CTEC’s staff and experts frequently speak with reporters, appear on podcasts, and pen their own opinion pieces on the wide array of current extremism and terrorism topics. We think that each appearance is important, but they can come in too fast to keep track of. As a result, starting this week, we will publish a “CTEC in the News” article every few weeks rounding up everything that you need to know.
Over the past year, CTEC has done extensive research and monitoring of QAnon, a far-right extremist conspiracy theory that has been linked to several acts of violence. Due to the explicit embrace of Q by multiple congressional candidates and the President’s son, the profile of this conspiracy theory has grown significantly since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
In a Middle East Eye piece published this week, CTEC Director Jason Blazakis was interviewed by Sheren Khalel about the dangers of this community and how it exploits anti-Muslim xenophobia and racism. As Blazakis explained, “There certainly is an element of anti-Islam that runs through QAnon conspiracies.”
“QAnon generally will look at policies of previous administrations that are perceived to have been more pro-Islam and more sensitive to immigration-related issues at large,” Blazakis continued. ”The Trump administration is trying to roll that back, right, and so I think it plays into the QAnon theory that before the ‘white knight’, represented by Donald Trump, came into the picture, the so-called ‘deep state’ was ‘pro-Muslim Brotherhood’.”
In addition, CTEC Digital Research Lead Alex Newhouse spoke with Jeff Stone of CyberScoop News about the recent enforcement actions taken by Twitter and TikTok against QAnon communities. Newhouse argued that even though the act was more restrained, TikTok shutting down large QAnon hashtags will likely be a bigger deal in the long run than Twitter’s network disruption. This is because the QAnon community views TikTok primarily as a recruitment pathway, and so they “sand off some of their rougher edges to get more people in,” especially youth.
Newhouse was also recently interviewed by Lois Beckett from The Guardian about the Boogaloo Movement and its complex and multi-faceted ideologies. Although it is clearly a far-right movement, Newhouse shares that members span the spectrum from neo-Nazi to anarcho-capitalist. The unifying feature is accelerationism, or a desire for a violent showdown with government forces or sociopolitical enemies.
“The way we know the ‘boogaloo’ movement is a far-right movement is because they draw a line directly from Waco and Ruby Ridge,” he said. “They hold up things like the McVeigh bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building and the armed response to Ruby Ridge as heroic moments in American history.”
One of the most worrying developments of the COVID-19 pandemic has been state-sponsored actors attempting to stage cyberattacks against important research and infrastructural organizations. For example, earlier in July, the US, UK, and Canada announced that they had tracked Russian cyberattackers attempting to steal coronavirus vaccine research. Blazakis spoke with The Boston Herald and stated that this is well within the normal scope of activities that Russian government-sponsored groups undertake.
“It’s not surprising at all,” he said. “This has been part of the Russians’ overarching playbook, to use their cyber capabilities to steal information and drug-related secrets.”
Finally, Blazakis also wrote a piece on the state of sanctions and compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic. He points out that there are several major impediments to American anti-threat financing action, including that the US State Department office that designates terrorist organizations has had limited access to its important suite of classified evidence.
“This information challenge is both a government and private sector problem. Government officials responsible for sanctions are likely to have restricted access to their classified systems for the foreseeable future,” he writes. “As such, State and Treasury Department officials will need to draft dossiers for terrorism designations that depend upon unclassified information. For instance, purchasing new unclassified data sets may increase the possibility that terrorism designations could rely predominantly on unclassified info. If Treasury and State had those capabilities already, there is a good chance the OFAC SDN list could have included more SDGTs between April-July. The infrequent additions are important for non-U.S. financial institutions, too, since they are heavily reliant upon OFAC SDN updates to ensure they aren’t being abused by terrorist financiers.”