This is the Aftermath: Assessing Domestic Violent Extremism One Year After the Capitol Siege

This is the Aftermath:  Assessing Domestic Violent Extremism One Year After the Capitol Siege


Authored by Bennett Clifford and Jon Lewis
January 2022

On the one-year anniversary of January 6, 2021, this report takes stock of the Capitol Siege’s impacts on domestic violent extremism in America, and the U.S. federal government’s efforts to respond to the threat over the past year. It analyzes the demographic and geographic backgrounds of the 704 individuals charged federally for their alleged roles in the Capitol Siege. The report finds that: 

  • Existing evidence shows limited correlation between an individual’s planning and coordination with domestic violent extremist groups prior to January 6th and their alleged participation in violent activities on January 6th. Examining the “spontaneous clusters”—individual siege participants who coordinated with others during the breach of the Capitol and jointly conducted violence—is vitally important to understand the nature of the violence at the Capitol and the potential for similar events in the future.
  • Federal prosecutors allege that two domestic violent extremist networks were most responsible for mobilizing their followers to the Capitol on January 6th: the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. These groups have faced the bulk of the federal law enforcement pressure in the year following the Siege, with the varying degrees of decentralization in their leadership impacting 2021 mobilization.
  • Since January 2021, the U.S. government has made massive changes to its domestic counterterrorism architecture at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. In 2021, each major agency tasked with counterterrorism has adopted new policies and guidelines to address domestic violent extremism, in response to a first-of-its-kind push from the White House to develop a national strategy to counter domestic terrorism. This report assesses that countering domestic violent extremist groups after the Capitol Siege will require continued innovations in categorizing and analyzing groups and actors, as well as coordinating information sharing between federal, state, local, and non-governmental authorities.


Moderating Extremism: The State of Online Terrorist Content Removal Policy in the United States

Moderating Extremism: The State of Online Terrorist Content Removal Policy in the United States


Authored by Bennett Clifford
December 2021

By reviewing studies of how today’s terrorist and extremist groups operate on social media in conjunction with an overview of U.S. government regulation of terrorist content online, this report finds that stricter U.S. regulation of social media providers may not be the most effective method of combating online terrorist and extremist content.


• Direct governmental regulations that ignore other sources of regulation on content removal policies could disrupt growing intra-industry collaboration on countering terrorist content online.

• In many regards, the U.S. government defers to and depends on the private sector to conduct counterterrorism online. Many factors contribute to this arrangement, including limits on the government’s authorities, expertise, staffpower, dexterity and political will to manage online terrorist content with the same efficacy as major social media companies.

• Attempts by other governments to strictly regulate social media companies’ terrorist content removal policies hurt small companies, created double standards and redundancies, and raised concerns about censorship and free speech.

• Proposed regulations may only affect major U.S. social media providers; smaller and non-U.S. companies may be unable, unwilling, or not required to comply. Due to the proliferation of social media platforms exploited by terrorists and extremists, platforms that may be unaffected by U.S. government regulation currently host a large proportion of terrorist content online.

• In certain regards, major social media companies’ content removal policies have more flexibility than the U.S. government to be able to account for new terrorist and extremist groups and actors and their respective tactics, techniques, and procedures online.

Rise of the Reactionaries: Comparing The Ideologies of Salafi-Jihadism and White Supremacist Extremism

Rise of the Reactionaries: Comparing the Ideologies of Salafi-Jihadism and White Supremacist Extremism


Authored by Alexander Meleagrou Hitchens, Blyth Crawford, Valentin Wutke
December 2021

Salafi-jihadism and right-wing white supremacist extremism are two of the most visible, active, and threatening violent extremist movements operating in the West today, responsible for dozens of attacks throughout North America and Western Europe. Despite key distinctions, both movements rely on ideas which, while vastly different in language and context, are rooted in a similar set of underlying structural processes and drivers. The purpose of this study is to identify and analyze these similarities, with the aim of contributing to the understanding of why both are enjoying a moment of increased popularity in the West today.

