While much of America is sheltering at home or working reduced schedules during the COVID-19 health crisis, the world’s terrorists, both in America and around the world, haven’t taken a break. That was the message from Mia Bloom, one of the nation’s leading experts on terrorism who spoke last month at a Zoom program of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta.
Bloom, a professor of communication and Middle East studies at Georgia State University, indicated during the April 28 program that groups are capitalizing on the fact that many people are isolated with little meaningful work to do.
“What the terrorists are doing is that they are exploiting the fact that lots of people are stuck at home,” she said. “And there is a lot of time that they’re spending on their computers. And so we’ve seen, for example, a massive uptick in the amount of propaganda that ISIS is generating. They’ve created a virtual Netflix for all their propaganda.”
She told Charles Shapiro, president of the Council and former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, that foreign terrorist groups have also been exploiting all of the anxiety and insecurity that the pandemic has caused around the world.
“They’re reinventing themselves as good guys,” she observed, “whether it’s stepping in where various governments are absent and they’re offering protective masks or they’re offering funds. They’re basically getting almost like a renewal of popularity because people see them in a positive light, whether it’s the Taliban or Hezbollah or even the Mafia who’s doing that in places like Calabria and Bologna.”
Bloom, who has been teaching at Georgia State since 2015, is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who saved dozens of Jews in the Lodz Ghetto during World War II and later fought with anti-Nazi partisans in the Polish underground.
She frequently appears as an expert guest on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News and is a member of the radicalization advisory board of the Anti-Defamation League. Her work at Georgia State is partially supported by the Minerva Research Initiative, which seeks to build ties between social science research and the Defense Department.
She points out that the work of terrorists is not confined to just stirring up trouble in the Third World, the Middle East or Afghanistan.
In early April she wrote in the online publication “Just Security” that extremist groups have been active in the United States as well.
“White supremacist groups are touting crackpot accelerationist, siege and Great Replacement theories during the COVID-19 pandemic to motivate individuals to take action against the New World Order, Agenda 21, George Soros, the Chinese government and other they perceive as seeking to eliminate the white race.”
What she finds so remarkable in this new online environment of hate is that groups as different as Muslim jihadis and white nationalists on the far right share so much of the same rhetoric and the same objects of their hatred.
“It’s really mind-boggling to come to the realization that they’re all saying the same thing,” she told the AJT. “They should be friends because they have very similar views. They hate Jews. They hate gay people. They hate the cities and the cosmopolitans and the globalists.”
In characterizing terrorism, Bloom said she adopts the broad definition by the U.S. State Department that “terrorism is the deliberate targeting of civilians in order to advance some political agenda.”
In that respect she sees Russia’s covert campaign to divide and inflame American public opinion as a terrorist act. She pointed out that the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last month released, with bipartisan support, a comprehensive report of how Russia had influenced the national elections in 2016, “to spread disinformation and societal division in the United States.”
She elaborated, “Even the Republican-run Senate is acknowledging the role that Russia has played. Russia is trying to foment chaos and distrust of our government. And in many ways, we’re seeing with the pandemic they’ve been somewhat successful because so many people don’t trust the CDC or they don’t trust their governors or they don’t trust their mayors. People are flouting much of the advice or the social distancing measures that are being instituted in order to protect people’s lives.”
What she believes is that we should not be so preoccupied with the actions of Arab terrorist organizations that we ignore the potential for terrorism among our own home-grown groups.
“The ADL and the New America Foundation have found that if you look at attacks since 9/11, over 70 percent of those attacks from 9/11 until 2016 were the right wing, and only 25 percent or less were actually Islamic groups,” she stressed. “We’ve painted ourselves into a corner where it only allows us to focus on terrorism and ignore that the vast majority of the attacks and the recruitment is coming from the right wing.”