ISIL’s Original Web Series

As a part of its propaganda machine, ISIL created the video series ‘The Best Outcome Is for the Righteous.’ Each video contains common themes: members ready for battle, photos of enemies in respective regions, and calling upon other Muslims to join the fray. Alongside this they renew, or pledge their allegiance to Abu-Bakr-al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL. Its thirteenth installment — The Best Outcome Is for the Pious — was no different, however it was released by its Bangladeshi faction.

Visual propaganda attempts to showcase that ISIL still has Wilayah, or regional territory. Therefore, it seeks to divert attention away from the group’s ongoing struggles, such as loss of their last physical stronghold. According to Raphael Gluck, they have transitioned into a kind of ‘insurgency mode’. ‘The Best Outcome Is for the Pious’ reached wider audiences by way of its release by Amaq News Agency and pro-ISIL Telegram channels.

Bangladesh is not the only Wilayah ISIL claims to have a presence. Other videos have been released in Khorassan (historical region of Iran and Afghanistan), the Caucasus, East Asia (Philippines), Sinai, West Africa, Azerbaijan and Libya. All of these videos have been posted since Abu-Bakr-al-Baghdadi released a video in April 2019, in which he stated the battle of Baghouz has been lost.

The correlation between ISIL territorial losses and release of video propaganda is not coincidental. They want to depict they still have a presence in diverse states. The fact remains that terrorist ideologies have no set borders, but ISIL is adamant that the word knows they have a presence in these thirteen regions.

The videos serve as a moral boost after ISIL lost its territory in Syria and elsewhere. It is a show of faith in the organization and leadership when cells of ISIL fighters pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi. They are intent on continuing the fight. Further, these videos are depictive of a current desperation for recruitment. ISIL needs to show that it still has strength and it is apparent a heavy recruitment campaign is underway, with emphasis on regional sympathizers in various locales.

‘The Best Outcome Is for the Righteous’ series claims active regional involvement, but ISIL’s only authentic presence remains in cyberspace. Revealing this factor is the way to counter ISIL sympathizers from seeking membership in an actual insurgent formation. Authorities in the aforementioned regions must focus on limiting any exposure that showcases ISIL’s presence locally.

Terrorist organizations strive on fear, and fear often leads to publicity, which in turn translates into influence. The only power ISIL has is that provided through complicit exposure.

Image Credit: A clip from an ISIL propaganda video courtesy of the Long War Journal.

Image Credit: Fred Lum at the Globe and Mail. A vigil held for the lives lost in the Quebec City Mosque

Profiling ‘Lone Wolves’ in Canada and the United States

The concept of ‘lone wolf terrorism’, as we understand in the contemporary, was ‘developed’ by right-wing extremists. Tom Metzger, the leader of the White Aryan Resistance, used the term ‘lone wolf’ infamously during the 1980s-1990s. Furthermore, he advocated that white supremacists should adopt a ‘lone wolf’ or ‘leaderless resistance strategy’ where the supremacists can ‘engage in criminal actions only individually or in small cells to avoid detection by law enforcement.’

Law enforcement professionals and specialised academics alike have reported that lone wolf terrorists are difficult to identify and prevent attacks for the reason that the ‘traditional’ models of profiling do not conform to that of lone wolves. There are certain patterns of behaviour and similarities between lone wolf terrorists that aid in creating a profile of the individual, however, these patterns are often identified after the horrific act is committed. In brief, lone wolf attacks are reported to be undetectable and largely unpredictable.


Examples from Canada and the United States of Lone Wolves

The purpose of this section is to draw from two separate, recent incidents of lone wolf acts of terrorisms in Canada and the United States to identify the similarities in the backgrounds and operations of the perpetrators. It must be mentioned that these incidents were chosen due to their recency in terms of occurrence and criminal prosecution.

1. Patrick Wood Crusius – 3 August 2019, Mass Shooting in El-Paso, Texas, United States
21-year-old Crusius opened fired at a Walmart store on 3 August 2019, killing 22 people in this rampage. It was reported that 19 minutes prior to the emergency call that was made, Crusius had published a ‘manifesto’ online, expressing his anti-immigrant sentiments. After his arrest, Crusius admitted to the authorities that his goal was to ‘kill as many Mexicans’ as possible.

2. Alexandre Bissonnette – 29 January 2017, Shooting in Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Canada
On 29 January 2017, the then 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette, entered the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Sainte Foy, Quebec, Canada, and opened fired on Muslim men. Bisonnette killed six men, and has been sentenced to at least 40 years in prison. Investigations from Bissonnette’s personal computer revealed evidence of his ‘fascination with anti-immigrant alt-right and conservative commentators, and mass murder.’ Bissonnette also stated his ‘worries’ about Muslim immigration in Quebec.

Though Crusius’ and Bissonnette’s cases are merely two incidents of violence and loss of innocent lives, the similarities in their behaviours and core sentiments are to be examined. In the United States alone, it has been reported that one wolf terrorism is more lethal than organised terrorism. Individuals who are later identified as lone wolves manage to avoid arrest and do not arouse much suspicion because of their similar lifestyle as being isolated and keeping to themselves, while planning their attack alone.

Specialists report that these individuals often suffer a history of personal anguish and personal grievances, further fuelling their justifications and anger leading up to an attack. Modern online spaces, such a popular forums and chat rooms, provide a cyberspace for these individuals to spread their messages of anti-immigration sentiments and other messages of hatred. As seen in the cases of Crusius and Bissonnette, the ‘fear’ of the United States or Canada being ‘overcome’ by Mexicans or Muslims (in their case) was voiced, and was stated by the perpetrators themselves as a motivator for their attack.