This report is structured around the five most important ideological overlaps identified by the authors: chauvinist collective identity, conspiracism, antisemitism, necessity and legitimacy of violence, and utopianism. Each of these has a dedicated chapter that both explains how these traits are manifested in each movement and provides a comparative analysis. How these traits are connected is also reflected in the order in which they are presented in the study, reflecting how one feeds into and is linked to the next.

By identifying both shared traits and divergence between these two movements, it is possible to gain a better understanding of the dynamics and appeal of two extremist movements that have found increasing bodies of support in the West. Such a comparison can therefore contribute to an understanding of how each movement addresses and appeals to the concerns, desires, and fears of their target populations.

Anarchist/Left-Wing Violent Extremism in America: Trends in Radicalization, Recruitment, and Mobilization

Anarchist/Left-Wing Violent Extremism in America: Trends in Radicalization, Recruitment, and Mobilization


November 2021

Anarchist/left wing violent extremism, often referred to in United States government parlance with the catch-all term anarchist violent extremism, (AVE), has a long-standing history in the U.S. The political climate in recent years has intensified focus, interest, and controversy surrounding the activities of specific left-wing extremist currents. This paper attempts to situate AVE within the broader landscape of domestic violent extremist (DVE) threats facing the U.S. and chart the evolution of violent plots with a nexus to AVEs. In doing so, it analyzes a recent Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) joint report that reviewed significant domestic terrorism incidents in the U.S. between 2015 and 2019.

This paper highlights three trends:

  • Violence committed by AVEs in this period was largely locally organized, eventdriven, and/or opportunistic. However, individual AVEs inspired by the movement and its ideologies also planned mass-casualty terrorist attacks, predominantly against law enforcement, private property, and those they associate with opposing violent extremist groups.
  • Individual AVEs also demonstrated interest in similar activities as other DVE groups—such as foreign fighter travel, disrupting government and/or electoral activities, and terrorism financing.
  • Ongoing changes in the political, social, and economic climate in the U.S., as well as changes in the makeup, strength, and doctrines of other American domestic extremist groups, have the potential to escalate the frequency and lethality of violence committed by AVEs in the immediate future


The Muslim Brotherhood's Reaction to the Taliban's Return to Power

Muslim Brotherhood's Reaction to Taliban Return


Authored by Sergio Altuna
November 2021

Islamists around the world have monitored the events in Afghanistan with great interest. The Taliban’s successful military offensive and subsequent return to power galvanized public displays of support from the movement’s regional allies, and especially from aligned Al-Qaeda supporters. While much attention has been paid to the reactions among various jihadist groups, there has not been much focus on the broader effects of the Taliban takeover on global Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood.


While a significant degree of uncertainty still surrounds the Taliban’s international agenda, prominent players within the Muslim Brotherhood have already signaled their unambiguous support for the group. This paper compiles those declarations of support by Muslim Brotherhood members, documenting various quotes, official statements, publications, media appearances, and more. The collection starts from the fall of Kabul and proceeds to the present, dividing quotes into two distinct categories according to their origin: 1) those made by members or groups of the global Muslim Brotherhood, and 2) those made by members or institutions specifically of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West. On the whole, the collection below provides evidence not only of the ideological affinities shared by the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood, but also reveals how the Brotherhood is adapting its discourse to incorporate and accommodate new narratives of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban.


The Long Jihad: The Islamic State's Method of Insurgency- Control, Meaning, & the Occupation of Mosul in Context

The Long Jihad


Authored by Haroro J. Ingram 
September 2021

This study examines the Islamic State movement’s method of insurgency in both its theory (as articulated in the group’s internal and publicly disseminated documents) and its practice via an analysis of its capture and occupation of Mosul. Drawing on a variety of primary source materials including interviews, this paper presents a conceptual model of insurgency arguing that the Islamic State emerges as an exemplar case study of many key strategic mechanisms and psychosocial dynamics that are crucial for understanding modern insurgencies.

