American Sociological Association

Racial and Other Sociodemographic Disparities in Terrorism Sting Operations

Previous research suggests a high prevalence of entrapment in post-9/11 terrorism sting operations, but it is unknown whether entrapment abuses are disproportionately targeted at specific racial/ethnic, religious, or socioeconomic groups. Drawing on Black’s theory of law, symbolic threat theory, and research on stereotypes, cognitive biases, and institutional incentives, the authors hypothesize that government agents and informants will use problematic tactics disproportionately against certain marginalized groups. This study empirically tests for such disparities using detailed data on post-9/11 terrorism prosecutions. Specifically, the authors code the sociodemographic characteristics of the 316 domestic terrorism defendants in cases occurring in the 13 years after 9/11 and involving informants. These data are integrated with an existing database of indicators of entrapment for each defendant. Using multivariable models, the authors test whether sociodemographic characteristics predict four key entrapment-related outcomes. Results indicate that minority racial and religious groups, undocumented immigrants, and individuals with low socioeconomic status all have elevated risk for at least one entrapment-related outcome. Strikingly, the most consistent predictor of entrapment is black Muslim identity. In contrast, white Muslims show no increased risk for entrapment vis-à-vis white non-Muslims for all but one outcome. This study thus documents apparent discrimination against African Americans (and white privilege) in yet another area of the criminal justice system. It also demonstrates that deeply ingrained forms of discrimination may become dominant even in policy fields characterized by intense discrimination against other groups.


Jesse J. Norris and Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk





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