As previously mentioned, the identification or prevention of an attack is rendered extremely difficult as there exists no single profile of a lone wolf. In fact, would-be perpetrators exhibit behaviours that are not uncommon to most adolescents or young adults (such as social isolation, signs of depression). Moreover, as lone wolf acts have shown to be conducted by primarily men, it would be unreasonable to expect authorities to be able to identify beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual is a lone wolf terrorist by these slim criterion.


Countering violent extremism: How is a lone wolf stopped prior to action?

Considering the foregoing, at the current stage of profiling and identification of lone wolf terrorists, it is difficult, if not impossible, to detect and halt a lone wolf terrorist attack before it happens. The reason being that lone wolves do not usually discuss their motives or ideas with others, coupled with the fact that their motivation is often only discovered tragically after an attack has happened.

However, this does not mean that there is a lack of sincere effort and measures that can be taken in the prevention of such attacks. Modern day technology plays a significant role in the dissemination of ideas and speech, therefore, there are methods in which potentially dangerous ‘hate speech’ or threats can be identified in chat rooms and reported to authorities for further investigations. It is understood that of course, this sort of monitoring is subject to certain restrictions and limitations as set out in the fundamental human rights related to privacy.

Lone wolf attacks have been reported to be rare, however, when they are carried out, they take with them many innocent lives. They are devastating and scarring to communities. The situation concerning lone wolf attacks, as it currently stands, requires further research into intervention and prevention methods, and would greatly benefit from mutual cooperation between national, international authorities and members of professional societies hailing from a variety of backgrounds.

Image Credit: Fred Lum at the Globe and Mail. A vigil held for the lives lost in the Quebec City Mosque

Prosecuting “Domestic Terrorism” in the United States

El-Paso Memorial for the victims of the mass shooting that took place on 3 August 2019. Image Credit: Paul Ratje of Agence France-Presse (Getty Images)

Infamously coined ‘lone-wolf’ attacks or acts of violence, the United States has tragically experienced 2 separate mass shooting occurrences this month that claimed the lives of many innocents. The shooting in El-Paso, Texas, carried out by 21-year-old Patrick Wood Crusius, is being treated by United States Federal Prosecutors as “domestic terrorism”. Federal officials, however, have been hesitant to use the term “domestic terrorism” for the reason that although the term is defined in United States law; there exists no actual criminal penalty attached to what would be treated an act or incident of “domestic” or “home-grown” terrorism.

Given this paradox between definition and applicable legal criminal responsibility, how, then, can a mass shooting or any attack conducted by an individual such as Crusius be brought to justice as ‘domestic terrorism’? This article will examine the intricacies of “domestic terrorism” and the stipulation for precise criminal penalties tied to such an act of violence.

Domestic Terrorism as Understood in the Patriot Act and the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Section 802 of the United States of America Patriot Act addresses domestic terrorism. It has been common to mistake Section 802 as a section that concretely defines ‘domestic terrorism’ as a criminal offence on its own. However, Section 802 is not to be interpreted in this way. Section 802 supplements the existing definition of terrorism in the Patriot Act, largely created to expand investigative powers onto an individual (or individuals) should they be suspected of engaging in domestic terrorism. Moreover, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recognises “domestic terrorism” as an act (or acts) “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,”.

This brings us to the way in which domestic terrorism has been worded. An individual is recognised as ‘engaging’ in domestic terrorism if they commit an act that “could result in death”, and is in violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States of America, or if the act appears to be intended to:  (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) 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.

The legal scope of Section 802 regarding “domestic terrorism” is therefore limited to an act (or acts) that meet the following criteria: (1) violates federal or state criminal law and (2) is dangerous to human life. Consequently, it becomes evident that Section 802 “opens” an act of domestic terrorism to a broad interpretation when proceeding with criminal responsibility and prosecution.

Justice for the El Paso Victims, and the “Future” of “Domestic Terrorist” Acts

John Bash, the United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas, stated that Crusius’ act of violence will be treated as a “domestic terrorist case.” With consideration to the aforementioned, Crusius cannot be literally charged as a “domestic terrorist”. Therefore, in terms of actual criminal penalty and prosecution, Crusius’ horrific act will be charged as a capital murder. In the state of Texas, Crusius may face up to 99 years in prison or even the death penalty, if found guilty.

Horrific mass shootings such as Crusius’ are not a new threat or occurrence in the United States. It has been reported that individual ‘lone-wolves’ have similar backgrounds in terms of personality attributes, isolation from society, profound interests in select extremist groups, to name a few. As examined, prosecuting such an act specifically as a crime of “domestic terrorism” is currently not possible under United States law. The justice system must therefore rely on state laws pertaining to murder and other acts of violence, such as the charge for capital murder, in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Given the increasing prevalence of such mass shootings, it may be soon necessary for “domestic terrorism” to become codified in United States law as a criminal act of its own. However, the legal process of having “domestic terrorism” officially codified may pose issues. The debate regarding a mutually agreeable definition and criteria for what constitutes an act of domestic terrorism, or an individual who will be recognized as a domestic terrorist, will be subject to a broad lens.

Using Encrypted Messaging for Terror Propaganda

In March, ISIL lost its last physical stronghold in Baghouz, Syria when United States-backed Syrian Democratic Forces overtook the territory. Although ISIL had tangible territory, terrorism is not typically bound by such lines. An examination of how encrypted messaging services, such as Telegram, spread propaganda beyond borders and jurisdictions is required. It is important to comprehend how terror groups and related media sympathizers use such services to influence and recruit.

