Author, analyst and consultant on extremism
J.M. Berger is a researcher, analyst and consultant, with a special focus on extremist activities in the United States, and extremist propaganda and use of social media. He is a fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, The Hague and an affiliate of the SAFE Lab at Columbia University, and was previously a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution. Berger is co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern and author of Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam. Berger has written for the New York Times, Politico, The Atlantic and Foreign Policy. He has served as an on-air consultant with PBS and as a producer for NPR. | Selected Works and Citations
"...smart, granular analysis..."ISIS: The State of Terror
"Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger's new book, 'ISIS,' should be required reading for every politician and policymaker... Their smart, granular analysis is a bracing antidote to both facile dismissals and wild exaggerations... a nuanced and readable account of the ideological and organizational origins of the group." -- Washington Post
More on ISIS: The State of Terror
"...a timely warning..."Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam:
"At a time when some politicians and pundits blur the line between Islam and terrorism, Berger, who knows this subject far better than the demagogues, sharply cautions against vilifying Muslim Americans. ... It is a timely warning from an expert who has not lost his perspective." -- New York Times
More on Jihad Joe
THE ISLAMIC STATE'S DIMINISHING RETURNS ON TWITTER
A new white paper from the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University's Center for Cyber and Homeland Security found that Twitter's consistent suspensions of ISIS-affiliated accounts has reduced the terrorist network's reach and pace of activity.
Full paper at Program on Extremism
ISIS RECRUITMENT ONLINE: TAILORED INTERVENTIONS
The Islamic State has devoted significant resources to implementing a distinct online recruitment strategy, which follows targets from their introduction to the organization's message, through a careful pruning of their social networks, before culminating in a call to action. The strategy relies on scores of users who maintain a high level of availability online, allowing them to lavish attention on potential recruits, and who provide a drumbeat of incitement to action, such as social media activism, migration to Islamic State territories, or the commission of terrorist attacks.
Full article at CTC Sentinel
THE METRONOME OF APOCALYPTIC TIME
The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is a hybrid organization with many facets, one of the challenges we face in understanding and countering its actions. While there are clear political dimensions to this phenomenon, ISIS has an equally clear apocalyptic and millenarian bent, both as a social movement and an organization. While its prominence varies in different aspects of the organization, it is especially prominent in ISIS's online messaging and social media activity. The newest generation of electronic social media is an important tool in ISIS's call to action, relative to both foreign fighter recruitment and the encouragement of so-called "lone wolf" terrorist attacks. New technology offers significant new complications in dealing with the age-old problem of apocalyptic movements and their radically destructive potential.
Full article at Perspectives on Terrorism
THE ISIS TWITTER CENSUS
In a groundbreaking study for the Brookings Institution's Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, , J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan identified 20,000 ISIS-supporting Twitter accounts and analyzed their characteristics, profiles, locations and tweeting activity. The study estimates a minimum of 46,000 ISIS-supporting accounts were active in October and November 2014, and provides data and insights on how the suspension of thousands of accounts have impacted the performance of the network. For more reporting on ISIS and its use of media, read ISIS: The State of Terror, the new book by J.M. Berger and Jessica Stern, on sale everywhere.
Full report | News story | ISIS: State of Terror
WHO MATTERS ONLINE: METRICS FOR MEASURING EXTREMISM
Through the analysis of thousands of Twitter accounts following prominent white nationalists and anarchists, "Who Matters Online: Measuring influence, Evaluating Content and Countering Violent Extremism in Online Social Networks" offers new quantitative tools to identify highly engaged extremists in large social networks and to evaluate tactics for combating violent extremism (CVE) online. Authored by ICSR Associate Fellow J.M. Berger and Bill Strathearn, Who Matters Online: Measuring influence, Evaluating Content and Countering Violent Extremism in Online Social Networks demonstrates how quantitative analysis can identify highly engaged extremists in large social networks.
SELECTED WORKS ON ISIS
BIG DATA AND EXTREMISM
COUNTERING VIOLENT EXTREMISM (CVE)
ONLINE EXTREMISM AND CVE
FBI USE OF INFORMANTS
EXCLUSIVE PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENTS
COUNTER-TERRORISM STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS AT ICCT -- THE HAGUE
J.M. Berger is a fellow with the Counter-Terrorism Strategic Communications (CTSC) Project, led by the International Centre for Counter Terrorism – The Hague, a collaborative project bringing together experts from Europe, the United States and Australia as well as researchers from the Middle East and South Asia. It was set up to tackle one of the most significant national and global security challenges facing the world today: how to understand and confront the propaganda messaging of violent extremists. Through empirical research, based largely on primary source materials and in-country fieldwork, the project aims to test assumptions and evaluate past campaigns in order to develop key principles and guidelines for counter-terrorism strategic communications efforts. Other CTSC fellows and experts include Dr. Alastair Reed, Dr. Haroro J. Ingram, Charlie Winter and Dr. Craig Whiteside. For publications and more information, click here.
HOW DONALD TRUMP WON THE VOTE FROM SKEPTICAL WHITE NATIONALISTS
But it wasn’t always like this. Even after years of championing racially tinged questions about President Barack Obama’s birthplace, as recently as 2015 Trump was treated with disdain and suspicion by most white nationalists. Many claimed he was secretly Jewish, or in thrall to Jewish interests. Others saw him as a blowhard and egomaniac, a mercenary who was out only for himself. This is the story of how Trump won not only their votes but, eventually, their enthusiasm.
