White Resistance Manual and Lone Mujahid Guide/Pocketbook

As I’ve been keeping track of the white supremacist pages/websites for the primary resources section of this website, I noticed that a booklet, the White Resistance Manual frequently appeared as a guide to undertaking domestic terrorist activities. I also noticed that it bore a striking resemblance to the shorter Lone Mujahid Guide, which was published by al-Qaeda.

This is something I mentioned before when discussing the so-called “lone wolf” attacks from anti-immigrant/far right terrorists in the United States, since many of their tactics were taken straight from the al-Qaeda playbook as articulated in their English-language publication, Inspire.

Here are links to safe PDF copies of the White Resistance Manual and the Lone Mujahid Guide. I should have more analysis of this later on.

**I’ve been looking for the longer Lone Mujahid Pocketbook, which was published by AQIM in 2013, but I can’t find it *anywhere* —not even on my computer hard drive, where I could have sworn I had a copy saved. I’ll keep looking, though.

White Supremacists and Far-Right Conspiracies

While I’ve been gone…

Apologies for the long absence! While I’ve been gone, I’ve been focused on what has turned out to be extremely important parts of the terrorist landscape: white supremacy and far-right conspiracies. My usual area of interest lies in the rhetorical strategies of Islamist extremists like al-Qaeda and ISIS, but there’s actually quite a bit of crossover in the strategies utilized by the jihadists and the far-right/white supremacists even though their ideologies are quite different. In some ways, the similarities between these groups reminds me of this Saturday Night Live skit:

The death of 8chan and the rise of Gab: social media use by the far right

Like many Islamists, far-right extremists have utilized social media to radicalize new members and to organize in-person/virtual events. So far, Detailed analyses on these movements’ rhetorical strategies and their ideologically-based groupings is forthcoming, because I’ve dedicated my time so far to gathering primary resources and tracking extremist activities. This seems to be an urgent need in the field of alt-right and domestically-grown extremism in that there are plenty of excellent books/articles on the testimony or anecdotes given by both extremists, law-enforcement officers, and NGOs dedicated to battling hate groups, but very few resources with raw data gathered from social media sites.

This gathering of data has been made more difficult by the closing down of 8chan, the platform on which the El Paso shooter posted his manifesto. The conspiracists and supremacists have had to flee to new social media platforms more sympathetic to their causes, including Gab, which absorbed many of the 8chan posters. In fact, most of my white supremacist mobile and computer-generated screenshots (of racist profiles, comments, threads, etc.) have been gathered from Gab, with Reddit and 4chan making up most of the rest of their social media landscape. There are a few posts on Instagram and Twitter (none from Facebook, so far, mainly because I consider it to be of a secondary importance and have yet to compile raw data from it) that have been included in my database, but the platforms have been very diligent in rooting out blatant hate speech. Also, white supremacists have balked at using what they consider to be Jewish-run companies, so they haven’t been posting there as often, although they often do show up in the comments sections of popular posts to troll liberal or moderate audiences.

QAnon and other far-right conspiracists

The other contingent that makes up the domestic extremist landscape are the far-right conspiracists, especially the adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory. QAnon followers hold an ideology based on the theory of the deep state, which they believe has been built and supported by liberals, especially the Clintons. If you would like a brief introduction to the QAnon conspiracy as articulated by the conspiracists themselves, here is a Youtube video that many of the Twitter Q members have directed me to:

Although Q members have applauded Gab for “Its protection of free speech,” I have found a large population of conspiracists on Twitter and Instagram. This may be because their posts aren’t as blatantly racist, sexist, or homophobic as the out and proud white supremacists. There are, however many racist (especially against immigrants– legal or illegal), sexist, bigoted (especially Islamaphobic), and homophobic elements to the Q conspiracy, and they very clearly deride the liberals at large and the Democratic Party in particular. The movement even uses Pepe the frog, a well-known white supremacist emblem, as one of their mascots, although they argue that the well known meme isn’t racist.

I will have more specifics on all of these movements and delve into a more detailed analysis of their ideologies and rhetorical strategies at a later point, but this gives you a general introduction into the most important movements underpinning domestic extremists currently active in the United States.

