New York– In advance of Rep. Peter King’s hearings, the Brennan Center for Justice today released a report critiquing the way some law enforcement agencies seek to spot and deter “homegrown terrorists.” Instead, the report urges an evidence-based approach.
The report analyzes numerous in-depth studies by government terrorism experts and social scientists that have traced the “radicalization” process which leads individuals to commit violent acts. According to experts ranging from the Department of Defense to the United Kingdom’s MI5 security service to the Rand Corporation, it is extremely hard to predict violence. The National Counterterrorism Center refutes the idea that there are visible signs of radicalization, such as religious behavior. Yet some in law enforcement, most prominently the FBI and NYPD, maintain views of radicalization inconsistent with these expert findings. Their theories have spawned tactics — such as monitoring Muslim religious behavior and venues — that risk pushing away the very communities whose enthusiastic cooperation has been vital to the fight against terrorism.
“As a nation, we face a serious threat, which demands a serious response,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, and report author. “Current theories of radicalization put forward by certain law enforcement agencies assume the road to terrorism is marked by easily identifiable indicators, such as a Muslim person growing a beard, wearing traditional Islamic garb, or attending community meetings. But decades of research refute these ideas, and we question the efficacy of tactics based on them.”
The 2007 NYPD report, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” claimed that its review of a handful of cases allowed it to identify a fixed trajectory of radicalization with visible markers — mainly religious behavior — along the way. In 2009, the NYPD issued “clarifications” on some of the report’s findings; but the substance of its report remains in place, and its influence is still felt. The FBI, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and various state and local police departments, continue to rely on the NYPD report’s findings.
“These theories are deeply problematic because they provide cover for law enforcement’s intrusions into American Muslim’s religious activities,” Patel said. “American Muslims have stood as a bulwark against terrorism in this country, providing critical tips and information to law enforcement agencies. But monitoring religious behavior raises important First Amendment issues. It also threatens to alienate the community whose cooperation is so essential to fighting terrorism. They should look at behavior which may suggest criminality — such as buying explosives — not at whether someone has grown a beard.”
The report has specific recommendations for the federal government to recalibrate its approach to radicalization, including:
- Repudiating the unfounded theory of radicalization that is popular with law enforcement agencies;
- Establishing a mechanism to evaluate the effectiveness of the plethora of anti-radicalization measures that have been undertaken;
- Constituting the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (already mandated by Congress) to analyze the civil liberties impact of counter-radicalization policies, particularly on American Muslims’ First Amendment freedoms;
- Increasing the transparency of law enforcement policies in this area; and
- Reconfiguring its outreach activities to Muslim communities to ensure sustained outreach at the local level accompanied by a serious policy dialogue at the national level.
More information on the report is available here.
For more information, please contact Jeanine Plant-Chirlin at 646–292–8322 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.