I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. I research political conflict, including protest,  state repression, and terrorism. My book, Force of Words: The Logic of Terrorist Threats (Columbia University Press 2020)  is a detailed study of how violent non-state actors use threats to achieve their political aims. I completed my Ph.D. at Columbia University.  I have conducted fieldwork in Northern Ireland, Spain, Sri Lanka and Peru, interviewing members of the Irish Republican Army, ETA, the Tamil Tigers, Shining Path, and the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. My research has been supported by the Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy, the Earth Institute, and the Global Public Policy Network. Please browse my site and my Google Scholar page and feel free to contact me with questions.




Terrorist groups attain notoriety through acts of violence, but threats of future violence are just as important in attaining their political goals. Force of Words is a groundbreaking examination of the role of threats in terrorist strategies. Joseph M. Brown shows how terrorists use threats, true and false, to achieve key outcomes such as social control, economic attrition, and policy concessions. Brown demonstrates that threats are integral to terrorism on a tactical level as well, distracting security forces, drawing police into traps, and warning civilians out of harm’s way when terrorists seek to limit casualties. 

Force of Words
 reorients the field of terrorism studies, prioritizing the symbolic, psychological dimension that makes this form of conflict distinctive. It expands the study of terrorist propaganda by detailing how militants tailor their threats to send the desired political message. Drawing on rich interview data, quantitative evidence, and case studies of the IRA, ETA, the Tamil Tigers, Shining Path, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, Boko Haram, the Afghan Taliban, and ISIL, the book offers practical guidance for interpreting terrorists’ threats and assessing their credibility. Force of Words is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the logic of terrorism.



"Terrorism has always been about more than violence. It involves projecting the constant threat of that violence. In this superb book, Brown explores the warnings, pledges, hoaxes, and bluffs that prove terrorists know just how much power and control lie in their use of language. Force of Words is a remarkable, innovative resource for students and practitioners of counterterrorism worldwide."

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John Horgan author of The Psychology of Terrorism

"Brown offers the first comprehensive scholarly study of how terrorists use words to coerce, warn, inspire fear, legitimate, negotiate, and ultimately change the perceptions and behavior of governments and the general public. His rich case studies combine impressive fieldwork and sophisticated quantitative analysis to skillfully explain the threats of some of the world’s most prominent terrorist organizations."

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Peter Krause author of Rebel Power: Why National Movements Compete, Fight, and Win