not label them as terroristic. We feel that this is necessary to get a full picture of politically motivated crimes, given that whether a crime is called terroristic seems to depend on the characteristics of the attacker, rather than whether their motives were political.

This decision means that we have spent a great deal of effort determining the sort of cases to include in our dataset. One of these discussions has centered around whether to include hate crimes. The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” Naming a criminal offense a hate crime has the practical consequence of adding an enhancement to the charges faced by the perpetrator. This usually means a longer sentence if convicted. The reasoning for this longer sentence is that a crime motivated by bias against a group targets not just the individual who is the direct victim of the attack. It terrorizes the entire community of people like them.

A similar logic comes into play with terrorism. Legal definitions of terrorism require not just that a crime is dangerous to human life. It also must “appear to be intended— (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping” (this text is found in the definitions of both domestic or international terrorism in 18 U.S. Code § 2331). Offenses deemed terroristic are treated with more gravity than those which are not, because they are intended to affect not just the direct target (e.g. the person kidnapped or the building bombed), but a wider audience (e.g. the general public, a specific group, or a government).

Let’s consider an example. In October 1994, cousins Ricky Rivera Mungia, Eli Trevino Mungia, and Roy Ray Martin shot three black men in Lubbock, Texas, killing one. They were attempting to start a race war. Due to the group’s use of racial slurs and the testimony of a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, the men were convicted for the killings, with a hate crime enhancement. We have not been able to locate official government speech referring to this incident as terrorism. Why not? Does this not “appear to be intended… to intimidate or coerce a civilian population”?

The TPP team believes this incident has clear socio-political aims, and thus has included it in our dataset, even though the US government does not label it as terrorism. It will be interesting to see what quantitative analysis of our dataset will reveal about which crimes designated hate crimes are also called terroristic.

Note: as is the case with terroristic crimes, not every crime that appears to meet the definition of a hate crime is actually prosecuted as a hate crime, or called a hate crime in government speech. See this article for a more in-depth discussion of the practical reasons the government calls some crimes terrorism or hate crimes, and others not.

– Taylor

Mental Illness and Terrorism

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

In the United States today, the rise of mass shootings committed by a single individual continues to be a perplexing and worrying issue. In attempts to discover the motivation of the criminal and cope through the injustice, social media and news sources are largely inclined to respond and instill the label on a criminal as either terrorist or mentally ill. The dichotomy between whether there is a difference between either is complex, but essential to question if we ever want to understand and eventually help stop those who commit at large crimes such as the ones of the past years. If in fact what is causing this growing trend a mislabeling, there needs to be change to solve the issue of inborn prejudice against certain groups to properly address whether mental illness is at the root.

Terrorism is described by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as the “unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” (fbi.gov) In an article on Lawyer Monthly, the question of whether criminals who commit mass murders should be addressed as “mentally unwell” rather than terrorists is raised as a tough topic because of how little is still done in helping those with genuine mental illnesses. They acknowledge those who claim mental illness is a bad excuse for what these members of society do to their environment, but without an understanding of how to separate both terms, treatment or proper explanation will never be reached.

Mary Prior QC, a jury advocate, speaks on the stigmatization of mental health and its ignorance when it comes to the skin color of those initially suspected as terrorists. Las Vegas gunman, Stephen Paddock, will never give an explanation as to why he carried out one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern US history because of his death right after his actions. However, even with the little evidence as to what set off his violent behavior, mass media and political officials such as Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo used “psychopath” and “sick man” to describe his actions. She explains, “Had he been black, that label would have been “gang violence” or “urban decay”. Had he been brown that label would have been “terrorist ties.” As he was white, the label was “lone wolf.” (Prior, 2017)

NPR host Rachel Martin highlights this with guest speaker Shankar Vedantam. Their conversation shows new social psychology research conducted by Azim Shariff explaining the tendency to address mass shooters as either labeled terrorists or mentally ill; it is found, more often than not, not all these terms are reached for similarly in each case. This can be supported in the attack by Omar Mateen. His shooting in Orlando would have been labeled as “unstable lone wolf” if his profile were not drowned with the fact that he shouted Islamic State allegiance before opening fire at a gay and Latino nightclub. Vedantam addresses this “lone wolf” title would not be given to someone who’s pictures released were of a clearly ethnic man, and equally if he were to claim other religious beliefs. “For people high in anti-Muslim prejudice, people are very unlikely to perceive the Muslim shooter to be mentally ill. But people are completely comfortable in saying that the Christian shooter was mentally ill.” News outlets did not claim Mateen as a “psychopath” or “sick,” they instead used terrorist and didn’t question his mental competency as they did for Paddock (Barry, Kovaleski, Blinder, Mashal, 2016).

