With Alix Levine now on-board, Cronus Global is embarking on an exciting new future with regard to better understanding the actual dynamics and mechanics on Internet-based radicalization and mobilization in the United States.
First, let me set the stage. In last week’s hearings, Secretary Napolitano and Director Leiter testified about new trends vis-a-vis al-Qaeda. According to the New York Times,
At issue are Americans who are being inspired to violence over the Internet; many are recruited by Qaeda affiliates looking for Westerners or individuals who have connections to the West but do not have strong links to terrorist groups, and are thus more difficult for the authorities to identify.
“They are also encouraging individuals in the West to carry out their own small-scale attacks, which require less of the coordination and planning that could raise red flags and lead to an attack’s disruption,” Ms. Napolitano said.
Alix and I moved the ball forward on this issue in our recent article, You Too Can Be Awlaki, which we published in the Fletcher Forum last month. We offered one of the first models of online mobilization that explained what was underneath all of the conventional talking points about “accessibility of message” and “technical sophistication” that so many talking-heads have been peddling lately.
We brought together three bodies of literature to help understand the ways in which individuals tried to not just emulate, but actually become, their idealized virtual selves. Our article brings a lot of substantive ammunition to bear on the issues discussed by NCTC’s Director Leiter last week. Here’s an interplay between some key quotes by Director Leiter and the direction that Alix and I have been taking our research.
Awlaqi “certainly is the most well-known English-speaking ideologue who is speaking directly to folks here in the homeland,” (Leiter, 2/2011)
“By using the Internet to brand himself as a user-friendly al-Qaeda personality, al-Awlaki has repackaged al-Qaeda’s convoluted and inaccessible message into something that his followers are not only able to understand, but can replicate on their own.” (Brachman and Levine, 1/2011)
“The conventional explanation for al-Awlaki’s broad appeal is his folksy stylizing, accessible messages, and colloquial Western references. Not only is his message accessible, but until he became a wanted terrorist, he himself was easily reachable through e-mail.” (Brachman and Levine, 1/2011)
“There are several others who we’re concerned with, but I think Awlaqi probably does have the greatest audience on the Internet and the like. So in that sense he is the most important.” (Leiter, 2/2011).
“Rather than just merely attracting the most radical of extremists, like Osama bin Laden’s following, al-Awlaki’s audience also includes individuals that have followed him since he was considered a mainstream spiritual advisor in America, before he was propagating such radical messages as he does today. With his online accessibility, as well as his easily comprehensible messages, al-Awlaki is the new and improved version of Osama bin Laden.” (Brachman and Levine, 1/2011)
Alix and I are currently in the final edits of a few forthcoming pieces that change everything, again – as Iphone 4 might say – with regard to how and why American kids are mobilizing so quickly and deeply online, and what the implications are for homeland security and domestic law enforcement.
Stay tuned –