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On the Coding of Foreign Affiliation

This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.

While the Prosecution Project (tPP) codes cases of domestic political violence for forty different variables, one that deserves specific attention is that of “foreign affiliation.” This variable can be best defined as a defendant’s affiliation with a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). FTO’s are defined as “a non-US organization that engages in terrorist activity that threatens US nationals or national security.” A list of FTOs, as catalogued by the US Department of State, can be found here.

The only options when coding for this variable are “no,” “yes,” or “unknown.” During the process of researching any given case, foreign affiliation is apparent almost immediately. Because involvement with an FTO connotes an individual’s terroristic threat, documentation of affiliation is both critical and consistent throughout legal proceedings. If there is any mention of, or allusion towards, any group on the state department’s list of FTOs, the case receives a code of “yes” for foreign affiliation. If there is no mention of any FTO, the code for the case is “no.”

Within our dataset, there are only a handful of cases which have been coded as “unknown” regarding foreign affiliation. The circumstances leading to the ambiguity of foreign affiliation in these cases can best be explained by confusion surrounding the events of the crime itself. A great example of this phenomenon can be found in the 2016 case of Michelle Marie Bastian. Bastian sent ISIS propaganda to her incarcerated husband, but this exchange of terroristic material does not insinuate collusion with an FTO itself. In this case, there was likely no direct contact between the defendant and the FTO; however, because there is a lack of evidence that clearly states Bastian obtained the propaganda from an indirect rather than direct source, the foreign affiliation category must be coded as “unknown” rather than “no.”

Following the coding for the variable of foreign affiliation, members of tPP code for group affiliation. It is important to recognize that a “no” for foreign affiliation does not mean that there is no group affiliation. While this may seem to be an obvious statement, our “group affiliation” variable is inclusive of domestic, as well as foreign, terrorist organizations.

As we continue with individual analyses of tPP’s dataset, I plan to examine the implications of foreign affiliation and its interaction with other variables. One relationship worth analyzing is that of foreign affiliation and citizenship. An interesting correlation may be made when pooling cases where the defendant has a foreign affiliation and comparing, within those cases, whether the individual is an American citizen or not. Furthermore, disparities in sentencing within the case pool of foreign affiliation may be juxtaposed relative to the aforementioned variable of citizenship.

Foreign affiliation, upon initial inspection, does not appear to be an overly significant variable relative to the others within our dataset; however, it’s presence, or lack there of, poses considerable influence over the interpretation of the prosecution of political violence cases in general. The relationships between foreign affiliation and other variables (particularly citizenship, tactic, and sentencing) likely possess valuable information regarding the factors governing an individual’s decision to participate in political violence, and how they choose to do so.

Affiliation with an FTO likely determines, or partially shapes the tactic and tactic variable which a defendant utilizes in offending. These relationships also likely reveal connections between the resulting convictions and sentencing of defendants and foreign affiliation, with notable regard to the proceedings of the US’s judicial system. Ultimately, tPP’s coding of foreign affiliation deserves to be analyzed in greater depth. When we consider the impact of FTOs on individual perpetrators, we reveal the severity of their danger to national security.

I look forward to studying foreign affiliation as tPP moves forward into statistical and analytical research and presentation of our finalized dataset for the semester!


Izzy Bielamowicz is a Junior pursuing a degree in Political Science with a double minor in Criminology and Philosophy and Law. Izzy has been with tPP since August 2018.

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