This topic is dense and a large question that might not be answerable. Still, I look forward to looking further into the use of terminology and analyzing the effects it has on what terrorism is considered to be in the United States. If the explanation of mass shootings is an increase in overlooked mental illnesses, inherited prejudice against groups might not be the best way to find solutions to these horrific acts.

– Brenda Uriona

Work Cited

Barry, D., Kovaleski, S. F., Blinder, A., Mashal M. (2016, June 18). ‘Always Agitated. Always Mad’: Omar Mateen, According to Those Who Knew Him. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/19/us/omar-mateen-gunman-orlando-shooting.html?_r=0

fbi.gov. (2018). Terrorism. Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/terrorism

Lawyer Monthly. (2017, December 18). Terrorism Vs. Mentally Ill: Are The Mentally Unfit Prosecuted Fairly? Retrieved from https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2017/11/terrorism-vs-mentally-ill-are-the-mentally-unfit-prosecuted-fairly/

Vedantam, Shankar. (2017, October 5). Classifying Attacks: Mental Illness Or Terrorism? Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2017/10/05/555796306/classifying-attacks-mental-illness-or-terrorism

Insight into tPP’s Coding Process through Case Study: Dylann Roof

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

Equally important to the research the Prosecution Project (tPP) yields is the process by which our researchers input cases to the database to ensure the reliability and validity of tPP’s findings. Student members of tPP code for a total of 40 variables per case in addition to other descriptive information such as the specific charges, a narrative of the case, and so on. These variables account for information such as defendant demographics, circumstances of the crime, court results, and more. For better transparency and to promote a better understanding of tPP’s methods, this weeks blog update breaks down the coding process of these 40 variable each case undergoes twice, with two researchers individually coding then comparing their results for accuracy.

To best elucidate this process, take the example of the 2015 Charleston church shooting. Dylann Roof was convicted of 33 counts of federal hate crimes for the murders of nine African American churchgoers and the injuring of another, and after a brief manhunt, was arrested the next morning (DOJ, 2017).

The first variable tPP codes for is the date, which may be of the crime or arrest for older cases with fewer digital records, however tPP’s preference is for the date of the most recent indictment. So for Roof’s case, the date is coded as 06/22/2015, when the federal grand jury returned an indictment, and the second variable, date descriptor, is marked as ‘indictment’ (DOJ, 2015). The next four variables consist of the defendant’s full name, and then separately their first name, family name, and any aliases in order to make searching for defendants in the database easier and to prevent any duplication of cases under aliases. Roof’s full name is Dylan Storm Roof, with no known aliases. Next is co-defendant; given Roof acted alone, this is simply coded as ‘no’.

Next is the reason for inclusion. One or more of ‘obvious socio-political aims’, ‘serves to support organized political violence’, or ‘state speech act’ must be cited. For more information on the inclusion process, see Taylor Maddox’s update , but for these purposes, Roof’s case is coded as having obvious socio-political aims due to the racial motivation of the murders and self expressed desire to start a race war, but lacks any state speech describing it as terroristic or any affiliation to organized violence (DOJ, 2015).

The next set of variables cover the name of the court case, jurisdiction, and the country, city, and state in which the attack took place. While Roof faced both federal and state charges, these are individually coded, so Roof appears twice in tPP’s database, once per indictment. Focusing on the federal charges in this example, these are ‘United States of America v. Dylann Storm Roof’, ‘Federal’, ‘United States’, ‘Charleston’, and ‘South Carolina’.

The next variables concern the target of the attack. ‘People versus property’ describes the intended target, which may be either of these, both (e.g. the September 11th attacks), have no direct target (e.g. charges of providing material or financial support to terrorist organizations), or be unknown or undeveloped (e.g. defendants stopped early by law enforcement). Roof’s target is coded as ‘people’. Next, ‘target: what?’ describes the physical site of attack, and ‘target: why?’ describes the motivation. For Roof, these are ‘religious site’ because the shooting took place in a church, and ‘racial’.