To these ends, this study has three key aims. First, it presents a conceptual framework for understanding modern insurgency as a dual contest of control and meaning. This model of insurgency, which builds on a range of sources including a global cross-section of insurgency doctrines, is then applied to the Islamic State. Second, this study analyses fourteen primary source documents that constitute the Islamic State’s insurgency canon. It then examines the Islamic State’s method of insurgency in practice with a particular focus on the years following its near decimation in 2007-08 through to its occupation of Mosul (circa 2014-17). Third, this study concludes by outlining a suite of research and policy recommendations based on its key conceptual and analytical findings. Overall, it hopes to contribute to not only literature examining the Islamic State but ongoing scholarly and practitioner debates on how best to understand modern insurgencies and its counterstrategy implications.


The Founding Fathers of American Jihad: The Impacts and Legacies of Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and Ahmad Abousamra

The Founding Fathers of American Jihad


Authored by Haroro J. Ingram and Jon Lewis
June 2021

This report assesses three individuals who played an outsized role in the evolution of English-language jihadist propaganda: The Americans Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, and Ahmad Abousamra. The study applies the CIP (Charismatic, Ideological, and Pragmatic) leadership framework to analyze and compare the legacies and impacts of the three. Drawing on the framework's life narrative approach, the report focuses on how 'life events' were leveraged in each of their eulogies to project these individuals as inspirational jihadi figures worthy of emulation.

Through this framework, al-Awlaki emerges as the quintessential charismatic leader, Khan as an ideological leader, and Abousamra as a pragmatic leader. These clear distinctions in leadership styles are reflective of the different personal attributes, backgrounds, and organizational contexts within which the individuals operated. Moreover, these differences in leadership characteristics shaped their respective impacts and legacies in ways that have important implications for the fields of research and practice. 



Racially/Ethnically Motivated (RMVE) Attack Planning and United States Federal Response, 2014-2019

This is War


Authored by Bennett Clifford
May 2021

This report evaluates 40 cases of individuals charged in United States federal courts between 2014 and 2019, who are alleged to have planned or conducted violent attacks in the United States in furtherance of RMVE causes or ideologies. By evaluating the demographic, ideological, and
organizational backgrounds of the perpetrators, as well as their attack-planning methods
and processes, this report evaluates the successes and failures of federal law enforcement
in investigating and prosecuting RMVE attack planners.

The study recommends a data-driven reevaluation and reallocation of FBI and DOJ resources and staff dedicated to investigating and prosecuting RMVE. It also proposes broader information-sharing between federal, state, and local partners on RMVE threats, particularly between the FBI and local religious communities. Finally, the report argues that a federal statute that criminalizes acts of domestic terrorism, similar to 18 U.S. Code § 2332b, would be most applicable to prosecutions of attack planning cases involving RMVEs.



“This is War” Examining Military Experience Among the Capitol Hill Siege Participants

This is War


Authored by Daniel Milton and Andrew Mines
April 2021

This report explores military experience among those arrested in the January 6 Capitol incident. While the Capitol Hill siege is but one event in a longer history of military populations’ involvement in extremism, it offers a useful snapshot through which we can examine the scale and diversity of the issue. We present findings for a number of metrics accordingly, and provide some considerations for military officials, the general public, and policymakers.  

At the time of writing, 43 of 357 individuals (12%) charged in federal court for their role in the Capitol Hill siege had some form of military experience. Of these 43 individuals, the vast majority (93%) were veterans and not currently serving in an Active Duty,
reservist, or Guard status. Individuals with military experience had, on average, 9 years of service experience. The range of experience was substantial, from 3
years on the low-end to 25 years on the high-end. Over one-quarter were commissioned officers, and 44% deployed at least once. Around one-third joined before 2000, and around 50% left the service over a decade ago. 


The Islamic State in the Congo

The Islamic State


Authored by Tara Candland, Adam Finck, Haroro Ingram, Laren Poole, Lorenzo Vidino, and Caleb Weiss
March 2021

This report systematically examines how the efforts of the Islamic State to expand globally and the aspirations of Musa Baluku’s Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) merged in a mix of push and pull factors that resulted in the ADF becoming the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) chapter of the Islamic State in Central Africa Province (ISCAP).

Based largely on primary sources, including a unique collection of defector and local source accounts, it tracks the ADF’s evolution from its Ugandan origins to being part of a formal province of the Islamic State, revealing unique insights into the group’s inner workings and its efforts to build transnational networks to support its operations. 

