A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

Radicalizing the Poor: Understanding the Influence of Service Provision on Popular Support for and Participation in Violent Political Groups


Radicalizing the Poor: Understanding the Influence of Service Provision on Popular Support for and Participation in Violent Political Groups

Investigators: 

Project Details

Abstract: 

This project involves comparative case studies of the role of three groups (one in the Middle East, one in Asia, and one in the United States), with a focus on how the recipients of services interact with and perceive the radical groups providing services. The systematic case studies consisted of both structured interviews and quantitative surveys.

Primary Findings: 

Asian Case: Armed Groups in Mindanao, Philippines: The Moro National Liberation Front, and (even more so) the Moro Islamic Liberation Front provide services in Mindanao. Study of this conflict has traditionally been dominated by a focus on the military and combat aspects of the conflict, at the expense of the grassroots political story -- a story which includes service provision. Particularly, service provision is not limited to those services we think of in a traditional Western, developed-country model of public-goods provision. Rather, services include activities with comparatively low capital investment that are nonetheless both costly for rebels and useful to civilians, such as dispute adjudication, coordination of manpower and know-how for village improvement activities, coordination of sales between small farmers and commodities buyers, and so on. This is a valuable insight for future studies of such behavior because correctly identifying services that are appropriate to the area, and those requiring lower levels of capital investment, will provide a more accurate picture of how rebels integrate (or not) with local populations. The data also suggest that service provision does vary between villages. Such variation in the responses: a) reassures us that the survey instrument is picking up the services it was designed to detect, and b) suggests that rebel behavior varies geographically. Such geographic variation suggests further avenues for research.

Middle Eastern Case: Armed Groups in Palestine: The most common entity that individuals turn to for help with most social and economic needs is the state (in this case represented by the Palestinian Authority). However, armed groups and NGOs operated by armed groups are the second most common provider of all types of assistance. For a slight majority of individuals, seeking assistance from an armed group or an NGO operated by an armed group was significantly correlated with a positive perception of the group. However, seeking assistance from armed groups does not necessarily ensure a positive impression. For example, seeking assistance for illness from a Hamas-operated NGO was significantly correlated with a belief that Hamas cares very little about the community for 15% of respondents. For a slight majority of individuals, seeking assistance from Hamas political leaders was significantly correlated with reports that neighbors/family members had joined Hamas. For a small number, receiving services from Hamas-operated NGOs was significantly correlated with reports of joining the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Receiving services from armed groups other than Hamas was not significantly correlated with reports of joining armed groups. For a majority of individuals, seeking assistance from a Hamas-operated NGO was significantly correlated with a belief that the Palestinian conflict can be solved through negotiation. For a majority of individuals, seeking assistance from an armed organization other than Hamas or Fatah was significantly correlated with a belief that the Palestinian conflict can be solved through negotiation. However, for a majority of individuals, seeking assistance from Hamas political leaders was significantly correlated with a belief that the Palestinian conflict can be solved only through armed struggle.

U.S. case: Black Panther Party: Evidence seems to indicate that the Black Panther Party's (BPP) service provision in the Bay Area in the form of breakfast programs, food aid, schools, etc., preceded their decision to bear arms and operated in parallel with a willingness to use violence if necessary. These services were not used explicitly as a tool for recruiting members; rather, service provision was seen as a strategy that was complementary to the BPP's political activities and armed resistance in an effort to serve a community neglected by the state. Nonetheless, the BPP's political message was tightly integrated with the process of service provision and service recipients gained greater exposure to the BPP's political messages, including their belief about armed protection, during the process of receiving services. Service recipients viewed the BPP, its services, and its message positively in part because they viewed the BPP as one of the few providers for and protectors of the community.

Methodology: 

The Asian and Middle Eastern cases for this study are based primarily on quantitative data generated by oral surveys conducted with low to moderate income community members in Mindanao, Philippines, and Gaza and the West Bank. These locations were selected due to the fact that armed groups, NGOs and other civic organizations, and the state all are involved in basic health and human service provision and dispute adjudication in these locales. The surveys posed questions that aimed to gather information regarding who individuals would seek assistance from when facing certain needs, individuals' opinions of various armed groups and other actors, the prevalence of membership in armed groups in an individual's community, and individuals' support for violent versus nonviolent strategies for making political claims, among other social, political, and demographic questions. The purpose was to better understand how poverty and specifically how service provision to the poor may affect individuals' opinions of and membership in armed groups.

The U.S. case for this study was based primarily on qualitative data gathered during interviews with former members of the Black Panther Party and former recipients of services from the Black Panther Party. This interview data was complemented by archival analysis of documents about the Black Panther Party and publications of the Black Panther Party gathered from libraries, archives, and individuals' personal collections in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Timeframe

Project Period: 
June 2008 to May 2011