So far, I have uploaded mobile screenshots from the previously mentioned social media platforms as well as some websites of known white supremacist organizations. Full screengrabs from desktop sites are forthcoming. Links to my ongoing primary research are available on the homepage of this site.

This is what we know so far: terrorist attacks and preliminary/speculative news coverage

The first thing I saw when I looked at my phone today was a string of alerts from major and minor news outlets blaring headlines like: “Ariana Grande Manchester Concert Explosion: Shock, Chaos on the Ground During Aftermath” (Billboard) and “Manchester Arena explosion: Children are among 22 killed by suicide bomber at Ariana Grande concert” (Telegraph: UK).

I immediately began to pull up more articles/analyses from CNN, The New York Times, and NBC News on my iPhone news feed to see what I could find out about the latest attacks.

The answer was basically nothing.

This is what various news outlets knew as of the night of the attack:

  1. The attack happened as an Ariana Grande show was letting out (further analysis from counterterrorism experts tells us that this is a very effective strategic action on the part of the (terrorist) attacker, since it allows for more targets and for the possibility of a stampede).
  2.  The the attack may or may not be the action of a suicide bomber trying to create a sense of mayhem and panic. This kind of attack is a hallmark of ISIS and AQAP.
  3. Counterterrorism measures in England have been tight.
  4. Again, this may or not be a terrorist attack, although it probably is, because ISIS does this kind of thing.
  5. This looks more like the Paris attacks than the Nice, San Bernadino, or recent spate of incidents of terrorism using cars, since the bomb seems to be more sophisticated, as does the plan of attack (and this is something that I would argue against).
  6. Between 19-22 people have been killed and 50 more (at least) have been injured.
  7. This is all speculation.
  8. It may or may not be a terrorist attack designed to heighten panic and mayhem.
  9. This may or may not involve ISIS (read: it definitely does).
  10. There’s chaos on the ground and only social media-released cell phone video and a few professional photographers/reports have made it out of Manchester.
  11. Ariana Grande is “devastated.”

This kind of reporting is not new. We, as consumers of multiple news outlets, have been exposed to sensationalist pre-fact news when any news-worthy crisis– mainly those occurring in Western nations– hits our front doors or, as is the case now, our mobile devices, computers, and televisions. There has also been a numerous amount of criticism coming from within and without the mass communication sphere (which is easily google-able) about sensationalism in news agencies.

However, there are important elements that make this kind of reporting about potential terrorist attacks particularly problematic.

First, though, let me articulate what I mean by pre-fact news.

Pre-news coverage

  1. It is characterized by a lack of clear evidence, (aside from grainy images, videos of injured victims, and flashing police lights), that actually outlines what has occurred.
  2. There is much belaboring of the few things the anchors/print reporters do know, because they don’t know much.
  3. There is also a proliferation of analyses by experts and non-experts alike on the suppositions about the crisis by news anchors who only have a sketchy picture of the actual event available to work with.
  4. There is usually a bright red subtitle (especially in televised coverage) with “Breaking News” flashing on the screen. The “Breaking News” subtitle is a lie. “Breaking we-think-something-big-happened-but-we’re-not-sure” would be more accurate, but not as catchy.
  5. Any “news” coverage beyond the basics (and sometimes even the basics) are characterized by phrases like “This is what we know so far…” “We think…” “There may have been…” “Details are still sketchy (at this point)…” and, when any kind of maybe terrorist-related attack has occurred, “ISIS.”
  6. Most importantly, this coverage only tells us things that any reasonably informed person already knows about these kinds of events, especially man-made disasters like terrorist attacks, while the heightening fear/panic associated with those crises.
  7. In the case of this week’s Manchester attack, all we know from news outlets in the U.S. as of the day of the incident despite hours and hours of coverage is that the there may have been a suicide bomber as an Ariana Grande concert let out, and that 19-22 people have died. That’s it.

Any accompanying analysis is based on supposition and only states the obvious. Yes, a bombing at the end of any crowded event would be more effective than attempting to get into said event when the security is so tight. All a person has to do is detonate a bomb outside the gathering as it lets out. Yes, terrorist attacks are designed to heighten fear and chaos– this is why it’s called terrorism and not something else. Yes, ISIS and Al-Qaeda are both known for microterrorism. Yes, those people with wounds being carried out to ambulances are injured and scared.

