Extremism Assessment Series: The Proud Boys

  • The Proud Boys participate in semi-organized violence, typically associated with political protests
  • The group has been directly and indirectly linked to several other alt-right, neo-Nazi, and white nationalist groups
  • As the 2020 election cycle ramps up, anticipate further street-level violence in furtherance of fringe political groups, including The Proud Boys


Summary of Extremist Narrative

The Proud Boys are a western chauvinist group that believes that white males are being unfairly targeted in an age of political correctness. The group is openly anti-Islamic, stating that western society and the values of Islam are incompatible. Members of the group speak out against what they call a society based around political correctness. While the group states that any male, regardless of race or sexual orientation can join, their apparent participation alongside far-right, white nationalist, and neo-Nazi groups at political protests leads to questions as to how genuine such a rule is. Fighting is considered a normal life occurrence for a Proud Boy. Going back to their anti-political correctness rhetoric, The Proud Boys believe that fighting is a necessary activity in which males should engage to avoid becoming less of a man. The group has declared on their website that they are anti-Drug War, Pro-Free Speech, Pro-Gun Rights, and even anti-Racist.

History of The Proud Boys

The Proud Boys were founded in 2016 by Gavin McInnes. The group originally formed during the political turmoil surrounding the 2016 presidential election and was viewed by some on the right as a conservative response to far-left organizations such as ANTIFA. Regardless of exactly how the idea to form the group had come to fruition, The Proud Boys have been engaged in violent political protests across the United States since the 2016 election cycle.

According to the rules and regulations of the group, any man – regardless of race or sexual orientation – can become a member, as long as they do not view the while male as the problem for the issues of modern society. The group believes that women should return to more traditional roles within society, bringing about claims that the group is misogynistic. There does exist a Proud Boys’ Girls, but this is a secondary organization that falls below the male section of the group.

While the group has often shown support for Republican political figures, the group believes in more libertarian ideals. As the group identifies a western chauvinist movement, it views itself inherently at odds with Islam and its leaders have openly expressed criticism of the faith since the groups’ inception.

The Proud Boys have been willing participants in violence at a number of prominent and controversial sites across the United States from Charlottesville to Portland. These sites have observed extremist violence, with The Proud Boys contributing to the chaos.

Current State of The Proud Boys

The group has been ripe with controversy, often related to alt-right members and their association with alt-right groups, neo-Nazi groups, and white nationalist groups. Despite their attempt to label themselves along libertarian political ideals, the group is often now associated with neo-Fascism. This has created a bit of an identity crisis amongst less hardened members and will likely impact their ability to draw followers to protests in the next election cycle.

Social media metrics of the group online represent a significant online following. At the end of 2017, the Facebook and Twitter pages for the group both had over 20,000 followers. It is important to note that this does not necessarily represent figures who actually engage in political protests, nor those who may or may not carry out an act of violence in furtherance of the group.

The Proud Boys have often rejected claims that they are ‘extremist’ in nature, despite their participation in violence during political protests. Some reports have indicated that the FBI is considering the organization as an extremist group, one that has direct ties to white nationalism. In its current state, The Proud Boys are relatively organized, with an apparent organizational structure and chapters. Those members who travel to protests likely represent small cells within the overall organization that have their own hierarchy.

Prominent Sites of Operation

As a national organization, The Proud Boys can be found anywhere a large political protest is anticipated. From major cities to college campuses, physical altercations between The Proud Boys, far-right groups, far-left groups, and ANTIFA will remain commonplace throughout the 2020 election cycle.

Recruitment Methods

 There are several steps to joining the Proud Boys. As a first degree member, a would be Proud Boy must declare “I am a western chauvinist, and I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world”. This is usually via video on a social media account linked to The Proud Boys. The second degree entails the individual enduring a physical beating until they are can state the name of five breakfast cereals. An odd initiation that is similar to the ‘jumping in’ phase of joining many street gangs. The third degree can only be completed after the individual completes the first two, and has demonstrated their commitment to the group. The third and final degree is completed with a Proud Boys Tattoo.

The recruitment methods employed by The Proud Boys are not limited to a specific area, however have been known to recruit individuals that are in areas of ongoing protests, such as the Pacific Northwest.

Image Credit: Proud Boys logo as found on their website.

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.

What in the World Is Going On in Afghanistan?

The Afghan Peace Talks on the Eve of Their Presidential Election

Mullah Khairullah Khaikhwah, a senior member of the Taliban, stated that a peace deal between the US and the Taliban negotiators would likely end in an awaited peace deal by the end of this week. After eight peace talks in Moscow, Qatar, Pakistan, Indonesia and Afghanistan, a hope for a permanent ceasefire appears elusive. Afghan political parties, including Jamiat Islami, are optimistic and supportive of a peace agreement. The Afghan government is skeptical and does not accept any agreement but the resolution to hold fair and free elections.

