A U.S. Drone Strike Kills an al-Qaeda Linked Commander in Syria

On June 27, another drone strike was successfully completed against the leader of an al-Qaeda affiliate group in northern Syria, according to the Syrian Civil Defense, a humanitarian organization. The attack occurred just before midnight when two rockets were fired towards the target.

As claimed by Syrian opposition activists and the U.S. military, the man killed, identified as Abu Hamzah al Yemeni, was a top member of an al-Qaeda-affiliated group.  The drone strike was conducted by a U.S.-led coalition in the northwest province of Idlib.

The U.S. Central Command stated that the attack targeted al Yemeni, a “top leader” of Hurras al-Din, an organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, as he was riding a motorcycle by himself at midnight. Furthermore, the body was then transported to the forensic department in Idlib. According to verified reports, there were no civilian casualties. Additionally, the U.S. Central Command stated that “the removal of this senior leader will disrupt al-Qaeda’s ability to carry out attacks against U.S. citizens, our partners and innocent civilians around the world.”

Overview of the Group Hurras al-din

On February 27, 2018, seven ardent Syrian rebel organizations joined together, actualizing their group which is now known as Hurras al-Din (HaD). In the months that followed the group’s founding, ten additional minor rebel organizations with a history of doctrinal and managerial ties to al-Qaeda joined. Reports estimate that at least 50% of the 700 – 2,500 members of the group are foreigners.

HaD is outspokenly committed to al-Qaeda. Additionally, al-Qaeda veterans from other countries make up the vast majority of HaD’s leadership. These significant ties to al-Qaeda makes HaD part of the watchlists of intelligence agencies, the U.S. government, and think tanks. The leadership of HaD is divided along two differing currents: one that adheres to the ideas of Libyan cleric Jamal Ibrahim Ashityawee al-Musratti and the other that adheres to those of al-Qaeda scholar Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. The “defining authority” for both currents is the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The Public’s Opinion of the U.S. Drone Strikes

There were mixed comments online as to the recent attack in Syria. Some members of the online community have reiterated that the U.S. is dominating weak countries and committing crimes against humanity due to their Global War on Terror. However, CENTCOM said in its statement that violent extremist organizations, including al-Qaeda-aligned organizations such as Hurras al-Din “continue to present a threat to America and our allies.” It added that al-Qaeda-aligned militants use Syria as a safe haven to coordinate with their external affiliates and plan operations outside of Syria.


Kristian N. Rivera, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

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

Proud Boys

Who are the Proud Boys?

On Monday, June 6, 2022, Proud Boys leaders Henry “Enrique” Tarrio (38), Ethan Nordean (31), Joseph Biggs (38), Zachary Rehl (37), and Dominic Pezzola (44) were charged with seditious conspiracy along with other charges for their actions leading up to and during the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.  The Proud Boys have been active since 2016 and were labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  The Proud Boys often identify themselves by wearing black and yellow polo shirts with logos and slogans.

Profile of the Proud Boys

Far-right American-Canadian commentator Gavin McInnes founded the Proud Boys in New York City in 2016. McInnes claimed it to be a fraternal drinking club and its existence was argued as necessary due to the inability for society to let men be proud of Western culture. McInnes has also endorsed the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which argues that white populations are being purposely displaced by people of color, particularly immigrants in Western countries. He carved out a specific ideological space for frustrated men to claim that Western Culture is superior to all others, racism is a myth formed by guilty white liberals, Islam is a culture of violence, and feminism “is about de-masculizing men.”

Current leader Enrique Tarrio was appointed in November 2018 and has admitted that the Proud Boys attract those with white supremacist views.

The Proud Boys have described themselves as a pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; also known as Western Chauvinists. Though they officially reject racism and tout the multiracial backgrounds of some of their members, they hold the belief that Western European culture is superior to all others. The Proud Boys show up to events and protests and are sometimes used as private security, looking for any reason to incite violence.