The report finds that the ADF’s ties with the Islamic State may have started as early as 2017. By 2018, ISCAP was acknowledged as a formal province of the Islamic State, and in April 2019, ISCAP attacks in the DRC were first formally claimed by the Islamic State’s central media units.


To read the report in French, click here


"This is Our House!" A Preliminary Assessment of the Capitol Hill Siege Participants

This is Our House


Authored by The Program on Extremism Staff
March 2021

This report offers new details about the individuals alleged to have stormed the nation's Capitol, as well as a number of recommendations for how to address the events of January 6th.

At the time of writing, 257 individuals have been charged in federal court for their involvement. They represent a heterogeneous group, with individuals as young as 18 and as old as 70 charged. They came to the Capitol from 40 states, and 91% traveled from outside the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. 33 individuals have known military backgrounds. Some face as many as 17 counts on their indictment, and charges range from trespassing and illegal entry on designated grounds to seditious conspiracy against the U.S. government. 

This report categorizes individuals according to three distinct categories: militant networks, organized clusters, and inspired believers. Based on the report's findings, we recommend that the U.S. government improve access to data on domestic terrorism investigations, conduct a systematic review of intelligence gathering and policy response to domestic terrorism alerts, and use existing structures to improve information-sharing between the federal agencies tasked with combating domestic violent extremism.









Antisemitism as an Underlying Precursor to Violent Extremism in American Far-Right and Islamist Contexts

Antisemitism as an Underlying Precursor to Violent Extremism in American Far-Right and Islamist Contexts


Authored by Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens Bennett Clifford, Lorenzo Vidino
October 2020

This report examines the foundational nature of antisemitism in multiple violent extremist movements in the United States, both violent and non-violent. American extremists incorporate antisemitic tropes and narratives in every level of their worldviews, using them to
help construct “us/them” dichotomies and wide-sweeping conspiracies that are essential to their movements.

During the past several decades, the American extremist movements that have been among the most violent—specifically, far-right and jihadist groups—have used antisemitism to target Jewish people, Jewish houses of worship, Jewish community institutions, and Americans supporting the Jewish state of Israel. The report provides case studies of violent American extremists, representing far-right and jihadist movements respectively, which demonstrate that antisemitism can be an integral part of American extremists’ progression through the radicalization process and in
justifying terrorist attacks. 


Dollars for Daesh: Analyzing the Finances of American ISIS Supporters

Dollars for Daesh: Analyzing the Finances of American ISIS Supporters


Authored by Lorenzo Vidino, Jon Lewis, and Andrew Mines
September 2020

Dollars for Daesh analyzes both the tactics ISIS supporters in the U.S. used to raise and move funds, as well as the various types of networks from which individuals drew financial support. The authors drew on thousands of pages of court documents covering criminal proceedings dating from 2013 to the end of August 2020. The report was made possible through support from the National Counterterrorism, Innovation, Technology, and Education Center (NCITE). 


Overall, the report shows that U.S.-based ISIS supporters left a small and unsophisticated financial footprint, with a few notable exceptions. Furthermore, individuals tended to operate as lone financial actors or in small clusters, which has mitigated the effectiveness of counter-terrorism financing policies and tools that have successfully targeted the larger and more sophisticated financing mechanisms of groups like Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas. The low-level and largely inconspicuous nature of these actors will likely pose a unique challenge to law enforcement efforts going forward. This report is part of a new Program on Extremism stream of research into terrorism financing, which aims to assess and explore these trends across a range of various extremist groups and ideologies.



White Supremacist Terror: Modernizing Our Approach to Today's Threat

White Supremacist Terror: Modernizing Our Approach to Today's Threat


Authored by Jon Lewis, Seamus Hughes, Oren Segal, and Ryan Greer
April 2020

This report focuses on the recent arrests of domestic extremists, as well as current efforts by law enforcement to disrupt and counter the growing influence of racially motivated violent extremist ideology—specifically white supremacy—and analyze the current state of enforcement actions against two domestic networks: The Base and Atomwaffen Division.

In the accompanying policy recommendations, the authors outline administrative actions, legislative and policy changes, and other possible federal and state legal and prosecutorial powers that could allow for a more comprehensive and effective approach to countering these threats. 