Three variables tPP codes for describe the defendant’s relevant affiliations. ‘Ideological affiliation’ includes such options as jihadist, various national separatist movements, and numerous rightist and leftist ideologies. ‘Affiliation with a Foreign Terrorist Organization’ refers to association with organizations specifically designated by the U.S. State Department, and is answered simply yes or no. Finally, ‘group affiliation’ specifies the FTO or domestic organization the defendant may belong to. In this case, Dylann Roof is coded as ‘white supremacist/neo-Nazi’, has no FTO affiliation, is coded as having ‘no affiliation’ with any group.

‘Previous similar crime’ is used to denote defendants with past convictions. “Similar” in this sense may mean, though is not limited to, a past crime utilizing the same of the next two variables: tactic, which is the method of the crime, and tactic group, which is simply more broad and allows for wider categorization of incidents. It could also be a similar ideological motivation, target, etc. Roof’s tactic was ‘shooting’, making the tactic group ‘firearms’. He had no previous conviction for a similar crime. Continuing with variables describing the attack itself , there is number killed, which was nine, and number injured, which was one (DOJ, 2015).

The next variables concern the court proceedings: court decision (often the jury verdict, or denotes a plea bargain or dropped charges), length of jail sentence, life sentence, death sentence, additional sentencing, and plea. Length of jail sentence is simply the number of months sentenced, and life and death sentences are usually coded as either 0 for none or 1 if applicable but may increase to reflect multiple life or death sentences. Roof, facing the death penalty, plead not guilty in his federal case, making the plea variable ‘not guilty’ (CBS, 2015). The court decision however is ‘guilty’ due to the jury’s verdict, and while both length of jail sentence and life sentence are 0, death sentence is coded as 1 (DOJ, 2017). The additional sentencing variable covers such factors as supervised release or various enhancements, such as the hate crime addition in Roof’s case.

The Prosecution Project also codes for if the particular case involved an informant (e.g. FBI confidential human sources) or not , and if the attack was ‘carried through or stopped’, and if applicable, stopped by whom. Roof’s case involved no informant, and is coded as carried through due to his apparent success in killing a number of people, only being arrested the next day.

Finally, eight variables code for the defendant’s demographic information. Most straightforward are age and sex at the time of the offense, which for Roof are 21 and male. His ethnic group is coded as white/caucasian, and his religion as Christian. Roof’s citizenship is coded as American born citizen. Veteran status seeks to account for either civilian or military history and type of discharge or current service status at the time of the offense. More specifically the next variable, combat veteran status, is coded as either yes or no depending on if the defendant has been deployed to a combat zone. Dylann Roof is coded as ‘civilian’ for the former and with ‘no’ under the latter.

Lastly and slightly more complicated is the demographic variable ‘Other status’, which very simply put seeks to categorize the defendant as someone a typical jury would see as ‘American’ or not, which can be influenced by their name, ethnicity, citizenship, and religion. For more information on tPP’s use of Othering, see Athena Chapekis’ blog post. Given his demographic information, Roof is coded as non-othered.

Finally, having all of these variables coded for and having both researchers in agreement on each, the resources this information was drawn from are added to the dropbox and Dylann Roof’s case is ready for analysis!

– Kayla Groneck


Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of South Carolina. (2017, January 10). Federal Jury Sentences Dylann Storm Roof to Death [Press release]. Retrieved September 24, 2018, from https://www.justice.gov/usao-sc/pr/federal-jury-sentences-dylann-storm-roof-death

Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs. (2015, July 22). Attorney General Lynch Statement Following the Federal Grand Jury Indictment Against Dylann Storm Roof [Press release]. Retrieved September 24, 2018, from https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/attorney-general-lynch-statement-following-federal-grand-jury-indictment-against-dylann-storm

CBS. (2015, July 31). Not guilty plea in federal court for accused Charleston shooter. Retrieved September 24, 2018, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/charleston-church-shooting-suspect-dylann-roof-not-guilty-plea/

Policy Spotlight

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

On September 18, 2018, the State Department released its new ceiling of 30,000 refugee admissions for the upcoming fiscal year (Malley & Pomper, 2018). This is the lowest level in the history of the 40-year old refugee resettlement agency, with the average acceptance rate at around 80,000. While the Trump administration did not directly cite national security concerns as a reason for the reduced ceiling, the new refugee admission policy is merely another reiteration of a nearly two-decades long trend in which immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers were denied entry to the United States, many on the basis of national security.