In a recent case, an ISIL sympathy group, Ash-Shaff, posted propaganda posters on Telegram encouraging attacks in San Francisco, New York City, and London. The posters show images of Big Ben and Parliament on fire, an ISIL fighter running through New York City with an ISIL flag, and a sucidide bomber with a bomb in his backpack. These posters directly target ISIL sympathizers and loan wolves to act. They exhibit messages in English that call for terrorist acts that typically result in a high number of casualties of those deemed kuffar, the expanse of the ISIL network, and targeted countries considered crusaders. Crusaders refers to ISIL adversaries France, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States. The term kuffar is similar to the term infidel.

Ash-Shaff is an ISIL sympathy group either based out of Indonesia or ran by Indonesian citizens. Ash-Shaff creates and shares media to instigate lone-wolf attacks and spread propaganda. They manufactured other pieces of propaganda in January 2019, May 2019, and in July 2019, which were also shared on platforms such as Telegram. All these posters have similar themes, calling out for violence against enemies and trying to incite sympathizers to carry them out. Ash-Shaff is particularly dangerous because sharing content on platforms such as Telegram provide individuals in these channels with the ability to share propaganda on major social media sites.

Ash-Shaff is one of many ISIL supporter media groups. Other major actors include Quraysh Media, Muntasir Media Foundation and Hamlat Fadh Al-Mukhabarat. The list of groups is extensive, but they all serve the same purpose, to share ISIL propaganda. They facilitate communication within ISIL chat rooms on Telegram channels and inspire actions. For instance, during the Sri Lanka bombings, all of the aforementioned groups shared similar propaganda posters and messages on their channels celebrating the attack. What stands out is that a supporter or sympathizer of terrorism does not need to be apart of all these groups to hear the message. Just one is suffice.

Telegram is the top choice to spread terrorist ideas. It is preferred because its messages are fully encrypted and can even self destruct. The company is aware of its appeal to terrorist groups. They have in fact banned ISIL channels from becoming public, but they can remain private. ISIL remains able to use Telegrams private message services to coordinate attacks, plan social media campaigns, and recruit.

One case is telling. In 2017, a woman was arrested in Bandung, Indonesia after she was radicalized in about four months after receiving instructions from over 60 chat rooms on Telegram. It is argued that a radicalized person is ready to perform a terrorist attack in less than a year. An individual who joins five chatrooms can receive up to 500 pieces of propaganda and instruction daily. Telegram chat rooms can host up to 5,000 users.

It is difficult to put a policy solution on encryption services. A solution that has been implemented by Russia and Iran was to ban Telegram altogether. This is not ideal for many countries, but it is effective.

Currently, there are few regulations when it comes to private messaging services. The encryption messaging industry needs to come together and discuss legal and safe parameters. Like the Christchurch Call to Action, main players in encryption services need to develop a platform to combat terrorism. The issue can not be solved by blocking a service, because there is always another one.

The only other solution is that chat rooms exceeding 1,000 users should be charged monetarily. At this level of communication messages are not used for intimate conversations or privacy. Information with such a reach is part of an agenda and meant to spread ideas and information to like minded individuals.

Telegram and other free encrypted messaging platforms are the basis of terrorist communications. They allow for groups to plan social media campaigns, provide instructions for attacks, receive donations and recruit. It is easy to suggest that groups spreading terrorist ideas should be banned from using these services, but it is what needs to be done.

Extremism Assessment Series: Ku Klux Klan

Image: Blood Drop Cross of the Ku Klux Klan. Common symbol found in public sources.

  • Founded in 1865, the Ku Klux Klan is America’s original hate group.
  • Targets for violence and bigotry include: African-Americans, Jews, Catholics, LGBTQ+, immigrants, and Muslims.
  • No longer one unified organization, the movement is divided into factions and affiliated groups scattered across the United States.
  • The Ku Klux Klan movement witnessed significant decline in recent years due to pressures from far-right movements gaining traction in the United States.

 Summary of Extremist Narrative

The Ku Klux Klan is America’s original hate group. Commonly referred to as “the Klan”, “KKK”, or the “invisible empire”, the hate group’s ideology involves the promotion of white supremacy and belief in white solidarity. Principally, African-Americans have been the main target of the group, however, others targets for violence and bigotry include: Jews, Catholics, LGBTQ+, immigrants, and more recently, Muslim Americans. The use of violence, intimidation, and hate speech, is widespread among members to silence any opposition to its narrative.

History of the group

The Ku Klux Klan was born during the period of Reconstruction in the South. Originally, the group was founded as a “social club” by six former Confederate army veterans from Pulaski, Tennessee in 1865. However, as the political climate shifted in support of newly freed black slaves, the former “social club” began to embrace terror and extremism in response to the changes. Exploiting fear, and utilizing brutal violence, the original Klan terrorized newly freed black slaves throughout the South, along with whites who opposed them. Outlandish costumes, extrajudicial killings, and cross burnings, all became synonymous with the Ku Klux Klan during this time, thus heightening its reputation. The once small group grew into a movement, stretching nation-wide, gaining considerable political and public support.

In 1871, the federal government enacted the Ku Klux Klan Act, which: “was designed to eliminate extralegal violence and protect the civil and political rights of four million freed slaves”. The movement witnessed significant decline due to this legislation as political and public support faded. The Ku Klux Klan saw a resurgence in popularity in the mid-1920s, and again in the 1960s, this time in response to the civil rights movement. Today, the Ku Klux Klan exists in limited scope and size. No longer one single unified organization, based around a rigid structure or hierarchy; it is now split largely between four main warring factions scattered throughout the United States, with numerous affiliated groups.

