The aspect of examining the dynamics of media and domestic terrorism are often dictated by the perspective and/or lens one is viewing this phenomenon. It is most important to have a clear and concise knowledge and understanding of the term domestic terrorism in which to base how media outlets can provide for disinformation of false rhetoric and radical propaganda that may lead to an individual down the path of terrorism. The inaccurate transfer of information along with a constant stream of propaganda that is filled with radical and extreme ideology can influence the rise of domestic terrorist activity in the United States. Domestic terrorism for the purpose of this article will be incorporated using the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s definition and main characteristics. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Definitions of Terrorism in the U.S. Code 18 U.S.C. § 2331 defines Domestic terrorism activities with the following three characteristics: 1) Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law; 2) Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping; and 3) Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2016).
It is also important to note terrorists are not made overnight and terrorist activity does follow a pattern known as the radicalization process to terrorism. We can notice and witness factors associated with the radicalization process of an individual when there is a heightened media (Mass Media and/or Internet Social Media) consumption do to some form of feeling of disenfranchisement, alienation and/ or life stressors in a vulnerable individual’s life course. The radicalization process is a funnel perspective that weighs heavily on the theory that individuals go through a process of redefining their world view, their life’s mission, their ideas and perspectives to a belief system bent on the incorporation of extreme beliefs. These extreme beliefs can transcend into violent terrorist activity. Mass media outlets both Mass Media and Internet Social Media play a crucial role in this personal and radical psychological transformation of an individual and/or group.
When examining media outlets there are various types of media avenues to consider when exploring the link between terrorism, disinformation of false or misleading material, and radical propaganda as it relates to the rise of domestic terrorism. Mass Media outlets which include both left and right views and Internet Social Media cites are all viewed and utilized by terrorists and terrorist’s organizations. However, each media outlet is utilized quite differently. It is vital to distinguish between these two media arenas of news filters (Mass Media and Internet Social Media). Internet Social Media outlets can be widely assembled and produced quite easily. The spread of radical Internet sites providing religious, political, and even economic justification for violent attacks is increasingly aggressive (Mouras, 2013). Mass Media such as FOX News, CNN, MSNBC are a platform in which terrorists organizations can essentially “see” and “witness” the so called fruits of their labor play out on the world stage and provides terrorist groups as the main characters.
Before a terrorist organization can plan and carry out any terrorist activity they have to build a base of believers. Internet Social media is platform often used by terrorists groups and/or organizations in which to build their support/base, recruit and inspire willing subjects. To inspire mass amounts of individuals often includes disinformation of materials and radical rhetoric. Propaganda is not without its intentional and/or inaccurate information to help move an individual’s belief system into a belief system filled with hatred and distain for the enemy which is often initiated towards The United States. Violent anti-Western rhetoric and actions by local groups, and the growing number of radical, self-generating cells is of concern to law enforcement (Mouras, 2013).
So how can an individual who feels frustrated with their current life situation move from mere grief and sadness to anger and the psychological capability to commit domestic terrorism? The Internet is used to convey an us versus them attitude and to serve both as a platform and potential catalyst for violent radicalization of individuals alienated from the mainstream U.S. population (Mouras, 2013). However, there is no one set answer for this phenomenon but we can examine in closer detail how disinformation of false materials of radical propaganda steeped in extreme rhetoric on Internet Social Media websites can lead to the the influence and shift in the rational thinking of an individual.
Internet Social Media websites are used to recruit like-minded individuals to a cause. Often times this cause is false and misleads many individuals down a path of radicalization to terrorism for an ideology that is bent on the goal of selling information to help recruit individuals. Terrorists organizations also promote and sell propaganda that generates large amounts of sympathy of individuals searching for meaning in their life. When examining the human makeup and human dynamics most humans want to belong to some like-minded group and radical Internet websites may fulfill this need of wanting to belong. The success of a terrorist organization and fulfillment of a terrorist attack is only as strong or deep as the number of individuals who consider themselves part of the terrorist organization. The reasoning for this is because many of the radicalized individuals will filter out of the radicalization process leaving only a few individuals who will make the complete transformation into an active violent terrorist. There are various reasoning’s for disengagement in the radicalization process to terrorism. Some individuals, while they believe in the cause, will realize the act of violence is something they do not want to be involved with. Others will have a shift in their life such as a new relationship or a new job and will start to feel as though the world is not against them anymore. Others will have an intervention from a family member which deters them from further activity.
