NCSP Researchers Examine Organizational Behaviors of Domestic Extremist Organizations

February 27, 2014

The past decade has fostered a field of robust research focused on various dimensions of terrorism and violent extremism, particularly in the areas of transnational and state-sponsored violent extremist and terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and their various affiliates. While the international scope of this work encompasses the more visible and well-known terrorist and extremist activities of recent years, the majority of research fails to systematically address the majority of violent extremist acts that has occurred in the United States in the past fifty years - acts perpetrated by domestic extremist actors and organizations.

Indeed, these violent extremist actors and organizations are a subset of a larger set of domestic extremist actors and organizations that exist in the United States that are predominantly not violent and encompass a wide range of ideologies. The question, however, of primary explanatory variables that separate violent and non-violent groups has yet to be explored in any significant detail. Researchers of the Policy, Intelligence, Exercises, and Simulations Section are currently engaged in exploring just this question.

Named Domestic Extremist Organizational Behaviors, the goal of this project is to investigate the ideological, organization, and network level variables associated with the use of violence by domestic extremist groups that exists in the United States. To accomplish this, the project will create a dataset encompassing the full range of US extremist groups as designated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Southern Poverty Law Center that contains variables identified through a comprehensive review of existing terrorism, social movement, and criminological literature.

Once the dataset has been constructed, statistical analyses will be employed to identify those variables that possess the most explanatory power in determining a group's propensity for violence. The analyses will be able to determine the factors that most contribute to a group's propensity for violence and also to predict the likelihood of violent tendencies of future extremist actors and organizations. Simultaneously, the project also aims to contribute to the development of future policies designed to counter violence perpetrated by domestic extremist actors and organizations and those designed to prevent domestic extremist perpetrated violence.

In addition to the analytical contribution of this project, it also aims to remedy the lack of quantitative data on domestic terrorism and extremism that can serve as a resource to researchers and stakeholders in academia as well as public and private sectors. This database will include all groups that have been domestically active since approximately 1970, both violent and non-violent, and capture group ideology and constituency, organizational capacity (through metrics such as size, age, and leadership structure), and networking capability (via media presence and protest/political activity).