House of Cards returns to Netflix this month after a long, 14-month hiatus, and Season 4 left us on the cusp of chaos. An Islamic terrorist group called ICO, or the Islamic Caliphate Organization, has taken an American family of three hostage domestically, but they won't negotiate with President Frank Underwood. Instead, they demand to speak with his opponent in the presidential race, Republican Governor of New York Will Conway. Frank is obviously miffed at being undermined, but viewers may be wondering: is ICO from House of Cards based on ISIS?
The groups definitely have some similarities, although it has never been confirmed that ICO is directly modeled after ISIS. (Romper reached out to Netflix for comment and have yet to hear back.) On the show, Will manages to free two of the hostages, but ICO insists on keeping the third until their demands are met. Frank, who is already panicking over a slight loss of control, decides to lean into the situation by out-terroring the terror group. He refuses to negotiate, understanding that he's sentencing someone to death by doing so, and watches the murder live-streamed on the internet with a steely, resolute gaze.
With Claire by his side as his running mate, Frank plans to capitalize on the fears of the American people upon realizing that he doesn't have enough control over the situation to keep them safe or give them hope. He basically declares war with ICO, hoping that as a wartime Commander-in-Chief, his reelection is a lock.
ISIS and ICO are both internet-savvy groups who use the tactic of kidnapping, holding hostages, and beheading them in live-streamed videos to sow fear. And besides having similar names, ISIS and ICO seem to share similar military strategies, too. ICO occupies Kurdish strongholds, which it uses to move in on oil fields in Syria. ISIS already owns most of Syria's oil fields, which is the extremist group's biggest single source of revenue.
Furthermore, ISIS also established a caliphate, or an Islamic state ruled by a political and religious leader called a caliph, in 2014. The caliph is thought to be a successor to the prophet Muhammad. House of Cards takes an unexpected diversion with its fictional terror group, however: religion seems to be a convenient excuse for the group to invoke, rather than a truly binding ideological force. As The Guardian puts it:
Yusuf al-Ahmadi, the prisoner with whom Claire negotiates, even half-admits that while his anti-Americanism is genuine, his religious attitudes are more expedient than real. The teenage recruits don’t inspire horror. They seem banal, about as shocking as the last mass shooting.
Whether or not the series admits that House of Cards' version of an Islamic terrorist group is modeled after our real one, it seems pretty clear that it functions as a ripped-from-the-headlines analog. As for how much damage they'll to do Underwood's America, you can find out when House of Cards returns to Netflix on May 30.