This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.
Stated on the “about tPP” website, our mission is “to develop and disseminate relevant findings concerning crime, criminal justice, and public policy through research, public scholarship, and student engagement,” (tPP, 2019). In order to successfully support that mission statement, it is important to understand how we classify our research and how we work to make sure that it is a “relevant [finding] concerning crime, criminal justice and public policy,” (tPP, 2019).
When coding cases, it is crucial to our team that we understand many different categorical factors about a crime. Some of those categories include religion, citizenship status and gender, to name a few. However, two of the most important categories are “ideological target,” and “ideological affiliation”.
According to Kevin Borgeson, “sometimes members can belong to more than one [hate group], making the population under study heterogeneous and hard to define,” (Borgeson, 193). However, it is crucial that when we code a case, we, as a team, know what was pushing the criminal to commit their act of violence but also what the group was that they were targeting and if the ideological target and ideological affiliation are related. This act of coding is one of the most important tasks that members of the Prosecution Project take part in.
Within the “ideological target” variable, there are numerous divisions that the defendant can be classified as. To name two: we have government officials, and those who work in a specific industry and members of a specific religious group. Within each of those divisions, there are subcategories to further narrow down the target group. Understanding who or what the target is can help us understand the act of the crime and what types of crimes are related so as we code more, we can relate similar cases to new ones.
The other category, “ideological affiliation,” is just as important as the ideological target, if not more so. Within this division, there are subcategories, similar to the target subcategories. For “ideological affiliation,” the divisions include, but are not limited to “rightist” (with subcategories such as “identity focused”, “government focused”, “abortion focused” or “unspecified”). Each affiliation category begins with a general topic, such as “rightist” or “leftist” and then branches out into the subcategories of each grouping. The Project is rooted in understanding political violence, so once we understand the ideological affiliation of the defendant, we can distinguish between types of politically violent crimes and the nature behind them. While there is not always a specific affiliation to motivate the defendant, the basis of finding one is crucial to the details within the project.
For the new coders and the new undergraduate researchers, like myself and many of my peers, the differentiation between types of affiliation and targets can be hard to understand at first, but eventually does make sense. In order to teach the new members about these divisions
Valeri, Robin Maria, and Kevin Borgeson, eds. Hate Crimes: Typology, Motivations, and Victims. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2018.