Controversial Topic: Extremism

Controversial Topic: Extremism

Extremism refers to beliefs and actions that are of an extreme or fanatical nature. Extremism is often connected to political, religious or racialist ideologies that fall far outside of the mainstream. Extremism is often associated with fringe groups such as white supremacists, jihadist terrorists, or religious fundamentalists, and is distinguished from traditional activism for its radical and sometimes violent methods. This controversial topic centers on the disagreement between those who subscribe to extremist views and extremist actions, and those who reject the views or methods of extremism, as well as those who work actively to prevent extremism. Because this controversial topic remains in the news, extremism is also a popular subject for a persuasive essay.

This controversial topic can be framed as an ongoing conflict between:

  • Extremist groups such as white supremacists, religious fundamentalists, terrorists, and political separatists who use subversive, illegal or violent tactics to confront what they view as political oppression, social injustice, or an affront to their belief systems;
  • Intelligence agencies, law enforcement groups, and military forces charged with the responsibility of preventing or responding to the use of illegal or violent extremist actions, as well as advocacy and activist groups who oppose the ideas and tactics of hate groups, terrorist organizations, and advocates of religious violence; and
  • Individuals in the mainstream who generally recognize the complexity and diversity of views on racial, political, and religious order, but who reject the ideas and tactics used by extremist groups to confront this complexity.
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Further complicating this debate topic is the role played by power differentials. For instance, a resistance group living in an oppressed state may believe, accurately or not, that extremist methods such as strategic bombing campaigns or political assassinations are their only means of tactical resistance. These groups might characterize themselves as freedom fighters while the leaders of an oppressive state might identify these same groups as terrorists.

Individuals or groups using militant tactics to resist state-sponsored violence may be characterized as extremist, even as the violence committed by the state itself is characterized as a conventional deployment of law enforcement. These semantic realities suggest that in some instances, extremism is in the eye of the beholder.

This subject is also highly correlated to other major entries on our list of the 25 Most Controversial Topics, including the Civil Rights controversy and the controversy over First Amendment Rights.

A Brief History of the Issue

America’s early history includes numerous bloody chapters fueled by racial divides, ideological differences, and colonial expansionism. Acts that we would characterize as violent extremism today were more commonplace in America’s first centuries, such as the innumerable instances of violence which occurred between colonists and indigenous tribes.

Moreover, America’s history of African slavery and Black segregation is built on a legacy of violent and oppressive behavior which was either state-sanctioned, or state-enabled. Both during the era of slavery, and in the 100 years which passed between abolition and the Civil Act of 1964, white supremacist and Ku Klux Klan tactics which would be described as terrorist activities today went largely unchecked by authorities. Activities included public demonstrations, cross-burnings, clashes with Civil Rights groups, massacres, lynchings, and church bombings.

During the century between the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, these activities were rarely described as extremism because they extended from a mainstream racial hierarchy. Today, these same activities are classified as extremism. This shift is not a reflection of the changing beliefs and tactics of these groups, but is instead a mainstream shift away from racialist hierarchies.

It’s also noteworthy that the United States was itself founded on a long and bloody war fought between an imperialist force and a disadvantaged band of ideological-motivated separatists. The revolutionary violence that gave birth to the United States could certainly have been described as its own form of extremism from the view of British authorities and loyalists.

These violent and intersecting histories which gave birth to the U.S., while not all technically instances of extremism, helped to lay the groundwork for a nation with a long and persistent history of extremism for causes as wide ranging as white supremacy, far-right extremism, far-left extremism, eco-terrorism, jihadist terrorism, anti-abortion extremism, anti-semitism, anti-immigrant extremism, and a limitless number of political, religious, racial, and ideological causes.

This groundwork is a prelude to the timeline below, which details just a few the countless acts of notable extremism that have occurred in the United States since the turn of the 20th Century:

September 6, 1901—McKinley Assassination

A Michigan-born Russian-Polish man named Leon Czolgosz had lost his job during an economic depression commonly referred to as the Panic of 1893. Czolgosz came to identify as an anarchist, and considered it his duty to assassinate President McKinley, who he viewed as a symbol of economic oppression. While McKinley greeted supporters at the Pan-American Exposition at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York, Czolgosz shot him twice in the chest. The 25th President died eight days later from his wounds.

September 16, 1920—Wall Street Bombing

An Italian anarchist named Luigi Galleani was known to be a charismatic and outspoken supporter of violent, subversive tactics aimed at toppling what he regarded as the oppressive forces of capitalism. Based out of Paterson, New Jersey and attracting support among immigrant and labor groups, his loyal followers carried out a series of bombings and assassination attempts during the spring and summer of 1919. Galleani’s political radicalism helped to spark the first Red Scare in the U.S. This fear, as well as Galleani’s influence, persisted even after he was apprehended and deported to Italy in June of 1919. Then, a minute past noon on September 16, 1920, a blast tore through Manhattan’s Financial District, killing 40 and wounding hundreds. Though the perpetrators were never apprehended, the attack was believed to be the work of anti-capitalist Galleanists.

May 31st-June 1st, 1921—Tulsa Massacre

In May of 1921—in the shadow of two years of racially motivated mob violence throughout the United States, a young shoe-shiner named Dick Rowland rode an elevator with a white operator named Sarah Page. When Rowland accidentally came into contact with Page, she screamed, which ultimately resulted in Rowland’s arrest and fabricated claims about an “assault” on Page. The Tulsa Tribune ran a false story elaborating on this alleged assault, which led to a Courthouse confrontation between a white lynch mob and the members of the prosperous Black neighborhood of Greenwood. The confrontation spilled into a sweeping attack on Black Wall Street, known as such because it was the wealthiest Black community in the nation. For two days, white mobs, many armed by city officials, rampaged through the district, dragging people from their homes, burning down businesses and residences, and even carrying out attacks from overhead with private aircraft. The massacre claimed the lives of as many as 300 Greenwood residents and is considered the single worst incident of racial violence in U.S. history.

