Ideologically Motivated Murder: The Threat Posed by White Supremacist Groups

Ideologically Motivated Murder: The Threat Posed by White Supremacist Groups

Author: David J. Caspi
Publisher: El Paso, TX: LFB Scholarly Publishing, 2013. 207p.
Reviewer: Jennifer Varriale Carson, Ph.D. | July 2014

When most Americans think about terrorism, they primarily conceptualize it as the attacks of September 11, 2001. This conceptualization yields references to far away groups from the Middle East or depictions that terrorism is always “al-Qaeda-related” in some way. However, and as Dr. Caspi notes, terrorism is nine times more likely to take the form of homegrown groups. In fact, and as demonstrated by Ideologically Motivated Murder, a significant majority of the threats posed by these groups is from the white supremacist movement. Specifically, this movement is associated with a harrowing 74% of ideologically motivated homicides. Using the U.S. Extremist Crime Database developed by Josh Freilich and Steve Chermak, the book addresses whether a group’s position within the movement influences the level of participation in this type of violence.

Caspi’s book fills a large gap in the research in many ways — but perhaps most influential is his use of quantitative methods and in particular, sophisticated statistical techniques. Overall, and despite an important growth of this type of research in recent years, the study of terrorism has primarily relied on descriptive analysis and case studies. In fact, Caspi cites a pinnacle review conducted by Lum, Kennedy, and Sherley (2006), which points to the extremely small percentage (3-4%) of terrorism research that is empirical. The author primarily relies on social network analysis, a method that examines the connections among “nodes,” that can be operationalized through several different units of analysis. Caspi explores the group-level through two primary networks: those associated with ideologically motivated homicide, and the larger white supremacist movement. 

The book identifies thirteen core groups within the former network, and discusses each in detail regarding its history and ideology, with a timeline of associated homicides. This section serves as a very comprehensive and fascinating overview of the main players in the white supremacist movement — which in turn gives context to the subsequent analyses presented in the latter chapters. The reader is able to come away with a greater appreciation of the intricacies of a terrorist threat that may have previously been viewed as one-dimensional. For instance, Caspi identifies the subtle but important differences between white supremacist prison gangs, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, and those groups that adhere to either Christian Identity or Creativity. The book concludes that despite these differences, there is much overlap with Neo-Nazism serving as the common link.

Caspi presents his findings from the social network analysis and a supplementary linear regression with the main conclusion that it does, in fact, matter where a group is positioned within a terrorist network. The author describes the white supremacist movement as relatively non-cohesive and dispersed, making it difficult for law enforcement intervention. He suggests that targeting the more centrally located neo-Nazi groups or focusing on the “rising stars” of the movement may be a more efficient crime control strategy.

All in all, the book presents some very interesting findings coupled with useful policy implications for law enforcement. The author acknowledges a number of limitations including those inherent in dealing with a comparatively rare phenomenon. These limitations are, however, minor when viewed against the larger contribution of this work as an advance in empirical terrorism research.       

Jennifer Varriale Carson, Assistant Professor, University of Central Missouri

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