Dangerous Narratives

“Western Chauvinism”  can be interpreted as a thinly veiled code for white supremacy and patriarchal misogyny. It is often employed to make the motives of the Proud Boys appear more palatable to mainstream audiences and deflect any charges of racism. Using coded language such as substituting “Western Civilization” for the racial category of whiteness gives a wink and a nod to white supremacy while having the ability to maintain some degree of plausible deniability that they are a racist group.

The Proud Boys have also glorified the use of violence to achieve their goals. They have a history of inciting, supporting, and praising violence under the guise of self-defense. Proud Boys often declare, “we don’t start fights, we finish them.”

Ethan Nordean gained prominence within the Proud Boys due to a video depicting him fending off a baton from a counter-protester and then flattening his assailant. Nordean earned the accolade “Proud Boy of the Week” in the Proud Boys magazine. In an interview with conspiracy website Infowars’ Alex Jones questioning Nordean about the incident, Nordrean responded, “like Gavin McInnes says, violence isn’t great, but justified violence is amazing.”

The Proud Boys also advocate for “traditional” gender roles. One of the beliefs is to “venerate the housewife.” They glorify the traditional notions of womanhood while denigrating women who do not fit into those notions. The Proud Boys may claim they support the choice of some women being “housewives,” however, the reality is that they perceive women the same way as white supremacists and elements of the online manosphere do. Women are perceived as under-deserving of the same status as men, worthy of ridicule for deviating from traditional gender roles, objectifiable in some instances to serve men, and worthy of protection in others as long as they fulfill antiquated roles in the service of preserving “Western” society.

These narratives are dangerous as they help the Proud Boys’ beliefs be more palatable to a broader audience. The Proud Boys consistently attempt to present themselves as “patriots” and defenders of “conservative” values by being able to sidestep any branding of having an extremist label.


Four “rituals” must be performed to gain membership and rank. This hierarchical system promotes adherence to the Proud Boys´ identity and is a focal point for the radicalization of violence within the group.

First, to be initiated, the individual must publicly declare his desire to be a Proud Boy and Western Chauvinist. They must repeat the phrase “I’m a Proud Boy. I’m a Western chauvinist. I refuse to apologize for creating the modern world.” This is meant to instill pride in the Proud Boys and Western culture.

For the individual to ascend to the second rank, they must submit to a ritualistic assault from at least five other members. Five members encircle the initiate and continuously punch them. This will only end when the initiate names five different types of breakfast cereals. Should the initiate succeed, they can become an official member. According to McInnes, this ritual is meant to weed out initiates deemed unfit and to mentally harden members in preparation for future fights.

Rank three is achieved by tattooing “Proud Boy” on their body. The final rank is achieved by the initiate intentionally engaging in violence on behalf of the Proud Boys. The journey to the final rank diminishes all initiates’ natural ability to have empathy towards others, instead replacing it with the belief that violence is the only solution to effecting political change.

The initiation process demonstrates how political violence is an inherent characteristic to the identity of the Proud Boys. Each step to reach the final rank is associated with socio-political views that justify the need for physical defense against degenerate forces. The initiation phases serve as a pro-social radicalization mechanism that justifies the need for commitment to increase, willingness, and the necessity of members to integrate the Proud Boys into their identity and the use of violence against those perceived as adversaries.

Organization and Operations

The goals of the Proud Boys’ engagement style appear to be designed to draw media attention, frame media perception, generate recruitment, manifest narratives, initiate members into higher ranks, and ensure their beliefs are perceived as palatable to the American political discourse.

All across the U.S., the Proud Boys are organized into local chapters that operate on a semi-autonomous level. The relationship between the national leadership and local chapters is depicted as dynamic and decentralized. This gives members latitude in determining the activities of their local factions, which can facilitate the creation of offshoot or splinter groups. In more recent years, the level of involvement from national leadership in local chapters’ jurisdictions has depended on the location and focal point of a certain campaign or activity.