1949-1951—The Florida Terror

In 1949, four black men were accused of raping a white woman in Groveland, Florida. The events which followed ultimately led to a surge of activity by the Ku Klux Klan and a wave of racial violence throughout the state. Alleged perpetrator Earl Thomas was shot more than 400 times by a pursuant mob while attempting escape. As the three other accused individuals awaited trial, a white mob demanded that the prisoners be handed over for lynching. When their demands were refused, they rampaged through the black district burning businesses and homes. An all-white jury found the perpetrators guilty; Charles Greenlee was sentenced to life in prison while Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin were sentenced to death. An activist, educator and executive director for the Florida NAACP, Harry T. Moore viewed the convictions as wrongful, and, in 1951, organized a legal defense team for appeal that included future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Throughout 1951, Florida was plagued by race-driven terrorist attacks including mob beatings and bombings on Black institutions, synagogues, and Jewish schools. The appeal for a new trial was successful, but as Sheriff McCall of Groveland prepared to transport Shepherd and Irvin to their trial, he shot them both. Though the suspects were handcuffed together, McCall claimed they had attempted an escape. Shepherd died from his wounds but Irvin survived and claimed that McCall had shot both in cold blood. Six weeks later, on Christmas night, 1951, as Harry T. Moore and his wife Harriet slept, a bomb exploded beneath their house, killing both. The case went unsolved until being reopened in 2006, when four long-deceased Klansmen were determined guilty.

June 5, 1968—Robert Kennedy Assassination

As Democratic presidential nominee Robert F. Kennedy departed the stage from a campaign even at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, a Palestinian man named Sirhan Sirhan shot and killed him. The killer was motivated by Kennedy’s outspoken support for Israel, and marks that first act of political violence against the United States for its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

1969-1977—The Weather Underground

As the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War raged through the 1960s, protest and activism gripped America’s colleges. Organizations like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) staged marches, sit-ins and occupations of administrative offices at colleges and universities throughout the U.S. They demanded equal rights, an end to the wars in Southeast Asia, and an end to what they viewed as American global imperialism. Increasingly radical factions of the SDS gradually moved from peaceful protest to more extremist methods. A splinter group founded on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan dubbed itself the Weathermen, a reference to a Bob Dylan lyric. The group aligned itself with the “Black Liberation Movement” as well as communist ideologies. In 1969, the group undertook a campaign of public destruction in the wealthy downtown district of Chicago dubbed the Days of Rage. A modest contingent of several hundred Weathermen smashed windows and confronted police officers. Over several days in October, the radicalists were largely outnumbered by police and National Guardsmen. Their extreme tactics caused widespread arrests within their ranks, as well as public disassociation by the SDS and Black Panther Party. The events pushed the Weathermen further into the realm of extremism. Declaring war on the United States for its actions in Southeast Asia, its members dubbed themselves the Weather Underground and undertook a campaign of bombings against the United States Capitol on March 1, 1971, the Pentagon on May 19, 1972, and the U.S. Department of State, on January 29, 1975. In each case, the group issued a statement in advance warning of its impending attack so as to avoid human casualties, and in each case, the group issued a communique noting that each attack was carried out in retaliation for a specific act of aggression by the U.S. military in Laos or Vietnam. Though the Weather Underground was a designated terror group in the U.S., their activities gradually fizzled as the U.S. War in Vietnam wound to its conclusion.

Feb. 26, 1993—First World Trade Center Bombing

A Pakistani man named Ramzi Yousef and a Jordanian man named Eyad Ismoil drove a yellow Ryder van loaded with a 13,100 pound homemade explosive device into the parking garage below the North Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, lit a 20-foot fuse, and fled the scene. Twelve minutes later, the resulting blast ripped through the building, killing 6, including a pregnant woman. Yousef and five co-conspirators were apprehended and charged. Yousef revealed in testimony that he hoped the North Tower would collapse into the South Tower and claim upwards of 250,000 lives in retaliation for America’s support of Israel. Yousef acknowledged that the attacks were an act of terrorism, but that this extreme measure was justified based on America’s support of “the terrorism that Israel practices.” It was also revealed that Yousef had received funding and support for his plot from his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, principal future architect of the 9/11 attacks. Just before carrying out the bombing, Yousef mailed a letter to an array of New York newspapers warning that if the United States did not comply with his demands to withdraw support from Israel and withdraw from Middle East affairs altogether, that this would only be the first of many such attacks.

April 19, 1995—Oklahoma City bombing

Far-right anti-government extremist Timothy McVeigh drove to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in a Ryder truck containing a 4,800 pound explosive device that he’d constructed with accomplice Terry Nichols. McVeigh was a Gulf War veteran with sympathy for the militia movement as well as for white supremacist ideologies. Motivated in particular by the U.S. government’s aggressive and lethal handling of the so-called Ruby Ridge incident in 1992, and the fire-bombing of the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas in 1993, McVeigh parked the van under the federal building at 8:57 am before fleeing the scene. At 9:02 am, the bomb detonated, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more. It was the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history to that point, and remains the most deadly domestic terror attack to occur in the U.S. McVeigh, who had hoped that his action would spark a revolution to topple the U.S. government, was executed by lethal injection in 2001. Nichols is currently serving 161 consecutive life terms, and interestingly, resides on a notorious cell block called Bombers Row at the ADX Florence super maximum security prison near Florence, Colorado. Fellow residents include the above mentioned Ramzi Yousef and Eric Rudolph, who features in the incident described below.