According to a senior Afghan official, intra-Afghan dialogues are agreeable on three main issues: 

  1. Ceasefire
  2. Dismissal of election
  3. Interim government, but the Taliban calling it a “New Government”

Ashraf Ghani’s running mate, Amrullah Saleh, calls the political leaders behind this agreement, “useful idiots/self-named leaders…” on his Twitter and states that “…elections will take place. Allow no poisonous propaganda to disturb your patriotism. The link between elections and peace process is very direct & crucial. No one without a mandate from the people can negotiate a settlement.”

The Afghan government want an election. The Taliban does not want the Afghan government to hold elections because they believe the incumbent authorities are illegitimate, and they do not want the regime to maintain power. Other Afghan political leaders such as Ata Mohammad Noor, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, Muhamad Mohaqeq and other influential leaders who fought both the Soviets and the Taliban, are willing to accept an interim government and to make a deal with the Taliban. This all comes down to election vs. interim government and Afghan government vs. Taliban.

Afghanistan Election History

The Bonn Agreement of 2001 created a timeline for presidential and parliamentary elections to commence in 2004.  The United States backed the successful presidential campaign of Hamid Karzai, but parliamentary elections were not successfully held until September 2005. Elections at this level were hampered by accusations of electoral discrepancies and voter fraud. It is speculated that these two factors tarnished the elections as illegitimate and accordingly led to a low voter turnout.

In August 2009, presidential and local elections were held. Accusations of fraud, such as ballot stuffing, emerged yet again. A low turnout and acts of intimidation presented challenges. Months later, in October, the US pressured Afghan President Karzai to authorize a runoff vote to rectify complaints of the original election. Karzai ran against Abdullah Abdullah; the latter dropped out of the race due to a lack of transparency. Thus, Karzai remained president for the next five years, as the country vowed to overcome any future fraud and corruption through the implementation of a better electoral system.

Parliamentary elections in 2010 did not differ much. Twenty-one candidates were disqualified by the Independent Election Commission because of fraud and illegal activities. Further, the Taliban used terrorist attacks and threats to incite voter suppression. These particular acts of fear mongering dissuaded women and progressive candidates from becoming elected.

The 2014 elections marked Karzai’s term limits and a new president would be elected to office. Ashraf Ghani won against Abdullah Abdullah, but charges of fraud remained.

2019 Election Issues

The Electoral Commission postponed the 2019 elections twice in efforts to curb fraud. As a consequence, the presidential elections are slated to take place on September 28, 2019.

Voter suppression and intimidation remain typical obstacles of elections in Afghanistan. It is a nationwide problem as the Taliban and other terrorist groups target civilians in major cities like Kabul and in remote countryside villages.

The US, Afghan representatives, and the Taliban concluded the Doha peace talks, but it seems that no agreement has been reached, especially regarding election processes. It is the Taliban that seems to be the unwilling actor as they continually refuse to speak with the Ghani regime; authorities they deem illegitimate. In the post-peace talk period, the Taliban continue to engage in acts that strike fear in ordinary Afghan civilians.

The US, UN, and the Afghan government state their commitment to ensuring that the Independent Election Commission can thwart voter suppression and election fraud. Nevertheless, the commission is faced with managing the troubling union of terrorism and corruption.

Terrorism and corruption go hand in hand and play off each other. They create instability in government systems, which in turn create anxiety within the people, who are left to consider their electoral system as illegitimate. Elections are not perceived as free and fair.

Here is a breakdown of what peace talks means to each side and what needs to be done. 

 The United States

Interests of all peace brokers matter. The Trump administration wants to end the Afghan War and fulfill perennial campaign promises ahead of the 2020 elections. President Trump would tactically boast of such a major achievement. Since 2001, the US has used hard power methods to create stability and to end terrorism. Trump stood firm in the early years of his presidency as he used additional options for delivering strong military strikes in Afghanistan. He increased the number of troops on the ground from 10,000 to 14,000, dropped the ‘mother of all bombs’ on ISIL headquarters and suspended military aid to Pakistan.

The US has since amended its stance in favor of diplomatic measures and seeks to give the peace process a chance. Trump appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as the Special Envoy for Afghanistan Peace and Reconciliation to take the lead on all US efforts. Recently, there has been an excellent amount of progress, mainly the Taliban’s willingness to discuss their grievances and explain how they want their country to be operated.

Opposition parties

A negotiated settlement is in the best interest of opposition political parties for numerous reasons. First, President Ashraf Ghani has ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist, from centralizing power and isolating powerful political leaders like Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad Noor.

