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Source-building pays off with exclusive access to study on terrorism

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Investigative reporters Jason Dearen’s and Michelle Smith’s longtime cultivation of a source paid off with the AP getting exclusive access to an important new study that provided insight into how the federal justice system handles terrorism cases. The first-of-its-kind analysis concluded that people convicted of crimes related to domestic extremism face far shorter prison terms than those convicted in international terrorism cases, even when the crimes are similar. This is despite years of warnings from researchers, federal law enforcement and President Joe Biden that violent domestic extremists such as white supremacists and anti-government groups pose the most significant terror threat to the U.S. While the analysis covered the years 2014–19 and didn’t include Jan. 6 cases, Dearen and Smith did additional reporting and interviews to show how the study provided insight into cases that are still working their way through the justice system.

AP’s coverage caught the eye of academics, among others, with John Jay College’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice writing about the AP’s report.    

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