July 27, 1996—Centennial Olympic Park bombing

One week into festivities for the 1996 Olympic Summer Games in Atlanta, Georgia, a blast detonated in the crowded Centennial Olympic Park. Two people were killed, and another 111 were injured. In the early aftermath, a security guard named Richard Jewell was hailed as a hero for discovering a bag containing three additional undetonated pipe bombs. Immediately thereafter, Jewell became a prime suspect in the bombings. Though eventually cleared of suspicion, and never formally charged, Jewell was the focus of intense law enforcement and media scrutiny, while the real perpetrator, Eric Robert Rudolph, remained at large. In the years immediately following the Atlanta bombing, Rudolph carried out bombings of an abortion clinic in Sandy Springs, GA (Jan. 16, 1997), a lesbian bar in Atlanta (Feb. 21, 1997), and an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama (Jan. 29, 1998) which claimed the life of an off-duty police officer. This last attack led the Department of Justice to identify Rudolph as a suspect, which ultimately revealed his connection to the Atlanta Olympic bombing and the attacks which followed. However, Rudolph succeeded in evading authorities for five years, relying on his military training to survive in the woods of North Carolina. He was finally apprehended in 2003 when a rookie police officer spotted him rummaging for food in a dumpster. Rudolph, who was directly affiliated with a white supremacist group called the Christian Identity, confessed to his actions in exchange for immunity from the death penalty, and indicated that he was motivated to carry out these acts of terror by his objections to globalization, abortion and homosexuality.

Sept. 11, 2001—The 9/11 Terror Attacks

On the morning of September 11th, 19 terrorists affiliated with the al Qaeda terrorist group hijacked four commercial passenger airlines in coordination with one another. The hijackers—a group of extremist Muslim terrorists from Lebanon (1), Egypt (1), United Arab Emirates (2) and Saudi Arabia (15), steered American Airlines Fight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center respectively, ultimately collapsing both towers. American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the U.S. Pentagon. Shortly thereafter, United Airlines Flight 93, originally on its way to Washington, D.C., crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania, reportedly as a result of intervention by a group of passengers. The suicide bombings claimed the lives of 2,977, injured 25,000 others, and produced major long term health consequences for countless victims, rescue workers, and cleanup crews. 9/11 is the single deadliest terror attack in human history, and the deadliest incident for both firefighters and law enforcement officers in U.S. history. Its lead architects—Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abu Turab al-Urduni, and Mohammed Atef—claimed they were motivated by America’s support of Israel, its relationship with Saudi Arabia, and its long-standing sanctions against Iraq. Rather than prompting the U.S. to withdraw from these positions, the attack provoked the U.S. into a War on Terror that included major battlefronts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

June 17, 2015—Charleston church shooting

A 21-year-old white supremacist and neo-Nazi named Dylann Roof entered Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and sat quietly during the group’s evening bible study. The church is among the oldest black churches in the U.S. and has served as an important community organization site around civil rights efforts. Roof, motivated by his desire to start a race war, stood and opened fire on the congregants, killing nine. Later investigations would reveal that Roof, who spoke openly about his support of racial segregation and his desire to engage in violence, was radicalized online.

August 12, 2017—Unite the Right Rally

As part of a movement to remove various Confederate monuments deemed racially insensitive to Black Americans, the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, home to the University of Virginia, voted to remove a publicly displayed statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The vote drew the ire of the white nationalist movement in the U.S. Undertaking a demonstration called Unite the Right, an array of white supremacist, neo-Nazi, white nationalist, anti-Semitic, and far right groups descended on Charlottesville. Their presence drew a counter-protest composed of Antifa and Black Lives Matter protestors, as well as students and other local residents. Both sides clashed violently in the streets, with tensions culminating when James Alex Fields of the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America (VA) plowed a car into a crowd of peaceful protesters, injuring 19, and killing an activist named Heather Heyer.

October 27, 2018—Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting

46-year-old Gregory Bowers entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during Shabbat morning services and opened fire, killing eleven people and wounding six others. Bowers was motivated by a wide array of extremist sympathies for anti-Semitic, white-supremacist, and anti-immigrant groups. Bowers had been an active and visible participant on far-right social media platform Gab, where he frequently posted or reposted anti-semitic conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial content, and general statements of support for active hate groups such as the Proud Boys.

January 6, 2021—Capitol Insurrection

In the months leading up to and following the 2020 presidential election, President Donald Trump repeatedly claimed without evidence that the election was rigged. Following his electoral defeat, President Trump summoned his supporters to Washington, D.C. on January 6th to protest the counting of electoral votes. After delivering an address to the gathered protestors, Trump departed. His supporters—which included large cross-sections of extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and the Oathkeepers—stormed the United States Capitol. The violent attack and resulting clashes with police officers claimed the lives of four individuals, including one capitol police officer. Lawmakers were evacuated as a mob of protestors penetrated the building, occupied the floor of the United States Senate, and looted the offices of various elected officials. The assembled insurrectionists also assembled a gallows with the purported aim of hanging Vice President Mike Pence. The resulting arrests have revealed the widespread and coordinated involvement of various right-wing extremist, hate, and white supremacist groups, as well as heavy involvement from those subscribing to a conspiracy theory called QAnon.

Top Ten Historical Influencers in the Extremism Debate

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential figures on the subject of extremism between 1900 and 2020. Our rankings produced a list that was comprised in large part by educators, academics and thought leaders who have studied and opposed extremism, particularly a number of prominent Muslim figures who have spoken against Islamic extremism. Also included are several infamous figures who have been instrumental in driving extremist views and actions. For a deeper look at influence and infamy, check out our discussion on Osama bin Laden.

