Terrorism in the United States

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
July 08, 2019 - July 12, 20197/08 - 7/12M-F 8:30A-11:20AOpenMegan McBride

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Course Description

Nearly fifteen years after 9/11, terrorism continues to be a pressing security concern and a ubiquitous topic of conversation. It shapes domestic and foreign policy on an impressive array of issues, it is frequently mentioned in political debates, and it often appears in sensational newspaper headlines. In nearly all of these instances, though, the topic of discussion is Islamist terrorism. Given this, it might come as a surprise to learn that since 9/11, terrorist acts in the United States have very often been committed by far-right violent extremists. This course examines these often-overlooked violent actors by tackling three critical questions: (1) What motivates far-right violent extremists (religion, politics, ideology, etc.)? (2) How do we (as a people, a society, a government) typically respond to this type of violence? And (3) how do issues like race and religion influence the discussion about these movements? It isn’t possible to predict who will commit the next act of terrorism in the United States, but since 9/11 far-right violent extremists have committed twice as many terrorist attacks in the United States as Islamists. It is, as a result, critical that we better understanding these individuals and movements.

This course is designed to challenge preconceptions about terrorism in the United States. Since 9/11, far-right violent extremists have been responsible for nearly half of the terrorism fatalities in the U.S., and almost twice as many terrorist attacks in the U.S. as Islamist terrorists. In some ways, though, these individuals and movements have been permitted to slip beneath the radar. President Trump, for example, has been criticized for responding promptly to attacks committed by brown Muslim terrorists while remaining silent for days following attacks committed by white Christian terrorists.

This course begins by looking closely at the far-right individuals and movements committing violence in the United States. We will explore individuals/movements/events that are anti-abortion, racist, white supremacist, anti-gay, and anti-immigrant (including Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma City bombing, Scott Roeder’s assassination of Dr. George Tiller, Wade Michael Page’s attack on a Sikh temple, Dylann Roof’s attack on a Charleston church, the 2017 Charlottesville rally attack, etc.). We will, moreover, do this by engaging with materials written by academics, policy analysts, and terrorists themselves. We will read manifestos, emails, social media posts, media interviews, court transcripts, etc. in order to more fully understand why these acts were committed.

At the same time, we will also ask a series of critical questions about the American response to these movements: Does the media report differently on far-right extremist attacks? Does the government respond differently to these attacks? Do Republicans and Democrats react differently to different types of terrorism? If so, why might this be? How do stereotypes and assumptions about terrorism influence our understanding of these events? How do issues like race and religion influence our understanding of these individuals and movements?

In short, this course will provide a foundation for further study – in International Relations, Political Science, Public Policy, American Studies, etc. – by giving students a more nuanced understanding of terrorism in the United States.

The instructor has a PhD from Brown University in Religious Studies, and her work focuses on contemporary religious terrorism. She has interviewed a half-dozen domestic terrorists; she is a Postdoctoral Fellow in National Security Affairs at the Naval War College; and she is a research analyst with a non-profit, non-partisan think tank where she works primarily on terrorism-related initiatives.

This course will:
(1) Provide students with a clear definition of terrorism.
(2) Introduce students to the complex nature of right-wing violent extremism in the United States.
(3) Provide an understanding of the U.S. response to terrorism (socially, politically, governmentally, etc.).
(4) Teach students to engage with the public discourse – in popular media, political commentary, and mainstream news – as critical readers able to identify subtle biases and unspoken assumptions.
(5) Teach students to recognize and appreciate the influence of race and religion on America’s debates about terrorism domestically and internationally.

Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for this course.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPS0971
  • Length: 1 week

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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