A win-win for ISIS

Many of these suppositions about possible terrorist attacks will turn out to be correct, especially since ISIS is very good at soliciting lone-wolf, micro-terrorism abroad, as is Al-Qaeda, and so may be responsible for Manchester attack. However, ISIS isn’t the only group out there, as is evinced by the amount of times that news organizations have gotten things wrong.

But, anyone who has been watching or reading news coverage of any possible terrorist attack in the West over the past two years has seen that said incident is initially and immediately attributed to ISIS, full stop.

Cyberattacks and suspicious deaths = Russia, and bombings/low-skill microterrorism = ISIS.

The difference between the recent reporting on cyberattacks, money laundering, and assassinations that news outlets have been attributing to Russia and violent attacks attributed to Islamist terrorists is that the analyses of Russian activities have been based on evidence and extensive paper trails (although I am generalizing here), whereas all we need for journalists to claim the incident on behalf of ISIS is the bombings/low-skill microterrorism equation stated above.

However, if ISIS (Al-Qaeda is frequently left out of the equation in news coverage as of the past year, which doesn’t make them happy) isn’t responsible, this event is still a win for them. They get all the publicity they want without any real effort, and publicity is the bread and butter of any terrorist organization post-major attack.

This is what makes pre-fact news so problematic when it comes to coverage of possible incidences of terrorism– by repeating and repeatedly showing (perhaps more importantly) a set of “facts,” usually characterized by those elements discussed above, (death tolls and injuries) followed by obvious analysis based on supposition, it only ingrains in our minds the turmoil, chaos, and, yes, terror, of a crisis while associating that crisis with ISIS (for now, although this will change depending on the landscape of extremist groups).

As an added benefit for them, ISIS can use the news coverage as a recruitment tool in their next video.

See? Look how powerful we are. All these reporters are talking about us. We were able to strike at the heart of the West through the effort of only one martyr.

Come join us.
** ISIS has indeed taken responsibility for the bombing.

The strange case of Zachary Chesser: (online) homegrown radicalization at its best

The Muslim Ban Part 2 and Stephen Miller’s “holy war”

The Muslim Ban has been struck down by the federal court system, but not because it is ineffective in stopping terrorist attacks on United States’ soil (something discussed in the last blog post) , but because it is unconstitutional (and it is). However, many members of the Intelligence Community like the FBI and news organizations (including the sensational Brietbart News) are still worried about the possibility of homegrown terrorism, especially microterrorism.

They are right to worry.

However, we, as a public, should focus more on the socializing power of the internet in propelling forth extremism rather than succumbing to the scare tactics of someone like Stephen Miller, a Donald Trump aide who has been featured in many a news story over the past couple of weeks (February 2017). Miller, according to an article released by CNN today (February 15), created a blog in college in which he claimed that: “[O]ur nation has failed to educate our youth about the holy war being waged against us …American kids attend school in an educational system corrupted by the hard left… [where] America is the villain and Jihadists the victims of our foreign policy.”

As a member of the academic community who has taught at the college level for over ten years and who studies rhetoric and terrorism (there is a reason I say this instead of calling my specialization “the rhetoric of terrorism,” but I will get to that later), I have yet to spread terrorism through my liberal agenda (in fact, I asked my students today if I had spread Jihad, and they said, “No.”). I also have yet to hear of any of my colleagues or acquaintances radicalizing any students. I also haven’t heard of this “holy war” problem in secular educational institutions at large, and Miller doesn’t provide any evidence to support his claims.

Web 2.0, Web 3.0, and Zachary Chesser

There are, however, studies showing that the networking capabilities of the internet (Web 2.0 and/or 3.0), especially in social media platforms, *is* an important tool for terrorist recruitment. This has been recognized by the NSA, CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, congressional hearings, etc. in numerous publications like the  well-cited report from the NYPD published in 2007. Likewise, experts like Rita Katz from the SITE Intelligence Group and Bruce Hoffman, Director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown, and Gabriel Weimann, Professor of Communication at the University of Haifa, Israel and author of numerous books on Islamist terrorism, all discuss the impact of internet-based networking on the spread of violent extremism.