*Note: Use of a similar but alternate search terminology in the Ranking Analytics search engine may have produced a slightly different ranking sequence, and a slightly different set of outcomes.

Top Ten Historical Influencers in the Extremism Debate
1Maajid Nawaz
2Sayyid Qutb
3Adolf Hitler
4Abdullah Quilliam
5Hisham Kabbani
6Anders Behring Breivik
7Hamza Tzortzis
8Barry Goldwater
9Gilles Kepel
10Melanie Phillips

Top Ten Most Influential Books About Extremism

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential books on the topic of “extremism” in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. Our influential book lists are vetted to exclude religious scriptures, which cover such a breadth of content and influence that they tend to appear in nearly every set of search results. That said, we’ll note that, prior to vetting, the Quran and Bible held the top two spots respectively. Subsequent to vetting, this list is composed of texts which have examined extremism from an academic perspective, memoirs which have recounted experiences within extremist movements, and texts which have been influential in driving extremist beliefs and actions.

*Note: Use of a similar but alternate search terminology in the Ranking Analytics search engine may have produced a slightly different ranking sequence, and a slightly different set of outcomes.

Top Ten Most Influential Books About Hacking
RankBook Title
1Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism
2Fatwa on Terrorism
3The Islamist
4Mein Kampf
5Islam and the Future of Tolerance
6The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
7Three Cups of Tea
8Game Change
9Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
10The Doctrine of Fascism
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The Current Controversy

Extremism has been cast into a brighter spotlight in recent years. For instance, decades of international conflict concentrated in the Middle East contributed to a proliferation of extremist tactics by terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS in the 1990s and 2000s. These cases highlight the core tension over extremism. When jihadist terror groups attacked the Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001, they cited grievances over what they viewed as American military aggression and economic exploitation in the Middle East, especially through its support of Israel. The debate over extremism explores the mainstream tension between recognition that American military aggression and economic exploitation may occur in the Middle East, and rejection of the extremist methods used on 9/11 to address this aggression and exploitation.

This is only one shade of the debate, however. In other instances, the dispute may arise from the core extremist beliefs driving a group toward extremism. For instance, in the last decade, white nationalist, white supremacist, and “Western chauvinist” groups have grown in numbers, visibility, and political influence in the U.S. These groups espouse the extremist view that the white race is superior to other races, that the advancement of other races is a threat to white culture, and that this threat justifies extremist action aimed at preventing such advancement. Mainstream opposition to this type of extremism often derives from both a rejection of the tactics used and a rejection of the core views underlying these tactics.

Today, rising right wing and white nationalist extremism is feeding a broader increase in the number of extremist incidents in the U.S. According to a report released by a security think tank in late 2020, and according to concurrent warnings from the Department of Homeland Security, “White supremacists and other like-minded groups have committed a majority of the terrorist attacks in the United States this year.”

Published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the report “found that white supremacist groups were responsible for 41 of 61 ‘terrorist plots and attacks’ in the first eight months of this year, or 67 percent.”

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A Quick Overview of Our Method

Our goal in presenting subjects that generate controversy is to provide you with a sense of some of the figures both past and present who have driven debate, produced widely-recognized works of research, literature or art, proliferated their ideas widely, or who are identified directly and publicly with some aspect of this debate. By identifying the researchers, activists, journalists, educators, academics, and other individuals connected with this debate—and by taking a closer look at their work and contributions—we can get a clear but nuanced look at the subject matter. Rather than framing the issue as one side versus the other, we bring various dimensions of the issue into discussion with one another. This will likely include dimensions of the debate that resonate with you, some dimensions that you find repulsive, and some dimensions that might simply reveal a perspective you hadn’t previously considered.

Our InfluenceRanking engine gives us the power to scan the academic and public landscape surrounding the extremism issue using key terminology to identify consequential influencers. As with any topic that generates public debate and disagreement, this is a subject of great depth and breadth. We do not claim to probe either the bottom of this depth or the borders of this breadth. Instead, we offer you one way to enter into this debate, to identify key players, and through their contributions to the debate, to develop a fuller understanding of the issue and perhaps even a better sense of where you stand.

For a closer look at how our InfluenceRankings work, check out our methodology.

Otherwise get started with a look at the key words we used to explore this subject:

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Key Terms


Nearly all of the individuals of influence produced by this search terminology are academics and thought leaders who study various forms of right-wing, religious, and racial extremism.


