Women's Rights

Afghan Elders’ Meeting Ends with No Mention of Women’s Rights

Last week, a three-day gathering of 3,000 male ethnic and Afghan religious leaders ended.  Led by the Taliban’s rarely seen leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, the meeting was aimed to discuss the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan and form greater unity among leadership. After many reneged promises on women’s rights in the previous months, this meeting was another opportunity to declare the Taliban’s stance.  However, it ended with no mention of the future of women in Afghanistan.  The Taliban’s silence solidifies their position on women’s rights, a stance that will continue to isolate them from the world. This meeting indicates that, in the next few months, the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan will only deepen.

Limited Earthquake Aid Shows the World’s Staunch Commitment to Human Rights

Last week, one of the most devastating earthquakes hit Afghanistan, killing more than one thousand individuals and injuring thousands more.  In the wake of such an event, usually millions of dollars of long-term aid would flood the nation to assist in rebuilding efforts and ease the effects of the disaster.  However, human rights abuses by the Taliban have prevented money for long-term development from entering Afghanistan. Further, billions of Afghan reserves remain frozen overseas until the Taliban show a commitment to women’s rights.  Without a change of stance from the Taliban, this money will remain completely unavailable. Last week’s gathering concluded with no mention of the future of women, indicating no end to the sanctions that devastate Afghanistan.

The Taliban’s Rhetoric Emphasizes Afghanistan’s Independence and Isolation

In a speech during the three-day gathering, the Taliban’s leader reportedly said, “Thank God, we are now an independent country. [Foreigners] should not give us their orders, it is our system, and we have our own decisions.” He also emphasized that overseas aid will not help develop Afghanistan but only make them dependent on foreign money.

The Taliban’s rhetoric seemingly points toward a future of continued isolation in Afghanistan.  This expression also proves, at least in the near term, that the Taliban will not fold to the intense economic and international pressures to change their stance.  Afghans will likely suffer with no end in sight and a regime that is unlikely to compromise.

Looking Forward

Until human rights are honored, the world will remain unable to aid Afghanistan’s development.  The economy will continue its freefall, and the Afghan people will suffer the brunt of these pressures. The Taliban have been clear in their desire for independence; however, they continue to resemble an insurgency group and have yet to prove their ability to rule effectively.

The U.S. and western countries should continue to demand human rights as a precursor to discussions. However, humanitarian aid should not be sanctioned or blocked to ease the current crisis and disaster relief processes.


Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Impending Famine in Somalia Exacerbated by Al-Shabaab

Somalia has been facing the region’s worst drought and possible famine conditions within the past 40 years.  Experts confirm climate change contributes to the drought conditions impacting the Horn of Africa, including Somalia. Somalians are living in a territory under the control of al-Shabaab and are paying high taxes on the sale of livestock, soil preparation, and harvests; many farmers are fleeing the situation, thus lessening harvests and in turn contributing to the famine conditions worsened by the drought.

Current State of the Drought and Forthcoming Famine

Six districts encompassing over 250,000 people are at high risk of famine in Somalia. 72 out of the 84 districts within the country are impacted directly by three consecutive unsuccessful crop production and rainy seasons, leaving the country at its driest in 40 years and forcing over 500,000 people to relocate. It is estimated that Somalia could suffer from famine within the next month. In 2011, an estimated 250,000 Somalian deaths were attributed to famine. In addition, food insecurity for over six million people has left international aid organizations scrambling to provide food to malnourished individuals.

Background of Al-Shabaab in Somalia

Al-Shabaab formed in the early 2000s has quickly grown into a local and regional threat to Somalia and its border nations including Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya. The organization made significant gains in its early years, however, as more forces entered to mitigate its growing security threat including the African Union, and Western forces, the group was forced from major population centers. Al-Shabaab had many different goals; their overarching theme is to establish an Islamic State in Somalia and oppose any Western-backed government. The locations of the group remain fluid throughout the country, but there are some strongholds in southern and central districts in the country and are vying to gain more control in the north. Ultimately, al-Shabaab still poses a significant security threat both locally and regionally.