Current state of the Ku Klux Klan

Today’s Ku Klux Klan movement lacks unity, structure, cohesion, or purpose. After years of infighting, government interference, waning public/political support, and competition with other white supremist movements, the once powerful organization is now divided and weakened. The four main factions of the movement include: the Brotherhood of Klans (BOK); the Church of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (National Knights); Imperial Klans of America (IKA); and Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKKK). Numerous Klan-affiliated groups exist outside of the four main factions; all with varying names and ideological influences.

The Ku Klux Klan remains in a state of decline as competition with other white supremist/far-right groups have intensified. Most find the ideology of the Klan outdated, and less appealing; compared to more organized and militant neo-Nazi affiliated groups operating in the United States. Some Klan groups have adopted neo-Nazi beliefs and ideas, attempting to regain relevancy and supporters. Desperation has led others to form partnerships with neo-Nazi affiliates as seen with the “Black and Silver Solution” in 2015. Increasingly more joint events are occurring between Klan and neo-Nazi affiliated groups, providing further confirmation of the Ku Klux Klan’s inability to garner attention on its own.

Ku Klux Klan affiliated groups are predominately involved with hate rhetoric and disorganized violence. Because of the fractious nature of Klan groups today, manpower and financial support are limited. Groups are relegated to low cost options for spreading their hate rhetoric, such as through leafleting campaigns. Following the mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, Klan groups left bags of candy throughout neighborhoods across the South. Messages that praised the attack were attached, exploiting the atrocious act committed by Dylann Roof. Typically, leafleting by Klan groups is used to target African-Americans, Muslims, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ people.

Instances of disorganized violence by current or former Klan members highlight the movement’s continued state of decline. No longer able to mount significant organized attacks like the Birmingham church bombing in 1963, the current model for violence by Klan members tends to be sporadic and disorganized. There often exists a criminal element to the violence separate from Klan related activities, as many current or former members have criminal histories. As shown with the case of Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., who in 2014 went on a murder spree killing three Jewish people in Kansas, instances of disorganized violence inspired by the Ku Klux Klan’s ideology is a significant threat.

Where is the Ku Klux Klan operating?

Ku Klux Klan affiliated groups operate across the United States and beyond. The Counter Extremist Project estimates there are “around 160 known active chapters across 41 states”, with most located throughout the South. The hateful ideology of the Ku Klux Klan is not limited to the United States, we see the movement spreading to countries like Germany as well. In Europe, far-right extremism is on the rise and spreading at an alarming rate. The Ku Klux Klan’s hate filled ideology is easily incorporated into the European far-right narrative.

What are their primary recruitment methods?

The Ku Klux Klan movement relies largely on web-based media, leafleting campaigns, and public rallies, for recruitment of new members. Klan groups will often exploit mass shootings and other attacks committed by far-right actors for recruitment initiatives. Because of the increasing pressure from other white supremist/far-right groups, Klan recruiting is limited.

Pastor Thomas Robb, leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKKK), hosts a show on his website to attract potential recruits called, “This Is The Klan”. In the past he hosted a YouTube based program called “The Andrew Show”, with the channel name “ShowForWhiteKids”. These efforts are meant to showcase the movement’s technological side, appearing more up to date like other extremist movements.

Leafleting campaigns are used frequently for recruitment as well. Klan groups routinely distribute pamphlets and literature encouraging membership throughout the United States. New recruitment initiatives such as the “National Knight Ride”, incorporate candy with literature, to soften the movement’s image thus attracting more followers. Other leafleting campaigns mimic military style recruitment with catch phrases like “The KKK Wants You!”.

Lastly, public rallies are used to draw supporters in. This method has become somewhat outdated as recent rallies failed to deliver large scale Klan support or public attendance. A recent rally held in May 2019 in Dayton, Ohio drew approximately nine supporters with over 600 counter-protestors in attendance. This ratio of protestor versus counter-protestor is indicative of the Ku Klux Klan movement’s perpetual state of decline throughout the United States.

The Extremism Assessment Series is an initiative of Rise to Peace’s Domestic Counter Terrorism Program. It seeks to provide short educational pieces highlighting groups or social movements linked to extremist ideologies and/or tactics. Check back for new additions to the series.

Suicide blast kills 18 and injures 145 as Taliban continue talks with U.S.

The Suicide blast kills 18 and injures 145 as the Taliban continue talks with the U.S. in Doha, Qatar. Taliban claimed responsibility for the car bomb explosion that targeted a police headquarters in district 6 of Kabul on Wednesday morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ahmad Mohibi, a writer and is the founder of Rise to Peace. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi.

13 Hours of Extremism: Domestic Terrorism Across the Political Spectrum Highlights Domestic Extremism Concerns

The two perpetrators of the Dayton, Ohio and El Paso mass shootings. (L) Connor Betts (R) Patrick Crusius. Image Source: Eurweb

Between August 3-4 2019, America was horrified by multiple mass killings across the nation. Dozens were left dead and even more injured. At least one of the events is being actively treated as an act of domestic terrorism, while the other appears to be linked to extremism. Below is a summary of the events, a summary of what is known about the perpetrators, and a summary of potential links between the attacks and societal repercussions of the horrific events.

The following summaries of the incidents and individuals are based on statements made by witnesses and relevant officials.