Abdul Rashid Dostum a.k.a General Dosutm — the leader of the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan or simply known as Junbush and the current vice president — was exiled under the direction of President Ghani. Dostum’s role in the Afghan government is viewed as symbolic since he was used twice by both Ghani and Karzai to tactically augment their coalition of supporters. He represents Uzbeks; one of the four major ethnic groups in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Dostum’s relationship with the Afghan political elite has been complicated as both administrations exiled him to Turkey for numerous reasons. These include rape, torture of a local commander and being powerful enough to initiate a revolt.

Ghani lost an influential leader, Ata Mohammad Noor; the Chief Executive of Jamiat-e Islami Afghanistan and a governor with thirteen years experience. According to our research, an announcement from the Afghan government office, and an exclusive interview with TOLOnews, it was revealed that Noor resigned over a condition-based agreement a year prior to the actual acceptance date of his resignation. His resignation was accepted by Ghani without the acceptance or approval of any of the stated conditions. As president, Ghani had the constitutional right to replace him or anyone else, but this aggressive action was viewed as an “ethno-nationalist” move and faced with nationwide criticism, including the famous Afghan commander, General Raziq, who later was assassinated by the Taliban.

Bad decisions such as these further damaged the integrity of the government and created mistrust between political actors. In Afghanistan, political leaders from different ethnicities are influential, powerful and necessary for cooperation to combat terrorism and build a democratic Afghanistan. Ghani’s decision to simply dismiss two influential leaders of two major political parties jeopardized his regime and ill-effects of these actions are felt to this day.

The Afghan government

The Ghani administration wants to continue its rule and does not want to relinquish power. They understand well that if the US and the Taliban accept an interim government with the support and agreement of political leaders, their regime will end. Further, they do not have the political capital to win an interim government leadership position, nor will the Taliban and other Afghan leaders will allow them to gain power in such a framework.

This is the chief reason why the Afghan government is skeptical of the peace process and an interim government. The election provides an avenue for Ghani to retain power and he wants a legacy like his predecessor Hamid Karzai; to rule for a long time to implement his policies as he continuously promises the people.

Both Ashraf Ghani and his running mate, Amrullah Saleh are in favor of elections mainly for the above reasoning. In a recent TOLOnews exclusive interview with running mate Amrullah Saleh, Saleh’s definition of peace requires the Taliban compete in an election so that they can express their policies, if they are capable of such politicking. Saleh criticizes the Taliban for not having basic literature and accuses them of being a “puppet” to Pakistan.


The Taliban wants to make peace with the US because they are the root of the current Afghan government. Without US intervention, contemporary interpretation of the Afghan government or democracy would be alien. The Taliban occupied approximately 90 percent of Afghanistan by 2000 and could have stayed in power had they not been toppled.

Over the past 18 years, the Taliban continuously fought and outlasted sophisticated military operations under the guidance of two US presidents (George W. Bush and Barack Obama), NATO and ISAF forces. These struggles compelled the US negotiate with the Taliban.

The Taliban view Afghanistan’s president as a “puppet of the West” in the same vein that the Afghan government considers the Taliban as a “puppet” of Pakistan. They have stated on multiple occasions that they would negotiate with past enemies — Mujahidin rather than the current “non-Islamic” government of Afghanistan. This stance remained unchanged since the former president Hamid Karzai called the Taliban in 2006 to join a peace process or the first time.

The Taliban gained a worldwide reputation after the US government appointed Khalilzad as the special envoy. They perceived this as a recognition of their status as a political party rather than an insurgent group. The US’ soft approach provided the Taliban with additional power to reject the Afghan government as illegitimate, as they always claimed over the past 18 years. They saw this as an opportunity to deal with the master and real ruler behind the scenes — the United States.

Transnational Terrorism

The Taliban are a major insurgency group that have operated in Afghanistan since 1996. Since that time, they have harbored Al-Qaeda, the Haqqani Network, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan as well as numerous foreign fighters from diverse parts of the world. Insurgents primarily from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and the Russian republic of Chechnya traveled to Afghanistan for Taliban instruction and education.

If a negotiated settlement is reached, the likelihood that factions of the Taliban, along with over two dozen other terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan, will continue to be obstacles to the peace process. One particular organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have a foothold in the Khorasan province of Afghanistan, Pakistan and infiltrating Central Asia.


History reveals that elections in Afghanistan struggle with illegitimacy and corruption. The 2019 edition appears to be stymied by similar complaints despite efforts of the US and Afghan governments to ensure free and fair elections.

The Taliban and opposition parties consider this round of presidential elections as fraudulent due to corruption inherent in the current Afghan government. Since the Taliban have additional motives and do not want elections to be held, integrity of the electoral process is used as a factor in the peace talks.

A peace deal will come with a big cost — dismissal of elections and creation of an interim government, or the “New Government,” as labelled by the Taliban.