Full story at Politico
THE TURNER LEGACY
The Turner Diaries, the infamous racist dystopian novel by neo-Nazi William Luther Pierce, has inspired more than 200 murders since its publication in 1978, including the single deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history, the Oklahoma City bombing.
The book is arguably the most important single work of white nationalist propaganda in the English language, but it is not a singular artifact. The Turner Diaries is part of a genre of racist dystopian propaganda dating back to the U.S. Civil War. A new paper from J.M. Berger documents the books that directly and indirectly inspired Turner and examine the extensive violence that the novel has inspired.
Related posts on World Gone Wrong:
Nazis vs. ISIS on TwitterForeign Policy: ISIS and the Dystopian Spectacle
A new paper by J.M. Berger for George Washington University's Program on Extremism finds that white nationalists are thriving on Twitter and outperforming the Islamic State, which has been notorious for its success using social media, in both recruitment and messaging. The paper found that hashtags referring to presidential candidate Donald Trump outperformed almost every other subject. A companion article on INTELWIRE examines the outlook for extremist use of social media and forecasts dangerous times ahead.
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ICCT -- The Hague: Making CVE Work
One of the biggest barriers to designing a comprehensive Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program is defining its scope. This paper argues for a narrow approach, focusing on disengagement and the disruption of recruitment, a simplified model of radicalization, and concrete themes for disruptive intervention and messaging. After analyzing case studies of disengagement, a specific program of action is recommended.
Read the full paper (PDF) | Read the Policy Brief (PDF)
One of the most popular tropes in dystopian fiction is the “violent spectacle.” Immortalized in recent years by The Hunger Games series, the concept is simple: A corrupt society uses some public display or broadcast of violence to manipulate the masses. But it’s never been purely fiction.
New blog: World Gone Wrong
After years of rumours, Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al Nusra is expected to sever its longstanding affiliation with al Qaeda at any moment. As news of the impending split broke, many questions arose: Was it simply a smokescreen? Would al Qaeda still be pulling al Nusra’s strings? Won’t al Nusra still represent an extremist, violent ideology? Healthy skepticism is definitely called for, but this extraordinary development is far from inconsequential. Even if the ideology remains the same, even if al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri continues to influence al Nusra’s ranks and its leaders, the shift in allegiance will reverberate around the globe.
New GWU Paper: What Sovereign Citizens Believe
Members of the sovereign citizen movement are increasingly in the news for their violent confrontations with law enforcement, but their confusing ideology can be difficult to understand. This paper explains in simple language what sovereigns believe, and where those beliefs originated. | Read the full paper (PDF)
The Islamic State's Diminishing Returns on Twitter
Since late 2014, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) social networks on Twitter have been subjected to periodic account suspensions. In a study of metrics for a network of English language ISIS supporters active from June to October 2015, suspensions held the size and reach of the overall network flat, while devastating the reach of specific users who have been repeatedly targeted. | Read the full paper (PDF)
The Dog-Days of Terrorism
Most annual holiday traditions are overrated, but this might be the worst. Every year, starting in late June, the same alarm goes out. Officials express heightened concerns about terrorist attacks on Fourth of July celebrations, but they take pains to mention the warning is not based on specific intelligence or a specific threat. This year was no different: The week leading up to Independence Day was filled with dire warnings about how this year represented the worst "threat environment" since September 11th, how, in the words of Matt Olsen, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, "this time is different."
Full story at Politico
Al Qaeda's American Dream Ends
The public first met Adam Gadahn in October 2004, under the name "Azzam the American," in an Al Qaeda video Q&A that seems almost quaint by today's gruesome standards. Gadahn's real name and strange life story soon emerged. A Jew raised on a California goat farm who dabbled in heavy metal before converting to Islam and subsequently joining Al Qaeda, he became one of the most prominent members of the pantheon of Americans in the terror group. His death closes a chapter. Al Qaeda's array of American recruits once inspired alarm at the highest levels of government; today they are a spent force.
Full story at Politico
Europe's New Crackdown
They can take our lives, but can they also take our freedom? The Charlie Hebdo assault in Paris last week is only the latest chapter in a months-long series of attacks, which built in turn on a yearlong escalation of concerns about the extraordinary number of Europeans traveling to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State, al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, and a host of other jihadi groups.
Full story at Foreign Policy
The Islamic State's Irregulars
In a number of recent cases, it's unclear whether jihadist-style attacks were inspired by the Islamic State and its extremist ideology, or whether IS provided a convenient excuse for violence that was already brewing in the hearts of the perpetrators.
Full story at Foreign Policy
RECENT ARTICLES AND MEDIA APPEARANCES
BIOGRAPHYJ.M. Berger is a fellow with the International Centre for Counter Terrorism – The Hague. He is researcher, analyst and consultant, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and use of social media. Berger is co-author of the critically acclaimed The State of Terror with Jessica Stern and author of Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement.
Berger publishes the web site Intelwire.com and has written for Politico, The Atlantic and Foreign Policy, among many others. He was previously a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World and an associate fellow with the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation.
In addition to writing for the media, Berger consults for and trains private companies and government agencies on issues related to homegrown terrorism, online extremism, foreign fighters and advanced social media analysis. He has lectured at Harvard University, American University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He was keynote speaker and a panelist at the 2015 conference of the Society for Terrorism Study, hosted by the University of Massachusetts.
J.M. BERGER RESEARCH AREAS