For immediate release | Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Extremist Groups Increasingly Target U.S. Students For Recruitment

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Media at CEP

(New York, N.Y.) – College campuses across the United States are increasingly becoming targets for extremist groups seeking to recruit young, impressionable minds and legitimize their movements. This appeal to students reflects an evolving strategy by hate groups in which college campuses are viewed as a prime environment in which to promote their propaganda as intellectual discourse while building social networks. 

Prominent white nationalist groups such as Patriot Front and American Identify Movement (AIM) routinely target colleges and universities for spreading propaganda, including the distribution of racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQ fliers, stickers, banners, and posters. Hate speech that specifically targets protected groups can be limited, but groups like AIM employ specific language promoting white identity that frequently avoids overtly calling other cultures inferior. Groups such as Patriot Front seek to intimidate and threaten in some circumstances, while claiming to promote legitimate pollical philosophies in others.

Further, recent data from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) indicates that white nationalist recruitment on U.S. college campuses is rising. In 2019, the ADL recorded more than 2,700 incidents of white nationalist literature or other propaganda found on college campuses—double the amount recorded in the year prior.

Universities have also emerged as a key source of recruitment and influence for the Muslim Brotherhood. Considered to be one of the world’s most powerful Islamist organizations, the Brotherhood was established in Egypt in 1928 with the ultimate goal of implementing sharia (Islamic law) under a global caliphate. Unlike ISIS and al-Qaeda, the Brotherhood has officially disavowed violence. Rather, it purports to achieve this societal transformation by taking advantage of existing democratic institutions, such as when the party captured Egypt’s presidency in 2012.

In 2016, terrorism analyst J.M. Berger said that no major American Muslim organization was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. That was not always the case, however. While the Internet is filled with false accusations and conspiracy theories regarding Brotherhood infiltration at the highest levels of the U.S. government, particularly under the Obama administration, it is nonetheless accurate to note the Brotherhood’s involvement in Muslim-Americans’ university life dates back to the 1960s. Specifically, members of the Muslim Brotherhood were involved in the creation of the following organizations:

  • Muslim American Society (MAS)
  • Muslim Students Association (MSA)
  • Muslim World League (MWL)
  • World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY)
  • Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

While these groups insist they operate independently, the Brotherhood’s involvement in their creation cannot be ignored, particularly given the extent of their ongoing outreach efforts to American youth. Further, the Brotherhood’s influence on the direction of these organizations, in the type of events and speakers they recruit, as well as their support networks, remains palpable.

It is crucial that educators, staff, and especially students are able to recognize extremist groups on campus—especially as they return to American universities and colleges this fall—in an effort to make institutions of higher learning more inhospitable to organizations that seek to divide and destroy.

To read the CEP resource The Far Right on U.S. Campuses, please click here.

To read the CEP report The Muslim Brotherhood on U.S. Campuses, please click here.