J.M. Berger, Author of "Extremism" and "Optimal", Co-Author of "ISIS: The State of Terror", Author of "Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam"; Research Fellow, VOX-Pol.

Author, analyst and consultant on extremism

J.M. Berger is the author of Optimal (2020) and Extremism (2018). He is a research fellow with VOX-Pol and a PhD candidate at Swansea University's School of Law, where he studies extremist ideologies.

Berger's work encompasses extremism and terrorism, propaganda, and social media analytical techniques. As a consultant for social media and security companies and government agencies, he has conducted research and training on issues related to homegrown terrorism, online extremism, advanced social media analysis, and countering violent extremism (CVE).

Extremism, part of The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, was named an Outstanding Academic Title for 2019 by Choice Reviews, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries.

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 writing for The Atlantic and Politico, he has authored and co-authored several groundbreaking studies on social media analysis, including the development of metrics for measuring influence, community detection and detecting the use of manipulative tactics online.

Current title:

  • Author, Extremism (MIT Press, September 2018)
  • Research fellow, VOX-Pol

  • Fast facts:

  • Co-author with Jessica Stern, ISIS: The State of Terror (Ecco Books, 2015)
  • Author, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam (Potomac Books, 2011)
  • Author, The Turner Legacy: The Storied Origins and Enduring Impact of White Nationalism’s Deadly Bible (ICCT, 2016)
  • Fellow with the Counter-Terrorism Strategic Communications project
  • Fellow with the Alliance for Securing Democracy
  • Fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism--The Hague
  • Previously a non-resident fellow with the Program on Extremism at George Washington University
  • Previously a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution
  • Google Scholar profile

  • 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, such as the history of The Turner Diaries, the evolution of Christian Identity, and the impact of white nationalism on the 2016 presidential election. He is an associate fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, The Hague, and a non-resident fellow with the Alliance for Securing Democracy. He previously served as an on-air consultant with PBS and as a producer for NPR.

    Berger has lectured at Harvard University, Carnegie-Mellon University, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, American University, Leiden University, Utrecht University and others. He has presented keynote speeches for the Society for Terrorism Research, the VOX-Pol Network of Excellence, the Terrorism and Social Media Conference at Swansea University, Massachusetts Crime Analysts, and others.


  • Beatings and Bureaucracy: Al Qaeda's Founding Memos
  • Exclusive declassified FBI documents on 9/11
  • Exclusive FBI 9/11 hijackers chronology
  • Exclusive State Department documents on 9/11
  • Exclusive CIA documents on 9/11
  • 9/11 Commission Memoranda for the Record
  • Intelwire Sourcebooks
  • The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto


  • Hamilton 68: Tracking Russian Propaganda on Twitter
  • GWU: ISIS's Diminishing Returns on Twitter
  • Brookings Institution: The ISIS Twitter Census
  • ISIS Recruiting: Tailored Online Interventions
  • ISIS Social Media: The Metronome of Apocalyptic Time
  • Who Matters Online: Measuring Extremist Influence
  • ISIS: The State of Terror
  • J.M. Berger, Senate testimony on ISIS recruitment
  • J.M. Berger, House testimony on ISIS social media
  • Panel Video: New Technology, Bad Actors
  • Panel Video: ISIS Propaganda and Ideology



    Donald Trump has become a darling of white nationalists in the United States. He has been endorsed by the nation’s most prominent neo-Nazis and both current and former Klansmen, and he is supported online by a legion of racist and anti-Semitic trollsThe candidatehis son and his surrogates have tweeted white nationalist content, and the RNC even displayed a white nationalist’s tweet during the Republican convention.
    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 Enduring Appeal of Awlaqi's "Constants of Jihad"
  • The Myth of Anwar Awlaki
  • Gone But Not Forgotten
  • Anwar Al-Awlaki's Links to the September 11 Hijackers
  • Anwar Awlaki's Emails with Fort Hood Shooter


  • Omar and Me: My Strange Relationship with an American Jihadi
  • Bum Rap: Omar Hammami Disavows Jihadist Raps
  • Best-Liked on the Most-Wanted
  • Former Jihadist Friend Rips Hammami in Online Post
  • Foreign Policy: Me against the World
  • Omar Hammami and the Trolls of Jihad


  • Misunderestimating ISIS
  • The Middle East's Franz Ferdinand Moment
  • J.M. Berger, Senate testimony on ISIS recruitment
  • J.M. Berger, House testimony on ISIS social media
  • The Irregulars: Should we let ISIS claim just any attack?
  • ISIS vs. al Qaeda: The next jihadi superpower
  • Threat vs. Impact in Terrorism
  • ISIS Twitter: Resistible Force Meets Movable Object
  • IS/ISIS/ISIL: What's in a Name?
  • Zawahiri's Silence Raises Concerns With Nusra Supporters
  • Islamic State Massacre Provokes Backlash
  • The Daily Beast: ISIS Takes a Big Gamble
  • The Atlantic: How ISIS Games Twitter
  • Analysis: How Online Fundraising Networks Are Reacting to ISIS
  • A New Day for ISIS: Considerations
  • War on Error: Understanding the evolution of al Qaeda


    Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn a commission from qualifying purchases of products linked from this site.



