Analyzing ISIS Activity in the U.S.

In light of last month’s attacks in Paris and recent political discourse on Syrian refugee policies, substantial attention has been given to ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and its influence throughout the west. Despite the geographic displacement compared to European nations, the U.S. is still a major target of ISIS recruitment and is currently witnessing an increase in ISIS sympathizers.

A study recently released by the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism titled ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa reviews the characteristics of American ISIS sympathizers in an attempt to illustrate the group’s modus operandi within the U.S. Several focuses of the report include: statistics/demographics of American ISIS sympathizers, activities that sympathizers perform, the role of social media (especially Twitter) in recruitment and mobilization, and overall radicalization throughout the U.S. The report analyzes these focuses in two sections, which are summarized below.

“A Snapshot of ISIS in America”

In this section, the authors paint a picture of the Americans who have been arrested for sympathizing with ISIS. Demographical information includes Age, Location (by state), Gender, Citizenship Status, Arrest Characteristics, and Religious History (converts to Islam vs. non-converts). This section also documents particular cases of American ISIS sympathizers who have been killed (both in the U.S. and abroad) and speculates on sympathizers who have not been apprehended and still “remain at large.”

From Keyboard Warriors to Battlefield Commanders: Understanding the Spectrum of ISIS in America”

As a product of their widespread motivations behind becoming radicalized and supporting ISIS, there is high level of diversity throughout American ISIS sympathizers and ways in which they contribute. This section begins by highlighting American activities on social media, ranging from Grooming/Recruitment to Travel Agents to propagation of the organization’s current events in what the report dubs The Radicalization Echo Chamber. The section also highlights the characteristics of areas that have witnessed a high volume of ISIS sympathizers (particularly Minneapolis) and other cases of Americans supporting ISIS.

The report concludes by offering several policy recommendations to counter ISIS sympathy within the U.S., including the increase in domestic funding to counter violent extremism, re-structuring counter-ISIS messaging practices, and “leveraging American ISIS recruits who have become disillusioned with the cause.”

For more resources on Domestic Jihadism/Islamism and Domestic Extremisim, visit the Homeland Security Digital Lbirary (some resources may require HSDL login).


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