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Advance of the Black Flags: Symbolism, Social Identity, and Psychological Operations in Violent Conflict

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Technical Report

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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The United States is in an ideological war with violent extremists in the realm of mass communication, but the nature of this conflict is not well understood. This thesis reviewed literature concerning communication principles and the psychology of symbolism, then used qualitative analysis to investigate strategic communication samples to understand how media was used to construct group identity, influence attitudes, and challenge adversaries. Themes critical to narrative construction were identified, as were communication techniques that place emphasis on key ideas in music and film. The roles of symbolism, rituals, and music in human behavior were further researched. This research was then applied to the Islamic States use of media to influence attitudes and inspire behavior. The ultimate recommendation suggests that the United States approach this conflict as a true war by asserting a communication strategy designed to disrupt violent, exclusionary ideologies.

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