    Discussions of extremist ideologies naturally focus on how in-groups criticize and attack out-groups. But many important extremist ideological texts are disproportionately focused on criticizing their own in-group. A new research report from J.M. Berger uses linkage-based analysis to examine Siege, a White nationalist tract that has played an important role in shaping modern neo-Nazi movements, including such violent organizations as Atomwaffen Division and The Base. While Siege strongly attacks out-groups, including Jewish and Black people, the book is overwhelmingly a critique of how the White people of its in-group fall short of Nazi ideals. Siege’s central proposition—that the White in-group is disappointing, deeply corrupt, and complacent—shapes its argument for an “accelerationist” strategy to hasten the collapse of society in order to build something entirely new.

    Read the report


    "Berger’s absorbing story skewers reliance on social media... A sharp, gripping story of a bleak future." —  Kirkus Reviews

    "The characters are charismatic and will keep readers invested. ... Berger compellingly explores the predicaments of a globally networked civilization in this stimulating, immersive book." — BookLife

    "Optimal is a brilliant exploration of the implications of ceding our personal responsibility and relying on algorithms to teach us how to live. But more than that, it’s great storytelling." -- Hahvi.net

    The Algorithm Wars have ended, and the world has been optimized. Thanks to the System, everything that happens is recorded, liked, commented, shared and analyzed at scale in order to produce nonstop and ever-improving recommendations about what kind of job you should have, what kind of food you might enjoy, what kind of music you might like, what kind of exercise you need, and what kind of person you might want to sleep with. It is a world of total information and total freedom… although things tend to go more smoothly when you follow the System’s recommendations.

    From author J.M. Berger, an expert on the toxic real-world effects of a globally networked society, comes a unique dystopian vision of a total information society built by Silicon Valley, where today’s trends have become tomorrow’s reality.


    When no clear, authoritative source of truth exists, when uncertainty rages, human nature will lead many people to seek a more stable reality by wrapping themselves in an ever-tighter cloak of political, religious, or racial identities. The more uncertainty rises, the more alluring that siren call becomes. And some Americans are responding by seeking out exclusive, all-encompassing identities that are toxic and fragile—and hold the seed of violent extremism.


    The following articles and research papers by J.M. Berger address various issues related to right-wing extremism in the United States. They are presented here as a resource for journalists and researchers working on issues related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. J.M. Berger's book, Extremism (2018, MIT Press), also includes resources on how to think and talk about extremist movements relative to mainstream politics. 

    Research papers
     Audio and video


    Racist flyers and posters have a long history in the US. In recent years, these ephemeral pieces of propaganda have been coordinated and amplified through the use of the internet and social media. In a vicious circle, racist flyers are propagated online, then printed by activists and distributed offline. After distribution, photos and other documentation of the flyer drops are then posted online in order to amplify their message and inspire further drops. By J.M. Berger, Kateira Aryaeinejad and Seán Looney.


    From Rollerball to Battle Royale to The Hunger Games, readers and moviegoers have flocked to spectacle dystopias -- a genre of fiction in which a dysfunctional society is centered around a terrible, violent form of entertainment. J.M. Berger, author of Extremism and The Turner Legacy, provides a history of the spectacle dystopia from its almost-forgotten origins in 1878 through modern incarnations such as The Running Man and The Purge franchise, looking at how these works came to be and how they have spilled over into the real world in unexpected and sometimes dangerous ways. Let the Game Do Its Work is a short history of this popular genre, and also a guide to help readers discover obscure works that they may have missed.


    Louis Beam's 1992 essay on "Leaderless Resistance" outlined a decentralized strategy for terrorist and extremist groups that has been widely adopted around the world. As written, the strategy was untenable -- it relied on wrong assumptions and a social environment that didn't exist, and it failed to result in any meaningful progress for the movement. But the emergence of social media has created space for a new wave of leaderless attacks, as seen in Christchurch, Pittsburgh, Poway, El Paso and beyond. A look at how the changing world has -- and has not -- rescued a bad strategy from the dustbin of history. 


    The study of violent extremism is entering a new phase, with shifts in academic focus and policy direction, as well as a host of new and continuing practical and ethical issues and obstacles. J.M. Berger contributed a chapter to an edited volume for the Resolve Network on the challenges ahead for scholars of extremism and some strategies for improving the state of research.

