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The Spectacular Few

The Spectacular Few: Prisoner Radicalization and the Evolving Terrorist Threat

Mark S. Hamm
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg37h
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    The Spectacular Few
    Book Description:

    Mark Hamm is, without doubt, the world's leading expert on prison radicalization. Based on decades of research, this book presents a nuanced and sophisticated picture,. Beautifully written, it is the most complete, and the most empirically rigorous, account of this phenomenon to date. A must read for anyone interested in homegrown radicalization. - Peter Neumann, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), King's College LondonThe Madrid train bombers, shoe-bomber Richard Reid, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the 9/11 attacks - all were led by men radicalized behind bars. Today's prisons are hotbeds for personal transformation toward terrorist beliefs and actions due to the increasingly chaotic nature of prison life caused by mass incarceration. InThe Spectacular Few, Mark Hamm, a former prison warden, demonstrates how prisoners use criminal cunning, collective resistance and nihilism to incite terrorism.Drawing from a wide range of sources,The Spectacular Fewimagines the texture of prisoners' lives. Hamm covers their criminal thinking styles, the social networks that influenced them, and personal turning points that set them on the pathway to violent extremism. Hamm argues that in order to understand terrorism today, we must come to terms with how prisoners are treated behind bars.Mark S. Hammis a former prison warden from Arizona and currently Professor of Criminology at Indiana State University and a Senior Research Fellow at the Terrorism Center, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York. His books includeTerrorism as Crime: From Oklahoma City to Al-Qaeda and Beyond(NYU Press, 2007).Alternative Criminologyseries

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2407-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 The Invisible History of Prisoner Radicalization
    (pp. 1-18)

    Although prisoner radicalization is currently a matter of grave concern, it is actually a very old issue with consequences that can be astonishingly different in their outcomes. Prisoner radicalization is best described as a double-edged sword, capable of producing both positive and negative results. Some prison radicals have achieved great heights of public service as presidents and prime ministers, Nobel Peace Prize winners, and leaders of national liberation movements. Others have committed unspeakable acts of terrorism and genocide. Time spent in prison cuts both ways.

    A study of four historic individuals—Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Adolf Hitler...

  5. 2 Islam in Prison
    (pp. 19-42)

    As with many lofty ideas, the restorative power of religion in prison began with a friendly conversation over a beer. In 1786, as Americans struggled with postwar economic depression, Benjamin Rush, a distinguished Philadelphia physician and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, came upon a group of “wheelbarrow men” cleaning the streets outside his house. Street cleaning was a requirement of inmates at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Jail under the recently enacted penal code of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as was the wearing of a distinctive garb, a shaved head, and a wheelbarrow to push while working. Being curious, Rush...

  6. 3 Prisoner Radicalization after 9/11
    (pp. 43-54)

    Following the tumultuous era of Attica and the Soledad Brothers, the prison became a central institution in American society, integral to its politics, economy, and culture. Between 1976 and 2000, the United States built on average one new prison each week, and the number of incarcerated Americans increased tenfold. With more than 2.3 million inmates—mostly black and Hispanic—in federal and state prisons, America became the world’s leading jailer, surpassing even China. Related to this unparalleled growth came a silencing of prisoners, brought on not only by the shrinking of individual identities within the sea of mass incarceration, but...

  7. 4 The Spectacular Few
    (pp. 55-80)

    Attempting to understand the relationship between prisoner radicalization and terrorism brings to light two puzzles. The first relates to the criminological implications of the relationship. If radicalization is “the process by which inmates adopt extreme views, including beliefs that violent measures need to be taken for political or religious purposes,”¹ then it is not enough to simply discover that “extreme views” are held by convicts. Researchers must also take into account the social processes by which prisoners adopt such views and then explain how they translate their beliefs into violence. In and of itself, being a “prison radical” is not...

  8. 5 Pathways to Terrorism
    (pp. 81-104)

    Addressing a Singapore conference during the early days of the Obama administration, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the West was vulnerable to a dual threat of al-Qaeda terrorism from both European and American recruits. He added his concern that there also was “the development of violent, extremist networks” within Western nations.¹ This assessment is valuable because it draws attention to both international and domestic dangers posed by Islamic extremists. Yet the assessment does not go far enough—entirely overlooked is the white supremacy movement. In fact, the major domestic terrorism unit in the United States, the Department of...

  9. 6 The Riddle of Radicalization
    (pp. 105-126)

    In history, design and aesthetic, Folsom Prison is quintessentially American. Built with granite rock by inmate labor in the late 1870s, Folsom State Prison is nestled against a series of dry, rolling hills along the American River some thirty miles east of Sacramento in a town appropriately named Represa, California. The huge sun-bleached fortress has a way of intimidating all comers. “Its physical appearance is frowning and terrible,” recalled a former inmate. “Its buildings are low-squatting, resembling the lines of a bull dog.”¹ Another prisoner called Folsom “the citadel of suffering. It is gray—a dull, lifeless gray. . ....

  10. 7 Al-Qaeda of California
    (pp. 127-142)

    The rise of Islam in American prisons cannot be separated from the nation’s experiment with mass incarceration. For the sociologist Loïc Wacquant, mass incarceration can be traced to delayed consequences of the civil rights movement, the burgeoning of Black Power activism, and the outbreak of urban riots that stormed across America during the mid-1960s.¹ According to Wacquant, black communities never recovered. The ghetto imploded. “It was left to crumble onto itself,” Wacquant argues, “trapping lower-class African Americans in a vortex of unemployment, poverty, and crime abetted by the joint withdrawal of the wage-labor market and the welfare state.”² As the...

  11. 8 The New Barbarians
    (pp. 143-156)

    The JIS case confirms the breakdown theory of prisoner radicalization. Confined to a mismanaged and overcrowded maximum-security prison, a small group of inmates sought protection, meaning, and identity through an ideology of resistance. Once radicalized by that ideology, JIS initiated a terrorist plot against the United States. Yet it would be impulsive to think of these influences as a definitive explanation of prisoner radicalization. In the JIS case, a host of other factors came into play: the rift between Prison Islam and traditional Islam, the mobilization of prison-gang culture to the streets, the international jihad movement inspired by the Iraq...

  12. 9 Terrorist Kingpins and the De-Radicalization Movement
    (pp. 157-181)

    On March 6, 2011, some sixty days before American forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the Obama administration issued a warning that al-Qaeda is “increasingly attempting to recruit and radicalize people to terrorism here in the United States. . . . The threat is real and it is rising. [Al-Qaeda] is trying to convince Muslim Americans to reject their country and attack their fellow Americans.”¹ Based on this assessment, in June the House Committee on Homeland Security held hearings on the threat of Islamic radicalization in U.S. prisons. “The Obama administration recognizes prison radicalization is a serious threat and...

  13. APPENDIX 1: The Prisoner Radicalization/Terrorism Database
    (pp. 182-194)
  14. APPENDIX 2: DATABASE SOURCES
    (pp. 195-196)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 197-220)
  16. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 221-224)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 225-236)
  18. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    (pp. 237-237)