3 August 2019

Patrick Crusius, age 21, drove upwards of ten hours from his home to a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Crusius exited his vehicle and entered the store where he sought to identify his potential targets based on the desire to kill and hurt as many people of Hispanic descent as possible. At the time of Crusius’ pre-attack surveillance, officials stated that there were between 1,000 and 3,000 people inside the Walmart. Crusius exited the store after satisfaction with the potential number of Hispanic victims inside. Just prior to the attack, a manifesto was circulated on digital extremist forums that highlighted anti-immigrant and racist conspiracy theories. The manifesto is posted under a pseudonym, however, it has largely been linked to Crusius. Crusius then prepared for the attack in or around his vehicle in the parking lot before commencing his plan. He was taken into custody near the scene. Twenty-two people have died thus far with dozens more injured.

4 August 2019

Connor Betts, age 24, appeared to have been active on social media on 3 August 2019. Earlier in the day, on the Twitter account associated with Betts, there was a retweet that called for Joe Biden to “Hurry up and Die”. In the wake of the news breaking about the attack in El Paso, the Twitter account “liked” several tweets that pertained to the attack. On the morning of 4 August 2019, Betts approached a popular bar in Dayton, Ohio, and began to open fire with a rifle. Law Enforcement was quick to respond, killing Betts on scene, but only after Betts managed to kill at least 9 people and injure dozens more. As of this writing, no manifesto or any communication of intent of the attack has been discovered. Prior to Betts’ Twitter account being taken down, it was discovered that Betts often commented support for various left-wing movements, stating his support for Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders. There was at least one retweet in favor of an account linked to the far-left ANTIFA extremist group.

What Do We Know About the Perpetrators?

 Patrick Crusius

Few people from Crusius’ personal life have come forward since the attack, therefore less is known about him. However, Crusius appears willing to speak with law enforcement following his arrest, and the manifesto that has been linked to him is telling. Crusius admitted to law enforcement officials that he purposefully targeted Hispanics in his attack. In the manifesto, a sociological/political theory known as “The Great Replacement Theory” is discussed, which is essentially an anti-immigrant ideology that calls for the separation of races. It has been linked to white supremacist attacks internationally and has at least a marginal following amongst white supremacist groups worldwide. Accounts have been discovered on extremist forums that are believed to belong to Crusius. A LinkedIn account believed to have belonged to Crusius shows that he had been unemployed for at least the last five months. The account, which has been taken down, stated that Crusius was largely uninterested in a career but was interested in computer software, as he stated that he spent most of his days on a computer anyway. It was not immediately clear if Crusius had any education after high school, and his economic and social life was not apparent.

Connor Betts

Multiple people have come forward who reportedly knew Betts, most painting an image of a dangerous individual. It has been reported that Betts had been suspended from high school at least once in reference to possession (and believed production) of a “hit list” and “rape list”. Betts was a musician and had at least some college education. He was a self-described “leftist” and “atheist”, but was described by peers as a loner and outcast. Multiple sources have reported that Betts had an obsession with mass shootings for some years. A female has come out and stated that she was dating Betts, but had broken up with him in May of 2019 over his concerning behavior. It is not clear if Betts was working at this time and his economic situation is unclear.

Potential Link Between the Attacks in El Paso and Dayton

As was mentioned earlier, a Twitter account linked to Betts ‘liked’ several tweets in regard to the El Paso attack, just hours before launching his own attack in Dayton. The attack in El Paso was rumored to be inspired by white supremacist ideology relatively quickly after the news broke and was subsequently confirmed as more information came out throughout the night. It is possible that Betts was inspired to launch an attack in furtherance of far-left extremism in response to the far-right attack in El Paso. That being said, it is unclear whether the attack in Dayton was pre-planned. As had been reported, Betts was obsessed with mass shootings for some time, however, his online links to the far-left cannot be ignored. His apparent following of the events in El Paso potentially link the two attacks as a form of tit-for-tat extremism between individuals on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Online Extremism: A Domestic Issue

 Both Crusius and Betts were active, at least in part, in online communications with extremist accounts or forums. Crusius has been linked to the publication of the Manifesto as discussed above and has been connected to profiles in extremist forums on websites such as “8chan”. Betts’ link to online extremism has been less clearly defined, but on at least one occasion he was connected to an ANTIFA account and shared a message in furtherance of the group.

While it is too early in the investigation to begin making definitive judgements about the level of influence such digital extremism had on either Crusius and Betts, it is clear that there is a connection between their actions and the extremist rhetoric that they consumed.

Preliminary Recommendations

 It is too early for exact political and/or policy recommendations to be relevant. Both investigations remain active. However, as the attacks appear to be linked to the far end of both sides of the linear political spectrum, adding more rhetoric in an attempt to further politicize the event may serve to further radicalize individuals with like-minded ideas. People of influence on either side of the political spectrum should consider this when crafting their messaging to avoid further influence for extremism.

Digital extremism communications represent a real challenge for policymakers. Preventing the free exchange of ideas is fundamentally against the ideals of the United States, however, as events such as the ones discussed above demonstrate the potential dangers associated with the ideal. It is recommended, that any ‘red flag’ laws that are implemented should expressly allow for the admittance of online forum discussions in consideration of individual cases. Domestic law enforcement agencies must also develop capabilities for monitoring such forums that are linked to extremist ideologies. Intelligence-led policing must be brought to the forefront of the discussion as the leading chance for preventing domestic terrorism events.

John Patrick Wilson is the Director of the Domestic Counter-Terrorism Program at Rise to Peace with experience in law enforcement, political research, and counter-violent extremism research. 

Exclusive Interview with Phil Gurski on Female Extremism

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

As a part of The Women in Extremism Program, Rise to Peace’s Simone Matassa had the privilege of interviewing Phil Gurski to talk all matters of female terrorism. Phil Gurski, who is the President/CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting, has over 30 years experience as a strategic intelligence analyst specializing in radicalization and homegrown Islamist extremism with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Public Safety Canada, and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). The interview with Phil focused on the gender side of radicalization, female motivations for extremism, and women’s role in counter-terrorism initiatives.