The three most active regions are the Pacific Northwest, Miami, and New York. These focal points for the most activity involve street fighting and political activism. With the lack of oversight and individual chapter autonomy, members have experienced varying degrees of radicalization and commitment to violence.

Members operate under the belief that “The West is the Best.” They welcome non-white members as long as these members acknowledge that Western civilization is superior to all others. By sidestepping the question of race, they can make their proto-fascist appeal in the language of patriotic individualism: pro-America, pro-capitalism, and pro-Trump, allowing access into the Republican mainstream.

One strategy to legitimize their relationship with Republican politicians and Republican mainstream politics, is to have photos taken of Proud Boys members with Republican actors. Proud Boys members have been seen in photos with Donald Trump Jr., U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, former-Florida Governor Rick Scott, and U.S. Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Devin Nunes. Additionally, Senator Ted Cruz supported a non-binding resolution to define anti-fascist activists as domestic terrorists after Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio launched a petition in favor of the bill.

Memes and jokes are made to make light of the hateful beliefs of their members or try to brush off these jokes as pushing boundaries and that those who criticize their beliefs and comments “just don’t get it.” Far-right extremists often use irony as a cover to communicate their beliefs without having to face any real and legitimate consequences.

Typically wherever the Proud Boys are present, violence ensues. Their offline tactics have shown a pattern of staging multiple rallies in different cities to maintain the illusion of a larger presence. Their tactical engagements rely on physical intimidation and brawling to assert their political agendas.

Protesting is also a key component of their overall strategy of gathering more supporters. Six months after the January 6th attack, their attention shifted to the local level. “I’ve always said my goal for this year was simple,” Tarrio said; “start getting more involved in local politics, running our guys for office from local seats, whether it’s a simple GOP seat or a city council seat.”

The Proud Boys have appeared at small-town council gatherings and school board presentations with the intention of bringing their brand of intimidating politics to the local level. At some meetings, they threaten local community leaders, while at others, they stand silently and menacingly, watching the events.

Why the Seditious Conspiracy Charges Matter

A study conducted by Leonard Burstyn of the University of Chicago found that the concept of Trumpism has not created more racists in the U.S., but rather emboldened those with extremist views to feel more comfortable expressing those views in public.

It is important these prosecutions surrounding the January 6th attack go forward, since the Proud Boys have engaged in violent street activity without any real legal consequences for years. Accountability needs to be demonstrated as more Americans may be inclined to believe that violence is the only way to accept and express their political differences. When beliefs such as those of the Proud Boys become more accepted into the mainstream, it becomes harder to monitor and prevent domestic violence, as there is a larger set of diffuse actors. This can already be observed with the recent shooting in Buffalo.


Camille Amberger, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


Islamic State Allegiances in Africa: A Sub-Saharan Breakdown

The ideology of the Islamic State has taken a significant hold in Sub-Saharan Africa. The group’s ideology has spread from just the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to a rapidly growing movement throughout Africa encompassing thousands of members. The Islamic State has various affiliates throughout Africa, including the Islamic State West Africa Province, Islamic State Central Africa Province, Islamic State Mozambique, and others who have pledged their allegiance to the organization.

The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara

The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) was first officially recognized by the Islamic State in the spring of 2019. Its first operations occurred in Burkina Faso near the Malian border and western Niger, and northeastern Mali. The ISGS has spread to southern Mali, and along the border of Niger and Burkina Faso. This organization has claimed the Tongo Tongo attack that occurred in Niger in 2017 that resulted in the death of four American and four Nigerien soldiers. This organization is a sub-group of the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), after being taken over by ISWAP in 2019. The goal of the ISGS is to establish a Salafist-Jihadi caliphate.

Islamic State West Africa Province

The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) first pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015. While ISWAP is often referred to as Boko Haram, the two organizations diverged from one another in 2016.

