For Next President, The Fight Against Extremism Will Hit Closer To Home : It's All Politics The so-called Islamic State is endlessly creative in trying to get young men and women to leave home for Syria and Iraq. It's something the next president will have to wrestle with from Day 1.

For Next President, The Fight Against Extremism Will Hit Closer To Home

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Iraq and the threat of the self-proclaimed Islamic State are among the many intractable issues the next administration will have to deal with from day one. There's increasing concerned that the counterterrorism tools that hobbled al-Qaida since the years after 9/11 won't have the same effect on ISIS. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston lays out three terrorism issues that will face the next president.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: The one thing that everyone seems to agree on with regard to ISIS is that it's fundamentally different from al-Qaida. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, sees himself as a religious figure. Osama bin Laden fancied himself a warrior. ISIS's goals are different too. It isn't just asking followers to attack the West. The group wants young men and women to join them in Syria and Iraq, and it is endlessly creative in trying to convince them to do so.


TEMPLE-RASTON: This is an ISIS version of a popular videogame, "Grand Theft Auto." Download the game, and you can shoot up Syrian troops...


TEMPLE-RASTON: ...Or local police and get a dose of ISIS propaganda at the same time.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Shame - you come to our country to murder us, yet we are the terrorists.

TONY SGRO: I don't think al-Qaida had that kind of talent.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Tony Sgro, the CEO of a San Francisco-based company called EdVenture Partners.

SGRO: I personally don't remember them being such a world-class employment branding and recruiting agency, but ISIL is.

TEMPLE-RASTON: I met Tony Sgro in a restaurant off Powell Street in downtown San Francisco to talk about a program he's developed aimed at competing with groups like ISIS or ISIL. It's called Peer 2 Peer: Challenging Extremism, and it's an Obama administration initiative which invites college students from all kinds of disciplines - marketing, international relations, computer science, just to name a few - to dream up social media campaigns that will challenge ISIS online and dissuade violent extremists.

SGRO: You know, universities are like dense pockets of humanity. There's all these different schools of engineering, of marketing, of social media.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The program is premised on the idea that 50-year-olds at the State or Defense Departments don't know what animates 20-somethings attracted to ISIS.

SGRO: It's been fascinating to see the way these faculty and, more importantly, the students view the challenge with different optics.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The question is, will it work, and will the next president choose to pursue this kind of strategy, which brings us to another challenge that al-Qaida did impose. In the past two years, nearly 200 Americans have either tried to travel to Syria and were stopped, considered going or actually made it to the ISIS battlefields there. The threat of prison clearly isn't solving the problem, so law-enforcement officials are starting to entertain alternatives. Ground zero for one experiment - an attempt at de-radicalization - started just this year in Minnesota.

MARY MCKINLEY: We haven't done this before. Not very many people have done this before.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Mary McKinley, the executive director of Heartland Democracy, a Minnesota nonprofit, is helping create a Twin Cities Jihadi rehab program for young men accused of wanting to join ISIS.

MCKINLEY: The proposal that we submitted to the court was a series of work we'd already done, conversations we had and ideas going forward.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The young men are all likely to serve some prison time. The rehabilitation is meant to smooth their transition back into the community when they get out. The early curriculum reads like a syllabus from a civics class - writings of Martin Luther King Jr., the Constitution, Malcolm X - and while there's just one man enrolled in the program now, there could be more soon. Earlier this month, a Minnesota U.S. District Court judge said he'd consider sending five accused ISIS travelers to a halfway house while they await trial if their lawyers could come up with a creative release program. Deradicalization is a policy choice facing the next president. And finally, from day one, the next president will have to make some decisions about drones. The program began in secrecy and is now the stuff of popular culture.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) We are cleared hot.

ETHAN HAWKE: (As Major Thomas Egan) Master arm on, weapons hot - three, two, one rifle. Time of flight, 12 seconds.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's from a new Ethan Hawke movie called "Good Kill." Hawke plays a drone pilot who's having doubts about the targets chosen and civilian casualties, the very issues the next president will have to address. James Lewis is a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

JAMES LEWIS: The pressure is growing. Certainly when you go overseas, drones do not have a favorable image. I think they're really beneficial. I think we have to use them, but we've got to take that unfavorable reaction into account.

TEMPLE-RASTON: For example, in April, the White House had to announce that accidental deaths in Pakistan of American and Italian hostages. They were killed in a drone strike back in January. President Obama promised a reassessment.


BARACK OBAMA: We're going to review what happened. We're going to identify the lessons that can be learned and any improvements and changes that can be made.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The next president will likely have to do the same from day one. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.