What gender differences are present in radicalization processes and what do you think are the main differences between how women are radicalized compared to men?

Phil Gurski: I think the answer to this question is that there are a lot of unfortunate stereotypical myths that there are significant differences, and hence that women either have to be treated differently or [and this is more important and more dangerous] that somehow women’s roles are minor and not as serious. And, therefore, in instances where women have traveled to join terrorist groups that we tend to think it’s not nearly as serious and tends to treat them with kid gloves.

We certainly saw that especially with Islamic State, where a lot of women played that card and claimed they were coerced by their male companions and actually had no real part in terrorist activity – that they took more of a background-position. I think this myth has had an effect on how people look at female terrorists [female jihadis]. Agency is the key issue here as there has been this unfortunate assumption that women don’t have agency and have somehow been forced or duped.

People often assume that Muslim women don’t have choices, as it’s a male-dominated faith, and that the women actually never agreed to do anything and were actually just following their husbands. The cases I was involved with women were very much as devoted to the cause as their husbands, brothers, boyfriends, etc. so I think we have to be very suspicious when women try to deny they had any role to play and that they were somehow innocent victims of a terrorist movement. From that perspective, the penalties and approaches should be the same – I don’t see a gender distinction.

Do you think gender roles play a big part in how women are viewed in terrorism? Are women just as equally capable of carrying out terrorist attacks compared to men or do gender roles prohibit them? 

Phil Gurski: Historically, women played incredibly important roles in terrorist groups i.e. IRA, Baader–Meinhof in Germany, LTTE in Sri Lanka. So there is no question that women have and are capable of carrying out active roles in terrorist groups up to and including carrying out attacks and killing themselves in suicide attacks. When looking at Jihadis early on, there certainly was a gender division within most groups which saw women as the support role.

Leaders such as Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri would say this. They would say we welcome our female members, but this is very much a man’s job. Then Islamic State came along and really reversed the paradigm. They very much stated that isn’t actually true; women are capable of carrying out activities on our behalf and this is – I think – why you probably saw a larger percentage of women actively going to join Islamic State with or without partners.

We had a famous case in Canada in 2015 where three young women in high school sought to join the Islamic State and got as far as Cairo before they were turned back by authorities. But this was completely on their own accord. I do not think that there is inherently a different role or paradigm for women terrorists. There may be some physical differences in strength etc. but when we try to maintain this while saying women are the weaker sex, we do a disservice to women who are terrorists and I think we also underestimate the role they can play.

What are women’s motivations for joining a terrorist organization- do they differ from that of a man joining a terrorist group?

Phil Gurski: I do believe they are one and the same. Using the Islamic State as an example: the Islamic State was remarkably successful in doing a couple of things. First of all, establishing the Caliphate as the ideal Islamic homeland that had appeal for an awful lot of people.

I know from the investigations we carried out people would talk about this; that they finally have a real Islamic State where Islamic law will be practiced and everything would be great. Secondly, they appealed to people to help build this State. And thirdly, they were very successful in pointing out atrocities that true Muslims have to reverse, whether these were atrocities carried out by the West or carried out by dictatorships.

This appealed to any believing Muslim who wanted to make a difference, so I think the motivation would be the same for both men and women. There is also a sense of adventure and an intense hatred for the societies in which they live. We saw a lot of people turn their backs on Western society saying they can’t live in this apostate regime anymore and that they have to go to where Islam is being practiced. I definitely saw this as much with the women as I did the men, so I would say there is not a major distinction between the motivations as to why either gender would choose to join a terrorist group.

What part can women play in countering terrorism and preventing the processes of radicalization?

Phil Gurski: The fact that more women have joined terrorist groups means you have more women coming back, and women who have abandoned the cause and can talk about the experience in the sense that it wasn’t what they originally thought. A small percentage of those women want to go public, but the vast majority want to leave it behind them due to the repercussions.

I think there is room for women who do come back to say here is what I saw, here is what I believe to be the case, and here is how it proved to be a complete lie. I think they can play the same role as former men could, I don’t see any difference in that respect given the fact we are seeing more of them they could maybe appeal to a different audience then the men could. We are in a time now where we have greater numbers than we have had historically in terms of women who have gone to fight or gone to support Islamic State as members and have got out. But I do think women could have something to say especially to children – kind of like the scared straight programs in prisons where they basically use their own experience to show others that it’s not worth it.

Conclusion

What can be taken from this interview with Phil Gurski is that there is an undeniable relationship between gender and extremism that is largely unexplored. While current societal stereotypes halter women’s roles in terrorism, there is still a need to be vigilant while looking at the female side of extremism.

As Phil alluded, when people underestimate the power and role of women, it becomes dangerous and creates an environment where women can go unnoticed for their violent actions.

More research and demonstratable interest in female extremists is needed to pave the way to preventative measures in helping tackle the gender issues in terrorism and to shaping policy in how female extremists are prosecuted.

View the full interview below:


Simone Matassa, a counter-terrorism writer and Head of the Women in Extremism Program at Rise to Peace.

