Brilliant, brutal, and enlightening! “Saints and Soldiers” is written by the phenomenal Rita Katz. She sets out, in her own words, to “… offer a diagnosis: something to help governments, researchers, the tech sector, and the general public better understand the nature of internet-age terrorism so that they could better fight it.” and she achieves this and then some. Rita has written a book I couldn’t put down.

Rita’s life story perfectly places her to do the work she does and to write this book. no one can doubt her understanding and experience in the subject but her ability to write such engaging prose is impressive. The stories are brutal but considering the topic, it is quite understandable. she isn’t looking to shock but illustrate.

I gleaned both contextual understanding and technical know-how. Below are two insights that particularly resonated.

“I’ve learned in my counterterrorism work that where there is enough rhetorical upheaval, there will eventually be real-life action.”

“Saints and Soldiers by Rita Katz

“Yet as the world’s fight against jihadi terrorists’ online infrastructures have shown, it was never so much any government making progress as it was the private sector. It took many nudges from government agencies and the general public, but social media and ICT companies eventually came together to build a massive digital wall between ISIS and the people they wish to recruit or intimidate. What the world got from all of this was a wealth of tested and proven strategies that we have sadly not seen fully adapted and implemented against far-right extremism. That the tech sector holds so much power in fighting far-right extremism should at this point be expected, because it speaks to the very nature of such actors. They are products of the environments that tech companies have built, thus making those very companies the best-equipped (and most responsible) to counter them.”

“Saints and Soldiers by Rita Katz

This book is one that will remain in my mind for a long while. The author is one I will follow and look to read again. It’s a five out of five and highly recommended.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from Columbia University Press through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. 

From the back cover:

More than a decade ago, counterterrorism expert Rita Katz began browsing white supremacist and neo-Nazi forums. The hateful rhetoric and constant threats of violence immediately reminded her of the jihadist militants she spent her days monitoring, but law enforcement and policy makers barely paid attention to the Far Right. Now, years of attacks committed by extremists radicalized online—including mass murders at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, as well as the Capitol siege—have brought home the danger. How has the internet shaped today’s threats, and what do the online origins of these movements reveal about how to stop them?

In Saints and Soldiers, Katz reveals a new generation of terrorist movements that don’t just use the internet, but exist almost entirely on it. She provides a vivid view from the trenches, spanning edgy video game chat groups to mainstream social media platforms to what ISIS and Far-Right mass-shooters in El Paso, Orlando and elsewhere unwittingly reveal between the lines of their manifestos. Katz shows how the online cultures of these movements—far more than their ideologies and leaders—create today’s terrorists and shape how they commit “real world” violence. From ISIS to QAnon, Saints and Soldiers pinpoints the approaches needed for a new era in which arrests and military campaigns alone cannot stop these never-before-seen threats.

Rita Katz is the founder and executive director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks and analyzes extremist online activity. Her decades of experience include assisting in a wide range of governmental terrorism investigations and developing counterterrorism strategies used across the tech sector. Katz is the author of Terrorist Hunter: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman Who Went Undercover to Infiltrate the Radical Islamic Groups Operating in America (2003).

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