In late August 2021, ISWAP faced a significant setback when its former leader, Abu Musab Al-Barnawi, was killed. The details surrounding Al-Barnawi’s death remain greatly disputed; it is argued that Nigerian troops killed him, but others attest that he was killed by a rival organization. Despite this setback, ISWAP remains active throughout West Africa. Its most recent attack was on June 5, 2022, at an annual festival in Okene, Nigeria, that resulted in the death of two people.

Islamic State Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Islamic State Democratic Republic of the Congo (ISIS-DRC) is active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda. This organization was first officially recognized by the Islamic State in 2018, but it may have begun operations as early as 2017.  In 2021, this group conducted attacks that resulted in the deaths of 1,200 people in just the DRC, not including its large-scale urban attacks in Uganda. It was formerly known as the Allied Democratic Forces but rebranded and aligned its ideology with the Islamic State.

Islamic State Mozambique

Officially recognized by the Islamic State in August 2019, the Islamic State Mozambique (ISIS-Mozambique) is most widely known for its siege of Palma in the province of Cabo Delgado in March 2021.  A French company, TotalEnergies’ liquified natural gas plant was attacked causing the project to be suspended until safety was guaranteed.  ISIS-Mozambique’s actions, overall, have resulted in the deaths of over 1,700 civilians and the displacement of 784,000 people from Northern Mozambique.

 Islamic State Central Africa Province

The Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) does not work as a cohesive unit but rather is an overarching entity comprised of distinct regional affiliates, such as ISIS-Mozambique and ISIS-DRC. These two organizations are distinctly different in their attacks, goals, and actions throughout the DRC and Mozambique and, therefore, should not be viewed as one single group.

Outlook and Mitigation Efforts of the Islamic State in Sub-Saharan Africa

The ideology of the Islamic State has taken hold of thousands throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, making the region a breeding ground for more radicalization and attacks.  Countless organizations, countries, and private militaries have become involved in hopes of slowing the growing threat of the Islamic State in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Reasons behind the involvement of the Islamic State in Sub-Saharan Africa range from economic instability to individuals identifying with the organization’s ideology, leaving a complex and extensive range of issues that the international community must address and mitigate. Without proper economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of individuals involved with the Islamic State will likely grow. It is uncertain the future of the Islamic State in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the Islamic State’s affiliate organizations continue to grow, and without a proper and warranted response, this security threat will continue to increase.


Claire Spethman, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow


IS-K Seeks to Undermine the Taliban

In recent months, IS-K has increased the frequency and intensity of terrorist attacks against the Taliban and regional countries, up nearly 300% since last year. This surge of attacks comes as an attempt to undermine Taliban rule and provoke further tension with regional countries. By showing that terrorism has a home in Afghanistan, IS-K can sabotage promises made by the Taliban. IS-K may even attempt to prompt military action by countries in the region. This increased frequency of attacks also seeks to brand IS-K as the most anti-Shi’a extremist group in Afghanistan. IS-K’s strategy and operations in Afghanistan are likely to promote intra-jihadi competition, internal terrorist attacks, and regional instability.

Intra-Jihadi Competition

A primary motivator for IS-K to increase attacks is to promote their brand as the most anti-Shi’a extremist group in Afghanistan. This positioning helps the organization capture radicalized individuals that may have sought competing extremist groups. However, these attempts will lead to fiercer competition between jihadi movements, specifically Al-Qaeda. This competition may lead to retaliatory attacks by Al-Qaeda, which seeks to challenge IS-K’s assertion as the dominant extremist organization. This competition will also increase the number of external attacks on regional or western countries abroad, as both movements attempt to prove their commitment to anti-western action. With intensifying intra-jihadi competition, the international community should expect more frequent and intense external attacks launched from Afghanistan.

