WASHINGTON — The George Washington University program on extremism says ISIS-related radicalization is happening faster than ever in the U.S., with over 50 arrests just this year, an unprecedented number since 9/11.
The program performed a review of publicly available court records and media reports to get a better grasp on the radicalization of Americans for its new report, ISIS in America.
Researchers found that 71 individuals have been charged with ISIS-related activities since March 2014, though U.S. authorities estimate that the number of individuals linked to ISIS is much larger than that. They also identified a few dozen individuals with reported ISIS links who have not been charged.
Fifty-six have been arrested this year alone, a record number of terrorism-related arrests for any year since the 2001 terror attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The charged include a 22-year-old man and his 19-year-old wife, a former cheerleader who was about to start graduate school at Mississippi State University, who were arrested on their way to Syria at a small regional airport in Mississippi; a Colorado native and certified nurse who said she wanted to become a housewife and camp nurse for ISIS militants who was detained while trying to board a flight to Germany; and a former high school wrestler who converted to Islam after high school and said he planned to attack the U.S. Capitol, who was arrested after purchasing several semi-automatic rifles and 600 rounds of ammo as part of an FBI sting.
The report found that the average age of ISIS supporters in the U.S. is 26. The youngest person arrested was a 15-year-old from Pennsylvania, while the oldest as a 47-year-old former Air Force officer.
One-third were just 21 years old, or even younger. Social media could be partially to blame for that, according to terrorism experts across the globe.
“ISIL blends traditional media platforms, glossy photos, in-depth articles, and social media campaigns that can go viral in a matter of seconds,” argued FBI Director Comey in a July 2015 testimony before the Senate.
“No matter the format, the message of radicalization spreads faster than we imagined just a few years ago…Social media has allowed groups, such as ISIL, to use the Internet to spot and assess potential recruits. With the widespread horizontal distribution of social media, terrorists can identify vulnerable individuals of all ages in the United States—spot, assess, recruit, and radicalize— either to travel or to conduct a homeland attack.”
Sixty people, or slightly more than 85 percent, were male. Just 10 women were arrested for ISIS-related charges.
Arrests have been made in 21 states, with New York and Minnesota having the highest concentrations. The FBI says there are ISIS-related investigations in all 50 states, however.
Of the charged individuals, “they were more interested in going over to the so-called caliphate than they were domestic plotting,” according to Seamus Hughes, co-author of the report.
Most ISIS supporters were arrested for intent to do harm overseas or for providing aid to fighters in Iraq and Syria. Twenty nine made attempts to travel abroad and seven successfully absconded from the U.S.
Hughes also says about 40 percent of those charged were converts to Islam.
“Out of the 71 people we saw… not one of them is refugee,” notes Lorenzo Vidino, the report’s other author.
Nearly all or the 71 people charged, 63, were U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Researchers were unable to determine the legal status of seven others.
Read the full report at CCHS.GWU.edu.