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, and Lorenzo Vidino
October 2020

This report examines the role of antisemitic ideas and narratives as foundational elements of two disparate American violent extremist movements: the extreme right wing and violent Islamist groups. Both movements have historically used antisemitism as a belief and world-structuring theory to recruit new followers, mobilize them to action, and justify violent attacks against the Jewish community in the United States. Despite differences in ideology between far-right and Islamist extremists-and methodological disagreements between violent and non-violent iterations of the same movement-the various iterations of these movements have all included antisemitism as a core element of their worldviews.

Three recent case studies of American violent extremists from the far-right and Islamist currents structure the report's findings. Antisemitism was a vital part of the radicalization process in each case study, despite apparent differences in ideological persuasion. In some individual case studies, antisemitic narratives were a gateway issue that structured the remainder of their radicalization and mobilization to others. For others, it shaped their transitions between one extremist movement and the other, or between a non-violent and violent iteration of the same extremist movement.

To conclude, the report argues that counterterrorism and countering violent extremism practitioners and scholars may consider treating antisemitism as a diagnostic factor for radicalization to violent extremism. While distinguishing a profile for American violent extremists remains a difficult task, antisemitism's ubiquity in various extremist movements over time in the United States makes it a common denominator among many types of American violent extremism. The report was made possible through support from the National Counterterrorism, Innovation, Technology, and Education Center (NCITE).


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. 

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