  • Tore Bjørgo is a Norwegian social anthropologist and expert on the extreme right, and is Professor at the University of Oslo and Director of the university’s Center for Extremism Research: Right-Wing Extremism, Hate Crime and Political Violence . He is also Professor at the Norwegian Police University College. He is a specialist in political extremism and terrorism, racist and right-wing violence, delinquent youth gangs, and international crime.
  • George Joseph Michael is an American historian, political scientist, and writer. He is a professor at the criminal justice faculty of Westfield State University in Massachusetts, and previously served as associate professor of nuclear counterproliferation and deterrence theory at the Air War College and as associate professor of political science and administration of justice at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise. He studies right-wing extremism, including the relationship between militant Islam and the far right, and is the author of Confronting Right-Wing Extremism and Terrorism in the USA , The Enemy of My Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right, Willis Carto and the American Far Right, Theology of Hate: A History of the World Church of the Creator, Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance, and Extremism in America. Professor Michael has also published research on SETI and is the author of Preparing for Contact: When Humans and Extraterrestrials Finally Meet.
  • Uwe Backes is a German political scientist and specialist in political extremism. He is a professor at the Technical University Dresden and together with Eckhard Jesse the editor of the Yearbook on Extremism and Democracy. Backes is an adherent of the classical German theory of extremism that postulates that the extreme right and the extreme left have much in common in their opposition to liberty and democracy.
  • Valérie Igounet is a French historian and political scientist. She studies the phenomenon of Holocaust denial, and extreme right-wing politics in France. Her research on the history of Holocaust denial and Holocaust revisionism in France traces them to both extreme right-wing and extreme left-wing sources. She was the author of the 2000 book Histoire du négationnisme en France, as well as a biography of the prominent French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson.
  • Erroll G. Southers is an expert in transportation security and counterterrorism and the author of Homegrown Violent Extremism. He is a Professor of the Practice in National & Homeland Security, the Director of Homegrown Violent Extremism Studies and the Director of the Safe Communities Institute at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. He is also the research area leader for Countering Violent Extremism at the DHS National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events and managing director, counter-terrorism & infrastructure protection at TAL Global Corporation. He was assistant chief of the Los Angeles World Airports police department’s office of homeland security and intelligence. He is a former special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and was deputy director of homeland security under California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 2009 he was nominated by President Barack Obama to become head of the Transportation Security Administration , but Southers withdrew.
  • Daisy Khan is a Muslim campaigner, reformer, and Executive Director of the Women’s Islamic Initiative for Spirituality and Equality , a women-led organization committed to peacebuilding, equality, and justice for Muslims around the world. Khan is a frequent media commentator on topics such as Muslim women’s rights, Islam in America, Islamophobia, and violent extremism. In 2017, Khan published WISE Up: Knowledge Ends Extremism, a report intended to prevent the rise of hate and extremism and develop narratives of peace. Her memoir, Born with Wings, was published by Random House in April 2018. Khan has consistently been recognized for her work. She was listed among Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” the Huffington Post included her in their “Top Ten Women Faith Leaders,” and More Magazine has described her as “a link between moderate Islam and the West.


As with the term extremism, terrorism largely yielded a list of influencers who have studied, researched and spoken on extremism, as opposed to those who have practiced it.


  • Alex Peter Schmid is a Swiss-born Dutch scholar in terrorism studies and former Officer-in-Charge of the Terrorism Prevention Branch of the United Nations. In 2006 he was appointed to a Chair in International Relations at St Andrews University as well as succeeding Magnus Ranstorp as Director of its Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence . Since 2009, he is the editor of the journal Perspectives on Terrorism. As of 2018, he is the Director of the Terrorism Research Initiative and a research fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism.
  • Nitsana Darshan-Leitner is an Israeli attorney, human rights activist, and the founder of Shurat HaDin Israeli Law Center. She has been leading the legal fight against terror financing, the boycott and divestment campaigns , and combating the multitude of lawfare tactics utilized against the Jewish State by its enemies. As the president of the Israel-based civil rights organization, Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, she has represented hundreds of terror victims in legal actions against terror organizations and their supporters. Ms. Darshan-Leitner has successfully recovered more than two hundred million dollars in compensation on their behalf. In recent years, Ms. Darshan-Leitner initiated a legal campaign to deprive terrorists of social media resources such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which they use to incite violence against Jews and promote terror attacks. In her efforts to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli activities, Ms. Darshan-Leitner assisted in blocking the Gaza Flotilla, terminated efforts to indict IDF soldiers for war crimes, and filed legal actions against those who boycott Israeli academics and companies in violation of the law.
  • Michael Stohl is Professor and a former Chair of the Department of Communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He researches organizational and political communication with special focus on terrorism, human rights and global relations. He has been a guest commentator on National Public Radio, NBC, and CBS for stories on terrorism and human rights. He has been critical of the George W. Bush administration’s understanding of terrorism networks during the War on Terrorism.
  • Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is an American counter-terrorism scholar and analyst. In 2014 he became the CEO of Valens Global, a private company that consults on counter-terrorism, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, ISIL, other insurgent groups and violent nonstate actors. In addition to his role at Valens Global, Mr. Gartenstein-Ross is the Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank. He frequently consults on counter-terrorism for various government agencies as well as the private sector. In 2011, Gartenstein-Ross wrote Bin Laden’s Legacy: Why We’re Still Losing the War on Terror published by John Wiley & Sons.
  • Jeffrey H. Norwitz is an American expert in counter-terrorism and law enforcement. Norwitz spent 38 years as a law enforcement officer, the last 25 years of which were spent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. From 2006 through 2009 he held the John Nicholas Brown Chair of Counterterrorism at the Naval War College. Norwitz is known for his publications on counter-terrorism, and for frequently being consulted as a “terrorism expert”. Norwitz is also the author of several books on counter-terrorism.


The influencers in this area are largely those who have worked in an official capacity—either through law enforcement, military, or intelligence agencies—to strategically and practically defend against, prevent, and respond to threats of terrorism.