This brings me to the recruitment of Zachary Chesser, an American, nominally Christian teenager with no ties to any terrorist organizations. He was radicalized (the process of becoming an extremist of any sort and/or moving to violence based on ideological belief) between his senior year in high school and his freshman year of college. According to his own testimony and research carried out by both the FBI and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Chesser was first exposed to Islamist extremism by several radicalized members of a soccer team sponsored by  Hizb ut-Tahrir (an organization dedicated to the reestablishment of the caliphate) that he played for in the summer after his high school graduation.

After that initial in-person exposure to Islamism, he was increasingly radicalized by extremist Islamist content posted on various internet sites, especially in forums, on YouTube, and on blogs.  He eventually became a prolific producer of radical Islamist texts, posting frequently on various Islamist forums (including a few on IslamicAwakening.com).

Chesser was eventually caught and sentenced to twenty-five years in a federal prison after creating his own YouTube station and contributing monetarily to several terrorist groups, including al-Shabaab. He is a particularly good example of the process of modern radicalization the West, both because his recruitment happened very quickly and because online extremist texts were part of his ideological shift from being a “regular” teenager looking forward to beginning a new phase in his life at college to a terrorist threat-to-be immersed in extremist ideology.

Chesser was radicalized by both in-person contact with Hizb ut-Tahrir and online contact with a wide variety of jihadist material, meaning that the causal link between online activities and shifts in ideologies can be disputed. This, of course, is a problem inherent in any causal argument, as I discuss with my students every semester. It’s almost impossible to pin down the single element that pushes someone over the edge to violence, mainly because there are so many moving parts in a person’s life that may affect their movement from ideological fealty (the loyalty a person has to a collection of values and thought processes) to action on behalf of that ideology.

Strategic communication versus propaganda in social media outlets

What is particularly persuasive about radicalizing media in online networks, especially social media platforms, however, is the fact that they are adaptable, flexible systems that can be tailored to the needs of individual audiences rather than the one to many, static (closed) communicative model that characterizes propaganda. This means that there is a give and take, a dialogue between the radicalizing force and the potential recruit that isn’t confined by distance.

This is the key difference between strategic communication and propaganda: Facebook, Instagram, internet forums, and blogging sites like WordPress are designed to facilitate the interaction between individuals and groups -– we can see this in written into the structure of both platforms and in the various ways in which we form connections and networks of family, friends, and acquaintances, both professional and personal. These are peer-to-peer networks, not one to many, as was the case for most written forms of mass communication before the advent of the internet.

Because it is so adaptable and interactive, internet-based strategic communication not only compresses distance, making any ban of refugees, Muslims at large, or denizens of the new Axis of Evil ineffective, but also allows for the speedy expansion of networks of like-minded individuals that can pool resources, bits of information, and leads to other potential recruits. If I, for example, am an ISIS sympathizer living in Chicago and I have a social network of ISIS members or users with ISIS sympathies living abroad, I can provide those ISIS members with both local cultures, geographical information, and, perhaps more importantly, the contact information of other ISIS sympathizers inside the United States to add to our network, much in the same way that we add friends to Facebook groups that we think they might be interested in.

Those ISIS members then can further inculcate the potential recruits by picking through their lives– their disaffected feelings about the government, their financial worries, their relationships with friends and families, pretty much anything that might help them gauge the loyalties, values, and resources that might make them more sympathetic to the cause. Propaganda cannot do this. It is a one to many, message —–> receiver model with no room for dialogue of any kind.

This conversion tactic for far-flung, internet-contact only adherents is what makes the social side of the internet so dangerous for counterterrorism experts. It works quickly, it is difficult to track, and it leads to incidents of microterrorism, those small-scale attacks  discussed in the last blog post. All al-Qaeda, for example, has to do is find a person in their target nation to radicalize, give them a copy of their online, English-language magazine, Inspirewhich has instructions on building chemical bombs, etc., and set them free.

And, no matter how many accounts the State Department, NSA, or any law enforcement agency shuts down, more accounts will spring forth to carry on this mission of radicalization.