Prior to 2001, it appears that the issues of immigration and national security were unlinked. Major domestic terrorist attacks such as the World Trade Center Bombings in 1993 and the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 led to changes in the internal organization of domestic intelligence agencies, passage of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (A.E.D.P.A.), and passage of the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995 to outlaw fundraising for Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs). Interestingly, prior to the attacks of 9/11, no Congressional push for decreased immigration or refugee admissions cited a major terror attack as a basis for the bill. In fact, following the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam U.S. Embassy Bombings in 1998, President Clinton signed a budget bill that supported pro-immigration measures, such as allowing 50,000 Haitian refugees to stay in the country and increasing the number of visas granted to foreign professionals (Ojito, 1998).

Following the terror attacks on September 1st, 2001, an implicit connection seems to be made between national security concerns and immigration/refugee admissions. This makes logical sense as the 9/11 hijackers did enter the United States using various types of visas (Friedman, 2017). However, following the changes to security protocols in the wake of the attack, only one individual out of all domestic jihadist attackers would have needed a visa to enter the United States at the time of their attack (Peçanha & Lai, 2015). Additionally, the New York Times released a report in 2015 stating that the threat of foreign terrorists coming through the refugee program was lower than even the risks of routine travel (Peçanha & Lai, 2015). The movement away from foreign terrorists (meaning individuals who are not born in the U.S. or naturalized citizens) and towards domestically radicalized individuals is in direct contrast to an increase in the number of Congressional bills seeking to limit refugee and immigration admissions while citing specific domestic terrorist attacks, such as the call for halts on Syrian refugees following the San Bernardino Attack of 2015 and the Pulse Nightclub Attack of 2016 (Peçanha & Lai, 2015). Additionally, executive orders like President Trump’s travel ban, unveiled in 2017, aimed to reduce immigration and refugee admissions from countries that were believed to pose a threat to national security and/or that were affiliated with terrorist activity.

While research examining the relationship between immigration/refugee policies and national security concerns has been conducted by institutions such as New America, the Atlantic, and Only Through US (Bergen, Ford, Sims, & Sterman, n.d.; Friedman, 2017), the Prosecution Project can help to shed light on this issue by examining domestic terrorism across all ideologies. The majority of these reports exclusively focus on jihadist terrorism in the wake of 9/11, without comprehensively including threats from other ideologies and organizations, such as right wing extremists, white supremacists, and eco-terrorists. If the goal of national-security-related policies is to prevent further attacks on American soil, research to support these policies must examine all manners of domestic threats. Furthermore, research of this kind can help determine whether the connection between national security and immigration/refugee policy is still relevant at this moment in time.


Sarah Moore is a senior team member of the Prosecution Project and a former intern at Only Through US.  


Friedman, U. (2017, January 30). Where America’s Terrorists Actually Come From. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/01/trump-immigration-ban-terrorism/514361/

Malley, R., & Pomper, S. (2018, September 18). Trump’s Refugee Fiasco. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/09/18/trumps-refugees-announcement-220063

Ojito, M. (1998, November 1). THE 1998 CAMPAIGN: IMMIGRANTS; Once Divisive, Immigration Now a Muted Issue. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1998/11/01/us/the-1998-campaign-immigrants-once-divisive-immigration-now-a-muted-issue.html

Peçanha, S., & Lai, K. K. R. (2015, November 25). The Origins of Jihadist-Inspired Attackers in the U.S. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/11/25/us/us-muslim-extremists-terrorist-attacks.html

Another update from tPP!

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

Last week we had another busy meeting in order to get all of our ducks in a row before we delve into analysis. We addressed some issues with coding, discussed ways to publicize our efforts, and talked about things that we as individuals can focus on within the data.

One thing we spent a large chunk of time on was addressing some issues that have come to light concerning the coding variables – both the variables themselves and the options (i.e. coding values). For one, as the project has gone on the variables that we are coding have changed; some have been added while others have been adjusted for the values that we’ve found. This has caused a discrepancy in how cases are being coded. Some of the older cases that were coded and verified at the beginning of the project are now missing variables, such as the “other” variable (see Athena’s blog post)! These cases in the database as complete, when they are in fact currently missing information.

Similarly, there was a slight lack of communication amongst the team throughout the coding process causing other variables to remain uncoded or incorrectly coded. “Charges,” for example, proved too difficult to fit into a pre-set list of options, so it was decided that instead the exact charges for each case should be copied into the database.

This same challenges with team-wide communication also lead into the discussion that was held on the variable “other.” The “other” variable was added later on in the project, so it was a two-faced problem. Part one, a good portion of cases simply never were coded for the variable. Part two, there was a less-than-clear definition of what “other” meant when it was introduced.

