"researchers in the fields of terrorism studies, political science, international relations, sociology, criminal justice, philosophy and history with content that provides comprehensive data and analysis for complex topics."I assume that one of those complex topics is terrorism, both because of the name, and because their website is a large list of various groups and individuals that TRAC describes in a few incendiary paragraphs before pigeon-holing them as terrorists.
TRAC claims they have a lot of these profiles:
"With tens of thousands (and expanding) web pages of information, over 4,650 (and expanding) group profiles, and 2,800 consortium members, TRAC provides many ways to efficiently access information."These profiles are apparently compiled into a database, which they sell subscriptions to. Individual user prices that are posted on the website are between $500 - $750 per year.
Sure enough, a lot of these profiles point the finger at groups that would ordinarily be labeled as terrorists (even though the term itself is a contested one). al Nusra is there, as is the Islamic State. But some of the profiles just don't seem to make all that much sense. There is a profile for the "Communist Workers Group" that are labeled as "Left Wing Terrorist Groups (Marxist)". The only additional information provided is a single sentence that indicates the group was formed in 2001 and has since been disbanded. There have been multiple organizations operating under that name - including the American Communist Workers Movement (now the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA) and the Revolutionary Communist Workers Movement of Turkey. But neither of those groups were formed in 2001 - and neither were involved in overt acts of violence that I am aware of.
More troubling is the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium's habit of labeling groups of teenage internet trolls and hacktivists as terrorists. Among the groups targeted by TRAC for outting as violent extremists are the Rustle League, Goatse Security and GNAA. These three groups came to national attention largely by performing obnoxious by largely harmless online pranks. Goatse Security actually managed to obtain a cache of Apple ID user information for which group member Andrew Auernheimer was convicted of some form of computer crime. That was the worst of it. None of these groups have ever been accused of engaging in violence.
TRAC prints a small-print, below-the-fold disclaimer that can be viewed by clicking a button below each scare-mongering profile (typos included from the original):
"Groups and individuals included in TRAC's database range from actual perpetrators of social or political violence to more passive groups that support or condone (perhaps unwittingly) such violence. The spectrum of violence represented by these groups is vast, from Jihadists who bomb train stations to financial institutions that transfer funds. Some groups that originally engaged in violence but have since become legitimate political parties are included to providehistorical [sic] perspective. TRAC is in no way attempting to determine whether groups or individuals are terrorists--only to convey reported information about theiractivities [sic] and official State status. While TRAC attempts to ensure the accuracy of its TRAC database, the entries in the database are from numerous different sources. Hence, TRAC cannot and does not warrant the accuracy of the entries in its database.The editors of TRAC may modify these entries at any time andwelcome [sic] comments and suggested corrections or additions. Please write email@example.com or hit the "Add Additions" button on the page of the group profile about which you wish to comment."My favorite part of this disclaimer is the part where TRAC "does not warrant the accuracy of the entries in its database" which is a bit like a car dealer not warranting that your new automobile will drive off the lot. I also enjoy the bit at the beginning in which TRAC states that those who unwittingly condone violence fit the bill for terrorism. Ignorance is no defense!
Even by the most egregious abuses of the term "terrorist", those who simply engage in speech do not fit the bill. Likewise, publishing someone's Apple ID is not terrorism. Rustle League, GNAA & Goatse Security are largely apolitical groups that engage in offensive and unpopular speech. Offensive & unpopular speech is not violence - and the idea that organizations like the "Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium" earn a profit by selling lists of people who engage in offensive speech by mis-labeling them violent extremists is troubling on a variety of levels. This sort of mis-diagnosis draws attention away from actual violent extremists. It normalizes the idea that speech is somehow equal to physical violence - a destructive and frankly un-American idea whose ultimate aim is to justify the use of violence to silence speech. And it libels groups who are mis-labels terrorists: the terrorist label is perhaps the only label more destructive to a person's liberty and livelihood in our current culture than "child molester". Employers and customers would rightly not want to do business with a terrorist; it is illegal to do business with those labeled as terrorists by a government in a variety of different ways. Should someone in law enforcement or intelligence take TRAC's nonsense seriously the consequences could be tragic.
If TRAC wishes to compile lists of terrorists, they should focus on groups who engage in political violence and not teenagers and young adults who say silly things on the internet to get a rise out of strangers.