WorldViews Fall 2020: In the Center of Critical Issues

Middlebury Institute Center directors discuss today’s vexing world problems of race relations, domestic/global terrorism, climate change, and nonproliferation.

General Information

Due to COVID-19, our spring 2021 speaker series will take place online via Zoom.

Stay tuned for upcoming 2021 dates for our Spring WorldViews Speaker Series! Free to attend. Includes Q&A session. Sponsored by the Gerry Taylor Seminars Endowment Fund. Zoom webinar details will be provided after you register. All times are Pacific (PDT/PST). 

Fall WorldViews Recordings

The 2020 Fall WorldViews recordings are available here: Featured speakers from the fall series can be found below.


Pushpa Iyer
Pushpa Iyer, Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution; Director of the Center for Conflict Studies; Chief Diversity Officer

Center for Conflict Studies (CCS)
September 9, 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. PDT

Pandemic, Protests, and Politics: Prospects for Peace
Professor Pushpa Iyer focuses on how individuals, communities, and institutions can use a peacebuilding framework to counter the social unrest caused by the current pandemic and calls for justice.

Jason Blazakis
Jason Blazakis, Professor of Practice; Director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism

Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism (CTEC)
October 14, 4:30 - 5:30 p.m. PDT

Delving Into the Extremism of White Supremacy: Who are They, What Do They Want?
By nearly any objective measurement there has been a rise in extremism associated with the white supremacist movement. Join Professor Jason Blazakis to learn why, and how the COVID pandemic is contributing to this evolving transnational challenge.

Delving Into the Extremism of White Supremacy: Who are They, What Do They Want?

My name is Jason Blazakis, I’m a Professor of Practice at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, where I also serve as the director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism.

Has there been a rise in white supremacism in recent years?

There is, and there’s been a gradual rise in white supremacist online activity since the election of President Barack Obama that led to quite a bit of consternation amongst individuals within the white supremacist community, who felt that their own wellbeing was somehow being challenged by a person of color serving the highest, coveted political office in the United States. And then secondarily, since COVID and the pandemic in March, there’ve been a couple of studies, one by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue in London, and another by the Anti-Defamation League, illustrated that there is a rise of white supremacist community activity, specifically over Telegram, which is an app people can use for encrypted communications, as well as a number of organizations using that forum as a mechanism to gain an audience. So there’s been an increase since COVID of a number of users being attracted to white supremacist’s Telegram pages, specifically.

Who are the Proud Boys?

So the Proud Boys, they were founded in 2016. So they’re fairly new organization. Founded by an individual by the name of Gavin McInnes, who was the co-founder of Vice Media. It’s an organization that touts itself as being pro-western. They think they’re preserving western civilization and they tout themselves as being a fraternal organization for men. So they’re a sexist organization. They like to describe themselves as individuals who like to drink beer and wrap themselves around the flag. But in reality, they’re an organization that is highly anti-immigrant. They are Islamophobic, they’re transphobic, and they’re an organization that’s misogynistic, and they absolutely do have tendencies, within the rank and file membership that do skew towards white supremacy. If you look at, like I have, their Telegram channels, they are actually adopting memes and imagery associated with white supremacist organizations. So they tried to disguise themselves as being something than what they truly are, and that makes them very dangerous. And the second thing that makes them potent, and perhaps a little bit different from those that lurk in the online world, associated with the white supremacist community, is they actually do organize in the real world as well. In a number of places, whether it’s at Berkeley, California, Portland, Oregon, Charlottesville, Virginia, they’re an organization that has the ability to mobilize people and to respond to perceived threats for them, the perceived threat of leftists and those who are eroding western civilization.

How do extremist groups like this recruit online?

So, for organizations like the Proud Boys, they use imagery and memes, particularly for younger audiences, who may not want to read long manifestos, using funny imagery, using ironical humor to communicate to people online, allow the organization some kind of avenue into that individual, allows for a conversation, makes them seem interesting. They don’t always put on that hard edge right away. Like I mentioned before, they like to tout the fact that they like to drink beer. Trying to appeal to younger people using social mechanisms like that to bring them into their sphere of influence. Those are some of the ways the organization has pushed forward recruitment strategies online. And the last thing I would say here in this point is the fact that somehow western civilization is under assault, making people fearful that their way of life if they have identified as a person who is adherent to western civilization, that that way of life might be eroding. So they’re using fear as a motivating factor as well to draw people to the movement.

How should these groups be classified?

