Online Radicalization? (Pt.1)

The recent attack on the Ohio State University campus involved 18-year old Abdul Razak Ali Artan. He was a permanent U.S. resident and a student at the university. Artan drove his car over a curb into several pedestrians, got out of his car and viciously slashed students with a butcher knife. Artan was later shot to death by campus police officer.

Artan was born in Somalia and moved to Pakistan as a refugee before coming in the United States in 2014. According to the Associated Press, neighbors in Columbus, Ohio said he was “a nice guy.” 

The investigation into the attack and Artan’s subsequent death was conducted by the House Intelligence Committee and revealed no connection with any terror groups. The head Democrat of the committee, Adam Schiff, said it appears Artan was radicalized online by watching Anwar al-Awlaki videos.

Many times we have heard this term “online radicalization.” As a student journalist in an multi-cultural campus, I really wanted to know what the term means. 

Professor Geoffrey Manzi has been doing research on de-radicalization for the University of Texas at Dallas. He says online radicalization is interesting because it appeals to one’s ideological sympathies. Manzi said, “We cannot talk about extremist groups before addressing the ideologies of the group.” What makes a group radical is presumably acting on that ideology.

Manzi said, “When we consider ideology, it appeals more to the intellectual side of oneself. So when we are talking about ideology and you understand something to be unfair, and surely this could happen online, you have access to certain sources; Perhaps not confident to their verifiability but none the less you an be persuaded to join these groups if they are appealing to your sensibility at an intellectual level. For example, your sense of justice, which is more common online than at face forward recruitment.”

Patrick Moore, faculty government professor, said, “People learn all kind of bizarre things on YouTube.” He referred to the “rainbow lady” who is convinced every time she sees a rainbow that it’s the High Altitude Research Program (H.A.R.P.), a government program that can cause earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes. “Which is totally delusional,” Moore said “But if you watch her videos, you will see people who have watched her videos completely agree with her and are convinced by it.”

David Thompson is a Counselor at Richland. He says isolation may been a contributing factor. Although Artan lived in an apartment with his family, he may have been lacking a positive peer group or friends. Sometime one needs the positive influence of a family group or a peer group to discuss issues. Individuals can find a sense of belonging in an online community, but it is not replacement for actual human interactions.