Taxes by Al-Shabaab

After a briefing in Mogadishu, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s special envoy for the drought situation, Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, stated, “people are fleeing not only the drought, but also insecurity. In areas controlled by al-Shabab, the terrorist group has prevented people from farming.”

Members of al-Shabaab have continued to force crippling taxes upon Somali farmers at such high rates that people have been forced to flee their land. Farmers are forced to pay taxes at every stage of farming and harvesting; the tax when selling livestock is more expensive than the value of the actual animal. These taxes are forcing farmers to flee, thus slowing the production of the already minute harvests throughout the country.

Al-Shabaab currently has control over the majority of the most fertile areas of land in the country that include both the Jubba and Shabelle rivers. It is estimated that the group collects nearly as much tax revenue every year as the entire government of Somalia through sophisticated networks making countering this issue that much more difficult.

Contradicting Actions

In January 2022, al-Shabaab announced that it would start a “drought relief” campaign in an effort to help Somalians and boost their campaign. This action only contradicts their taxing efforts because while they are simultaneously exacerbating the drought and famine, al-Shabaab is attempting to solve the problem in an attempt to gain support from the public. This campaign by al-Shabaab has made no difference in mitigating the famine.

Outlook and Mitigation Efforts

The current outlook of the state of the drought and famine is incredibly grim and is only worsening as taxes by al-Shabaab continue. If there are no drastic changes in the amount of aid currently provided, thousands of Somalians are at risk of famine and will continue to suffer the impacts of climate change firsthand.

The U.S. has decided to redeploy almost 700 ground forces to Somalia to train the Somalian military to counter the growth of al-Shabaab. The Biden administration believes that a persistent presence of U.S. forces in the country will help the Somalian military make more gains against al-Shabaab than they have made in the past year. The African Union has continuously kept forces in the country with the same goal as the U.S. Aid organizations continue to work in Somalia, but as al-Shabaab grows, it makes it harder for them to distribute life-saving aid. One can only hope for a more positive future for a country that has already suffered so much, and hopefully, the end of al-Shabaab could bring Somalia some much-deserved peace.


Claire Spethman, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Earthquake in Afghanistan: How Environmental Challenges Threaten Peace

On June 22, at around 1:30 am local time, one of the deadliest earthquakes in Afghanistan’s history struck eastern provinces, killing more than 1,000 people and wounding 1,600. Most homes, hospitals, and buildings in the region are poorly built, which has led to massive infrastructure damage by the earthquake. Even before the Taliban’s rule, emergency response resources were stretched thin. The de facto ruler’s strained relationship with the international community will likely complicate aid efforts. This is another deadly example of Afghanistan’s ecology’s threat to peace prospects in the region. This threat is greatest from natural disasters, water shortages, and climate change.

Natural Disasters

The June 22 earthquake comes amidst an ongoing economic and humanitarian crisis, with half of Afghanistan’s population facing acute hunger. Sadly, natural disasters are not uncommon in Afghanistan. The country is highly prone to intense and frequent disasters due to its location. The most common include earthquakes, flooding, avalanches, landslides, and droughts. In the past 40 years, more than nine million people have been affected, and 20,000 have been lost due to natural disasters.

The effects of these events have profound consequences beyond the loss of life. Natural disasters in Afghanistan continue to hinder peace and development processes. Already pressed for resources, it is unlikely that destroyed infrastructure will have the material means to be rebuilt. Disasters also can lead to higher rates of terrorism in subsequent years. Before the current earthquake, ISIS-K has ramped up attacks against the Taliban. This disaster provides a dangerous opportunity for them, as the de facto ruler’s attention is divided.

