GW releases first study of Americans arrested for ISIS actions

GW’s program on extremism released a study examining why Americans join the Islamic State Tuesday, the first comprehensive study of its kind.

The report, “ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa,” analyzes the demographics and possible motivations behind Americans forming ties and attempting to join ranks with ISIS. The report was written by Lorenzo Vidino and Seamus Hughes, the leaders of the program, which launched earlier this year.

By examining at legal documents and interviewing prosecutors and people involved with the 71 Americans who were arrested for their attempted affiliation with ISIS, the authors of the study came up with the following conclusions about the American ISIS sympathizers.

1. The average American ISIS sympathizer

The report found that the average age of Americans arrested for at least attempting to join ISIS is 26 years old and more than 80 percent of them are male. The vast majority are U.S. citizens or permanent residences and a little more than half of those arrested at least attempted to travel abroad.

Officers have arrested the people for terrorist activity in 21 states, but the FBI has said that there are ISIS investigations in all 50 states, according to the report. The report also indicates that more than half of those arrested for ISIS terrorism were caught by an informant or through undercover agents.

Around 40 percent of those arrested were converts to Islam, the report states.

2. Varying demographics

The people arrested come from different ethnic groups, educational levels and socioeconomic statuses, the report shows. The report also states that the sympathizers can turn to radicalism for a range of diverse reasons and are often be drawn to extremism for more than one reason.

The report lists categories for possible motivations for an American to turn to ISIS: revenge seekers, status seekers, identity seekers and thrill seekers.

“Their motivations are equally diverse and defy easy analysis,” the report reads.

3. Social media is ‘crucial.’

The study found at least 300 Americans who utilized social media to voice their sympathies with the Islamic State, with some of the people also taking action to physically travel abroad to further the ISIS mission in person. The most common form of social media considered was Twitter.

The report cites FBI Director James Comey in a statement from July on how ISIS uses social media for recruitment, saying that social media has given the terrorist group access to potential sympathizers that wasn’t as available in the past.

“The foreign terrorist now has direct access into the United States like never before,” Comey said in the report.

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