If all parties truly want peace, they must appreciate the United States efforts in brokering this deal. To this date, the current Afghan government has been skeptical of the peace talks mainly to remain in power and win another mandate to govern through elections. Gaining power is the most important aspect of some political actors and rejection of a peace offer from the Taliban insurgency is demonstrative of their stance on peace and democracy.

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

Nick Webb, a Research Analyst at Rise to Peace. 


Extremism Assessment Series: Sovereign Citizens Movement

  • The sovereign citizen movement is often disorganized, but organized groups do exist.
  • The spread of this extremist ideology typically exists and is spread on online platforms.
  • While not all followers of the movement are violent, such ideology has led to the murder of law enforcement officers and terroristic threats against government employees.

Summary of Extremist Narrative 

The sovereign citizen movement is based on an assembly of various conspiracy theories, many of which stem from the 14th Amendment and conspiratorial interpretations of it. The 14th Amendment states that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside”. Followers of the sovereign citizen movement view this statement as creating two distinct classes of individuals amongst the population residing in the geographic United States. These two classes, de Jure (or rightful citizens) and 14th Amendment citizens, separate sovereign citizens from those who are considered citizens of the federal United States. Because followers of the movement believe that the amendment created two separate classes of citizens, one being superior to the other, they believe that the government has failed to properly represent the republic of the United States, making it an illegitimate government. Any laws or attempts to enforce such laws by such an illegitimate government are then viewed as illegitimate by followers.

Followers of the movement do not believe that they have to follow the laws of the United States, often citing ‘common law’, which has little to no definition and is often based on aspects of biblical and constitutional rulings. As laws after the 14th Amendment are viewed as completely fraudulent in the movement, the followers often cite that the 16th Amendment, which allowed for a federal income tax, need not be followed.

History of the Movement

There is no exact doctrine in which sovereign citizens base their beliefs. Nor is there a sovereign citizen group which believes in the exact same ideology as other groups. Several sub-sects exist within the movement, as will be discussed.

Much of the ideology has spread via conspiratorial books, and more recently amongst online blogs and manifestos. Many followers of the movement will consume numerous of these narrative platforms and pick and choose segments to fit their perceived needs best.

The last two decades have also saw a rise in African Americans who have begun to follow certain sub-sects of the sovereign citizen movement. Many African Americans who follow such ideologies follow a distinct movement often referred to as “Moors” or “Moorish”. These individuals believe that their independence comes from obscure treaties signed by the United States in the 1700s.

Because of the conspiratorial belief that laws of the United States are illegit and that they as sovereign citizens do not need to obey them, followers often become engaged in situations with local or state law enforcement. Sovereign citizens are known to make their own driver’s license, vehicle tags, and other common forms of physical identification, further leading to increased law enforcement interaction. While some of these cases end when less hardened believers of the movement realize that they do in fact need to obey the laws of the United States, others have ended in fatal attacks on law enforcement.

Current state of the movement 

While there are some collective sovereign organizations, the overall movement his highly disorganized and made up of many individuals who physically practice their specific beliefs on their own. In certain areas, organized or semi-organized sovereign citizen groups have been linked to white nationalist organizations. The FBI has stated that amongst the criminal activities that followers of the sovereign citizen movement are murder, assault, battery, terroristic threats, and a wide variety of financial crimes. Amongst the more organized sovereign groups, leaders are often in their 60’s and 70’s.

In a study carried out by Brian S. Slater, sovereign citizen legal proceedings saw drastic increases in the last two decades. Measuring from the early 2000s up until mid-2016, Slater noted that such proceedings (to include legal appeals) rose from 4 in 2008 up to 142 in 2016. While this does necessarily represent a rise in violence attributed to the movement, it is concerning that it appears that the movement’s ideology is spreading which may lead to increased violent trends.

Where are Sovereign Citizens operating? 

Several large sovereign movement organizations exist along the east coast of the United States, however, such organizations also exist in several states where some have been associated with select white supremacist organizations.

The Slater study mentioned above lists the following states as having the most prominent sovereign citizen activity:

  • Illinois
  • Wisconsin
  • Florida
  • North Carolina
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • California
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Tennessee

What are the primary recruitment methods into the movement? 

As the movement is largely disorganized, there are no known specific recruitment practices. The ideological narrative has been spread by books in the past and more recently online blogs and by circulated manifestos. Several sovereign citizen online blogs state that there are certain ways a sovereign must declare themselves independent of the United States government, all of which are based on odd legal jargon that is completely incorrect. While not all sovereigns adhere to such a declaration, it is often times the case that proponents of the movement believe that it is needed to officially become a sovereign citizen.

Image Credit: A Title 4 flag typical of the sovereign citizenship movement; as found on related website ‘Fake Freedom’.

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.

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

elpaso 300x200 - 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

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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

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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. 

Rise to Peace