**Further reading: Steven Corman and Kevin Dooley: “Strategic Communication on a Rugged  Landscape: Principles for Finding the Right Message.”

And Garth S.Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell. Propaganda and Persuasion.

Next up: Syria’s Assad-regime Instagram feed and more about propaganda on the internet.

How does a Muslim ban help fight terrorism?

The Muslim Ban

I’ll give you a hint to the answer of the question in the title: it doesn’t help at all. The reasons for this are more complex than many existing analyses have made it seem, however. The discussion so far has traced the ineffectiveness of the ban to the fact that it gives terrorist groups more of a reason to hate the United States, thus motivating them to carry out more attacks. To some extent, that’s right– organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIS capitalize on every event, publication, speech, law, etc. that they can in order to motivate their followers. “See?” they say. “The West hates us. They oppress Muslims world-wide. They’re a corrupt collection of despots, intent on destroying true Islam.”

Microterrorism in the West

However, that’s not all there is to the story. Part of it has to do with the fact that the terrorist attacks inside the U.S. and Europe aren’t the complex, large scale efforts that characterized the 9/11 attacks. Instead, they’re what the news stations have referred to as “lone-wolf” terrorism and what counterterrorist experts have called incidents of microterrorism. The difference between microterrorism and the 9/11 attack is analogous to the difference between the large-scale troop movements of World War II and the guerrilla warfare that characterized the Vietnam war. It’s actually very difficult to both predict and prevent guerrilla warfare-like attacks, since the trail of evidence that microterrorists leave behind is a slippery mess of localized activities that often only make sense as a narrative after the attack has happened. Yes, the scale of microterrorism is, as the name suggests, small. The San-Bernadino, Paris, Brussels, Turkey, and Florida incidents all had low casualty numbers, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t effective. All of these attacks resulted in both fear and chaos, which is the lifeblood of the terrorist movement.

All publicity is good publicity

There is a reason that ISIS lays claim to every incident of microterrorism that they can, even if the main organization had nothing to do with the events. It’s because the more they can instill fear in Western audiences, the better it is for their public image. It’s the same reason that ISIS always exaggerates the numbers of their active adherents, like in the case of the current Libyan civil war. ISIS was claiming that they had about six thousand “troops,” so to speak, in the country as of last fall when the actual total of their physical presence in the country was about one thousand (or even less). From a PR standpoint, the more important and effective they seem, the better it is for their recruitment efforts and for the garnering of the ideological fealty of non-active audiences. Non-active audiences, although they won’t carry out acts of terrorism, will allow Islamists to act without interference from community members, something that makes it much easier for the coalition to organize/implement their plans.

Ideological fealty, which is basically the loyalty of potential follower to the tenants of the group in question, is actually way more important for recruiting purposes abroad than it may seem, especially in the case of these lone-wolf attacks. ISIS and AQ members don’t actually need to travel to the U.S. Instead, all these organizations have to do is to find someone already within the United States (or any country) that is sympathetic to their cause. That potential recruit can then go online to follow pro-terrorist Twitter feeds or  Facebook groups or forums or even just find Islamist publications that promote physical violence and then find some simple ingredients to carry out their plans. It’s incredibly easy to find pro-Islamist groups online. I had a fake Twitter account that I used for an experiment to see how many Syrian ISIS proponents I could find, and the ISIS accounts actually came to me after I followed a few of the most prolific users.

The wolf among the sheep

So, there is no real reason for someone from the new axis of evil to even come to the United States. Instead, all radical Islamists need to do is to find someone already within the United States that is already pissed off enough at the government to take action. And this recruit could be anyone– white, black, Arab, Latino, male, female, single, married, young, or old that has been tipped over the edge by something (and there is much debate over the combination of factors that can lead a person to take violent action). This person needn’t not even be Muslim, but simply have access to radicalizing online media that details how to make a chemical bomb (as is the case in AQ’s English-language magazine, Inspire) or how to attach spikes to a car and drive it through a crowd (also a suggestion from Inspire) in order to take violent action.

And, so the problem is A) how do we predict and prevent microterrorism within the U.S. without violating the civil liberties of the population (and, so, avoid the scandal cause by the NSA’s surveillance of the online activities of persons of interest) and B) How can we intervene in the radicalization process to start with? So far, the federal government doesn’t have any answers.

