Heteroglossia and Identifying Victims of Violence and Its Purpose as Constructed in Terrorist Threatening Discourse Online

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Unlike one-to-one threats, terrorist threat texts constitute a form of violence and a language crime that is committed in a complex context of public intimidation, and are communicated publicly and designed strategically to force desired sociopolitical changes [19]. Contributing to law enforcement and threat assessors’ fuller understanding of the discursive nature of threat texts in terrorism context, this paper examines how language is used dialogically to communicate threats and to construct both the purpose of threatened actions and the victims. The paper uses a critical discourse analytic approach and takes a set of eleven digital threat texts made by two jihadists as a case study. It draws on van Dijk’s concept of ideology [64], the law enforcement-based taxonomy of threat types as reported by Napier and Mardigian [40], van Leeuwen’s model of social actor representation and discursive construction of purpose of social actions [69], and Martin and White’s Engagement system [34]. The analysis reveals victims specified and genericised, excluded and adversary. This linguistic construction is underpinned by a dichotomous conceptualisation of the social actors’ affiliations, positions, values, cultural activities, goals, and material and symbolic resources. The threats are delivered to the victims, agents acting on their behalf (e.g. security forces) or property associated with them (e.g. oil refinery), and are of two primary types—direct, and veiled. The former are predominant and serve inter alia to augment the public-intimidation impact of terrorist discourse. Threatened violence is of goal-, means- and/or effect-oriented social purposes, which suggest a categorisation of threats based on these purposes. The analysis reveals a dialectic, refutative nature of argumentation, and a discourse pregnant with heteroglossic utterances that contract (i) to close off and disalign with state officials’ contradictory voices, and (ii) to produce tension, providing clues to terrorists’ motivations and what constitutes the heart of political violence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)907-937
Number of pages31
JournalInternational Journal for the Semiotics of Law
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023
Externally publishedYes


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