Kemal Helbawy: A Pioneer of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West

The Islamic State's Effort to Co-Opt Hurras Ad-Din


Authored by Lorenzo Vidino
January 2020

In his forthcoming book, The Closed Circle: Joining and Leaving the Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Columbia University Press, 2020), Program on Extremism Director Lorenzo Vidino provides critical new perspectives on Muslim Brotherhood in the West gathered from extensive interviews with former members of the group in Europe and North America. 

In this excertped chapter, Dr. Vidino tells the story of Kamal Helbawy, a legendary figure in Islamist circles for more than 60 years and one of the most senior members of the Brotherhood to have ever operated in the West. Helbawy discusses how he joined the Brotherhood in the 1950s and his international work for the group, in addition to his key role in establishing core clusters of the Brotherhood in the West and, ultimately, why he left the organization in 2012. 



The Other Travelers: American Jihadists Beyond Syria and Iraq

The Other Travelers: American Jihadists Beyond Syria and Iraq


Authored by Seamus Hughes, Emily Blackburn, and Andrew Mines
August 2019

This study builds on previous work by the Program's researchers on Americans who travel to join jihadist groups. Using interviews with law enforcement officials and thousands of pages of legal documents, the authors found 36 individuals who traveled or attempted to travel to join jihadist groups outside of Syria and Iraq from 2011 to 2019. These "Other Travelers" predominantly traveled to longstanding hotspots of jihadist activity: the Af-Pak region, Somalia, and Yemen. As the landscape of the Salafi-jihadist movement continues to evolve, this report contributes to the field's understanding of the broader foreign fighter phenomenon.



Encrypted Extremism: Inside the English-Speaking Islamic State Ecosystem on Telegram

Encrypted Extremism


Authored by Bennett Clifford and Helen Powell
June 2019

Telegram, an online instant messaging service popular among adherents of the Islamic State (IS), remains vital to the organization’s ecosystem of communications. The platform’s functional affordances, paired with relatively lax enforcement of Telegram’s terms of service (ToS), offers IS sympathizers a user-friendly medium to engage with like-minded supporters and content. This report examines 636 pro-IS Telegram channels and groups that contain English-language content collected between June 1, 2017 and October 24, 2018. While this time-bound and linguistically limited sample represents a sliver of the pro-IS ecosystem on Telegram, the subsequent findings have important implications for policymakers assigned to the dual tasks of countering IS’ online foothold and engaging with service providers like Telegram.



The Islamic State's Effort To Co-Opt Tanzim Hurras Ad-Din

The Islamic State's Efforts to Co-Opt Tanzim Hurras Ad-Din


Authored by Asaad Almohammad
November 2019

Based on data gathered from eastern and northwestern Syria between January 2018 and April 2019, the author investigated the Islamic State’s covert operation to infiltrate and fold Tanzim Hurras ad-Din (Guardians of Religion Organization), an unofficial alQaeda affiliate, under its banner. Evidenced by internal documents and interview materials, this paper argues that the Islamic State has orchestrated and implemented this multifaceted operation since at least mid-January 2017. In the run-up to territorial defeat in eastern Syria, the Islamic State signaled its interest in relocating its operatives to Idlib. The group also developed scenarios to facilitate the movement of its members to northwest Syria in the case of territorial defeat. With the potential of a reduction in counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State, such a plan, if implemented successfully, may allow the organization to put a contingency plan into action, one that facilitates its effort to regroup and rebuild its depleted capacities in Syria. This paper utilizes and demonstrates the value of the tribe building method in gathering data in warzones.



Salafism in America: History, Evolution, Radicalization

Salafism in America: History, Evolution, Radicalization


Authored by Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens
October 2018

Salafism, a complex and multifaceted conservative global Islamic movement, has become a topic of increased interest among a range of scholars over the last decade. Although worthy of study in its own right, the Salafi movement often attracts attention because certain components of it provide much of the ideological inspiration for jihadist groups including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS). This study is one of the first to focus solely on Salafism in the United States. Drawing on multiple primary sources, including interviews with leading American Salafis, it provides an overview of the history, evolution, and contours of the movement in America. In doing so, it also offers insights on the genesis of jihadism in the U.S.