This is why the Muslim ban and the prevention of refugees seeking sanctuary is ineffective and dangerous. It does nothing to prevent microterrorist attacks from recruits already in the population and it doesn’t catch any of the myriad of those potential terrorists not on the axis of evil list of suspicion. It can also function as the one element that angers someone that already feels disaffected and marginalized either socially, politically, economically, or all of those things, and motivates them to take action.

Next up– more details about online Islamist media, especially Inspire and Dabiq.

I’ll also talk about the strange case of Zachary Chesser– a middle-class, white-male teenager from a nice, middle-class family who was somehow radicalized in the summer between his graduation from high school and his first year of college.

Why examine Islamist terrorism and (U.S.) counterterrorist strategies?

Why are we here? Who am I?

By popular request from folks trying to understand why the strategies being implemented by the Trump administration will backfire and allow for more recruitment by terrorist organizations, I’m writing a short series of (hopefully) easy to understand posts that address this issue. Those of you who know me in-person are aware of my subject of expertise. For everyone else who doesn’t know me, I study the rhetoric of terrorism (and new media), specifically the recruitment practices of al-Qaeda and ISIS, along with the rhetorical strategies implemented by other Middle-Eastern/North-African organizations. I have my PhD in Rhetoric, Composition, and Linguistics from ASU, so be prepared for some technical discussions.

Latest research project

Last summer I worked on a joint project with the Center for the Study of Religion at and Conflict at ASU and the company, Chemonics, that focused on the promotion of peace in Libya (which is also on Trump’s forbidden nations list) so I’ll talk a bit about that eventually.

If you have a chance to read more about the LookingGlass project, you should– it’s really cool. It’s essentially a computer program that tracks activities for targeted groups in social media outlets and puts together a real-time visualization of the discussions being had through the network of social media sites with particular affiliations. In Libya’s case, we were working with seven major factions (governmental, NGO, terrorist-oriented, youth movements, etc.) that we tracked using a schematic of social dimensions that would tell us what particular topics were of concern to these groups at any given moment.

The actual computer programming was way beyond me, but since I was the only rhetoric person/area expert working on the project with a bunch of engineers, I built all the databases and coded a ton of keywords for them to track and classify.

Since then, I’ve been teaching argumentative writing and introductory rhetorical theory at Arizona State University.

Current and future analysis of Islamist terrorist groups and the effect of federal public policy

There have been a couple of analyses of this already that address this issue, but these articles (and others like it) assume a few things about the “assimilation” of refugees into American culture in a way that doesn’t allow for the differences in the ideologies and affiliations existing in their countries of origin. The existing support structures available in the United States for incoming refugees also vary widely in their own ideologies and methodologies for integrating refugees into the U.S. and have their own claims on the times/allegiances of the individuals or families that they sponsor. These texts also grossly simplify the radicalization process, but that’s a subject for another day.

What I’d like to do here, though, is give you all some of the details of the counterterrorism policies of the Intelligence Community and the Senate/House of Representatives subcommittees that form the public policy relating to the prevention of radicalization of new recruits by existing Islamist terrorists.

I’ll also be looking at the primary sources (magazines, videos, etc.) from ISIS and al-Qaeda that really articulate their modes of persuasion (hey, rhetoric!) for international audiences, since these are key to our understanding of how and why terrorist groups are able to recruit from diverse audiences. Their use of online media to recruit English-speaking audiences, in fact, makes the current ban of refugees and incoming travelers  from the primarily Muslim countries on their list of forbidden nations (Sudan, Iran, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Yemen) completely ineffectual. As others have also noted, this move just works to galvanize terrorist groups by giving them additional fuel to stoke the fires of hatred for Western nations.

These are the kinds of elements that will make our discussion here particularly important in the coming weeks of the new Trump administration.

Hopefully this will be helpful!

**Quick note: I’m only examining Islamist terrorism (the Middle-Eastern and North-African variety) and not other varieties of terrorism. Their recruitment tactics use most of the same basic principles as AQ and ISIS, but their ideologies have very different underpinnings.