Author, analyst and consultant on extremismJ.M. Berger is an author, analyst and consultant studying extremism, propaganda and social media analytical techniques. A fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, The Hague, Berger is co-author with Jessica Stern of ISIS: The State of Terror and author of Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam. In addition to publishing extensively on jihadist terrorism and extremism, Berger has also authored key works on far-right extremism in the United States, including the Patriot Movement, the sovereign citizen movement, and topics related to white nationalism, including the history of The Turner Diaries, the evolution of Christian Identity, and the impact of white nationalism on the 2016 presidential election.
Title and fast facts:
Berger writes for the Politico, The Atlantic and Foreign Policy. He has served as an on-air consultant with PBS and as a producer for NPR. Berger's most recent peer-reviewed academic paper, The Turner Legacy, examines the history and utility of dystopian novels as white nationalist propaganda.
"...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
FULL 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 the use of social media for recruitment propaganda.
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 definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement.
He writes for Politico, The Atlantic and Foreign Policy, and he has contributed to the New York Times and the Boston Globe.
Berger has lectured at Harvard University, Leiden University, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, American University, Utrecht University and others. He has presented keynote speeches for the Society for Terrorism Research, the VOX-Pol Network of Excellence, and other organizations.
Previously, Berger was 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.
LATEST RESEARCH FROM J.M. BERGER
LONDON AND THE CLASH OF EXTREMISTS
Violent extremists march over the bodies of the innocent in an effort to rip societies apart and rebuild them in a darker image. While extremists do sometimes fight each other directly, they rely on the tool of terrorism to aim their fire at the center of society. The immediate effect is to cut down people who are simply trying to live their lives in peace. The ultimate goal is to destroy the center entirely. The London Bridge and Finsbury Park attacks in London this month show that the center is under a symbiotic assault from more than one direction.
DECONSTRUCTION OF IDENTITY CONCEPTS IN ISLAMIC STATE PROPAGANDAIn a March 2017 paper published by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism—The Hague, this author introduced a framework for studying the construction of extremist identity through ideological texts. This Report will examine the framework against a historical example of the so-called Islamic State (IS) propaganda to illustrate how messaging strategies can be based on insights derived from the framework and the resulting analysis.
Read the full paper
MAJOR WORKSMajor publications in 2017:
Selected earlier works:
UNDERSTANDING ISIS IDEOLOGYAs surely as night follows day, demands to defeat “the ideology” emerge after a terrorist attack, in increasingly urgent tones. After the terrorist attack Saturday night in London, Prime Minister Theresa May offered the latest iteration of that ritual, a refrain heard since the days of George W. Bush. Yet it should be obvious that the West’s obsessive focus on combatting ideology has produced no quantifiably positive results.
Read the full analysis at ICCT -- The HagueTwenty experts from think tanks and universities across the United States explore the world’s deadliest movements, their strategies, the future scenarios, and policy considerations. This report reflects their analysis and diverse views, worked out during a series of conferences between August and November 2016. “The Jihadi Threat” reﬂects the broad — and often diverse — views of the coauthors. The United States Institute of Peace was the primary sponsor of this initiative, with the backing of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. J.M. Berger contributed to this report on behalf of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism -- The Hague.
EXTREMIST CONSTRUCTION OF IDENTITY
This International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague, Counter-Terrorism Strategic Communications Project Research Paper examines how the white supremacist movement Christian Identity emerged from a non-extremist forerunner known as British Israelism. By examining ideological shifts over the course of nearly a century, the paper seeks to identify key pivot points in the movement’s shift toward extremism and explain the process through which extremist ideologues construct and define in-group and out-group identities. Based on these findings, the paper proposes a new framework for analyzing and understanding the behavior and emergence of extremist groups. The proposed framework can be leveraged to design strategic counter-terrorism communications programs using a linkage-based approach that deconstructs the process of extremist in-group and out-group definition. Future publications will continue this study, seeking to refine the framework and operationalize messaging recommendations.
Read the full research paper
Related: The Dangerous New Americanism
TRUMP ADMINISTRATION CVE SHIFT IS PART OF A PRO-WHITE NATIONALIST PATTERNGovernment efforts to counter violent extremist among white nationalists were always symbolic, but the decision to end them is also a powerful symbol of the new administration's wider embrace and empowerment of white nationalism.
Full analysis at the Washington Post
THE JIHADI THREAT: ISIS, AQ AND BEYOND
Read the full report
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.
MORE RECENT UPDATES
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
J.M. BERGER RESEARCH AREAS