Internal Terrorist Attacks

Due to an economic and political crisis, discontent with the Taliban is at its peak. Looking to exploit that dissatisfaction, IS-K is launching numerous attacks against the Taliban to position itself as a militant opposition to the Taliban. This allows IS-K to radicalize individuals to their cause by appealing to anti-Taliban sentiment. IS-K is also launching terrorist attacks against Taliban-controlled territory to undermine the Taliban’s promise of security. The Taliban have previously portrayed themselves as a stabilizing force. By sabotaging security promises for citizens in Afghanistan, IS-K can continue to sow discontent and dissatisfaction with the Taliban and bolster recruitment. The international community and Afghanistan should expect IS-K to grow rapidly in current conditions and for internal attacks to become more frequent and intense.

Regional Instability

The core tenant of IS-K’s strategy involves undermining the Taliban’s promises to the international community. In their come to power, the Taliban promised that Afghanistan would not become a haven for terrorism. By launching external attacks against regional countries, IS-K can undermine this promise.

Among other notable attacks, IS-K was responsible for the attack on the Koocha Risaldar mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, in March 2022. The organization has also launched attacks and propaganda campaigns to target ties with Iran and China. If the Taliban cannot deal with the IS-K threat to regional and international countries, those countries may likely take more aggressive action to counter IS-K. Without fulfilling promises of security, the Taliban’s international partners may also be unwilling to continue their support. If the Taliban are unsuccessful in suppressing IS-K, the international community should expect long-term instability.

Next Steps

The Taliban has already launched a widespread, severe campaign against IS-K. However, this campaign is thus far ineffective. The U.S. is also limited in its counter-terrorism measures. This derives from a lack of intelligence-gathering infrastructure and an unwillingness from the Taliban to cooperate. Like many of the Taliban’s problems, the threat of IS-K is exacerbated by the underlying issues that plague the Afghan people. It is unlikely that there is a next step that will stifle IS-K’s growth and capabilities. For now, the U.S. and regional countries should act under the assumption that the Taliban will be unable to fulfill its promise of security and that Afghanistan has become a haven for terrorism.


Rise to Peace Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Civil War

How Likely is Another Civil War in Afghanistan and What Would it Mean for Pakistan?

For the second time, the Taliban captured Afghanistan putting an end to what is known as the United States’ longest war in the country. Though touted as the end of a twenty-year-long war, the Taliban’s return to power triggers other grave issues – a probable civil war. This results in the country again turning into a haven for regional and global terrorism, and thus threatens regional and global security. Another factor is the Taliban’s unaltered temperament toward Afghans which further increases the possibility of a public revolt against the group.

Besides the Taliban’s fundamentalist approach, Pakistan’s blatant endorsement is a likely driving force behind the prospective political and economic crises to accelerate in Afghanistan. As a result of such crises, the flames will inflict on Pakistan as well.

Additionally, the Taliban’s religiously inclined fundamental policies that are inspired by Pakistani madrasas engender a Taliban’s pro-Pakistan approach, enticing political turmoil against the group. Two major standpoints such as economic and political perspectives are therefore considered to highlight the likelihood of a prospective civil war in the Taliban-led Afghanistan.

The Economic Standpoint

The Taliban’s August 2021 takeover of Kabul was instantly followed by a sprint in the slowdown of the Afghan economy – an estimated 40 percent. As a result, with 500,000 job losses, the unemployment rate rampantly spiked. Such an unprecedented hike in the unemployment rate is becoming a provoking driver behind Afghans’ willingness to revolt against the Taliban’s rule, since the people might have no other alternative for survival, as the poverty rate has already spiked to 97 percent.

The exacerbating high rate of unemployment has also led to an aggravating fall in the public financial condition. As per the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report, an imminent prospect of a one-third decline in the per capita incomes was warned based on the facts over the last months of the year 2021. Vulnerable to such economic catastrophe, many civilians are now stranded in destitution and even have been forced to put their children on sale in desperation for life.

The Political Standpoint

The Taliban bears the brunt of political and military challenges from the Islamic State (ISIS) militants, the National Resistance Force (NRF), and the Liwa Fatemiyoun militia.

