Excerpt for Examining Changing American Perceptions of the Terrorist Threat: From the Oklahoma City Bombing to Al Qaeda - News Media, Web, Popular Culture, Politicians, and Terrorism Industry Creating Psychosis by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Examining Changing American Perceptions of the Terrorist Threat: From the Oklahoma City Bombing to Al Qaeda - News Media, Web, Popular Culture, Politicians, and Terrorism Industry Creating Psychosis

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Progressive Management

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CONTENTS

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Examining Changing American Perceptions of the Terrorist Threat: From the Oklahoma City Bombing to Al Qaeda

I. INTRODUCTION

II. ASSESSING THE EFFECTS OF THE NEWS MEDIA, THE INTERNET, AND POPULAR CULTURE

III. ASSESSING TERRORISM INDUSTRY INCENTIVES-POLITICIANS, BUREAUCRATS, AND OTHERS

IV. CONCLUSION

2017 U.S. Intelligence Community Worldwide Threat Assessment

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Examining Changing American Perceptions of the Terrorist Threat: From the Oklahoma City Bombing to Al Qaeda

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Eli U.S. Persons

Major, United States Air Force

B.S., United States Air Force Academy, 2005

M.A., Trident University International, 2009

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December 2017

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ABSTRACT

The American public's fear of becoming a victim of terrorism significantly increased after 9/11 and remained elevated much longer than one might expect. This thesis explains how and why Americans' perception of the terrorist threat bears little relation to the dangers Americans actually face. Several factors influenced that shift. First, the news media landscape changed dramatically due to structural factors such as increased competition for audience share among traditional news sources, cable news networks, and the Internet. Second, the Internet allowed terrorist organizations, especially Al Qaeda and its affiliates, to propagate threats and messages directly to the public. Third, popular culture, especially film and television drama, affected Americans' stereotypical understanding of terrorism. Finally, politicians and members of the terrorism industry were incentivized after 9/11 to inflate concerns about the terrorism threat. These factors coalesced, reacting with innate human sociological and psychological characteristics, to create a prolonged collective psychosis. This thesis finds that future policies and research focusing on risk communication, counterterrorism economics, and intelligence transparency may be essential to breaking this collective psychosis cycle.

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SUBJECT TERMS

terrorism; counterterrorism; public opinion; Oklahoma City; 9/11; Al Qaeda; media; intelligence; homeland security

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

First, any words of gratitude pale in comparison to the unwavering support my wife has provided to me while I was writing this thesis. I am eternally thankful and humbled by the countless hours of patient listening and endless encouragement she has provided, all while picking up my neglected share of home-front duties and admirably doing her own. She also ran her own business, her own life, and mothered our young children. I simply could not have gone through this process successfully without her.

Second, I offer thanks to my children. They daily reminded me that life has amazing potential and is full of goodness. Their smiles and hugs kept me human when I was dangerously close to becoming unhinged.

Third, my thesis advisor and second reader provided timely, pointed, and extremely valuable feedback throughout. I am most appreciative for their encouragement as they patiently helped mold my scattered ideas into something coherent. As my classroom instructors, they also provided the inspiration to explore a topic I had little knowledge of but grew to enjoy greatly.

Finally, many other people have helped me complete this thesis, often in ways they will never know. From my classmates who welcomed me aboard, to the instructors, editors and writing coaches who shaped my words and ideas, to the baristas who kept me plied with caffeine, they all helped complete this thesis in some way. I am glad to have met each of them along the way.

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I. INTRODUCTION

A common conception among the public in the United States (hereafter referred to as the American public) is that the terrorist attacks onll September 2001 (9/11) "changed everything" regarding the terrorist threat. While 9/11 was undoubtedly a horrific event of unprecedented scale, Americans' experience with terrorism pre-dates those attacks, most notably exemplified by the Oklahoma City Bombing (OKC bombing) in 1995. Furthermore, no major terrorist attack has occurred in the United States since 9/11. This thesis examines the post-9/11 shift of the public's perception of the terrorist threat, seeking to understand how and why Americans' perceptions of the terrorism threat changed. The major research question answered in this thesis is: how do Americans perceive the threat of terrorism, and, more importantly, why did Americans' fear of terrorist attacks in the United States subside after the OKC bombing, but not after 9/11, at least not to the level one could logically expect given the number of incidents since then?

A. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE RESEARCH QUESTION

This research question is significant because, as counterterrorism scholar Benjamin Freidman relates, "inflated fear creates a permissive environment for overreaction to terrorism. Security politics becomes a seller's market where the public will overpay for counterterrorism policies."1 Specifically, Americans have spent significant amounts of tax dollars, supported initiating two wars, and sacrificed their civil liberties in an effort to address their fears about terrorism.


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