Central Missouri professor receives $500K grant to study left-wing, environmental movements

(The Center Square) – A University of Central Missouri professor will lead federally funded research to improve the understanding of domestic radicalization in left-wing and environmental movements.

Jennifer Carson, a professor of criminology and criminal justice, received a three-year, $506,497 grant from the National Institute of Justice. The funding is one of two grants awarded from the organization’s Research and Evaluation on Domestic Radicalization and Violent Extremism program.

The research aims to gain knowledge from limited existing data of far-left criminal and terrorist activity. “Left wing” describes individuals who commit crimes under certain ideologies. They’re often categorized as anarchists motivated by animal or environmental rights, and have Marxist, communist or socialist beliefs.

“Most of my research focused on the far left, and it’s important to note what we know about far-right extremism and Jihadi-related terrorism,” Carson said in an interview with The Center Square. “Those movements and groups are far more lethal and killed many more people than the far left.”

Carson and her associates will attempt to detect links between ideology and subsequent actions.

“This grant helps us find the full scope of activity,” Carson said. “How does the difference in ideology and the expansion of ideology tie into what they’re engaged in? What’s interesting about the far left is we’ve seen some deterrable activities, unlike other ideologically driven actors. The far left tends to be motivated – and their behavior influenced – by government actions.”

Carson said her research will help governments determine the effectiveness of current methods to detect or prevent criminal or terrorist acts.

“We need research to inform our efforts,” Carson said. “I think counterterrorism research is some of the most important work we do to answer questions about whether legislative or law enforcement interventions are working. We want to be effective stewards of tax money and continue to fund counterterrorism efforts that work.”

Carson and her students will examine federal sentencing data to detect innovative criminal or terrorist techniques and activities. They also will review trial transcripts and evidence.

“You can get really deep into the data and see all sorts of things about the offenders, their process up to the act and then afterward,” Carson said.

One recent tactic is widespread distribution of the locations of homes and other personal information of government officials and their families.

“We see the far left using doxxing, and whether it’s criminal or terrorist or not depends on the incident and what it leads to,” Carson said. “But that shows innovation and it’s something that can have very dire consequences for people who are targets of that.”

Carson said her research could assist with preventing criminal or terrorist activities on both ends of the spectrum.

“There are groups on the far right where violence is not something they engage in, namely anti-abortion activists, like those on the far left I’ve studied,” Carson said. “They’re groups that seem to be deterrable and sensitive to sanctions. And they’re also groups that operate out of more of a moral compass.”

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