To achieve their violent agendas, terrorists require a degree of ideological justification and exploitation of social bonds to legitimate their violent actions and mobilize support (Malešević, 2019). However, little is known about how terrorists utilize these bonds in discourse. Contributing to the growing international commitment to counterterrorism, recent research has been dedicated to empirically investigating the features of the language of terrorism as well as violent extremists’ language crimes (e.g. threats and incitement to terrorism), using a forensic linguistic lens (see e.g. Shuy, 2010; Etaywe & Zappavigna, 2021; Longhi, 2021). Forensic linguistic analyses – that is the "use of linguistic techniques to investigate crimes in which language data forms part of the evidence” (Crystal, 2008, p. 194) – has been found to be crucial for investigating terrorism cases and, particularly, identifying the violent agendas and schemas of writers and speakers (Shuy, 2020).
This paper, adopting a forensic linguistic lens, contributes to obtaining insights into the language of terrorism and the semiotic clues that are useful for prosecution and intelligence analysts in order for them to successfully investigate illegal intentions and their ideological underpinnings. Specifically, the paper explores how bonds tabled, or made available in discourse (Zappavigna, 2018), operate in terrorist incitement texts as an entry point to the legitimation of violence – as realized in the discourse of the two most lethal terrorist ideologies, the jihadist and the far-rightist (Global Terrorism Index, 2020). The paper applies forensic discourse analysis (see Coulthard, Johnson & Wright, 2017) and social semiotic tools to, first, illuminate how social bonds are construed and functioning in terrorist incitement texts and, second, ultimately contribute to forensic linguistic research into the role of evaluative language in articulating and identifying a terrorist’s “ideological schema” (e.g. Shuy, 2020, p. 446) and in legitimating harmful social actions. In this study, I argue that terrorist incitement texts drive the use of ingroup ‘good’ bonds versus outgroup ‘bad’ bonds to serve the legitimation of violence, based on the positive presentation of Self (i.e., the ingroup) and negative presentation of outgroups (e.g. Cap, 2017). The study forms part of a broader project that examines the language of extremism and both incitement and communicated threats as social semiotic practices by jihadist and far-right extremists.
The notion of legitimation, as a primary function of discourse, has extensively been studied in different contexts, such as media (Vaara & Tienari, 2008), business organisations (Erkama & Vaara, 2010), and parliamentary discourse on immigration (Rojo & Van Dijk, 1997). Legitimation in this paper is defined as: a social, discursive act of constructing the ‘why’ for the incited violence. This definition is informed by studies which stress the role of language in constructing answers to why 'we' did/should do something, why we should do it in 'X' way, and why an action should be considered reasonable or socially acceptable (Van Dijk, 1998; Van Leeuwen, 2007).
Within the context of social conflicts and opposing social groups, to describe who 'We' are and who 'They' are becomes a key criterion of membership and (de)legitimation (Van Dijk, 1998), that is the delegitimation of outgroups and their associated values and phenomena, and the legitimation of 'Our' violence. In such a context, legitimating 'Us' implies delegitimating outgroups via discursive acts that may "follow the categories of the ideological schema" of the ingroup and challenge the identity of the outgroups by delegitimating ‘Their’ membership, actions, goals, norms and values, social position, and access to 'Our' social resources (Van Dijk, 1998, pp. 258-259). These categories of ideological schema are adopted in this paper to enable description of what is being (de)legitimated to serve the legitimacy of violence.