Extremism Assessment Series: Far-Left Extremism

Image Source: Fox News, Lukas Mikelionis

  • Based on Marxist principles – left wing extremists believe that the working class should revolt against those in power; Can often be classified as “antifascist”.
  • One of the major goals of left-wing terrorism is the creation of a “utopian” society
  • There is absolutely no religious facet of leftist ideology
  • One of their biggest tactics is “provocation” – provoking those in power to overreact in order to garner more sympathy and members
  • Primary targets are government buildings, symbols of authority, and right-wing conservative rallies/demonstrations

Summary of Extremist Narrative

 The leftist narrative can be defined as a desire to overthrow the current political state and replace it with an anarchist or communist system. Members of these left-wing groups are often-times autonomists, which is a term used to describe individuals who are anti-authoritarian and believe they exist outside of the political system. One of the biggest characteristics of these groups is the desire for society as a whole to rise up and revolt. These left-wing groups do not discriminate and allow anyone who believes in their ideology to join their ranks.

 History of Ideology in the United States

 Leftist ideology originated around the time of the industrial revolution. Many were flocking from the countryside to find jobs in new factories, making the demand for work very high. Factory owners had no trouble filling vacant spots. Karl Marx, a German law student, saw the differences between the workers and the factory owners and started to describe the working class as “proletariat” and the factory owners as “bourgeoisie”. He saw that the factory owners did not have to work as hard as the working class, yet they kept getting richer and richer. Marx called this a “capitalist society” and believed that a revolution of the working class was inevitable. He believed that the working class would be victorious and a “communist society”. This formed the basis of leftist extremism, with individuals believing that a classless, moneyless, and stateless society is the only option.

During the 1980’s, left-wing terrorism was attributed to 74% of all terrorist attacks in the US Left wing terrorist groups today are based in communism, anarchism, or socialism, which are all connected to Marx’s teachings. Today, these groups are reflections of the current political climate meaning that members of these groups believe that the political culture of their country is too right-wing or fascist. Throughout history, there have been several known leftist groups that operated within the US, including the United Freedom Front, New World Liberation Front, Weather Underground, Black Liberation Army, and ANTIFA. Some of these groups are supported from outside countries such as Cuba, China, and Russia. They have also found support in the Communist Party of the USA.  Just recently, Trump declared that he may soon try to classify ANTIFA as a major terrorist organization.

 Current State of Far-Left Extremism

 Left-wing extremists are still active, not only in the U.S., but around the world. While these leftist groups serve different purposes, they all have an underlying theme of replacing the existing political system and removing class labels. Some even aim to carve out new nations within the US. Although the FBI reports that right-wing extremists are more of a concern today than left-wing extremists, they also acknowledge that left wing extremism still exists and should not be ignored.

As David Rapoport has stated, terrorism comes in waves. Left-wing terrorism was highly active in the 19060’s to the mid-1980’s, after which right-wing terrorism became active. This suggests that left-wing terrorism will become more active in the coming years. Due to the fact that left-wing extremists are more likely to be educated and from urban areas, they are better able to effectively organize demonstrations and attacks than their right-wing counterparts.

One of the more active left-wing groups in the US today is ANTIFA. ANTIFA’s main ideology is rooted in the antifascist movement, which was first seen under Hitler’s rule in Nazi Germany. Today, the antifascist movement is violent and threatening to society at large. ANTIFA members attend alt-right movements and demonstrations in order to protest and put an end to “alt right messages of hate.” ANTIFA leaders have called for violence in order to confront conservative groups, often times putting innocent people in danger. Some of their tactics include burning cars, attacking right-wing protestors, and destroying property/businesses.

ANTIFA does not have a clear, hierarchical structure, bringing us back to one of the main characteristics of left-wing groups; anyone can join and participate as long as they support the cause. There are times when ANTIFA members will call for non-members to meet them at rallies in order to protest against right-wing conservatives.

Left-wing extremist groups are primarily operating under capitalist systems where they believe that there are inexpressive amounts of marginalization and inequality at the hands of the current political party. These groups often attend right-wing conservative rallies in order to violently protest and oppose right-wing hate rhetoric.

As mentioned earlier, left-wing groups do not discriminate against members and believe that anyone who believes in their antifascist cause can join their movement. There are no religious undertones, making this group very diverse and fluid in their recruitment. Left-wing groups also utilize social media in order to attract individuals to their movement. They will often call on others to join their cause, recruiting individuals who may feel marginalized or disgruntled with their current political climate.

The Extremism Assessment Series is an initiative of Rise to Peace’s Domestic Counter Terrorism Program. It seeks to provide short educational pieces highlighting groups or social movements linked to extremist ideologies and/or tactics. Check back for new additions to the series.

Extremism Assessment Series: Far-Right Extremism

  • Far-right extremism describes ideologies and movements that are more radical than traditional conservatism, and often promote xenophobia, racism, white nationalism, Neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism, and related ideologies
  • Modern far-right extremism began in the 1860s, and was met by efforts to eliminate the Ku Klux Klan’s presence after the Civil War.
  • From 2009 through 2018, 73% of terrorist attacks in the United States were committed by far-right extremists
  • Far-right extremist ideology is largely enacted by lone actors rather than groups
  • The primary method of recruitment for far-right extremism is through online platforms including social media sites, chat rooms, and other websites
  • Increasing anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiment has given rise to far-right extremism in places such as the United States, Australia, and Europe
A collection of flags representing different streams of the far-right movement available in the open-source.

A collection of flags representing different streams of the far-right movement available in the open-source.

Summary of Extremist Narrative

Far-right extremism describes ideologies and movements that are considered more radical than those associated with traditional conservatism, and is often linked to ideologies that promote xenophobic and racist views such as white nationalism, anti-Semitism, Neo-Nazism, authoritarianism, and others.

Far-right extremism often takes inspiration from regimes of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

 History of Far-Right Extremism in the United States

 Modern far-wing extremism in the US was first recognized by scholars during the 1950s, as a way to understand and explain McCarthyism and its break from political norms of the time. However, it is understood that far-right sentiments, groups, and actions began to form long before they were labeled by social scientists, around the 1860s and 1870s in the Reconstruction era. During that time, President Ulysses S. Grant took legal and legislative acts to eradicate the Ku Klux Klan and its offshoots following the civil war.

