Gabriella Levy

Hello! I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Duke University and a 2022-23 USIP Peace Scholar Fellow. I am on the market in the 2022-2023 academic year. I can be contacted at

In my work, I seek to understand the ways in which people interpret, evaluate, and respond to various forms of political violence, ranging from civilian targeting to vigilante punishment to the targeted assassinations of civil society leaders.

My dissertation is a book project motivated by the following puzzle: why do people sometimes support armed actors that target civilians? I draw on research from psychology concerning moral judgement, motivated reasoning, and moral disengagement to argue that public support for armed groups is shaped by the complex interplay between armed group violence, governance, and ideology.

I argue that individual civilians do not see all violence against civilians as equivalently unethical; they are more willing to support perpetrators who violate less strict norms, have less agency, or have less clear causal ties to the victims. Further, individuals’ evaluations of violence against civilians are moderated by their prior attitudes toward the perpetrator armed group. For example, ideological similarity with or effective governance from an armed group can alleviate the negative effect of victimization on support for the perpetrator. To justify this violence committed by one’s preferred armed group, the individual will evaluate the abuse as more militarily necessary, less harmful, or less organized.

In this book project, I focus on Colombia as a case study, and I rely on two original survey experiments, analysis of pre-existing public opinion data, interviews with civil society leaders, and archival research. A section of the dissertation has been published in the Journal of Politics.