Study: ISIS Radicalization is Online and Tried to Hijack #BlackLivesMatter

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

George Washington University’s Program on Extremism published a recent study entitled, “From Retweets to Raqqa,” to highlight the growing social media presence and radicalization efforts of the Islamic State (known by some as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh).

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The study found that the motivations and backgrounds of U.S.-based ISIS sympathizers vary by race, age, social class and the like. However, they did find at least 300 American ISIS sympathizers online on platforms like Twitter, either based in the U.S. or abroad. Adding to their online presence, some of these ISIS recruiters also meet face-to-face with potential recruits before helping them leave the U.S. to aid ISIS in Syria or Iraq. Even when their social media accounts are shut down or suspended, these ISIS sympathizers create other accounts to replace the shuttered account, making it hard to counter. There are even so-called ‘shout-out’ accounts used by sympathizers and recruiters and being blocked or suspended on Twitter is considered “a badge of honor.”

These online radicals do not tolerate dissent, either. The study noted that derogatory terms were used when there was dissent. “Muslim religious leaders, particularly those living in the West, who condemn ISIS are routinely dismissed as “coconuts,” a derogatory term used to insult those accused of denying their Muslim identity. Many U.S.-based Muslim scholars and activists, even those from conservative backgrounds, are subject to routine death threats.”

An interesting finding from the study was the legal status of these radicalized ISIS sympathizers. The study reported, “The vast majority of individuals charged are U.S. citizens (58) or permanent residents (6), underscoring the homegrown nature of the threat. Researchers were unable to determine the legal status of seven individuals.” Additionally, the religious status of the recruits also played a part, “Approximately 40% of those arrested are converts to Islam. Given that an estimated 23% of the American Muslim population are converts, it is evident that converts are overrepresented among American ISIS supporters.” The government has found several “hot spots” for Islamic radicalization in the U.S., similar to parts of Europe, where clusters of radicals knew each other and “radicalized and mobilized together.” The study said:

“Informal clusters often form at the margins of radical mosques, Salafist organizations, or student groups, or simply through the interaction of like-minded acquaintances in the neighborhoods of many European cities and towns. As with other radicalization-related dynamics, this phenomenon, typical of the European reality, occurs on a significantly smaller scale and less frequently than in the U.S. Yet, our analysis revealed that while some individuals fit the profile of the “lone actor,” others were part of a cluster of individuals of varying sophistication who radicalized and mobilized together.”

The specific hot spot noted by the study was in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. AS the study read, “Americans traveling to fight in conflict zones is not a new phenomenon for the Minneapolis–St. Paul area. From 2007 to approximately 2009, nearly two dozen individuals, mostly ethnic Somalis, absconded from the U.S. to join the terrorist group al Shabaab. The departing left in small groups, the first wave providing moral and logistical support to those who followed. In response, the FBI began a massive investigation, dubbed Operation Rhino, in an attempt to stem travel to conflict areas.”

The report also mentioned at length the terrorist attack in Garland, Texas, where known Islamic jihad expert Pamela Geller was scheduled to speak. Two ISIS sympathizers were killed in a shootout with security and police outside the event’s venue. The two perpetrators had significant online activity and illustrated how ISIS works. Recruits are often groomed, typically outcasts from society and are lonely, having their needs for social interaction met by online ISIS recruiters. Social media has become, in the words of the study, a “radicalization echo chamber.”

ISIS recruiters used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on social media to expand their recruiting presence. The study found:

“Some tried interjecting in the #BlackLivesMatter conversation in an attempt to bolster their support among African American Muslims and spread their propaganda to unsuspecting Americans of all backgrounds. Using Black Lives Matter–related hashtags, American ISIS supporters and globally based ISIS recruiters alike have sought to capitalize on unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, trying to tailor their U.S.-targeted propaganda to resonate with segments of the African American community.”