A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Recruiting from the Ranks: A Typology of Recruitment Narratives Targeting the U.S. Military Community


Narratives are stories that extremists tell to advance a particular worldview and/or encourage a set of actions. Research suggests that narratives are effective tools for radicalization and recruitment because they can be used to reframe conflicts, encourage new or existing identities, and justify violent organizations and activities.1 Through the use of narratives, extremists identify and/or foster the anxieties, fears, and angers of a target population—including elements both real and imagined—and offer responses that depict their agenda as the only feasible solution.2 To those who are already committed to extremist ideologies, narratives encourage loyalty, identity, and action on behalf of the movement. For newer audiences, narratives evoke an emotional response that encourages further exploration of, and engagement with, extremist belief systems and their associated groups.

This project captures the effort to link commonly held, and often genuine, grievances to extremist ideologies and actions via online narratives, focusing specifically on efforts by white supremacist and anti-government groups to target current and former members of the United States military. Telegram posts were analyzed with the goal of identifying the implicit and explicit narratives through which extremists attempt to recruit and radicalize veterans and active service members. The data for this project were collected in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the issuance of the COVID-19 vaccination order by the Department of Defense to understand how extremists weaponize geopolitical events and local politics to produce narratives designed to appeal to individuals with military backgrounds.

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Full Citation:

Yates, Elizabeth, Michael Jensen, Sheehan Kane, and Elena Akers. 2023. Recruiting from the Ranks A Typology of Recruitment Narratives Targeting the U.S. Military Community. College Park, MD: START.

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