Terrorist imagery and propaganda
Thursday June 20, 13.45 - 15.15
Session 2, Auditorium 2, Eilert Sundt building
- Exploring the role of visual recruitment strategies as a driver for recruitment - Sheelagh Brady
- Nuclear Codes: Thematic, Aesthetic, and Semiotic Analysis of Atomwaffen Division Propaganda - Kurt Braddock, Graham Macklin and Daniel Koehler
- The treachery of images: visualising “statehood” as a tactic for the legitimisation of non-state actors - Aaron Anfinson
- Overcoming Disability: The Use of the ‘Supercrip’ trope by Western Militaries and the Islamic State - Mia M. Bloom and Yannick Veilleux-Lepage
Exploring the role of visual recruitment strategies as a driver for recruitment
Sheelagh Brady, Dublin City University
To date, researchers have largely treated criminals and extremists as fundamentally different to ‘normal people’, and to each other, for that matter. Despite this, there are interesting comparisons between them and other groups such as military and private military contractions/mercenaries with a growing literature showing that there are similar factors that influence people’s decision to join violence organisations, despite the aim of their violence being different. These factors include friends and family involvement in the same activity, a sense of belonging, the desire for ‘fun’, danger, social recognition, redemptive factors, etc. This piece explores these similarities, from the perspective of recruitment, by comparing 24 recruitment videos, six from each group. This will involve a visual analysis of videos from political extremists, gangs, military and PMC to determine if similar patterns and trends are present, in an effort to establish if similar recruitment strategies are used across any or all of the four groups. It is essential that we understand the similarities (and differences) between these groups, because understanding what motivates such groups (and the individuals therein) is likely to be helpful in developing effective policy to reduce the likelihood of individuals joining in the first place.
Nuclear Codes: Thematic, Aesthetic, and Semiotic Analysis of Atomwaffen Division Propaganda
Kurt Braddock, The Pennsylvania State University, Graham Macklin, University of Oslo and Daniel Köhler, German Institute on Radicalization and De-radicalization Studies)
In several countries, right-wing extremist groups have come to the fore as the preeminent threat to domestic security. Despite the threats they pose, their communicative strategies for disseminating their ideologies, communicating with multiple audiences, and recruiting new members have gone relatively unexplored. This is particularly true of newly emergent groups for whom the darker corners of the Internet have served as useful conduits through which their propaganda can be distributed.
One of these groups, Atomwaffen Division (AWD), has shown itself to be capable of not only producing and distributing propaganda, but also using that propaganda to motivate its members to engage in violent activity against those it considers enemies. To better understand the AWD ideology and its motivational elements, this paper features a content analysis of its online propaganda. More specifically, we identify the themes that underpin the content intrinsic to AWD propaganda (thematic analysis), explore how stylistic elements of the propaganda can affect audiences exposed to it (aesthetic analysis), and determine how the symbols that appear in the propaganda link to the larger right-wing, neo-Nazi movement (semiotic analysis). In doing so, this paper will provide preliminary information about how the AWD communicates its ideology through its propaganda. In addition, the results of this analysis will suggest how AWD propaganda may appeal to vulnerable audiences and how the harmful effects of the propaganda might be mitigated.
The treachery of images: visualising “statehood” as a tactic for the legitimisation of non-state actors
Aaron Anfinson, Critica Research and Analysis
This paper establishes that visual displays of sovereignty were central to the escalation and projected legitimacy of a violent non-state actor. Contrary to conventional perspectives, it details that the unprecedented appeal of the so-called Islamic State was tied to a visual projection of statehood. Through an innovative methodology, this study conducts a qualitative, affordance-driven analysis of the global visual politics of Dabiq. It details how photographs taken by Islamic State militants and downloaded from a variety of sources online were strategically utilised as “evidence” of the constitutive criteria of statehood: of a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. It demonstrates that this violent non-state actor utilised the affordances of digital visualising technologies in order to position itself as a viable and competitive alternative to existing nation-states—as both a destination for migration and a legitimate threat to the established political order. This realisation has implications for the theory and practice of analysing terrorist materials within an era of intense mediatisation.
Overcoming Disability: The Use of the ‘Supercrip’ trope by Western Militaries and the Islamic State
Yannick Veilleux-Lepage & Mia M Bloom, Georgia State University
Like Boko Haram and Al Shabaab, the Islamic State features disabled fighters in its propaganda (Comolli 2015; Hansen 2019), encouraging people with disabilities to wage war against the enemy in what might be considered an attempt at inclusivity. Beginning in 2017, footage of seriously injured or maimed fighters returning to battle has been a recurring theme in IS propaganda. Although such displays may be puzzling and could be interpreted as signaling a shortage of able-bodied fighters after their recent territorial losses, for other analysts, this instead communicates a media narrative depicting the group’s “commitment to a ‘long war’ against its enemies in which it will ultimately prevail,” (Munoz 2018) a use of symbolism which originated in Western military propaganda.
This paper explores how the propaganda of both terrorists and Western militaries construct and represent disability. Islamic State propaganda that depicts injured fighters depends on normative, and Westernized notions of masculinity, heteronormativity, and militaristic nationalism. It emulates Western states’ efforts to glorify and weaponize images of wounded soldiers returning to combat, and their desire to (re)construct new masculine models of heroism to appeal to a contemporary audience. In other words, IS frames its propaganda in much the same way as Western democracies have done since World War One.