Water Shortages

Afghanistan has long suffered from severe water shortages. Nearly 80% of the population relies on farming or animals for income. During Afghanistan’s history, multiple insurgencies have been fought over access to water for agricultural purposes. Today, some estimate that more than 70% of Kabul’s citizens do not have access to safe drinking water. Worse, a study by  John Hopkins University indicates that the demand for water in Kabul will increase by 600% in the next four decades.

As Afghanistan’s population grows rapidly and water becomes scarcer, crisis and conflict over water may grow more desperate. The country does have water resources it is not using; however, weak governance prevents effective utilization of those resources. Tensions over water also loom large in regional politics, making diplomacy an essential tool in resolving this issue. Lastly, water has previously been used as a weapon, with Taliban forces blockading water to farmer’s land. As conditions continue to spiral into desperation, water may again be weaponized. If done, this could prove to be the source of escalation and dispute.

Environmental Degradation

Finally, environmental degradation and changing climatic patterns pose a significant threat to Afghanistan. The country will be disproportionately affected by a change in climate and is entirely unequipped to deal with it. This factor serves as a long-term threat multiplier, worsening the country’s existent poverty and problems. Due to its long-term nature and the government’s inability to cope with the current crisis, it is likely to go unchecked, significantly increasing all ecological threats to the region in coming years.


Rise to Peace Author, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


The Islamic State Claims a Deadly Explosion of a Sikh Temple in Kabul

On the morning of June 18th, a bomb exploded during an attack at a Sikh prayer place in Kabul while 30 people were inside, killing one worshipper, a Taliban member, and two unidentified attackers. The prayer site was renowned as the capital’s only and final remaining place of worship for Sikhs. The next day, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. Community leaders reportedly claimed that about 140 Sikhs remained in the predominately Muslim Afghanistan in the late twentieth century, down from 100,000 in the 1970s.

According to a Taliban spokesman, the assailants attempted to operate a vehicle filled with explosives into the area, but it exploded before they reached their target. Despite the fact that the attack had concluded, the Taliban, who took control of Afghanistan last year, declared that a clearance campaign was continuing.

Since the Taliban assumed power in Afghanistan, the country has been subjected to ongoing attacks by the Islamic State, a rival Sunni Muslim extremist group. On the one hand, the Taliban had promised and guaranteed the community’s ability to remain in Afghanistan and practice their religion. Yet, hundreds more have fled to India in the last year due to unprecedented and cruel attacks.

The local branch of the Islamic State announced the attack was in reprisal for insults directed at the Prophet Mohammed. The announcement was made on an affiliated Telegram channel by the Islamic State. The blast on Saturday was widely derided as one of the spates of attacks targeting minorities, with Pakistan’s government expressing “serious concern” over the “current wave of terrorist attacks on places of worship in Afghanistan.” The United Nations mission in Afghanistan said minorities in the country deserve protection, and India’s President, Narendra Modi, expressed shock over the attack on Twitter.

Who are the Sikhs?

Many Hindus and Sikhs have fled to neighboring countries, particularly India, during the civil war that emerged after the pro-Soviet regime fell in 1992. Before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, Sikhs were a small religious minority in the predominantly Muslim country, with only roughly 300 families. According to community members and the media, many have now fled. The Sikhs, like many other religious minorities in Afghanistan, have been a perennial target of violence. The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for a 2020 attack in Kabul that killed 25 people. In 2016, it was thought that there was no future for Sikhs, Shias, and other Muslim minorities in Afghanistan.

To blend in with the population, most Afghan Sikhs and Hindus adopted Afghan traditions. Sometimes religious minorities converse in public in Pashto or Dari, Afghanistan’s constitutional languages, but solely use Punjabi at home. Despite their desire to live in peace at home, it appears that the Islamic State will continue to carry out modest to severe blows and attacks.

