Banning immigration from predominantly Muslim countries will not prevent support for the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from inside the United States, and defeating ISIS "requires a better understanding of the group's propaganda strategy," according to a report released Friday.
The University of Chicago's Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST) and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's Counter-Terrorism Policy Center report contains the most complete publicly available accounting of ISIS supporters in the U.S., of which only 7 percent have been foreign citizens.
It shows several notable patterns among the 104 individuals considered by the Department of Justice to be ISIS sympathizers or operatives as well as eight more who died perpetrating attacks in the U.S. or in Iraq and Syria.
"America is not safer today because of the ban," said CPOST director and the report's lead author, Robert Pape. In fact, the recent ban on refugees and immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries has "fed the ISIS propaganda machine."
"There really couldn't have been a more perfect policy to fit ISIS propaganda than the 'Muslim ban,'" Pape said. He and his team at CPOST have studied 1,400 ISIS propaganda videos so far.
"Many, many of them paint a picture of the West at war, laying siege, to Muslim societies," said Pape. Trump's policy fuels that narrative, he said. "All people need to do is turn on TV and watch the Trump administration talk about the ban. This is the best propaganda for ISIS."
A significant majority (83 percent) of ISIS-inspired attackers and would-be attackers watched ISIS propaganda videos, the report says.
As for ISIS sympathizers who have been indicted by the U.S. criminal justice system, the study finds they are actually "strikingly normal."
The new report, "The American Face of ISIS," finds the average ISIS-inspired attacker in the US has similar rates of employment, marriage and education as the general population. Eighty-three percent are U.S. citizens, and 65 percent were born in the U.S., while those indicted for an attack or attempted attack are more likely to be U.S.-born recent converts to Islam than from established Muslim communities.
There is a marked difference between those who have been charged with ISIS-related crimes since 2014 and those who had previously been indicted for al-Qaeda-related offenses, of which only 55 percent were U.S. citizens, according to the report.
By contrast, the 19 hijackers who allegedly carried out the 9/11 attacks were all foreign-born non-U.S. citizens. None of them were from any of the countries whose citizens are banned from entry by the Trump administration.
A team of nearly a dozen authors and researchers at the University of Chicago produced the report, including Jean Decety, a professor of psychology and psychiatry, Keven Ruby, CPOST senior research associate, data manager Alejandro Albanez Rivas and research assistants Jens Jessen and Caroline Wegner. The report's authors said the interdisciplinary cooperation possible across social sciences at the University of Chicago allows for a more comprehensive analysis than it is possible for government agencies to produce.
"The threat comes almost exclusively from American citizens already within our borders, not refugees or foreign nationals," Pape said.
The team hopes to help policymakers in the Trump administration address the most pressing threats to the U.S. in a data-driven manner and help security services better understand ISIS propaganda strategy.