Military Trends in Political Violence


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

“We are under attack,” yelled Sgt. Hasan Akbar, a U.S. Army man who was deployed to Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait back in 2003 (“Background: Sgt. Hasan Akbar” n.d.). After yelling these words, Akbar threw stolen grenades into the campsite before taking out an M-4 rifle and shooting at his fellow soldiers close to two in the morning. The camp was under attack, but no one would have expected it was by one of their own soldiers.

In our dataset there exists a several cases related to military veterans participating in political violence. Out of our 1195 cases coded, there are 107 instances of both U.S. and non-U.S. military activism in terrorism and political violence (60 of which solely regard U.S. military veterans). Given these 107 cases, we are able to easily extract a sample of data composed only of individuals with a military background. This sample is used to pick up three trends when it comes to individuals with former military status: their tactic involves more use of weapons and explosives, U.S. military members tend to lean more right-wing, and they target people more often than property.

The first trend we notice is the active use of weapons. Weapons such as guns and IEDs are the most prominent. An IED is an improvised explosive device that can be constructed from household or military material if desired (“How IEDs Work” 2008). Approximately 30% of the cases involved an IED detonated or conspiracy for using an IED. The next highest tactic was shooting, which was 11% out of this sampled dataset. This could be due to easier access to more detrimental weapons and advance training in the military.

The second trend we notice is that U.S. military members in our dataset tend to lean more right wing. I say U.S. because a big chunk of this sample were Jihadists at 41.12%, but nearly 72% of those Jihadists in this sample were non-U.S. military veterans. When solely considering U.S. veterans, a combination of sovereign citizens, white-supremacists, xenophobia, and unspecified rightest make up 37.37% of our data sample.

The third trend we notice is a preference towards targeting people over property. People as a direct target make up 36.45% of the sample, while people in addition to property make up 30.84% of the data sample. Combining the target “people” and the target “people and property” makes up for far more than half this data sample.

These are the trends and percentages discovered by sampling out a portion from our whole dataset relating to individuals with prior military experience. Having knowledge of the existence of these trends can allow us to further our research regarding why exactly they may occur. Unfortunately we have not gathered enough information to accurately argue why these trends occur, but we are actively researching now. Our hope is to gain a better understanding of why military veterans participate in political violence and why they follow these sorts of trends.

– Angela Famera

Works Cited

“Background: Sgt. Hasan Akbar.” n.d. Accessed October 29, 2018.

“How IEDs Work.” 2008. HowStuffWorks. December 10, 2008.

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