As external threats infect its populace in the next few months, the Taliban’s security mechanisms will be put to the test. In comparison to their initial rule in the 1990s, when they violently suppressed the Hazaras and other ethnic groups, the Taliban have positioned themselves as more moderate since seizing power. The Taliban promise to safeguard them to gain international acclaim for their acceptance of Afghanistan’s minorities. But how far can this go, and how effective is the security measure, particularly in the Taliban government, where eyewitnesses claim the Taliban also committed human rights violations?


Kristian N. Rivera, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

January 6

The Role of the Proud Boys in the January 6th Attack

Proud Boy national chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio of Miami, Florida; former Proud Boy national chairman Ethan Nordean (“Rufio Panman”) of Auburn, Washington; Joseph Biggs (“Sergeant Biggs”) of Ormond Beach, Florida; Zachary Rehl of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Dominic Pezzola (“Spaz,” “Spazzola”) of Rochester, New York have all been charged with seditious conspiracy for their actions before and during the Capitol Breach on January 6, 2021. Their actions disrupted a joint session of the U.S. Congress convened to ascertain and count the electoral votes related to the 2020 presidential election.

All defendants now face a total of nine charges, and Pezzola faces an additional robbery charge.

Planning and Preparation 

In December 2020, Proud Boys’ leadership made a private, encrypted messaging channel known as the Ministry of Self-Defense (MOSD). This private channel was allegedly restricted to several core members and members of the Proud Boys’ leadership, including Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl, and Charles Donohoe. Tarrio explained that MOSD was a “national rallying planning committee.” After forming MOSD, Tarrio and the other leaders immediately began preparations for January 6, 2021.

On December 30, 2020, an individual sent Tarrio a document titled “1776 Returns.” This document outlined a plan to occupy a few “crucial buildings” in Washington, D.C., including the House and Senate Office buildings around the Capitol, with “as many people as possible” to “show our politicians We the People are in charge.”

January 6th Proud Boys Timeline

20220609 AMX GPH 20220609 Capitol timeline 300x159 - The Role of the Proud Boys in the January 6th Attack

Timeline of the storming of the U.S. Capitol. (Source: Republican American/ AP)

On the morning of the insurrection, the Proud Boys gathered by the Washington Monument. Around 10:00 am, notable members such as Rehl, Biggs, and Nordean gathered near the Washington Monument and then walked to a lawn in an unrestricted area east of the Capitol.

Around 11:30 am, the Proud Boys recongregated on the east lawn of the Capitol with an estimated 100 members.

By 12:45 pm, around the time former President Trump finished his address, the Proud Boys reached a point northwest of the Capitol known as the Peace Monument, where Pennsylvania Avenue intersects the Capitol grounds. The walkway led straight to the steps of the Capitol.

At 12:53 pm,  seven minutes before the Joint Session of Congress would be gaveled into session, a man in the crowd known as Ryan Samsel had a conversation with Biggs. Following that conversation, Samsel and a second man identified as Grant James ventured into the restricted area of Capitol Hill, striding up to the outmanned line of five or six Capitol Police officers. They confronted these officers belligerently, then shook and lifted the barrier, toppling it over on top of the officers. A female officer fell back and struck her head on the concrete.

With the first barricade toppled, more than a dozen Proud Boys streamed across it and past the officers, making their way toward the west Capitol steps. Closer to the Capitol, the mob encountered a second barrier. Nordean and Biggs played direct physical roles in tearing down the barrier.

At 1:00 pm, former Vice President Pence tweeted that he viewed his role that day as “ceremonial.” Former Vice President Pence would not unilaterally reject the results of the swing states’ popular elections. Around the same time, former President Trump was nearing the end of his speech at the Ellipse, stating, “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore. We are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue—I love Pennsylvania Avenue—and we are going to the Capitol.”

Around 1:37 pm, there was a breakthrough at an impasse at the western base of the Capitol. Proud Boy Dan “Milkshake” Scott was apparently “one of the first, or perhaps the first,” rioter to “initiate contact with law enforcement at this location.” Allegedly, Scott pushed two officers backward, up the Capitol steps, and pulled an officer into the mob.