  • Nathan Alexander Sales is an American lawyer, academic, and government official who is currently serving as Coordinator for Counterterrorism within the U.S. Department of State. Prior to assuming his current role, he was an associate professor at Syracuse University College of Law, where his fields of research included national security law, counterterrorism law, administrative law, and constitutional law. Sales was also of counsel at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis.
  • Andrea J. Prasow is an American lawyer whose work particularly focuses on the rights of individuals detained in the “War on Terror”. When she was with the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, Prasow represented Saudi detainees in their petition for habeas corpus. Later as a defense attorney with the Office of Military Commissions, Prasow worked on behalf of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, one of the first Guantanamo captives to face formal charges before the Guantanamo military commissions. Subsequently Prasow became a senior counsel with the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program at Human Rights Watch. In that capacity Prasow investigates and analyzes U.S. counterterrorism policies and practices, and leads advocacy efforts urging the U.S. to implement policies that respect international standards of human rights. Prasow has written several pieces about the current military commission proceedings and her travels to Afghanistan to observe the newly public Detainee Review Boards held at the Detention Facility in Parwan.
  • Christopher C. Harmon is an author and editor, and Bren Chair of Great Power Competition, Marine Corps University, Quantico VA. Most recently he directed the counterterrorism course at the Daniel K Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu. From 2007-2010 he was director of studies for the program on Terrorism and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. His expertise is in the fields of terrorism and counterterrorism, insurgency and revolutionary warfare, counter-insurgency, and international relations. Starting in 2003, Dr. Harmon lectured extensively on “how terrorist groups end,” at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars ; his publications in this arena date 2004 - 2014. He inaugurated the Kim T. Adamson Chair in Insurgency and Terrorism at the Marine Corps University, was for four years Horner Chair of Military Theory, and served for twelve years at Quantico as a full professor teaching subjects such as international relations, the theory and nature of war, and strategy and policy. For many years he has served as an adjunct professor at The Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of national security and international affairs, in Washington, D.C.
  • Henry “Hank” A. Crumpton, was a Central Intelligence Agency operations officer for 24 years, rising to deputy director of the Counterterrorism Center and then heading the CIA’s National Resources Division, which focuses on operations in the United States. He was appointed by President George W. Bush as Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the Department of State with the rank of Ambassador-at-Large on August 2, 2005. He is the author of The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service. He founded and is CEO of the business intelligence firm Crumpton Group LLC.


This term refers to those who use violent tactics to express extremist political, religious or ideological views, and who will often carry out attacks on civilians or other “soft targets” as a way of bringing broader attention to their ideological grievances. Influencers include some academics who have studied terrorism, but the list is largely comprised of those who have engaged in terrorism with religious, political, and racialist motivatioins.


  • Faisal Abdulrahman Abdullah Aldakheel was a citizen of Saudi Arabia. In 2003 the government of Saudi Arabia listed him on its Saudi list of most wanted terrorists. Faisal is the older brother of Bandar Abdulrahman Abdullah Aldakheel and the cousin of Ahmad N. Al-Dakheel, both appeared on the Saudi list of most wanted terrorists. His brother Bandar left home in 2002, and was later listed as No. 9 on the country’s 26 most wanted terrorist list and took part in the bombings at Al-Muhaya on December 9, 2003. His brother Bandor was killed by Saudi military forces in Al-Qassim on May 20, 2004. Faisal was one of the first “19 Most Wanted” terrorists by Saudi Arabia officials having first been added to the list on May 5, 2003, just a week before the suicide attacks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia which he helped orchestrate. He was the deputy of Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin who was the head of Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. On May 7, 2004 Saudi police raided a safe house where he had been staying in Ashbelya district in central Saudi Arabia, but he was able to escape. During the raid, the police discovered a large cache of weapons, including 55 hand grenades and 330 kilograms of explosives. He would later be witnessed on videotape at the machine gunning ambush of Robert Jacobs, an employee for the Vinnell Corporation, who was murdered June 8, 2004 in the garage at his home in Riyadh. He was killed in a shootout with Saudi security officials with his superior, Abdel Aziz al-Muqrin during a police pursuit on April 18, 2004 following the kidnapping and beheading of Paul M. Johnson.
  • Giuseppe Valerio “Giusva” Fioravanti is an Italian former terrorist, who, with Francesca Mambro, was a leading figure in a far right terrorist group Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari. Fioravanti appeared in films and television from a young age, and in his early teens was the most famous child in Italy. He and Mambro were fugitives wanted for terrorist offences by their early twenties. They spent a further period on the run as suspects in the Bologna bombing. Both were captured after gunfights with police. Although Fioravanti, Mambro and a third NAR member were convicted of the bombing, there were those who thought that a higher level of the conspiracy was never uncovered. Fioravanti and Mambro admit involvement in terrorist murders, but have consistently denied having any part of the Bologna station massacre.
  • Lester Knox Coleman III is an American who was the co-author of the 1993 book Trail of the Octopus: From Beirut to Lockerbie - Inside the DIA, in which he claimed that a secret drug sting enabled terrorists to evade airport security in the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan American World Airways Flight 103. Coleman claimed he was at one point employed by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Coleman further alleged that a compromised American covert drug-operation allowed Iranian-backed terrorists - the PFLP-GC, led by Ahmed Jibril - to slip a Semtex bomb aboard the plane. On September 11, 1997, Coleman stated to a New York Federal court that “...he lied when he claimed that a secret drug sting enabled terrorists to evade airport security in the bombing...” In a plea agreement, Coleman was sentenced to time served, which was five months, and six months’ home confinement under electronic monitoring. Conspiracy theories alleging that the federal convictions of Lester Coleman were an effort to silence him and to hide the truth about Pan Am Flight 103 circulated around the internet.
  • André Eminger is a German right-wing extremist. He supported the right-wing terrorist organization “Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund” for more than 14 years. Eminger was sentenced to two-and-a-half years’ imprisonment in the NSU trial on July 11, 2018 for the support of a terrorist group. He is referred to as the “most faithful supporter” of the right-wing terrorist group, showed no remorse and continued to be active in the right-wing movement.
  • Masood Azhar is a radical Islamist and terrorist, being the founder and leader of the Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed, active mainly in the Pakistani-administered portion of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. His actions aren’t limited to the South Asian region, for instance BBC News describing him as “the man who brought jihad to Britain.” On 1 May 2019, Masood Azhar was listed as an international terrorist by United Nations Security Council.
  • Abdul Nacer Benbrika , also known as Abu Bakr , is a convicted criminal and Muslim cleric of the Sunni Islam faith, currently serving an Australian custodial sentence of fifteen years, with a non-parole period of twelve years for intentionally being the leader and a member of a terrorist organisation. Benbrika was one of 17 men arrested in the Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne in November 2005, charged with being members of a terrorist organisation and of planning terrorist attacks on targets within Australia. Benbrika is alleged to be the spiritual leader of the group. All 17 men pleaded not guilty. On 15 September 2008 Benbrika was found guilty as charged and subsequently sentenced.

