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The Spectacular Few

Prisoner Radicalization and the Evolving Terrorist Threat

Mark S. Hamm

Publication Year: 2013

“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 London
The 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. In The 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 Few imagines 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. Hamm is 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 include Terrorism as Crime: From Oklahoma City to Al-Qaeda and Beyond (NYU Press, 2007).
Alternative Criminology series

Published by: NYU Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

As I began this book, the United States confronted its most important terrorist threat since 9/11—the attempted suicide bombing of a U.S. jetliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009. “This was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland,” said...

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1 The Invisible History of Prisoner Radicalization

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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...

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2 Islam in Prison

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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....

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3 Prisoner Radicalization after 9/11

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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...

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4 The Spectacular Few

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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....

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5 Pathways to Terrorism

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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...

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6 The Riddle of Radicalization

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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....

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7 Al-Qaeda of California

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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...

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8 The New Barbarians

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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...

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9 Terrorist Kingpins and the De-Radicalization Movement

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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...

Appendix 1: The Prisoner Radicalization/Terrorism Database

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pp. 182-194

Appendix 2: Database Sources

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pp. 195-196


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pp. 197-220


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pp. 221-224


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pp. 225-236

About the Author

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p. 237-237

E-ISBN-13: 9780814724071
E-ISBN-10: 0814725449
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814725443
Print-ISBN-10: 0814725449

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013