The Travelers: American Jihadists in Syria and Iraq

The Travelers: American Jihadists in Syria and Iraq


Authored by Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, Seamus Hughes, and Bennett Clifford
February 2018

This study reflects the most comprehensive, publicly available accounting of Americans who traveled to join jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq since 2011. It identifies 64 travelers, the largest available sample to date. These individuals, and their stories, were uncovered during a multi-year investigation. Authors interviewed law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys, and attended relevant court proceedings. Additionally, they reviewed thousands of pages of legal documents, filing information requests and federal court motions to unseal records where necessary. Finally, the authors conducted several interviews with American travelers who returned from the territories held by the Islamic State (IS).



Digital Decay: Tracing Change Over Time Among English-Language Islamic State Sympathizers on Twitter

Digital Decay


Authored by Audrey Alexander
October 2017

Until 2016, Twitter was the online platform of choice for English-language Islamic State (IS) sympathizers. As a result of Twitter’s counter-extremism policies - including content removal - there has been a decline in activity by IS supporters. This outcome may suggest the company’s efforts have been effective, but a deeper analysis reveals a complex, nonlinear portrait of decay. Such observations show that the fight against IS in the digital sphere is far from over. In order to examine this change over time, this report collects and reviews 845,646 tweets produced by 1,782 English-language pro-IS accounts from February 15, 2016 to May 1, 2017. This study finds that Twitter’s policies hinder sympathizers on the platform, but counter-IS practitioners should not overstate the impact of these measures in the broader fight against the organization online.




Fear Thy Neighbor: Radicalization and Jihadist Attacks in the West

Fear Thy Neighbor: Radicalization and Jihadist Attacks in the West


Authored by Lorenzo Vidino, Francesco Marone, and Eva Entenmann
June 2017

This report examines all jihadist-motivated terrorist attacks carried out in Europe and North America since the declaration of the Caliphate by the Islamic State group in June 2014. By analyzing the 51 attacks and their perpetrators, this study constitutes the first comprehensive account of attacks carried out during the past three years.


Not Just The Caliphate: Non-Islamic State-Related Jihadist Terrorism in America

Not just the caliphate


Authored by Sarah Gilkes
December 2016

While there has been a relative surge in the number of U.S. persons radicalized and recruited by the Islamic State in the last five years, other jihadist organizations, primarily al-Qaeda, remain popular and active. This suggests that, while group affiliation matters, the draw of the wider Salafi-jihadist ideology that al-Qaeda, IS, and other like-minded groups adhere to is equally important when analyzing the jihadist threat to America.

Cruel Intentions: Female Jihadists in America

Cruel intentions


Authored by Audrey Alexander
November 2016 

The self-proclaimed Islamic State and other jihadist actors have identified several unique roles for Western women in their radicalization and recruitment efforts. This report finds that, while few conduct violent plots, many disseminate propaganda, donate resources, or travel abroad to offer their support. This report uses a wealth of primary and secondary data to examine the efforts of 25 jihadi women in America from January 2011 to September 2016. 

ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa

Isis in america


Authored by Lorenzo Vidino and Seamus Hughes
December 2015

The report consists of two parts. The first examines all cases of U.S. persons arrested, indicted, or convicted in the United States for IS-related activities. This section also looks at the cases of other Americans who, while not in the legal system, are known to have engaged in IS-inspired behavior.

The second examines various aspects of the IS-related mobilization in America. It analyzes the individual motivations of IS supporters, the role of the Internet—in particular, social media—in their radicalization and recruitment processes, whether their radicalization took place in isolation or with like-minded individuals, and the degree of their tangible links to IS.

Countering Violent Extremism in America

Isis in america


Authored by Lorenzo Vidino and Seamus Hughes
June 2015

This report examines the status of CVE in the United States and explores what lessons and experiences the European CVE community can offer their American counterparts. The report dives into past efforts to develop local CVE frameworks at the city-level, targeted interventions, and the existing debate within American Muslim communities. The authors cover current challenges for CVE in America, and offer reccomendations for academics, policymakers, and practitioners. 

Examine All Reports