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Gauging the Risk of Incidents of Extremist Violence Against Non-Combatant Entities

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - GRIEVANCE (Gauging the Risk of Incidents of Extremist Violence Against Non-Combatant Entities)

Reporting period: 2019-07-01 to 2020-12-31

GRIEVANCE seeks to make significant advances in increasing our understanding, and thereby reducing the risk, of extremist violence against non-combatants. An inter-disciplinary project underpinned by crime prevention principles is needed to help quantify the risk of such offences. GRIEVANCE will utilise a number of unique datasets to understand the risk of extremist violence across a number of phases of analysis. GRIEVANCE characterises risk in terms of a process and dedicates a work package (WP) to each stage of the process from the risk of radicalisation (WP1), to the risk of recruitment (WP2), to the risk of violent action (WP3), to the temporal (WP4) and spatial (WP5) risk of offending behaviour followed by an assessment of the risk of adverse consequences from intervention (WP6). GRIEVANCE will both synthesise the existing knowledge within the literature and produce innovative new findings by utilising cutting edge inter-disciplinary research methods and unique datasets.
To date, the project publications include:

Paper 1 - Modelling the spatial decision making of terrorists: The discrete choice approach
The findings support the proposition that terrorists make decisions that are guided by rationality and act in a similar way to urban criminals. A conditional logistic regression ascertained which characteristics increased the likelihood that an area would be selected as a target, using a dataset of attacks carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army in Belfast over a twenty-year period. An increase in distance from the terrorist's home to the attack site decreased the likelihood that an area would be chosen and an area was more likely to be chosen if it contained a major road, police station or military base.

Paper 2 - Risk Factors for Violent Dissident Republican Incidents in Belfast: A Comparison of Bombings and Bomb Hoaxes
Previous protests and riots, punishment attacks and areas dense with pubs and bars (were identified as risk factors for bombings. Punishment attacks, police stations and places dense with shops were identified as risk factors for bomb hoaxes. Descriptive statistics regarding predictive accuracy concluded that half of incidents for both types occurred in high or very high risk cells in a 3-year post-study period.

Paper 3 - Analyzing person‐exposure patterns in lone‐actor terrorism
We use cluster analysis to identify relations among three components: propensity, situation, and network. The results reveal four PEPs: solitary, susceptible, situational, and selection. The solitary PEP lacks common indicators of a propensity to pursue terrorist action. The susceptible PEP reveals cognitive susceptibility, manifesting as mental illness, to be a key factor in the emergence of a terrorist propensity. The situational PEP demonstrates how situational stressors may act as warnings of acceleration toward violent action. Lastly, the selection PEP demonstrates higher frequencies of leakage and antecedent violent behaviors.

Paper 4 - What Do Closed Source Data Tell Us About Lone Actor Terrorist Behavior? A Research Note
The analyses presented investigate the antecedent behaviors of U.K.-based lone-actor terrorists leading up to their planning or conducting a terrorist event. The results suggest that prior to their attack or arrest the vast majority of lone-actor terrorists each demonstrated elements concerning (a) their grievance, (b) an escalation in their intent to act, (c) gaining capability—both psychologically and technically and (d) attack planning.

Paper 5 - Online influence, offline violence: Language Use on YouTube surrounding the 'Unite the Right' rally
The current study investigates whether there are differences in language use between 7,142 alt-right and progressive YouTube channels, in addition to measuring possible changes as a result of the rally. To do so, we create structural topic models and measure bigram proportions in video transcripts, spanning eight weeks before to eight weeks after the rally. We observe differences in topics between the two groups, with the 'alternative influencers' for example discussing topics related to race and free speech to an increasing and larger extent than progressive channels. We also observe structural breakpoints in the use of bigrams at the time of the rally, suggesting there are changes in language use within the two groups as a result of the rally. While most changes relate to mentions of the rally itself, the alternative group also shows an increase in promotion of their YouTube channels.

Paper 6 - The temporal evolution of a far-right forum
The current paper examines data from the right-wing forum Stormfront between 2001 and 2015. We specifically aim to understand the development of user activity and the use of extremist language. The proportion of extremist language on the forum increased in a step-wise matter until the early summer of 2011, followed by a decrease. This temporal development suggests that forum rhetoric did not necessarily become more extreme over time. Individual user analysis revealed that super forum users accounted for the vast majority of posts and of extremist language. These users differed from normal users in their evolution of forum engagement.

Paper 7 -The Base Rate Study: Developing Base Rates for Risk Factors and Indicators for Engagement in Violent Extremism
We surveyed 2108 subjects from the general population. Comparing the base rates identified a number of significant differences: (i) lone‐actor terrorists demonstrated propensity indicators related to a cognitive susceptibility, and a crime‐ and/or violence‐supportive morality more often; the general sample demonstrated protective factors more often, (ii) lone‐actor terrorists demonstrated situational indicators related to a crime‐ and/or violence‐supportive morality more often, whereas the general sample experienced situational stressors more often, (iii) lone‐actor terrorists demonstrated indicators related to exposure to extremism more often.
Progress includes
- the first empirical examination of left-wing extremism in the UK using unique police data
- the first study to apply a discrete choice model to understand terrorist spatial decision making.
- the first application of Risk Terrain Modelling to extremist violence in a Western context
- the first application of two-step cluster analysis in terrorism studies
- a survey of open science practices within terrorism studies
- the first use of closed source data on UK terrorists
- the scraping and analysis of unique data from Youtube transcripts
- the first approximation of how often risk and protective factors for violent extremism occur within the general population
- the first nationally representative survey in the field of terrorism studies
Risk Terrain Map from 2007-2013 with Bombings from 2014-2017 Layered On