Because there are high numbers of individuals who will disengage from the process of radicalization to terrorism the extreme rhetoric of disinformation must be constant (24 hours/365 days) and filled with propaganda tools that are aimed at the recruitment and motivation of sympathizers to their cause and also the cause of the alienated individual themselves. How do terrorist organization motivate? When we examine this through the lens of domestic terrorism the reasoning includes disinformation of false materials and radical propaganda aimed at the perceived social injustices of disenfranchised segments of the population, economic backlash on lower-socioeconomic groups, and/or political repression of religious groups. Terrorist organizations are aiming their message to perceived victims of American mainstream society and/or government. Terrorist organizations are constantly and steadily sending messages, pictures, events and announcements encouraging violent action for the perceived wrongs.
An internet Social media outlet (such as FaceBook, Twitter, Renren, YouTube, Instagram, vk.com, Meetup, and Secret) is the number one tool in which terrorists organizations can reach their potential terrorist pool. Without Internet Social Media terrorist groups would not have the capability or numbers to carry out the violent terrorist activity witnessed today in the 21st century. Internet Social media websites can easily be built, run, updated and have little to no censorship in the type of information that can be displayed to vulnerable individuals looking to right the wrong society has placed upon them in The United States leaving the pool of potential terrorists at numbers which cannot be counted.
The second type of media which is examined is the influence of Mass Media channels and/or outlets. Mass Media outlets allow for terrorists organizations and groups to view the so called “fruit of their labor.” Mass Media provides a 24 hour continuous coverage of events, predominantly negative and violent in nature to be readily available for viewer consumption at any time across the world. Mass Media channels provide terrorist organizations a complete analysis of their violent terrorist event hour-by-hour, lay claim to the responsibly of the terrorist event, provide a center stage character for the world to view, provide a rationale for their cause, therefore, helping to recruit more individuals into the terrorist organization, and gives the American public a large consumption of terrorist activity on a daily basis.
There is some debate of whether this large amount of violent consumption available through Mass Media outlets desensitizes the general American public to the violent nature of terrorist organizations and terrorist attacks. Allowing for the perspective terrorist organizations need to produce larger more elaborate scaled terrorist’s attacks for Mass Media to cover the violent event and gain media attention. If this is the case the need to deter and disengage individuals from completing the radicalization process to terrorism should be one of the most important counter-terrorism strategies for all levels of law enforcement (tribal, local, state and federal). The question remains how the United States Criminal Justice Agencies can provide for disengagement measures without impinging upon the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press rights in which the U.S. Constitution provides safe guards for.
Mass Media and Internet Social Media outlets operate on the legality of protection by U.S. Constitutional Rights. Freedom of Speech is a double edge sword as this U.S. Constitutional Right is one of the compelling aspects of the United States freedoms in which this country’s civil liberties are built upon. Censorship may produce feelings of a perceived wrong initiated by the government possibly creating even more radical groups to spring up across the United States. At the other end of the sword is the issue of whether Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press is allowing for extreme rhetoric and speech to influence human psychological behavior. Words have meaning, words inspire and words influence. This concept can be used at both edges of the sword. Words can inform, educate, inspire creativity and provide for constructive debate generating new and innovative ideas. However, words can inspire extreme views and influence violent behavior in humans that may lead to domestic terrorist activity.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (2016). Definitions of Terrorism in the U.S. Code. Retrieved from: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/terrorism/terrorism-definition
Mouras, T. A. (2013). Law enforcement perspectives of factors that may lead to radicalization. Capella University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 168. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.library.capella.edu/docview/1319282147?accountid=27965. (1319282147)
Areas: Homeland Security