At 2:13 pm, Pezzola had stolen a police officer’s riot shield, using it to smash out a Capitol window pane as another rioter shattered the adjoining pane with a wooden plank. Pezzola climbed through one of the broken windows.

Each Leader’s Role  

These subsequent sections will describe the role each Proud Boys leader played before and during the January 6 attack. Nonetheless, please note that this section is a synopsis and does not include all the evidence against each individual. For complete details, reference the court document and transcript from the January 6 Committee Hearing.

Enrique Tarrio 

On November 7, 2020, news networks projected that former Vice President Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election. This had immediate implications for the Proud Boys. The same day, Tarrio posted onto the social media platform Parler stating the “standby order has been rescinded,” in reference to the legitimizing event that former President Trump had conferred upon the Proud Boys in late September during a Presidential debate. When former President Trump was asked if he would disavow “white supremacists and right-wing militia,” such as the Proud Boys, Trump responded, “the Proud Boys, stand back, and stand by. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what — somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem.” After the debate, Tarrio posted, “Standing by, Sir.”

On December 29, 2020, Tarrio posted another message on Parler calling the Proud Boys members to “turn out on record numbers” on January 6, but this time “with a twist.” Tarrio wrote, “we will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will be spread across downtown DC in smaller teams.”

Before Tarrio could join the march to the Capitol, he was arrested on January 4th on charges stemming from violence after a “Stop the Steal” rally one month earlier. He was found to be in felony possession of two high-capacity magazines compatible with AR-15 or M4 assault rifles. Tarrio was released on January 5th and met with the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers, Elmer Stewart Rhodes III.

Ethan Nordean 

On November 7, 2020, Nordean posted, “we tried playing nice and by the rules, now you will deal with the monster you created. The spirit of 1776 has resurfaced and has created groups like the Proudboys and we will not be extinguished. We will grow like the flame that fuels us and spread like love that guides us. We are unstoppable, unrelenting and now … unforgiving. Good luck to all you traitors of this county we so deeply love … you’re going to need it.” Earlier that month, Nordean solicited militia groups in the Pacific Northwest to contact him on an encrypted social media application.

On November 27, 2020, Nordean created an online crowdfunding campaign that solicited donations for “protective gear and communications” to be used by the Proud Boys. Nordean shared this crowdsourcing campaign on his social media page and encouraged others to share it.

Joseph Biggs

On December 29, 2020, Biggs posted, “you won’t see us. We are going to smell like you, move like you, and look like you. The only thing we’ll do that’s us is think like us! Jan 6th is gonna be epic.”

On January 5th, the Proud Boys created another encrypted messaging channel on Telegram called “Boots on the Grounds.” Biggs used this channel to urge the Proud Boys to stay out of trouble the day before the insurrection. “Tomorrow’s the day. . . Just trying to get our numbers. So we can plan accordingly for tonight and tomorrow’s plan.” Later, he wrote, “We have a plan.”

Caroline Edwards, a witness in the January 6 Committee Hearing, confirmed Biggs led the crowd. When Biggs began to speak to the crowd, it became more emotionally charged and started to chant statements against Antifa. Biggs then turned his attention towards the Capitol Police and started questioning them, slowly turning the crowd’s attention onto the officers. Caroline Edwards also identified Ryan Samsel talking to Biggs. Once the conversation was over, Biggs and Samsel approached the first barricade, ripped it down, and approached officers.

Zachary Rehl 

On November 27, 2020, Rehl posted, “hopefully the firing squads are for the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people. Some people at the highest levels need to be made an example of with an execution or two or three.”

On December 30, 2020, Tarrio convened a video call for prospective members of MOSD. MOSD leadership emphasized that members were to follow the commands of leadership. Rehl warned prospective members that January 6 was going to be a “completely different operation” and the Proud Boys would not be conducting a night march.