Al Qaeda

Al Qaeda (or alternately, al-Qaeda) is the Islamic terror group primarily responsible for the September 11th attacks. Their role in the single most deadly terror attack in history would prove central in setting the course for geopolitical affairs in the following decade and beyond. Influencers drawn by this search term are those who have actively supported, participated in, and led terror attacks and campaigns as part of the al Qaeda structure.


  • Fouad Hussein is a Jordanian journalist and author of the 2005 Arabic language book Al-Zarqawi: The Second Generation of Al Qaeda. It is based on interviews with senior Islamic militants, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the late leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and Saif al-Adel, a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. Hussein first met Zarqawi and Zarqawi’s mentor Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi in 1996 in a Jordanian jail. At the time, Hussein was being held as a political prisoner. Since its release, Hussein’s book has garnered heavy press coverage and analysis in Iran. In the book Hussein describes what he says is al-Qaeda’s grand strategy, a sequence of events that spreads over nearly 20 years.
  • Qasim al-Raymi was the emir of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula . Al-Raymi was one of 23 men who escaped in the 3 February 2006 prison-break in Yemen, along with other notable al-Qaeda members. Al-Raymi was connected to a July 2007 suicide bombing that killed eight Spanish tourists. In 2009, the Yemeni government accused him of being responsible for the running of an al-Qaeda training camp in Abyan province. After serving as AQAP’s military commander, al-Raymi was promoted to leader after the death of Nasir al-Wuhayshi on 12 June 2015.
  • Nasser al-Bahri , also known by his kunya or nom de guerre as Abu Jandal—“father of death” or “the killer”, was a member of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2000. According to his memoir, he gave his Bay’ah to Osama bin Laden in 1998. He was in al-Qaeda for six years as one of bin Laden’s twelve bodyguards, A citizen of Yemen born in Saudi Arabia, al-Bahri was radicalized in his teens by dissident Saudi Ulemas and participated in clandestine political activities which were funded in part by people trafficking. Determined to become a jihadist, he went first to Bosnia and then, briefly, to Somalia before arriving in Afghanistan in 1996 in the hope of joining al-Qaeda, which he soon did. After four years, al-Bahri became “disillusioned”, largely because bin Laden consolidated al-Qaeda’s relationship with the Taliban by giving his Bay’ah to its leader, Mullah Omar, but also because he had married and become a father.

American Nazi Party

The American Nazi Party is just one of many neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and anti-semitic groups operating in the United States. The search results yield both influencers who have served as leaders in this hate group and the Civil Rights attorneys and activists who have opposed them.


  • Burton Allen Joseph was an American civil rights attorney. He represented clients in free speech cases, and represented the American Library Association in its suit that ultimately found the Communications Decency Act unconstitutional. He pushed the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois to represent the National Socialist Party of America, an offshoot of the American Nazi Party, in its desire to march in Skokie, Illinois. That case resulted in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 , a Supreme Court opinion that determined the Party had the right to march.
  • David Israel Shapiro was an American 1st Amendment attorney and civil liberties activist, known best in the United States for his key roles defending people against accusations by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, his representation of the American Nazi Party in a free speech case, and his pioneering in class action lawsuits.
  • Virgil Lee Griffin was a leader of a Ku Klux Klan chapter in North Carolina who was involved in the November 3, 1979 Greensboro massacre, a violent clash by the KKK and American Nazi Party with labor organizers and activists from the Communist Workers Party at a legal march in the county seat of Guilford County. It resulted in the deaths of five marchers, including a woman.
  • Roy Everett Frankhouser, Jr. , was a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, a member of the American Nazi Party, a government informant, and a security consultant to Lyndon LaRouche. Frankhouser was reported by federal officials to have been arrested at least 142 times. In 2003 he told a reporter, “I’m accused of everything from the sinking of the Titanic to landing on the moon.” He was convicted of federal crimes in at least three cases, including dealing in stolen explosives and obstruction of justice. Irwin Suall, of the Anti-Defamation League, called Frankhouser “a thread that runs through the history of American hate groups”.
  • Sydney Warburg is the pen name of an author or group of authors who remained anonymous and who published a book about funding of the Nazi Party by American bankers between 1929 and 1933. The book’s Dutch title De geldbronnen van het Nationaal-Socialisme: drie gesprekken met Hitler refers to three conversations Warburg said Sydney would have had with Adolf Hitler. The original states that the text was “Door Sydney Warburg, vertaald door J.G. Schoup”.

Hate Group

A general term for groups whose primary reason for existence is to express, and sometimes act on, animus toward a specific group, or groups, of people, the “hate group” search yielded a combination of those who have affiliated with designated hate groups and those who have worked to expose and castigate hate groups.


  • Charles Jacobs is a pro-Israel and human rights activist. Jacobs has a long history of working for various Israel lobby groups; in 1988, he co-founded Boston’s branch of CAMERA, in 2002, he founded The David Project, and he is currently the president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance. APT describes itself as a Boston-based non-profit that combats Islamist antisemitism but has been described as an Islamophobic hate group.
  • Austin Ruse is an American conservative political activist, journalist, and author. He serves as the President of the Center for Family and Human Rights , which has been listed as an anti-LGBT hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Through C-FAM and his own writings, Ruse advocates anti-LGBT and anti-abortion conservative positions.
  • Morris Seligman Dees Jr. is an American attorney who is known as the co-founder and former chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Alabama. He ran a direct marketing firm before founding SPLC. Along with his law partner, Joseph J. Levin Jr., Dees founded the SPLC in 1971. Dees and his colleagues at the SPLC have been “credited with devising innovative ways to cripple hate groups” such as the Ku Klux Klan, particularly by using “damage litigation”. On March 14, 2019, the SPLC announced that Dees had been fired from the organization and the SPLC would hire an “outside organization” to assess the SPLC’s workplace climate. Former employees alleged that Dees was “complicit” in harassment and racial discrimination, and said that at least one female employee had accused him of sexual harassment.
  • Johnny Lee Clary was an American man who served as a Ku Klux Klan leader before he became a Pentecostal Christian, traveling around the world preaching the gospel and teaching against racism and hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and the Aryan Nations. Clary was also known as professional wrestler Johnny Angel who had success in the 1980s in the National Wrestling Federation.

