On July 7 in Dallas, Texas, an armed gunman reportedly killed five police officers and injured many more following widespread protests over the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two black men recently shot and killed by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively.
The unrest soon attracted pro-ISIS jihadists’ attention. Shortly thereafter, discourse of the shootings erupted throughout the ISIS community’s online communication channels. Many jihadists voiced intentions to exploit these recent deaths by encouraging blacks to target and kill white police officers and civilians. While it is commonplace for the ISIS community to scrutinize American affairs, these specific intentions underscore jihadists’ hope to exploit social unrest in the United States by exacerbating the distrust between civilians and law enforcement.
Jihadists’ interest in exploiting the Dallas shootings first emerged in recent dialogue on ISIS’s primary underground forum. Discussions commenced following one forum member’s initial message:
Allahu Akbar: the Nation of the Cross, America, is burning. Five American police members killed by sniper bullets and 11 others wounded. It is a civil war in America; O Allah direct their aggression against each other…Incite blacks to kill the highest possible number of police officers.
In response, many jihadists have underscored their anti-American stance by insinuating the arrival of an American “civil war.” According to one ISIS forum member, “America is ablaze…a civil war in America! O Lord, fuel the fire between them.” This member followed up with a photograph of a New York Post cover labeled “civil war.” Another member soon chimed in with, “America has opened the gates of hell upon itself before, and today it’s dragging the Arab tyrants to hell…the nation of the Cross is on fire, Allahu Akbar.”
Other jihadists highlight social media as a critical avenue for cultivating unrest between blacks and the police. As one ISIS forum member instructs:
The ISIS supporters on Twitter and social media should plant chaos and incite blacks to kill the highest number of police officers. This is an indirect permission for the blacks to ambush police all over America…It’s important to incite blacks with all the available means now. Send out pictures, hashtags and tweets about the blacks’ extermination, enslavement, and humiliation. Like that, we will win a battle we didn’t start. Incitement must reach the highest levels, and every time you feel the black community is weakened, you should add more fuel to the fire.
In addition to sentiments disseminated across ISIS’s underground forums, many jihadists have similarly been using Telegram, an encrypted messaging application, to express joy and exploitation schemes in response to the Dallas shootings. In particular, much of the propaganda circulated throughout several jihadist Telegram channels has been translated into English in an effort to reach black Americans. Messages like these are aimed to incite blacks’ retaliation against US law enforcement. In the words of one user, blacks should “teach these criminals a big lesson”.
Indeed, jihadist Telegram users also favor an emphasis on promoting such beliefs across social media:
It is an inciting message to the blacks in America, and Allah willing you’ll spread it throughout Twitter and Facebook, so that perhaps an American black person sees it and rises up against the police and commits a massacre against them. It is our duty to take advantage of the struggle between the infidels and ignite it in order to burn the country …on the hands of its very people. [Release the message under] Western hashtags and on American websites.
A different Telegram user echoes similar sentiments aimed to ignite racially-charged violence:
Oh black people in USA, we are in 2016, and you still don’t get your rights and are suffering from injustice! The white man thinks you’re slaves, fools, and even animals! Oh my god! When will you wake up and teach these criminals a big lesson they will never forget? Are you a coward? Do you scare from ugly white cops? Simply my black brother, kill them without mercy because they arrested and killed many blacks .. look to the jail…it is a place for blacks… Now, break the illusion of the fake white people legend! You’re human beings just as they are, so why will you accept their foolish acts? America needs to change! This is the time to change! Fight for your kids’ rights…win the struggle or wait for a crazy white cop to kill you if he doesn’t like you! America will be for blacks alone!
These issues are undoubtedly motivating jihadists to leverage social media and actively disrupt online discussions to exacerbate racial tensions. While it is unlikely, jihadists could potentially hijack hashtags on Twitter to flood with anti-American comments. In fact, an Arabic hashtag which translates to “Racism in America” is currently trending on Twitter amidst discussions of the Dallas shootings, police brutality, and related American policies.
The ISIS community’s intentions for capitalizing on the Dallas shootings have clearly manifested. Jihadists hope their propaganda scores them an effortless win by encouraging blacks to mobilize against US authorities. Many jihadists see incidents like these simply as exploitable opportunities to help advance their agendas. As the ISIS community continues to leverage technology to spread propaganda across the globe, particularly during times of tragedy and unrest, it remains of utmost importance to scrutinize jihadists’ online presence to mitigate their influence.