| by Muskan Agrawal

News Stories

This piece was submitted by Muskan Agrawal in Fulfillment of the Michael Donnelly Fellowship at Middlebury Institute Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism (CTEC). 

Democracies, often held as bastions of peace and stability, exhibit vulnerabilities to ‘soft’ domestic terrorism, as recent events around the globe have shown. Soft domestic terrorism, as I define it, refers to the dissemination of hate speech, incivility, fake news, cyber troops, and violence related to elections by political actors against citizens or voters in an effort to win elections or obstruct a smooth handover of power after elections. The January 2021 Capitol riot (and the online planning that happened before it) in the United States are an example of soft domestic terrorism that hampered peaceful post-election transitions. This research concentrates on four democratic countries, seeking to identify any similarities or distinctions between “full” and “flawed” democracies within the context of soft domestic terrorism. With the help of the Democracy Index created by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) assessing global democracy through numerical rankings and categorization of countries, I examine Chile and Japan, classified as “full democracies,” and the United States and India, categorized as “flawed democracies.” There are two questions this research aims to answer while adding to literature on soft domestic terrorism in democratic systems: 

  • Research Question 1: What does the manifestation and intensification of soft domestic terrorism during the election period look like, particularly in the brief period leading up to, during, and following elections?
  • Research Question 2: What parallels and differences can then be identified between full versus flawed democracies concerning soft domestic terrorism during election periods with the help of the four chosen case studies for the research?

This study aims to undermine the popular wisdom that democracies have fewer occurrences of election violence in the country because they allow for institutionalized, peaceful expression from the opposition. This research also challenges the existing norms on democratic functioning especially during election periods by asserting that soft domestic terrorism is not only commonplace within democratic contexts but is actually inevitable and can be also predicted. 

To read the full report, click here