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“White Terror: Collateral Punishment, Defection, and Dissent Demobilization in Repressive Regimes” by Howard Liu

June 10, 2020 @ 9:00 am - 10:00 am

Author: Howard Liu (Essex).

Abstract: Suppressing opposition and deterring challengers are among the highest priority for autocrats to control society. Existing literature has documented various ways that governments respond to the act of dissent. Yet, we know relatively little on how states pre-empt resistance before it breaks out. In particular, repression scholarship is eager to understand how dictators track, surveil, and target their repression against potential dissidence when information is limited. Using individual-level data on political victims and their network in the authoritarian period of Taiwan (1949-1991), I find that the government employed a carrot-and-stick approach to demobilize dissent movements. On the one hand, severe punishment targeted not only the core figures, such as operation leaders and active recruiters, but also members closely connected to them to prevent a resurgence of mobilization and ensure no loose ends. On the other hand, the reduced penalty was rewarded to defectors who tipped-off valuable information to the authority and increased state intelligence, which facilitated further captures and uprooting of underground network. The combination of collateral punishment and defection for impunity put strong pressure on the opposition by creating not just the fear of persecution but also the fear of being betrayed by other members, and it effectively choked resistance operation and dismantled dissent network. These findings shed new insight into the processes of calibrated repression and the toolkit that security apparatus can employ to expel threats and control society in highly repressive regimes.

Discussants: Killian Clarke (Harvard), Travis Curtice (Dartmouth), Martin Dimitrov (Tulane), Lynette Ong (Toronto), and Yuri Zhukov (Michigan).

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