The role of (de)bonding in the legitimation of violence in extremists' public threatening communication

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One aspect of threat of terrorist public communication is incitement to violence and legitimating it (Tsesis, 2017). This paper contributes to understanding how bonds tabled in discourse are exploited to legitimize 'Our' violence and to delegitimize ‘outgroups’. I argue that the inciting texts drive the strategic use of bonds to achieve a main rhetorical function: legitimizing violence. The patterns of bonds, geared as a basis for perception and (de)legitimation, are investigated as realized in a set of incitement texts communicated publicly by the former al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, and the far-rightist, Brenton Tarrant. The analytical approach mainly draws on Knight's (2010) social semiotic approach to bonding to identify the account of bonds as evidence of and entry points to (de)legitimation. The patterns of bonds across each terrorist's texts are then labelled thematically based on what is (de)legitimated. To identify reference to reasons of (de)legitimation, Van Leeuwen's (2007) semantic-functional strategies of critique and (de)legitimation are used. To map the rhetorical structure level-style of (de)legitimation, the classic appeal strategies – pathos (appeal to incitees' emotions), logos (rational arguments) and ethos (authority-based arguments) – are identified. Findings showed that both authors tended to deploy (i) communing bonds to legitimize 'Our' violence and (ii) condemning bonds to delegitimize outgroups (mainly, their actions, values, and membership), chiefly via moralization, rationalization and authorization, and by drawing on authors' ethos and logical reasoning.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSystemic Functional Linguistics Theory and Application in Global Contexts
Subtitle of host publicationPapers from the First International Online Systemic Functional Linguistics Interest Group Conference (SFLIG 2021)
EditorsVinh To, Thomas Amundrud, Sally Humphrey
Place of PublicationTasmania
PublisherUniversity of Tasmania
Number of pages22
ISBN (Print)978-1-922708-41-0
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023
Externally publishedYes


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