So, there isn’t a law in the United States to label organizations as domestic terrorists. But there are certainly organizations from my perspective, in the United States that are white supremacists that you could label as such. One group is the Atomwaffen Division, a Neo Nazi group that has rebranded itself by a new name, the Nationalist Socialist Order, has carried out a number of attacks that are politically-motivated acts of violence, in an effort to create fear among the masses. And for me, that’s the definition quintessentially of terrorism. So groups like the Atomwaffen Division, while there isn’t a domestic law to label them terrorists, citizens should consider a group like that terroristic.

Jason Scorse, Director of the Center for the Blue Economy, young yet bald white dude wearing blue t-shirt
Jason Scorse, Associate Professor; Program Chair, International Environmental Policy; Director, Center for the Blue Economy

Center for the Blue Economy (CBE)
October 28, 12:00 - 1:00 p.m. PDT

The Ocean Climate Action Plan: Turning Ideas Into Advocacy
Professor Jason Scorse details the Ocean Climate Action Plan’s path from development into law.

Elise Birkett Profile Photo
Elise Birkett, MA Candidate ‘22, International Environmental Policy

Elise Birkett will join Professor Scorse in this discussion. Elise works as a research assistant at the Center for the Blue Economy (CBE). She graduated from New York University in May 2020 with a double BA in environmental studies and journalism. She has spent the past two years interning with various environmental news outlets and political think tanks. She wrote her undergraduate honors thesis on regenerative agriculture and organic farming in the Northeast. Elise will receive her MA in International Environmental Policy May 2022.

William Potter
William Potter, Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar Professor of Nonproliferation Studies; Founding Director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS)
November 11, 4:30 - 5:30 p.m. PST

The US-Russian Nuclear Predicament: Are We Doomed to Cooperate or Simply Doomed?
For more than a half century, Washington and Moscow have worked to manage their nuclear competition and to cooperate in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.  But what’s the future of this often rocky relationship? Professor Bill Potter offers his insights into US-Russian nuclear dynamics and their implications for world stability.

Aubrey Means, MA Candidate 2020, Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies
Aubrey Means, MA Candidate ‘20, Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies

Aubrey Means will join Dr. Potter in this discussion. Aubrey works as a research assistant at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). She spent most of 2019 interning with Czech Technical University’s Nuclear Research Reactor Department in Prague, Czech Republic. She worked as a summer associate for the Sanctions Compliance unit at BNP Paribas in New York. Aubrey will receive her MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies this December.

Additional Faculty Talks

For additional faculty talks, check out the schedule for Middlebury’s Faculty at Home Speaker Series here! Also be sure to check out the Fall 2020 Center for the Blue Economy and Environmental Justice & Sustainability Speaker Series at

Previous Spring 2020 WorldViews recordings may be accessed below:

Sarah Bidgood Profile Photo
Sarah Bidgood, Director, Eurasia Nonproliferation Program (Credit: Randy Tunnell )

Promoting Peace: Viewing Peace Through a Gender Lens

Click HERE to listen to the podcast

Sarah Bidgood

Sarah Bidgood directs the Eurasia Nonproliferation Program for the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Middlebury Institute, with a research focus on U.S.-Soviet and U.S.-Russia nonproliferation cooperation and the international nonproliferation regime more broadly. She also leads the CNS Young Women in Nonproliferation Initiative. She earned her M.A. in Nonproliferation Studies and Terrorism Studies from the Middlebury Institute in 2016.

In this podcast, Brad Copeland interviews Sarah about the role of gender in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction. They discuss how bringing more women experts into the nonproliferation space can improve outcomes in this critical area of international security. 

Our interviewer, Brad Copeland, is master mechanic for Scott SRAM MTB Racing. Brad currently works with professional mountain biker rider, Kate Courtney, an elite national and world champion in the sport, thanks in part to Brad’s meticulous support. Brad studied journalism in college and often interfaces with the media working with Kate. Brad could interview Sarah on site during the pandemic because…they’re married, and thus sheltering in place together. Follow Brad’s bike adventures on Instagram (@bbcopeland)

Professor Wei Liang
Wei Liang, Gordon Paul Smith Chair in International Studies (Credit: Randy Tunnell )

Will Coronavirus Reshape Global Order?

Click here to watch the video and also view other Faculty at Home talks.

The pandemic has and will continue to profoundly impact world politics and the economy. Ideas and policies developed over decades and the competence of national governments and international institutions have been shaken and tested. Join Professor Wei Liang as she discusses what may be permanent shifts in how people (and nations) view sovereignty, freedom, democracy, market, and globalization.