On December 30, 2020, Rehl posted a link to an online fundraiser with the campaign name “Travel Expenses for upcoming Patriot Events.” This campaign generated over $5,500 in donations between December 30, 2020, and January 4, 2021.

Dominic Pezzola  

On December 31, 2020, Tarrio posted a photo of Pezzola from the Stop the Steal protest on December 12 in Washington D.C. Along with the photo, Tarrio posted, “Lords of War. #J6 #J20” in reference to January 6 and January 20, President Joe Biden’s inauguration date.

According to an affidavit, the FBI has spoken to an affiant known as “W-1,” who spoke with Pezzola along with other individuals. In this conversation, Pezzola bragged about breaking the windows to the Capitol by using a Capitol Police shield. “W-1” also detailed conversations with other members who admitted to their acts on January 6 and what they would have liked to accomplish, including killing Nancy Pelosi and former Vice President Mike Pence if given the chance.

The Impact of the Proud Boys in the U.S. 

Professor Rober A. Page,with his colleagues in the Project on Security and Threats from the University of Chicago, has been tracking insurrectionist sentiments in U.S. adults since June 2021. They found that 47 million U.S. adults agreed with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those 47 million, 21 million agreed with the statement that “use of force is justified to restore Donald Trump to the presidency.” Many of these 21 million survey participants with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. Of the 21 million, 6 million stated they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and one million stated they are themselves or personally know someone to be a member of a group, such as the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers.

Although a small percentage of people who hold extremist views commit an act of violence, the findings in this survey reveal how many Americans hold certain perspectives which can lead toward insurrection.

A 2021 report published by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that while the number of active hate groups in the U.S. has declined, the Proud Boys’ membership has increased. The Proud Boys gained 29 chapters in one year and now have 72 chapters nationwide.

The growth in membership may suggest that the current political and social climate in the U.S. have become a fertile ground for the Proud Boys’ brands of authoritarian politics.

The Proud Boys became something few have expected, a hegemonic force for the far-right who are able to appeal to mainstream conservatives, carving out a space for white nationalists and fascists. Their moderate strategies have won them greater appeal by foregrounding ultranationalism and a vicious opposition to left-leaning politics. Inching closer and closer to American mainstream conservatism has made the Proud Boys a dangerous force as they have garnered sympathetic media coverage. It is not a coincidence that the Proud Boys’ uniform  features black and yellow shirts from Fred Perry, a favored skinhead brand.

What Can Be Done?

According to the 2021 Southern Poverty Law Center report, the criminal legal system solely cannot address the spread of far-right extremism. Since a majority of groups concentrate on influencing mainstream politics, diverse communities must work together to help build resiliency through prevention, organization, and education.

With a group such as the Proud Boys who, over time, have become hardened and have lost their empathy, these suggestions may not be received well by members with violent tendencies. It takes time and adjustment to unravel all the hate, apathy, and anger cultivated by their initiation rituals. Psychologists and experts in sociology, criminology, and political science have identified deradicalization and disengagement strategies. The German non-profit, the Violence Prevention Network has begun to work in Pittsburgh to launch operations for more intervention programs in the U.S.

Christian Picciolini is a former neo-Nazi turned activist who, for two decades, helped individuals leave extremism through his disengagement work and organization, the Free Radical Project. Picciolini states that people join extremist groups because of life’s “potholes,” incidents of trauma or neglect which affect people and lead them to join extremist groups as they search for an identity, community, and purpose.

“So when I engage with people to help them to leave these movements, I never debate them ideologically,” said Christian Picciolini, “I don’t tell them that their ideas are wrong, even though of course, I know that they are. But what I do is I listen, and I listen for those potholes so that I can find ways to fill them in.”

It is never an easy task to convince someone why their beliefs are wrong and to not hate them for it, but taking the time to realize they are still human and have universal needs to be recognized as such is the first step. At times, it’s necessary to show someone humanity when they may not recognize your own.


Camille Amberger, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Rise to Peace