Putting the "O" in VEOs: What makes an organization?

Gina Scott Ligon, Pete Simi, Mackenzie Harms, Daniel J. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Violent extremist organizations differ from other ideologically based groups that do not necessarily meet formal criteria to be considered organizations, and distinguishing between these types of collective arrangements is critical in understanding their strengths and weaknesses. We identified three arrangements of individuals with varying levels of sophistication: groups, simple organizations, and complex organizations. Each arrangement is discussed in terms of its influence on fundraising, recruiting, and attack execution, with particular emphasis being placed on exemplars from the white supremacist ideology. Despite their shared ideology, white supremacists illustrate marked performance-related differences that are influenced by organizational factors such as leadership, structure, and formalization. Analyzing those differences led us to conclude that organizations are unique from groups, different structures are best suited for certain strategies, leadership matters a great deal in the context of violent extremist organizations, and organizations are not static.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)110-134
Number of pages25
JournalDynamics of Asymmetric Conflict: Pathways toward Terrorism and Genocide
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 2013


  • ideology
  • organization
  • terrorism
  • violent extremism
  • white supremacy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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