My research agenda on political violence sits at the intersection of comparative politics and international relations. I study civil war, terrorism, crime, and the role of non-state actors in international security. This page includes abstracts of my current projects and links to my published scholarship. Links to my policy writing can be found here.
Book Project: The Logic of Kidnapping in Civil War
Global kidnapping has spiked dramatically over the last several decades, as armed groups abduct civilians in war. While the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and the FARC ravage communities and confound policymakers, there has been no scholarly examination of this tool of coercion. By examining when and why armed groups kidnap, my research fills this gap. I ask: First, why do some armed groups engage in kidnapping whereas others do not? Second, if a group does kidnap, what explains variation in targeting and demands? I argue that kidnapping is an unexplored but critical component of groups' protection schemes. Itself a form of extortion, kidnapping is part and parcel of a much broader system to extract tribute from local populations. It is used both as the most lucrative way to punish those who refuse to pay the groups' taxes, as well as an extremely effective, strategic message to compel others to cooperate. In this way, kidnapping is both tactical and strategic. To examine when and why armed groups choose this particular tactic, I leverage qualitative evidence from extensive interviews with ex-combatants from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as quantitative analysis of an original, global dataset of nearly 1,900 armed groups. This project provides a novel explanation for a persistent and perplexing type of violence against civilians worldwide.
Publications: "The Oxygen of Publicity: Explaining U.S. Media Coverage of International Kidnapping," Studies in Conflict & Terrorism. Online here. Online appendix | Dataset | Codebook "The Politics and Pedagogy of Nationalism: Authentic Learning on Identity and Conflict," the Journal of Political Science Education, Online here. "Terror by Any Other Name," Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 31, No. 2 (2019): 417-420. Online here. "Organized Violence Between War and Peace," Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 29, No. 2 (2017): 377-383. Online here.
Under Review: "The Logic of Kidnapping in Civil War: Evidence from Colombia" * Why do some armed groups kidnap, whereas others do not? Despite a dramatic spike in kidnappings by political groups over the last several decades, there is no existing explanation for this tool of coercion. Leveraging evidence from extensive interviews with former combatants from Colombia's civil war, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as military and security personnel, I show that ransom kidnapping is used to enforce groups' protection rackets. It is both the most lucrative way to punish tax evasion, as well as a strategic means of compelling future cooperation. Thus, groups that tax local populations are more likely to kidnap; groups with external or voluntary funding are less likely to take hostages. This novel study explains when we should see kidnapping in armed conflict, describing an unexplored way that selective violence bolsters insurgency.
"Caught Between Giants: Hostage Negotiation Strategy for Middle Powers" * (with Gaëlle Rivard Piché) What is hostage diplomacy, and how can U.S. allies respond to this coercive tool of Chinese foreign policy? In this article, we explore the ongoing international crisis over three prisoners -- China's Meng Wanzhou and Canada's Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig -- to illustrate the turn to hostage diplomacy by China and other authoritarian states. We analyze the creative negotiation strategies middle powers might use to bring home their citizens taken hostage under the guise of law. In doing so, we show how the fate of these three individuals has implications for policy concerns ranging from Iran's nuclear program, to the adoption of 5G technology, to the future of the liberal international order.
Book Reviews: Review of Nichols, Angela. Impact, Legitimacy, and Limitations of Truth Commissions. Democracy and Security. Vol. 15, No. 4: 408-410 (2019). Online here. Review of Kidd, Dustin. Social Media Freaks: Digital Identity in the Network Society. Terrorism and Political Violence. Vol. 31, No. 6: 1347-1349 (2019). Online here. Review of Scott, Erik R. "The Hijacking of Aeroflot Flight 244: States and Statelessness in the Late Cold War," H-Diplo. June 2019. Online here. Review of de la Calle, Luis, Nationalist Violence in Postwar Europe. H-Nationalism, H-Net Reviews. November 2017. Online here. Working Papers and Work in Progress: "Partners in Crime: Comparative Advantage and Political Kidnapping" * "Kidnapping in Armed Conflict: A Research Agenda on Hostage Taking and Recovery" * "No Man Left Behind? Explaining Public Support for Hostage Recovery" (co-authored with Dr. Lauren Prather of the University of California, San Diego) "Gore, God, or Liberty? Explaining Variation in National Anthem Types" (co-authored with Dr. Harris Mylonas of George Washington University)
Fieldwork: Colombia (2017, 2018, 2019) Israel and the West Bank (2006)