We attempted to address this as a team and ran into the issue that calling someone an “other” is inherently something that is different person to person. The original idea was to capture the mindset of your typical American jury, but we had trouble even coming to a consensus on what that looked like. As a team, we also struggled with the ethics of trying to take a subjective determination such as “other” and turn it into a variable. After all, who are we to decide what someone who doesn’t fit in looks like? We spent a good portion of the class debating what the function of the variable is, and to what extent we could make assumptions about other people’s mindsets when coding. If we as a team can’t find a middle ground on how to code for “other,” then why are we trying to? And with the number of assumptions that we are making in order to code for the variable, is it even worth coding for? In the end, we decided that it does have merit to help see generalized data trends, but it was a long discussion that led us there.

To wrap up, we tried “live coding” as a class for the first time this week! In an attempt to show a more real-time example of how the coding process is completed, we coded a few cases as a class with the hopes to upload a video of our team work soon!

– Doty

On coding for the variable of ‘othered’

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

One of the most difficult topics as far as coding that has come up during the course of our project is one that is fundamental to the question we are attempting to answer: What does it mean for a person to be “othered”?

The Prosecution Project is a project whose foundational goal is to compile prosecutions of acts of terrorism, political violence and
extremism from all ideological backgrounds to compare how different people/groups are treated in the United States justice system. An notable pattern prior to the commencement of our research was that white, American-born, Christians are not frequently charged with “terrorism. ” We sought not only to highlight this trend, but to look at the details of sentencing and the patterns that may exist dependent on a perpetrators ideology, tactic, target, severity of attack, and demographic details of the person themselves.

Initially, we were planning to look at some of the demographic differences
by coding for ethnicity, and using that as our variable of interest (tPP does code for a defendant’s age, sex, ethnicity, religion, veteran status, citizenship, as well as external factors such as ideology, group affiliation, previous arrests).  What we soon realized is that ethnicity is exceedingly nuanced and almost impossible to determine through secondary literature, court documents, and/or photographs. We wondered if instead religion would better capture the differences we were interested in, but soon decided that it didn’t provide us with as much information about the perpetrators as we though it would.

Instead, we had the idea to create a variable that took into account all
of the variables we coded for that contain traits usually used to define a
person who is understood as a “true American”: ethnicity, religion, and citizenship. Essentially, we decided that anyone who did not fit the cookie-cutter image of a white, American-born Christian has the potential to be
considered “other” in the eyes of not only society, but the legal system,
as a jury in a court of law is meant to be reflective and representative
of the society.

The team has had a series of pretty intense discussions about the ethics of this method for determining what we refer to as “othered status.” One concern raised was that a white, Christian-born, American-born man does not truly experience what it is to be othered in society, even if he, for example,
converts to Islam. He still maintains his white American-born identity. To
allow the team to work with an example that this situation may apply to,
we pulled up Christopher Cornell’s case in our database.

Chris Cornell was an American-born white man who converted to Islam and
insisted to be called by his Muslim name, even though all news articles
and legal proceedings continued with his given name. We applied the
question: would your average Joe look at this man and say “yep, that’s an
American.” The answer, almost unanimously, was no.

As problematic as it is, the fact that Cornell grew out his beard and
presented himself as Muslim is probably enough in the United States for
the average person to not consider him a thoroughbred American boy. It is through this understanding of American society that we determined our criteria that must be met to code the “othered” variable as “yes.” From our codebook:

€€‘Other Status’ = Using the decision tree below mark the cell as either:  

  1. OTHERED: The defendant is marked as othered if they meet any of the following criteria
    1. Does the defendant have a name not readily understood as European?
    2. Is the defendant Muslim or a Muslim convert?
    3. Is the defendant an immigrant from a non-Western/European country?
    4. Is the defendant non-white racially as an ‘average person’ would read them (i.e. not passing as white)?
    1. The defendant is marked as white, non-foreign born, Judeo-Christian and a non-jihadist (i.e. can pass as a white, American-born, Christian/Jew)

The fundamental question is: Would your average, mid- to low-educated person in the United States look at this person and see them as an “American”? Using this question, we have decided, most accurately determines whether a person has been othered in a way that has the potential to affect their treatment in the United States Criminal Justice System.

Athena Chapekis is a senior sociology major at Miami University and senior team member and data analyst at the Prosecution Project

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