This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.
The Intricacy of Ideology
Through the focus which The Prosecution Project (tPP) gives to the particular ideologies of subjects, our team members have the opportunity to observe a wide array of philosophies. In many cases, personal definitions and identities by the subject are available to us; especially when they have kept written accounts. These personal records illustrate the diversity of thought and worldview, even within an ideological category, and underscore the need for highly specific coding categories to create a meaningful dataset.
According to Andrew Heywood, “[ideologies] provide individuals and groups with an intellectual map of how their society works and […] with a general view of the world” (Heywood, 2017).
In order to provide comprehensive representation, tPP coders must identify both the subject’s “ideological affiliation,” and their “ideological target.” This combination of factors helps to clarify the way their ideology impacts their relationship to the wider society. It goes deeper than just “rightist” or “leftist,” or “racist,” to include specific information about why a person of a given ideology would target the people or places that they did. In all tPP has 7 coding categories for “ideological target” (as of November 2019): Government, Industry, Religious, Identity, General Public, Multiple Motivations and Unspecified. The first 4 categories (Government, Industry, Religious, Identity)contain more than 20 additional sub codes We also use 13 coding categories, including subsets of both “rightist” and “leftist” movements (tPP Codebook, 2019).
The goal of taking the time to make these distinctions is to prepare a dataset which is useful for specific questions, not just broad ones. As stated on the tPP About Page, we are striving to provide data relevant not just to “the manner in which a defendant is charged, prosecuted, and sentenced,” but that can give a fuller picture. We hope to build a dataset which can be used to examine trends in the way our prosecutors respond to certain types of ideologies (i.e. “rightist” perpetrators v. “leftist” ones, indicted for similar crimes), as well as the prosecutorial response to different kinds of targets. How does the difference between intention of harm v. actual harm manifest in the judicial system? What has more impact on sentencing, a subject’s personal ideology/motivation, or the groups they may be affiliated with? These are (some of) the applications of highly specific ideological categories.
Because ideology plays such a role in the backstory of a crime, from informing a subject’s worldview to guiding them to a single physical target for attack, it’s important that our coding team takes the time to look for any eccentricities the subject may display. While it isn’t subtle, the case of Heon Jong Yoo is a good example of a subject defying initial expectations.
Yoo, a permanent resident in the U.S. originally from South Korea, self-identifies as “the Asian Nazi” in online forums, and attended several college campus demonstrations in Texas in Confederate attire. Prior to his arrest, he produced web content promoting his white supremacist views. His arrest and conviction were for weapons violations and misrepresenting his citizenship status, but it is noted that people on at least two campuses were actively concerned about his behavior, and the threat he might pose if unchecked. Because of the uniqueness of Yoo’s positionality, to classify him simply as a “rightist” would fail to describe his actual ideology; that is, without context, such a classification would likely not lead a reader to assume that he is, in fact, a white nationalist, or that he would identify with the Nazi philosophy. By combining a more specific coded ideology (“rightist: identity focused,) and a description of ideological target (in Yoo’s case, “unspecified,” since his threats were not against one specific group over others,) we are able to produce a more complete and useful database.
Heywood, Andrew. Political Ideologies: An Introduction. 6th ed. London, UK: Palgrave, 2017.