News media seek CSUSB professor’s comments on hate crimes and reciprocal violence by extremists
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Reporters from CNN interviewed Brian Levin, criminal justice professor and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, in the aftermath of a Virginia Muslim teenager’s beating death and the latest terror incident in London.
In the Virginia case, Nabra Hassanen was brutally beaten to death with a baseball bat — and her body thrown into a pond — by a man who police say got into an argument with her and her friend as they headed back to a mosque early on June 18.
Thousands have signed a petition calling on state and federal officials to investigate the 17-year-old's death as a hate crime. But the case, like others before, highlights how challenging it is to apply that label and the narrow criteria it needs to meet.
Levin said most crimes are not prosecuted as hate crimes because there's a rigorous standard that must be met. The hate crime designations work best for prosecutors trying property crimes or non-violent crimes because it takes less to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
"Abstract beliefs alone," Levin said, "are not enough to convict someone of a capital offense."
The article was published June 21, 2017, and can be read at “Nabra Hassanen's murder highlights the challenges of designating a crime a hate crime.”
Another CNN report examined the downward spiral of violence when extremists co-opt the narrative of a terror incident to their own ends. The report follows the terror incidents in London — the June 3 attack near London Bridge by three men said to have been radicalized by ISIS, and the June 12 attack by a lone white man who drove a van into a group of worshippers near a mosque.
“White supremacists said the (June 12) attack, which targeted innocent civilians, proved there was ‘hope for the British,’ according to SITE Intelligence, which tracks extremist threats across the globe,” the report said. “Meanwhile pro-ISIS social media accounts pointed to the attack as a reason why Muslims need to rise up and attack.”
The trend is not new, but rather heightened due to the current geopolitical climate, said Levin.
"I've been studying extremism for decades, and there will often be some catalytic event that becomes part of a folklore and helps galvanize where aggression is directed to and amplified towards," Levin told CNN. "(It's) almost like a perverted comic book. What we have is the beginning of a folklore narrative that identifies warrior heroes and villains. And what's so interesting to me is that we see this across the ideological spectrum, everyone from Euro nationalists to black nationalists to religious extremists of all types."
For ISIS, the hope is that Monday attack was a piece of fodder for recruits and something they'll likely point to as "proof" of the gray zone — described as area occupied by Muslims who aren't pro-ISIS and live side-by-side with others — is eroding.
"This individual attack is more of a marker than anything else. Its symbolism is more important than its operational use for ISIS,” Levin said. “They're going to use it, but they're so wildly unpopular in the Muslim world, it's going to take more retaliatory attacks and more kinds of overt discriminatory acts against Muslims to give them that traction beyond the relatively a small sliver of people. They're looking to create something broad, and they haven't been able to sustain that."
So while ISIS sees the June 12 incident as a propaganda tool, white supremacists suggested it may be the "early stages of a race war."
But the idea of reciprocal attacks isn't new.
What's new is what Levin calls the "franchising of these loner-types who get radicalized across different ideologies but through similar ways," like social media and a more fractured news media.
"There's very much a fear of change and a fear and a distrust of established nations and institutions. And coupled on top of that is an anger that is culled from these folks who are disenfranchised and unstable people, who can be caught up in that net of the DIY terrorist," said Levin.
"Extremist movements are like these planets that are hurdling through sociopolitical space, and they get caught up in the gravity of other moons and planets, and they are both reactive and reciprocal," said Levin.
The article was published June 22, 2017, and can be read at “Cumulative extremism: Why terror is like a 'perverted comic book.'”