Since the fall of the elected government in Afghanistan in August 2021, terrorist groups such as ISIS unprecedently emerged stronger. Meaning that the Taliban’s return is still seen as a welcoming note by the world’s other renowned terrorist groups to reestablish in Afghanistan. This could be an undermining threat to the Taliban’s rule. Nonetheless, in the case of the fight against ISIS, Afghans are less likely to back the Taliban given the group’s nationwide negatively perceived image created by its tenacious policies.

Vulnerable to the Taliban’s ideology, the Hazara community, which comprises 9 to 10 percent of Afghanistan’s total population, is thought to be Iran-backed pro-Liwa Fatemiyoun. After fighting ISIS alongside Bashar-al-Assad in Syria, the Fatemiyoun has now turned its eyes on Afghanistan. The Fatemiyoun’s intention to target the Taliban becomes more feasible now. This is due to the Taliban’s anti-Shia ideology and the growing number of attacks on Shia Muslims in Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal. The Fatemiyoun militia will not only target the Taliban but also ISIS, as they do in Syria, which would go beyond one for the Taliban’s leadership to thus manage such a complicated triangular skirmish.

This saga turns even more perilous as the newly established Panjshir-based NRF targets the Taliban. This is primarily due to the Taliban’s reluctance to form an inclusive government and welcome the former politicians, government employees, and other prominent figures to their government circuit.

Implications for Pakistan

Driven by the Taliban’s pro-Pakistan stance, Afghans have opposed and feared the Taliban’s return. Despite such nationwide despise among Afghans, the group’s all-weather supporters, Pakistan’s military, and religious leadership warmly welcomed the Taliban’s return in August 2021. The people of Pakistan even celebrated the Taliban’s return and considered it as an indirect victory for Pakistan in Afghanistan. Given this, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan also went on to endorse the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul during a press conference in Islamabad, stating that “Afghanistan has broken the shackles of slavery.”

However, the Taliban’s religiously inclined ideology could turn into a Pashtun ethnocentric ideology or diverge its political route, possibly to India. Recently a blend of Indian diplomats made a surprise visit to Kabul, a red sign for Pakistan. While there are already hints that the Taliban cordially provides congenial hospitality to the key Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) figures who were detained in the previous administration.

Second, Pakistan plays a double-faced game as more of a broker between the global superpowers vis-à-vis China, Russia, and the U.S. For Pakistan, leaning on and accompanying one will entice the other to recoil, as Pakistan’s brokerage role may not sustain longer given the dynamics in the world geopolitical order.

Third, Pakistan is already severely indebted and could become a buffer zone sandwiched between the great powers. Ties with the U.S. are already deteriorating with the aid flow decreasing, while the all-weather ally China’s aid does not come without huge interest rates. Already drowned in huge debts, Pakistan could face a similar fate as Sri Lanka, should the country fail to withstand such enormous debts and avoid the role of a broker and supporter of terrorist groups.


The controversial quell to the U.S.’ twenty-year-long war, coupled with the Taliban’s hold on power, serves as a stepping-stone to another likely political tumult in the country. Other renowned terrorist groups leverage this new phase in Afghanistan’s political scenario. The entry of these terrorist groups is a turning point for regional and global security. Additionally, Afghanistan would be devastated by another civil war. Being a significant Taliban supporter, Pakistan is going to get inflicted the most as the country may remain stuck in the great game.

The Taliban is recommended to form an inclusive government, and welcome professionals and prominent policymakers from the previous government. Also, the group needs to adhere to national interests such as retaining the national anthem, and the national flag while keeping in mind women’s rights, particularly girls’ education.

The Taliban also needs to stop solely depending on Pakistan both politically and economically, especially concerning policy level national matters. For Pakistan, it is important to shun lobbying and brokering for the Taliban on international platforms. Instead, Pakistan needs to critically examine the issues it faces.


Hamayun Khan, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow

Rise to Peace