Erroll Southers Addresses Boston Bombings at Congressional Hearing

By Matthew Kredell

Erroll Southers, an adjunct professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy and associate director of the USC Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), provided testimony on May 9 at a House Committee on Homeland Security hearing titled “The Boston Bombings: A First Look."

“To be invited to speak in front of Congress, professionally speaking, is a tremendous honor," said Southers, who was serving as a Congressional witness for the second time. “To be a subject-matter expert invited back on a topic so critical going forward is an opportunity to represent our university, show people what we’re doing at USC CREATE and hopefully contribute to some improvements."

Southers told the committee that terrorism requires a combination of three factors — an alienated individual, a legitimizing ideology (engaged through radicalization) and an enabling environment. Of the three, the environment is the biggest opportunity for positive influences, policies and behaviors that may reduce the risk of homegrown violent extremism, such as the kind seen in Boston.

He recommended that national efforts address the role communities play in facilitating and, more importantly, hindering radicalization. Community inaction, either through tacit approval of extremist ideas or a hesitancy to speak up when encountering an individual exploring a legitimizing ideology, provides an enabling environment.

Southers warned that many of these communities are now online and that the people participating in these virtual communities can take part in preventing or facilitating violent extremism in the same way as real-world communities.

“We live in a world and culture where we believe, with enough resources devoted, we can eliminate a threat," Southers said. “What we have to get used to is that on a good day, we are containing a threat or hopefully reducing the risk, but we will never eliminate a threat."

Southers was one of four expert witnesses called for the hearing. He provided five minutes of oral testimony, a more detailed six-page written submission and answered questions. He was asked to participate by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the committee’s ranking member.

Studying the possibility of attacks at sporting events and mass gatherings already was an area of focus at USC CREATE prior to the Boston bombings.

“The work we are doing is to use game theory for true randomization in becoming unpredictable to our adversary," Southers said. “We appear to be everywhere by scanning people and places when they don’t expect it. Our research efforts will continue to address what a month ago was just a threat and now, unfortunately, has become a successful attack in this country."