To explore how these categories are (de)legitimated, this paper concerns itself with the associated evaluative textbites. Evaluative textbites (Etaywe, 2021) are the textual segments that serve to unveil a terrorist's bond-based reasoning for (de)legitimation. These textbites move us closer to the clues as to how violence is legitimated. This approach is aligned with, first, Du Bois' (2007) view that evaluation is the smallest social act in discourse, which co-occurs with positioning and (dis)alignment in the stance-taking acts. Second, it is aligned with Knight’s (2010, p. 45) theory that an "evaluative coupling" realizes the "minimal social unit" (i.e., bond) representing the shared values that construe a community-alignment. This paper adopts the evaluative coupling concept (Knight, 2010) to account for the association between what is evaluated, and the evaluation used for (de)legitimation. Following Knight (2010), an example of an attitude-ideation coupling (taken from the dataset) is a negative attitude (underlined) targeted at immigrants (in bold, added) in the following sentence: "Mass immigration…destroy(s) our communities". Following Knight, this ideation-attitude coupling can be said to table a bond which we might gloss as ‘immigrants are bad’, a bond that I argue can also serve to delegitimize immigrants’ behaviours realized in the judgmental lexical item ‘destroy’. In so doing, I follow Knight (2010) in drawing on the three regions of attitudinal meanings outlined by the Appraisal framework (Martin & White, 2005):
- judgement: assessments of behaviour.
- appreciation: estimating the value of entities or processes.
- affect: expressing emotional reactions and states.
Evaluative couplings, I argue, unveil the precise dynamics of (de)legitimation through linguistic resources. Nevertheless, a successful investigation into (de)legitimation includes exploring the “references to [e.g. moral or ideological] reasons and to courses of action that had or have to be taken because of contextual constraints, causes or opinions" (Van Dijk, 1998, p. 255). As such, this study maps the evaluative couplings, of ‘Our’ versus ‘Their’ ideational targets, and resources onto the various moral or ideological reasons or grounds of (de)legitimation.
Van Leeuwen's (2007, 2008) strategies of how discourse constructs critique and (de)legitimation of social practices provides a framework for examining these grounds. This framework includes, first, "moralization", which refers to legitimation by reference to specific value systems. Second, "rationalization" is concerned with legitimation by reference to goals of social actions. Third, "authorization" is involved in legitimation by reference to authority. Fourth, "mythopoesis" refers to legitimation that is conveyed through narratives whose outcomes reward or punish actions (for more details, see Van Leeuwen, 2007, p. 91).
Additionally, reference to grounds or modes of argumentation, namely logos (logical argument), ethos (the inciter's value-based credibility and reliability), and pathos (the appeal to the incitees' emotion), helps explore the style associated with appraisal at the rhetorical structure level (e.g., Johnstone, 2009) in relation to acts of (de)legitimation (Erkama & Vaara, 2010). Mapping these rhetorical modes can bring us closer to the rhetorical patterns of how a terrorist is attending to an ingroup's social and political "goals and beliefs" for persuasive purposes (e.g. Poggi, 2005, p. 297). Put differently, these rhetorical modes can sensitize us to how an inciter leads their incitees to pursue particular violent goals by persuading them that the proposed goals serve to preserve the ingroup's identity, welfare, and ideological and physical territories. This study adopts Poggi's (2005) argument that through the three modes of persuasion of logos, ethos and pathos, the inciter attempts to raise the value of the violent actions proposed and to strengthen the believability of the link between violence and the ingroup's interests. Poggi (2005, p. 300) uses the term "value coefficient" to refer to positive versus negative argument and cognitive computing regarding the usefulness of an action towards achieving a goal, where a positive or negative evaluation is a belief about whether some events, some people and their objects are useful means to some goal. That said, research into bonds remains limited and to which this study contributes, taking a bond as identity and value bases for enacting legitimation and enhancing the value coefficient of some violent actions.
This paper concerns itself with bonds realized by evaluative couplings (Knight, 2010). The aim is to provide a complementary perspective on (de)legitimation in terrorism. Building on Knight's (2010, p. 49) affiliation strategies, the bonds are taken as devices that serve to legitimate an ingroup through "communing" (that is, sharing positive, shareable bonds) and to delegitimate outgroups through "condemning" (that is, rejecting the negative, unshareable bonds). Using this approach, this style of (de)legitimation can be thought of as a form of bond-disposition – a tendency to provide collections of communing bonds that provide insights into the ‘good’ ingroup and condemning bonds that target the ‘bad’ outgroups.