The impact of foreign affiliation and citizenship on the prosecution of political violence in the United States

This post continues our series sharing pre-publication versions of chapter introductions in our upcoming book titled “Prosecuting Political Violence: Collaborative Research and Method”

Chapter 6

The impact of foreign affiliation and citizenship on the prosecution of political violence in the United States
by Isabel Bielamowicz

Through utilizing a grounded theory approach to the Prosecution Project (tPP) dataset, the following chapter examines the relationship between foreign affiliation and the prosecutorial response of American judicial institutions to politically motivated crimes.The purpose of this chapter is to identify the consequence of perceived foreignness on the prosecution of political violence cases in the United States.This chapter specifically adopts the following variables within tPP dataset: affiliation with FTO, citizenship status, “othered” status, and length of prison sentence. Average sentencing lengths based on various indicators of perceived foreign- ness are determined by employing descriptive statistics on numerous combinations of the aforementioned variables.Bielamowicz contends that defendants who have an evidence-based affiliation with a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) are likely to receive longer average sentences than those who have no evidence- based foreign affiliation. Furthermore, the author postulates that foreign-born citizens will receive longer average sentences than American-born defendants. While Bielamowicz hypothesizes that both positive affiliation with FTO and foreign citizenship status will independently increase average sentencing lengths, the findings suggest that affiliation with FTO has a more profound impact on average sentencing length than citizenship status.

Methodologically, descriptive statistics reveal that FTO affiliation elongates a defendant’s average sentence length, whereas foreign citizenship, on average, does not significantly alter a defendant’s average sentence length. Succeeding the findings on affiliation with FTO and citizenship status, Bielamowicz conducts supplementary statistical analysis using the variable specifying “othered” status. To augment the prior findings, Bielamowicz undertakes an analysis of “othered-ness” within the realm of those who incur foreign affiliation.The study of this variable proves to be the most telling in terms of sentence length as defendants listed as “othered” have a markedly longer average sentence length than those listed as “non-othered.” These disparities in average sentencing length between those identified as “othered” and those identified as “non-othered” prove to be the most significant statistics collected in this study. The inclusion of the “othered-ness” variable within both tPP dataset and this chapter supports an interpretation of the xenophobic tendencies perpetrated throughout the US justice system.

While Bielamowicz’s initial hypotheses test the impact of foreign affiliation and citizenship, her final conclusions surrender more about constructed “othered-ness” than they do about concrete foreign affiliation.The author’s additional analysis of the “othered” status variable supports existing literature regarding the biases of the American judicial system and the impact of those biases on the prosecution of politically motivated crimes.A broader societal interpretation of these findings exposes the fractured institution of the American court system in handling cases where the defendant is perceived to be “non-American.” Ultimately, the findings of this research question the legitimacy of the right to a fair and equal trial, specifically in cases of political violence. Bielamowicz’s final discussion of additional inquiries which could further this research concludes the chapter and provides a glimpse into prospective studies of tPP dataset through similar grounded theory methodology.

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