    Read the full chapter


    J.M. Berger appeared on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross on Monday, March 25, discussing recent developments in extremism, including the New Zealand right-wing terror attack. For more on the topic, check out J.M. Berger's new book, Extremism, from MIT Press available from bookstores everywhere, including e-book and audiobook formats.


    VOX-Pol has released its latest report in the VOX-Pol publication series, titled The Alt-Right Twitter Census: Defining and Describing the Audience for Alt-Right Content on Twitter, authored by J.M. Berger, on 15 October 2018.

    This report defines and describes the alt-right audience on twitter, and identifies the top ten most influential twitter accounts for the alt-right online. Since 2016, the alt-right have held a significant spot in global politics due to their continually expanding online presence. The report examines this online presence ‘with robust metrics and an analysis of content shared by adherents’, primarily on Twitter.

    All VOX-Pol reports are open-access. This report is available for download HERE. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the report, please email info@voxpol.eu with your request.

    Related: The Alt-Right in Europe Related: Trump Is the Glue That Binds the Far Right


    Other major publications and appearances, 2017-2018:

    Major publications in 2016:
    Selected earlier works: 


    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


      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.

    The Turner Legacy (PDF) | Turner and the Alt Right

    Related posts on World Gone Wrong: 

    ISIS and the Dystopian Spectacle

    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.

    Read the article

    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) 



    A rising tide of extremist movements threaten to destabilize civil societies around the globe. It has never been more important to understand extremism, yet scholars and policy makers can't even define who is an extremist and why. In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, J. M. Berger offers a nuanced introduction to extremist movements, explaining what extremism is, how extremist ideologies are constructed, and why extremism can escalate into violence. Named an Outstanding Academic Title for 2019 by Choice Reviews, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries.

    Review: "Elegantly written, the book provides a lucid discussion of a contested concept, with illustrating examples from right-wing, left-wing, and religious terrorism. For anyone new to the extremism landscape, it is an excellent introductory text to better understand political extremism."

    Review: "This book is one of the first serious attempts to provide answers to the lack of scholarly consensus about what extremism means. The author does so by way of a meticulous study of historical phenomena..."

    Review: "...broadening of the frame allows Berger a set of analytic insights that were obscured by detail in earlier, more limited studies, and his book is the elegant formulation of those insights, simply, and with a forest of scholarship in support."

    Review: "J.M. Berger’s book Extremism is truly exceptional. This book provides the most intelligent, insightful and accessible treatment of extremist belief systems and their implications. It will be required reading for graduate students in my seminar next semester."

    Review: "Like any good work on a complicated subject, the author challenges his readers, setting forth propositions and offering questions that encourage the reader to think about the formation of their own worldview and sense of identity. Berger has also written a highly accessible book, which allows readers who may only possess a cursory understanding of the historical context and trends that shaped the emergence of modern-day extremism, to delve more deeply into this relevant issue."

    VIDEO: U.S. book launch at the New America Foundation

    Readers react: Read the first reviews on Twitter

    Buy now! 'Extremism,' Kindle edition, by J.M. Berger

    Buy now! 'Extremism,' Google Books edition, by J.M. Berger

    Buy now! 'Extremism,' print edition, by J.M. Berger


    "...excellent introductory text..."

    "Elegantly written, the book provides a lucid discussion of a contested concept, with illustrating examples from right-wing, left-wing, and religious terrorism. For anyone new to the extremism landscape, it is an excellent introductory text to better understand political extremism." -- Perspectives on Terrorism

    More on Extremism

    "...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

  • Now in paperback!
  • Wall Street Journal Book of the Month, February 2016
  • Foreign Affairs: Best books of 2015
  • Wall Street Journal: Must-reads on terrorism
  • Washington Post: Notable nonfiction of 2015
  • New York Times: The top books of 2015

  • 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


  • #Unfollow: Why Kicking Terrorists Off Twitter Works
  • How Metadata Works: What the NSA Does with Phone Records
  • Who Matters Online: Metrics for Monitoring Extremism Online
  • Foreign Policy: Fringe Following
  • Understanding the NSA's Location Data
  • Visualizing CVE Audiences
  • Recalculating the SPLC's Hate List


  • A Way Forward for CVE: The Five Ds
  • Monsters and Children: Politics And How We Talk About Muslims
  • The Value of Exposing Collaborators
  • The 'You Name It!' Problem
  • White House CVE Strategy Full of Sound and Fury
  • Terrorist Acts, Terrorist Thoughts


  • Sex as a Weapon: Blurry Line Between Informants and Agents
  • FBI Undercover Operations And Timothy McVeigh
  • White Paper: PATCON infiltration and Oklahoma City
  • Video: Panel on infiltration, New America Foundation
  • A Nation of Spies and Snitches