In an era of agenda-driven academic research, who watches the watchers? Or more accurately, who gets to designate and categorize the “objective” data? This is the question raised after examining a study and related dataset recently published by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland.
START was launched in 2005 with a $12 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security, and is recognized by DHS as one of its “Centers for Excellence.” In December, DHS announced it had renewed START’s funding to the tune of $3.6 million.
A recent START study titled “Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970 to 2008” puts the “excellence” description in question. A press release announcing the report states the study concluded that nearly a third of all terrorist attacks between 1970 and 2008 occurred in just five major metropolitan areas. The study was based on a START database called “Profiles of Perpetrators of Terrorism in the United States,” and both the report and database are supported by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s Human Factors/Behavioral Sciences Division.
Reading through the study, some baffling issues arose. In Table 4 (p. 22), titled “Hot Spots of Religious Terrorism by Decade”, three “hot spot” areas — Los Angeles, Manhattan, and Wasco, Oregon (former home of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) — are identified: But there seems to be some data missing when it comes to known Islamic terrorist incidents in New York City and Los Angeles. The study shows no religious terrorism in Manhattan during the 1990s. How about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing? Or the 1994 Brooklyn Bridge Jewish student van shooting by Rashid Baz that killed 16-year-old Ari Halberstam after Baz heard a fiery anti-Jewish sermon at his local mosque? Or the 1997 Empire State Building observation deck shooting by Ali Abu Kamal that killed one tourist and injured six others before Kamal took his own life?
And then there was the 2002 shooting at the Los Angeles Airport El Al counter by Hesham Mohamed Hadayet that killed two and wounded four others. The FBI and Justice Department concluded that the attack was a terrorist attack by an Egyptian assailant bent on becoming a Muslim martyr.
These are reflected nowhere in the study. Perhaps, like the 2009 Fort Hood massacre by Major Nidal Hasan, who gunned down his U.S. Army colleagues while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” these incidents are considered acts of “workplace violence” and not religious terrorism?
Have these incidents been redefined to prevent facts from conflicting with an agenda-driven narrative? Or have these data points been excluded altogether?
Struck by these glaring omissions, I went to the START “Profiles of Perpetrators of Terrorism in the United States (PPT-US)” dataset that the study is based upon. START describes the findings from the database:
Preliminary findings from PPT-US data also illustrate a distinct shift in the dominant ideologies of these terrorist groups over time (see Figure 1), with the proportion of emerging ethnonationalist/separatist terrorist groups declining and the proportion of emerging religious terrorist groups increasing. However, while terrorist groups with religious ideologies represent half of all emergent groups in the 2000s (three out of six), they only account for six percent of groups over time. (Emphasis added)
It’s easy to conclude that religious ideologies are insignificant when you exclude well-known instances of religious-based terrorism from your analysis. And speaking of the Fort Hood massacre, I would note that the cutoff date of the database, 2008, excludes other acts of Islamic terrorism (Fort Hood, the Little Rock Army recruiting center shooting). Convenient, indeed.
But looking at the START dataset’s codebook, other startling problems emerge.
Compare how the START researchers define “left wing” and “right wing” extremism. Left-wing extremism is defined at follows:
Extreme left-wing groups want to bring about change through violent revolution rather than through established political processes. In addition, this category includes secular left-wing groups that rely heavily on terrorism to overthrow the capitalist system and either establish “a dictatorship of the proletariat” (Marxist-Leninists) or, much more rarely, a decentralized, non-hierarchical sociopolitical system (anarchists).
Fair enough. Now, right-wing extremism:
The extreme far-right is composed of groups that believe that one’s personal and/or national “way of life” is under attack and is either already lost or that the threat is imminent (for some the threat is from a specific ethnic, racial, or religious group), and believe in the need to be prepared for an attack either by participating in paramilitary preparations and training or survivalism. Groups may also be fiercely nationalistic (as opposed to universal and international in orientation), anti-global, suspicious of centralized federal authority, reverent of individual liberty, and believe in conspiracy theories that involve grave threat to national sovereignty and/or personal liberty. (Emphasis added)
If you’re fiercely nationalistic (pro-American), anti-global (anti-UN), suspicious of centralized federal authority (like the Framers), reverent of individual liberty (like Patrick Henry), and believe in “conspiracy” theories (like the federal government allowing the sale of assault weapons to Mexican drug cartels to justify limiting American’s rights under the Second Amendment, a la Fast and Furious), then according to these taxpayer-funded researchers, you too are on the “extreme right-wing.” Many Americans would be surprised to find themselves so categorized by the researchers at START.
It should be no surprise that two subgroups identified in the codebook under “extreme right-wing” include “gun rights” and “tax protest.” Tea Party terrorists, anyone?
Again, this raises the question: who gets to categorize the data?
Anti-Semitism is included in the codebook as a subgroup for both the “racist” and “extreme right-wing” categories, but it is missing as a subgroup for the extreme left-wing. Because after all, it’s not like extreme left-wing groups like the Center for American Progress revel in their anti-Semitism, right?
It is amazing what you won’t find when you don’t look, or more specifically, when you define out the possibility or exclude data that conflicts with your predetermined conclusions altogether. But when you examine the roots of the taxpayer-funded START program, no one should be surprised at its agenda-driven study.
The recently appointed director of the START center is the Obama administration’s de facto Islamophobia czar, Bill Braniff. An example of Braniff’s blindly partisan research methodology can be seen in his statements quoted in a July 2011 NPR article, where he spies widespread Islamophobia in law enforcement training:
I think this is something that happens across the nation fairly consistently … No one is tracking this with numbers, but anecdotally we are hearing about it all the time. The Muslim-American community is being preyed upon from two different directions. One, the jihadist recruitment and radicalization that is actively preying on their sons and daughters; and two, the elevated levels of Islamophobia — Islamophobia at worst and distrust and alienation at best.
Note Braniff’s sweeping assessment (it “happens across the nation fairly consistently”) and his immediate admission that there is no objective basis for his assessment (“no one is tracking this with numbers”).
But Braniff goes further to demonize anyone who disagrees with his rampant Islamophobia conspiracy theories, by equating “Islamophobes” with al-Qaeda and accusing them of “preying” on the Muslim community like jihadist recruiters. Such is the standard of scholarship from the director of the START program (the NPR article itself was criticized for deliberately eliminating salient facts directly relevant to the matter).
With such hysterical and partisan leadership from Bill Braniff, it is no surprise to see the START program so eagerly promoting the Obama administration’s preferred ideological narratives (such as Janet Napolitano’s redefining of terrorism as “man-made disaster” ). Nor is it a surprise to see START steamrolling facts to define out of existence domestic terrorism committed by Muslim terrorists, while simultaneously spying a looming terrorist movement from Americans concerned with the direction of our country, like the Tea Party. (And let’s not forget the actual domestic terrorists now emerging from the Left’s Occupy movement.) We’ve seen these bait-and-switch efforts from Homeland Security before. Repeatedly. And using highly suspect sourcing.
The far Left is free to engage in these paranoid fantasies as they see fit. It’s a free country after all. But it is another thing entirely when they are funded by the U.S. taxpayer — whom these “academic” studies regularly demonize — and form the basis for actual policies for federal law enforcement and national security agencies. (Such as launching FBI investigations into returning war veterans, or targeting American citizens as potential threats because of the bumper stickers on their vehicles.)
Who is watching the watchers? Nobody, apparently.