White Supremacist

The term “white supremacist” yielded an array of individuals who have either led or affiliated with hate groups, neo-Nazi groups, or online forums where extremism is often proliferated. The list of influencers here also includes a number of historical figures with ties to the Confederacy, as well as groups like the Ku Klux Klan.


  • Peter Brimelow is a British-born American neo-Nazi, white supremacist and anti-semitic conspiracy theorist. He is the founder of the website VDARE, an anti-immigration site associated with white supremacy, white nationalism, and the alt-right. He believes that “whites built American culture” and that “it is at risk from non-whites who would seek to change it”.
  • Steven Ernest Sailer is an American journalist, movie critic, white nationalist, and columnist. He is a former correspondent for UPI and a columnist for Taki’s Magazine and VDARE, a website associated with white supremacy, white nationalism, and the alt-right. He has a history of making racist statements and has been described as a white supremacist by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Columbia Journalism Review and writes about race relations, gender issues, politics, immigration, IQ, genetics, movies, and sports. As of 2014, Sailer ceased publishing his personal blog on his own website and shifted it to the Unz Review, an online publication founded by former businessman Ron Unz that promotes anti-semitism, Holocaust denial, conspiracy theories, and white supremacist material.
  • James Henderson Blount was an American statesman, soldier and congressman from Georgia. He opposed the annexation of Hawaii in 1893 in his investigation into the alleged American involvement in the political revolution in the Kingdom of Hawai’i. Blount was a prominent spokesman for white supremacy and strongly opposed adding a new non-white element to the American population.
  • David Goodman Croly was an American journalist, born in New York City and educated at New York University. He was associated with the Evening Post and the Herald, and then became an editor and subsequently the managing editor of the World. He married Jane Cunningham, known as “Jennie June”, in 1856. In 1863, during the Civil War, he co-authored the anonymous pamphlet Miscegenation, which tried to discredit the abolitionist movement and the Lincoln Administration by playing on racist fears common among whites. The anonymous author of the pamphlet claimed to be an Abolitionist in favour of promoting the intermarriage of whites and blacks, a taboo practice that at the time was seen as a threat to white supremacy. The pamphlet coined the term miscegenation for the intermixing of races.

Militant Separatist

The term “militant separatist” here is meant to distinguish a form of extremism that extends from a conflict over sovereignty and independence. Influencers yielded by this term are those who pursue distinctly political and ideological aims in the context of complex and sustained geographical and cultural conflicts, but who do so using sometimes radical and violent methods.


  • Kandasamy Pathmanabha was a Sri Lankan Tamil rebel and founder/leader of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front , a separatist Tamil militant organisation in Sri Lanka.
  • Abdullah Mansour is a leader of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an Islamic terrorist and Uyghur separatist organization founded by militants in western China, the Xinjiang region. Its stated goal is the independence of East Turkestan. The group is active in the ongoing Xinjiang conflict. Between 2008 and 2013 Mansour was an editor of his movements quarterly publication Islamic Turkistan, before rising to its leadership.
  • José Miguel Beñaran Ordeñana was a Basque militant and a key figure in the political evolution of the Basque separatist organization Euskadi ta Askatasuna . Often known by his nom de guerre Argala , he took part in the so called Operation Ogre, which consisted in the assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco, Spain’s Prime Minister, in 1973. Five years later, he was in turn assassinated by a car bomb in Anglet, French Basque Country by a group directed by far right members inside the Spanish Navy. This group reportedly received assistance from people such as former OAS member Jean Pierre Cherid, former Triple A Argentine member José María Boccardo and Italian neofascist Mario Ricci, member of Avanguardia Nazionale.
  • Rana Sanaullah Haq, also known as Sanaullah Ranjay, was a Pakistani national from Sialkot, Punjab who was serving a life term in a jail in India for his involvement in terror acts with the banned militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, as per the verdict by Indian courts. Before being incarcerated, he was reportedly involved in separatist activities and two bombing incidents in Indian-administered Kashmir. On 3 May 2013, he was attacked by a former Indian soldier Vinod Kumar, who had been convicted of murder. Reports of his attack came a day after the murder of an Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh in Pakistani detention. Sanaullah died six days later due to the injuries sustained during the attack.
  • Mamia Alasania was a colonel of the Georgian Armed Forces, defending the Government of the Georgian Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia from separatist and Russian combatants during the conflict in Abkhazia in 1990s. When the city of Sukhumi fell to the Russian-supported separatist forces, Mamia Alasania, along with Zhiuli Shartava, Guram Gabiskiria, Alexander Berulava, Geno Adamia and others, refused to flee and was captured by the Abkhaz militants. He was killed during the Sukhumi Massacre, on September 27, 1993.
  • Abu Khalid al-Suri, or Mohamed al-Bahaiya or Abu Umayr al-Shami, was a Syrian jihadist militant often affiliated with Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda and the Syrian Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham. Al-Suri was believed to be assassinated by an ISIL suicide attack in 2014, however ISIL denied involvement in the attack.
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