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Former terrorism officials question ‘radicalization’ study that lists peaceful pro-lifers…

Former terrorism officials question ‘radicalization’ study that lists peaceful pro-lifers…

Government-funded research says Students for Life is ‘terrorist’ organization

Two terrorism experts questioned a University of Maryland center’s labeling of a pro-life group as a “terrorist” organization.

The former employees of the Department of Justice and Homeland Security spoke to The College Fix about the university’s research database, “Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States,” or PIRUS.

Created by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, or START, the project purportedly tracks “ideologically motivated criminal activity” and known “extremists” through 2021.

The Fix previously reported how two Students for Life of America members who were arrested for writing “black pre-born lives matter” on a sidewalk in 2020 are recorded in PIRUS. This puts them among white supremacists, jihadist groups, and other threats.

Moreover, SFLA appears under a “Terrorist_Group” label in the raw dataset.

When asked if START’s labeling was appropriate, national security expert Elizabeth Neumann flatly replied, “No.”

“They made an error and they should correct it,” Neumann said in a phone interview with The Fix.

Neumann (pictured) served in President George W. Bush’s Homeland Security Council before moving to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, where she helped federal agencies develop methods for reporting threats.

She later joined the Department of Homeland Security in 2017 and was the assistant secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention from 2018 to 2020.

Neumann resigned from the Trump Administration in 2020 and accused it of failing to act against domestic terrorism, particularly “right-wing extremists,” in the words of Politico. She has been critical of President Donald Trump and endorsed President Joe Biden in 2020.

She told The Fix that START’s portrayal of pro-lifers does not resemble how the DHS typically views “radicalization” in any political camp.

“We didn’t have a great definition, so we wanted to clear it up, what we were trying to prevent, which was violent thought,” she said. An act of “vandalism” by college students would not have been a concern, she told The Fix.

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Neumann said the DHS tracked violent extremism on “both sides” of the abortion issue during her term. START’s study, meanwhile, has “anti-abortion extremism” as a category with no pro-abortion equivalent.

Neumann said the students’ charges were dropped – another reason “they should not be in that database.”

A law professor who helped shape counterterrorism policy at the DOJ also thought START’s terminology is overly broad.

“Researchers of course can create and apply any definition of ‘terrorism’ that they like,” former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo said in an email. “But if they want to be taken seriously, they should use something like the U.S. government’s definition,” according to Yoo, who served in his role from 2001 to 2003.

“For domestic terrorism, the FBI says it is ‘Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature,’” the University of California Berkeley Law professor (pictured) told The Fix.

“It seems obvious that writing messages in chalk on the sidewalk does not come close to fitting this definition,” Yoo wrote. “If so, we have many more terrorists roaming the streets of Berkeley than are known to the FBI.”

UMD has not responded to inquiries about the study sent to three different offices in the past several weeks, including two more sent in the past week. The Fix asked why PIRUS includes pro-life students cleared of charges but not crimes associated with Black Lives Matter from the same year.

SFLA said in March its “attorneys are looking into this program.”

“We are very concerned about government-funded programs engaging in viewpoint discrimination as they attempt to insinuate that there may be future harms from peaceful pro-life people,” spokesperson Kristi Hamrick told the Fix.

The DHS created START in 2005 as one of several “Centers of Excellence” at universities and often shares its data with “homeland security professionals,” according to its website.

The research center is currently working to expand the PIRUS database with new funding from the DOJ.

“There’s a value for civil society to better understand extremism,” Neumann said. She recalled a lack of “good data sources” on domestic terrorism in the DHS, but warned that START’s methods must be “very clear.”

“They need to be very transparent … if they’re using public funds, and the work that they’re doing is supposed to be for the public good, they need to be very transparent about how they make those decisions,” Neumann said.

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IMAGES: University of California Berkeley;

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