Over Pressure: Grassroots-driven Transformation of (militant) Organizations

Margaret Foster (Duke University)

Abstract: Why might a clandestine or militant organization not take advantage of an upswell of potential recruits who would increase group strength and resilience? I argue that when resource constrained organizations grow quickly, their leaders face the choice of balancing short-term organizational survival with long-term mission focus. This leads to an under-theorized mechanism through which an organization's grassroots create internal constituencies that pressure leaders to incorporate their preferences for strategy and operations. I develop this mechanism through a simple formal model, and illustrate the logic and outcome via the example of al-Qaeda in Yemen (AQAP) before and after the introduction of the American War on Terror. I look for evidence of mission drift in AQAP through a multi-pronged empirical strategy the uses text analysis of AQAP communiques and messages on the one hand as well as machine learning classification of reports of local conflict events.