Home » Events » Push and Pull of Religious Extremism: Who Are the Terrorists, How Are they Recruited, What Can We Do?

Push and Pull of Religious Extremism: Who Are the Terrorists, How Are they Recruited, What Can We Do?

Push and Pull of Religious Extremism: Who Are the Terrorists,
How Are they Recruited, What Can We Do?
(David Des Roches August 9, 2017)

Transcript available below

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About the speaker

David Des Roches is Associate Professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies at National Defense University. Prior to this, he was the Defense Department director responsible for policy concerning Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Prior to this assignment, he has served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Liaison to the Department of Homeland Security, as senior country director for Pakistan, as NATO operations director, and as deputy director for peacekeeping.

An Airborne Ranger in the Army Reserve, he was awarded the Bronze Star for service in Afghanistan.  He has commanded conventional and special operations parachute units and has served on the US Special Operations Command staff as well as on the Joint Staff.

He graduated from the United States Military Academy and obtained advanced degrees in Arab Politics from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, in War Studies from Kings College London, and Strategic Studies from the US Army War College. He has also attended the Federal Executive Institute, the German Staff College’s Higher Officer Seminar, the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

His academic awards include Phi Kappa Phi, the British Marshall Scholarship, designation as a Distinguished Alumnus of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, and selection as a Joseph Malone Fellow of the National Council of Arab American Relations.

For more on terror propaganda and recruitment, see Christopher C. Harmon’s Westminster talk, The Terrorist Argument: Modern Advocacy and Propaganda.


Robert R. Reilly:

We’re very happy to welcome here tonight for the first time, Dave Des Roches, about whom I was asked to specially say two very important things. One is that he had 106 military parachute jumps and he’s still standing on the original equipment. And number two is that he was the first major graduate in Arabic studies from West Point. Did I cover the essentials there? Okay.

The other important thing to note is that we had the largest number of RSVPs for his appearance here tonight at 91. Whoever didn’t come, thank you for staying home because we don’t have that much room.

By the way, I just want to quickly announce for those of you who have seen the invitation it’s unnecessary but Congressman Frank Wolf, who is in northern Iraq as we speak, will be back to give us a first hand report on what survives of the Christian community there and what it’s prospect may be. So, please join us next Wednesday night.

Now, to flesh out Dave Des Roches’ bio here, he is Associate Professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies at the National Defense University. Prior to that he was the DOD Director responsible for policy concerning Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, an area of the world where not much takes place so easy 9-to-5 job there.

Prior to that assignment he served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Liaison to the Department of Homeland Security, as senior country for Pakistan, as NATO Operations Director, and Deputy Director for Peacekeeping.

He is an Airborne Ranger in the Army Reserve. He was decorated with the bronze star for his service in Afghanistan. He was commander of both conventional and special operations parachute units and has served on both the U.S. Operations Command Staff as well as the Joint Staff. Please join me in welcoming Dave Des Roches.

David Des Roches:

Well, thank you. It is indeed an honor to be here. I really appreciate you coming in. This is a beautiful summer day for August in Washington and the fact that some of you have chosen to spend it with me instead of out as God intended, I regard as a bit of a challenge. I also note that some of you are armed.

So- so I’ll endeavor to give everybody what they want. I just hope that giving- my subject is very broad range and I have to say at the outset that this is the basis of my research. It does not reflect any U.S. policy.

Hopefully, we’ll get something out of this, but if not, I’m reminded of an academic conference I went to on a similar summer’s night at the University of Bristol in England. As you can tell by my accent I am a also a graduate of the University of London. My wife is a historian of some renown. We went to a conference at Bristol on Victorian painting and we were a little late. We came in. We had to crawl over people, sit right in the middle of it, and we sat down, and I was trying to make heads or tails of it, and after about five minutes we realized that we were in the wrong conference. And instead of Victorian art, it was actually on beneficial insects.

But I did learn something of use. Apparently, the easiest way to determine the sex of ants – I learned this in the conference – is you take the ants and you throw them in a bucket of water and if they sink, girl ant. If they float, boy ant. Okay. I- I- I haven’t seen any- any- any pistols removed from their holsters so I will take that as approval. If I can survive that I believe I can survive anything.

This is my email, my Facebook, and my Twitter if you want to join the 40 people who follow me on Twitter and at least three of them are my mother under various pseudonyms. Although I should point out I have published books in Berlin and in London and all that. The only thing I’ve ever written that has impressed my wife is that one of my tweets was retweeted by Morgan Fairchild. I’ll just tell jokes. On with the topic.

This is what I’m going to talk about today. You can interrupt me at any time. I am aware, I’m in your debt for coming out on a beautiful night, so I won’t be- police yourselves, you know. If you decide somebody’s going on too long or something, you guys suppress him because I’ll just be the punching bag as long as you want.

So, first off, who are these people? I want to start off with this model. This is the radicalization model used by the FBI. When I speak to foreign groups, and I generally do speak to foreign groups, I point this out to make a point about the strength of the United States, which is in most countries there is a centralized ministry of the interior, a centralized law enforcement agency that says ‘this is how it is’ and propagates it downward and everybody does that.

This model was actually developed by the New York City Police Department. It made its way up to the FBI, which said ‘hey, that looks pretty good’. They tweaked it a little bit and then they adapted it. This was done to counter Islamist terrorism, but I would point out that this radicalization model can apply to just about any form of political violence.

And generally, the first time I taught a terrorism course was when I was a starving young political appointee in the Clinton White House Drug Czar’s Office in the ’90s. I taught a course on terrorism at the Department of Agriculture night school.

If you think it’s bad sitting through a three hour lecture at night, it’s even worse when you have to give that three hour lecture at night. It was a living hell. Some people were traumatized by the impeachment. I was traumatized by that class.

But in those days terrorism was viewed as [an] exclusively rightwing Christian problem in the United States. That’s right. Still is. I generally draw on those things to do that.

And what you can find is when you look down this model here, and I will use my high tech pointer, you have four stages: pre-radicalization, identification, indoctrination, and action. Now, people can move all up and down this until they get to the last step. There’s still no thing here.

So, for example, you know, my mother probably is, you know, dedicated to, you know, countering abortion, which was a major issue in the rightwing movements that we looked at, Eric Rudolph, the Atlantic Olympics bomber. My mother probably goes all the way down here and stops at this point, thank god, but this could apply to… This could apply to Irishmen.

Audience member:


David Des Roches:

Yeah, that’s right, along with every other negative you can think of in the world. It’s amazing, in America, cardinals and senators tell Irish jokes. In Britain, it’s practically a hate crime.

So, pre-radicalization, identification, indoctrination, and action and basically, you have an individual motivation/conversion, a stimulus, an opportunity, and then that leads to action. So, the first one is conversion and reinterpretation of faith, whether it’s radical, say, could be radical Catholicism or Protestantism for abortion clinic bombers, or it could be a commitment to uniting the 26 counties of Ireland, or it could be to imposing a global caliphate.

Then, the individual accepts the cause, becomes isolated from his former life, you know, perhaps some domestic training or overseas experience. That leads to further exception and a propensity for action. And again, you can find this universally. And then finally, intensified group bonds, increased vetting opportunities, training camps, financing – basically, a conspiracy in legal terms. That leads to conviction, ready for action, and finally, you have action.

Now, where can government most effectively intervene? This is just me doing this. The first one is just motivation and the conversion. So, this is the hardest part to intervene because – and it’s particularly tough for Western democracies because we are based on the idea of freedom of conscience and I don’t think that government – quite frankly – has a role in this.

See the rest of his Westminster talk…

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