This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.
Excluding the Political Extremists
As the Prosecution Project finds new cases, our first step is to see if they should be included. There are basic requirements, like the date range and ensuring they a felony. However, the deciding factor is if the government labeled the case as being terroristic or extremist or if the crime advances terrorism or extremism. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether a case should be included.
Charles Dyer is a case I looked at which raises questions. Dyer was a former Marine, Tea Party member, and a member of the Oklahoma Patriot group, the Oathkeepers. He posted videos under the pseudonym “July 4 Patriot” which explained his belief system. On January 12, 2010, officers arrested Dyer for raping a seven-year-old girl and possessing an unregistered grenade. Later that year, he missed a court date and was a fugitive until he was found the following week in Houston. Dyer was eventually sentenced to 30 years in prison. Ultimately, it was determined that Dyer should be excluded. His extremist right-wing ideology was not enough to include him.
Charles Dyer’s case brings up an important question: when people are political extremists should we always include them in our data set? The short answer to this question is no. In our manual, we specify that the crime must be “in furtherance of terrorism, extremism, or political violence.” Crime is the main focus, not the person. While political ideology can hint at beliefs, it does not always affect a person’s criminal motive. It’s important to understand what an ideology is in order to understand how why we exclude some cases.
An ideology is a more or less coherent set of ideas that provides the basis for organized political action, whether this is intended to preserve, modify or overthrow the existing system of power. All ideologies therefore have the following feature. They:
- Offer an account of the existing order, usually in the form of a ‘world-view’
- advance a model of a desired future, a vision of the ‘good society’
- Explain how political change can and should be brought about – how to get from (a) to (b)
This definition encapsulates the idea of ideologies being a combination of one’s personal beliefs for a utopia and the actions taken to reach this dream. Ideology is not just having anti-government beliefs as Dyer did. The person must also attempt to put these beliefs into practice, such as organizing extremist groups, sending death threats, massacres, and more. Though Dyer fits this description through his involvement in the Oath Keepers, that did not relate to him raping a child. The rape was a separate action and no sources showed that he did it in order to further his belief system. Our goal is to look is to track political extremism and terrorism are prosecuted. While Dyer’s personality fit political extremism, the crime he was prosecuted for does not.
It is difficult to imagine the thousands of other cases we would need to include if we only focused on people’s ideology. While all of those crimes would have been committed by someone with an extremist ideology or membership to a terrorist group, not all the crimes would have been motivated by their political ideology. The discussion of whether to include or exclude these people needs to always be rooted in the physical crime.
Heywood, Andrew. Political Ideologies: An Introduction. 6th ed. London, UK: Palgrave, 2017. [Excerpt, Chapter 1: “Political Ideologies and Why They Matter”]