January 2023 publications update

Starting 2023 with a quick update on some of my research interests.

I’ve had two new publications recently. The first was this Lawfare post co-authored with Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Emelie Chace-Donahue and Madison Urban from Valens Global, on types of violent extremism that challenge traditional categories and involve an amalgamation of ideologies or accompanying sentiments.

From the introduction:

… British counterterrorism officials created the mixed, unstable, or unclear ideology category to include extremists who did not fit other counterterrorism categories (for example, the extreme right). The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s 2019 counterterrorism strategy addresses targeted violence alongside terrorism, in recognition of the fact that many acts of targeted violence bear the hallmarks of terrorism even if they may not be categorized as such. The FBI has also begun to employ the phrase “salad bar extremism” to describe a trend of ideological mixing. In recent congressional testimony, for example, FBI Director Christopher Wray described extremists who hold a “weird hodgepodge blend of ideologies,” noting that this trend is producing challenges in “trying to unpack what are often sort of incoherent belief systems, combined with kind of personal grievances.” Other government officials and private-sector researchers have used a variety of different terms to discuss the same phenomenon, including ideological mixing and ideology à la carte. While government officials and experts have highlighted the particular challenges that this phenomenon poses for law enforcement and prevention practitioners, the trend as a whole is insufficiently conceptualized and lacks a framework for understanding distinct elements within. 

Recognizing the reality and urgency of this challenge, we introduce the term “composite violent extremism” (CoVE) and provide an accompanying typology as a mechanism for more rigorously conceptualizing violent extremists who defy neat categorization.

We will be working more in this area and hope to have a journal article out, so watch this space.

I also published a chapter (page 95) in the ASPI Counterterrorism Yearbook 2022, discussing the relationship between strategic competition and counter-terrorism. It builds some ideas raised in this AVERT post and contributes to debates among scholars and practitioners about what the changing international order means for counter-terrorism.

From the introduction:

… Several US-based analysts have produced valuable work on the relationship between strategic competition and CT. They’ve tended to argue that CT efforts can be advantageous for relationship-building in strategic competition and that CT tools can be adapted to strategic competition by giving special operations forces a central role in combating grey-zone activities.6 Some have argued that policymakers shouldn’t divert too many resources from CT to strategic competition, given the potential threat from Islamic State affiliates in Africa or the potential resurgence of al-Qaeda following the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan.7 Others have argued that terrorism should be deprioritised and treated as just one of many irregular threats that exist alongside strategic competition, such as insurgents, drug cartels and militias.8 However, few accounts examine the specific dilemmas that strategic competition raises for CT beyond the challenges of threat prioritisation and resource constraints.9

In this chapter, I outline five ways that strategic competition can influence terrorist threats and pose new CT challenges. First, international CT cooperation is itself increasingly becoming an arena for competition. Second, foreign-orchestrated disinformation can exacerbate terrorist threats and complicate responses to terrorist attacks. Third, strategic competition can contribute to the narratives that domestic extremists use to mobilise supporters. Fourth, when strategic competition is waged through proxy warfare, it can escalate civil wars that provide new opportunities for transnational violent extremist movements and foreign-fighter mobilisations. Fifth, strategic competition can prompt states to increase sponsorship of terrorism or directly engage in terrorism-like actions.

I plan to write more on several of themes raised in the chapter, particularly on proxy warfare and international counter-terrorism cooperation.

Also, the tragic and contested attack in Queensland puts a big question mark over the positive tone of my last blog post.

Finally, I’m still undecided about maintaining this blog. However, I’m keeping it up for the meantime, particularly with the uncertainty over Twitter’s future.

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