NCSP Spotlight: The DOMEX Project

October 30, 2014

Victor Asal

Victor Asal is Director of the Center for Policy Research and an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and the director of the Homeland Security Certificate and MPA Concentration in the Department of Public Administration and Policy. He is also, along with R. Karl Rethemeyer, the co-director of the Project on Violent Conflict.

Andy Vitek

Andy Vitek is a Pre-Doctoral Fellow at the Rockefeller College.

To most Americans, the word extremist usually evokes images of transnational actors such as al-Qaeda. What most Americans don't realize is that extremism doesn't just exist overseas, but also here at home. Not surprisingly, the literature on terrorism and violent extremism has not yet fully explored domestic extremism.

NCSP Student Analyst and Pre-Doctoral Fellow Andy Vitek and Center for Policy Research Director Victor Asal, recently teamed up to secure a $4,000 grant from the University at Albany to study domestic extremist organizations. The Domestic Extremist Organizational Behavior Project (DOMEX) aims to collect data on all domestic extremists, regardless of whether or not they are violent.

"It is hard to tell who is dangerous; it is one thing to think like an extremist, it is another thing to act on those thoughts."

- Victor Asal

The DOMEX project aims to break new ground through the construction of a comprehensive data set that encompasses the entirety of domestic extremist activity going back to 1980, which includes nearly 500 distinct organizations. Drawing designation criteria from organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center as well as the FBI, the project will record yearly organizational data for each organization, such as ideology, size, operating structure, media use, protest and political activity, as well as a host of other variables.

Once all the data has been collected, Asal and Vitek will create and manipulate different variables to determine why extremists choose to become violent. "It is hard to tell who is dangerous," says Asal. "It is one thing to think like an extremist, it is another thing to act on those thoughts." Once this is determined, they will use the data to predict which groups will likely become violent and which ones will not.

Vitek argues that this project is both necessary and timely. "Firstly the current body of research we have on domestic radicalization can barely be called that, as the vast majority of terrorism and radicalization research has solely focused on transnational and Islamic groups." He adds that this research "has an even greater importance now because radicalization levels always increase in times of economic hardships. We see it in Europe with the rise of the New Right and domestically with heightened radical rhetoric and scattered acts of violence by far right organizations and individuals."

"Most international politics scholars all but ignore the US as a case however. I feel that this makes little sense, especially given the level of global influence the US commands, and developing a more nuanced understanding of radicalization in the US will not only be valuable in itself but also provide contextual and comparative value for more internationally oriented studies."

- Andy Vitek

When asked whether he thinks he will find that the United States is more or less extreme than its international counterparts, Asal said he expects that the US is on par with other democracies, but emphasizes "that's an empirical question, we'll have to wait and see."