By Joe Young
I’m in the enviable position of having lots of time in the car. From commuting to work in our nation’s capital to driving teenagers to magnet schools that don’t provide busing, the car is my third space.
I’ve been thinking about making a “best of” list for a while. So here goes. Since this is a political violence (and its alternatives)-focused outlet, I will restrict my best of list to political violence topics (and some other kinds of violence). (I’m happy to offer other suggestions for podcasts on sports, politics, music, food, and other topics if you email me separately. Like I said, I spend a lot of time in the car.) Since there are different types of podcasts—limited series (say 10 episodes) on a topic; ongoing series that last for years; and podcasts about general topics that sometimes delve into political violence—I’ve shared my favorite in each category.
As a disclaimer, these are my favorite. Are they the best? Who knows. Is this exhaustive? Probably not. If you have some good additions, please comment. Here we go.
Best Limited Series
The New York Times podcast developed by reporter Rukmini Callamachi is absolutely riveting. Told over ten episodes, Caliphate provides an inside look at the Islamic State. Among other issues, episodes deal with recruiting foreign fighters, how an insurgent organization governs territory, and what to do with prisoners after conflict. Callamachi amassed a treasure trove of documents supporting the podcast. This is a must-listen for anyone interested in violent groups, foreign fighters, non-state actor governance, and the modern Middle East.
American Jihadi tells the story of Omar Hammami, an American raised in Alabama by a Syrian father and Southern Baptist mother, who radicalizes in his teens and ends up joining al-Shabab in Somalia. Reporter Christof Putzel describes Hammami’s early life to give a sense of why Hammami radicalized. The more interesting pieces relate to Putzel’s personal interactions with and involvement in Hammami’s life once they correspond regularly after al-Shabbab turns on Hammami. You might know the (not-so-happy) ending, but the podcast is worth the trip.
As most folks who study political violence will attest, far-right extremist acts currently dwarf jihadi violence. A12 is a podcast released by the Miller Center at the University of Virginia that delves into the 2017 events in Charlottesville. The podcast is six parts and includes bigger discussions of the American South, Virginia, and racism but also specific information about why Charlottesville, who came, and what is the aftermath for both the movement and the city.
This is another podcast focused on the far-right. The series—which started as seven episodes, then added a second season—examines the Bundy family. Cliven Bundy rose to prominence during a 2014 armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. This event had a rippling effect on far-right extremists and has implications for the current political climate.
This podcast is created and hosted by Jake Hanrahan, a British journalist and filmmaker. Popular Front is about conflict and each episode usually features a reporter on the ground in places from Burma to Ukraine. As an academic, it sparks tons of ideas for projects. As a consumer, it gives you a unique view of a multitude of conflicts. Episodes on Venezuela, the Free Burma Rangers, and South African farmers got me hooked.
Shankar Vedantam hosts this NPR podcast which highlights science on human behavior. Vedantam does an admirable job making complex ideas accessible. This podcast is not about political violence generally, but episodes on violence among teens, crime as a disease, the psychology of radicalization, and when acts are labeled as terrorism are all strong.
John Morrison, a scholar at Royal Holloway, University of London, talks to renowned experts on terrorism and political violence.
Gary LaFree and the START center at the University of Maryland host this podcast featuring important researchers of terrorism and political violence.
Chelsea Damon and Sina Kashefipour produce this podcast which focuses on national security writ large.
This is more about cybercrime, the dark web, and child abuse. It is well-done and terrifying.
Check out other Political Violence @ A Glance recommendations, including Books on Political Violence You Should Own, Good Reads, Our Recommendations, and Movies About Political Violence To Watch… And A Few You Shouldn’t.