Chapman University students in Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences are researching a groundbreaking initiative to combat the rising number of threats against public officials in the United States.
“What we hope to accomplish is to play a small role in a larger effort that needs to take place in terms of raising awareness about the increasing role that threats play in the lives of public officials and the detrimental impact this can have,” says Chapman University’s Professor of Sociology Pete Simi, a renowned expert in the fields of extremism, radicalization, political violence, and domestic terrorism, who is leading the groundbreaking research initiative.
The team has already shared significant progress and preliminary results with law enforcement agencies across the country in the spring, and has been presented in briefings for the U.S. Capitol Police Intelligence Director, the National Security Council at the White House, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Domestic Terrorism Chief at the Department of Homeland Security.
One notable observation by Simi and his team is how frequently offenders remain unaware that their seemingly harmless expressions of “free speech” could be classified as prosecutable threats. The student team also observed that the increase in threats is not solely attributed to specific ideologies, such as white supremacy or anti-government sentiments, as threats can originate across the political spectrum.
“This kind of research can be used in a lot of different ways to help educate the general public, but also educate court officials and law enforcement,” Simi says. “The program involves providing students with training and research experience in intelligence analysis and homeland security. It’s an amazing opportunity to harness student leadership, creativity, and energy. While the subject matter we’re dealing with is pretty depressing, the students’ willingness to engage the issue in a professional manner gives me optimism.”
The research, which started last summer and before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband was attacked at the couple’s San Francisco home in October 2022, is meticulously analyzing court documents associated with each case and coding for numerous variables related to the incidents, including information about the offenders, victims and the nature of the threats. By decoding the data, the researchers aim to shed light on the motivations and ideologies behind these threats and provide valuable insights to educate the general public, court officials, and law enforcement agencies.
The researchers represent a diverse range of disciplines including sociology, political science, psychology, business, peace studies, and dance, and work independently to analyze and code the data while meeting regularly to discuss challenges and ensure consistency in their approach. The findings from their ongoing research have revealed intriguing trends and narratives behind the data.
Their efforts, funded by a grant from the National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center (NCITE) at the University of Nebraska Omaha, the newest Center of Excellence for the Department of Homeland Security, aim to create a comprehensive database of federal indictments involving threats to public officials from 2013 to 2022.
With new cases recently added for review, the study is expected to continue through the 2023-24 academic year. The researchers emphasize that threats, even if not executed, have the potential to coerce and intimidate, eroding the foundations of democracy. By addressing this issue, they hope to contribute to a larger effort in safeguarding public officials and promoting a safer and more secure democratic environment.
About Chapman University
Founded in 1861, Chapman University is a nationally ranked private university located in Southern California. Chapman is categorized by the Carnegie Classification as an R2 “high research activity” institution and offers personalized education to more than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The campus has produced a Rhodes Scholar, been named a top producer of Fulbright Scholars, and hosts a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honor society. Based in the city of Orange, Chapman also includes the Harry and Diane Rinker Health Science Campus in Irvine. In 2019, the university opened its 11th college, Fowler School of Engineering, in its newest facility, Keck Center for Science and Engineering. Learn more about Chapman University: www.chapman.edu.
Cerise Valenzuela Metzger, Director of Public Relations | firstname.lastname@example.org | 714-289-3143
Carly Murphy, Public Relations Coordinator | email@example.com | Desk: 714-289-3196 | Mobile: 714-497-9683