From then on, far-right extremism reappeared in many forms, and to varying degrees of success, from the formation of the Second Ku Klux Klan in 1915 to a politically-motivated resurgence in the 1990s in response to prominent issues of the time, including abortion, gun control, and same-sex marriage. The Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 led to new arrests of far-right organizational leaders, but such ideology continued to be prevalent and inspire violence throughout the next two decades and beyond. Subsequent instances of far-right extremist violence in the US include the shooting at Emanuel Africa Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which resulted in the death of nine people, as well as the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018 which resulted in 11 deaths. From 2009 through 2018, 73% of terrorist attacks in the United States were committed by far-right extremists, and between 2016 and 2017, right-wing inspired violence quadrupled in the US.

Today, some government officials across multiple branches and agencies have expressed concern over far-right extremism. However, the movement to properly address far-right extremism is hindered by multiple factors, including the absence of a formal domestic terror law in the United States, lack of grant funding to research right-wing extremism, and a general difficulty in studying such ideology due to its lack of cohesion.

 Current State of Far-Right Extremism

 Far-right extremism is currently largely based in hate rhetoric. Topics of focus for far-right extremist rhetoric include anti-immigrant and anti-government sentiments, and appeals to those affected by real or perceived economic instability and social isolation. Such rhetoric has given rise to disorganized bouts of low-level violence, as well as violence that results in mass causalities around the globe.

In the United States, most far-right extremists engage in low-level violence, with only one percent of attacks by people unaffiliated with an established far-right group involving firearms or explosives. Far-right extremist groups are largely instable and notwithstanding, and most far-right extremists are lone actors.

However, there are a couple of prominent, long-standing groups associated with far-right ideology that contribute to the spread of the ideology and violence, and potential recruitment agencies to followers of far-right extremism. Such groups include the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), skinheads, neo-Nazi groups, and other militias. In the United States, alt-right groups Identity Evropa and Patriot Front constitute some of the largest and most pervasive organizations of their kind. While these groups represent the more formalized, structured end of far-right extremism, they are still mainly fragmented and unsophisticated themselves.

 Prominent Sites of Operation

Far-right extremism operates around the globe, but is especially concentrated in areas in which populist and nationalist political movements have recently become popularized in mainstream political and social thought. The majority of far-right extremist individuals and groups operate out of the United States of America, in Europe, and in Australia.

In the United States of America, the combination of a history of far-right groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, renewed anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, and the growth of alt-right, populist politics has resulted in some of the most prominent examples of far-right extremism around the world. After the 2016 election, far-right violence grew, including nine deadly incidents in 2017.

In Europe, increasing numbers of immigrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa has spurred an increase in xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment, which evolved into far-right ideology for some members and groups in society. Attacks against Muslims and refugees in Europe have increased significantly beginning in 2015. Some far-right attacks in Europe have been coined as retribution attacks, as they occur after instances of Islamic extremism.

Far-right operations in Australia are less active, but still existent. From 2011 to 2017, there were five far-right extremist attacks in the country.

While these are the prominent countries in which far-right extremism operates, the ideology does not act as a country-specific, individual entity. There is a growing, global network of far-right extremists fueled by increasing interactions between likeminded individuals and groups around the world. This is demonstrated through instances such as the American far-right group Rise Above Movement (RAM) meeting with European white supremacist groups in Germany, Ukraine, and Italy.

Recruitment Methods

 Social media and other forms of online news consumption are the primary methods of recruitment utilized by far-right extremist groups. Recruitment is achieved on popular platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook as well as sites such as Gab and Reddit. Through online interaction with followers, the far-right have been able to recruit new followers and members, coordinate travel to protests, rallies, and conferences, organize trainings, fundraise, and foster communication across individuals and groups that share similar ideologies.

Prominent websites associated with far-right ideology include 8chan and the Daily Stormer, but recruitment is also achieved on more mainstream, popular platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit. The radicalization of multiple far-right extremists who have been responsible for recent terrorist attacks around the globe has been linked to such websites. For example, the far-right extremist responsible for the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018 was a user of Gab, a site frequented by far-right extremists and associated messaging.

The cycle of recruitment and radicalization is perpetuated as far-right extremists not only draw inspiration from online communities, but then project their activities out into those communities as well. In 2018, the far-right extremist that attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand announced the attack on Twitter and 8chan and broadcasted it live on Facebook, which quickly spread and was replayed countless times on other platforms. This paves the way for media consumers to become encouraged and recruited into far-right extremist ideology or actual groups by watching this extremist act, or even to commit copycat attacks.

In addition to far-right extremists utilizing a heavy online presence to enact recruitment efforts, there has been an increased effort to protect anonymity while increasing recruitment through distribution of propaganda. This propaganda often in the form hard-copy materials such as flyers, posters, stickers, and more. From 2017 to 2018, the amount of hard-copy propaganda materials increased by 182% overall, with a jump from 421 to 1,187 reported sightings of far-right materials. These materials are not only found in large cities and public spaces, but are also often concentrated on and around college campuses. This allows right-wing groups and individuals to tap into vulnerable members of the age group afflicted by feelings of a lack of belonging, and yearning for community.


The Extremism Assessment Series is an initiative of Rise to Peace’s Domestic Counter Terrorism Program. It seeks to provide short educational pieces highlighting groups or social movements linked to extremist ideologies and/or tactics. Check back for new additions to the series.