Characteristics and Prevention of Violent Extremism

Domestic attacks as a result of extremism have been increasing steadily in recent years. In a recent publication by RAND titled Violent Extremism in America: Interviews with Former Extremists and Their Families on Radicalization and Deradicalization, an attempt is made to survey the causes of violent extremism and analyze the reasons people exited from radical organizations and beliefs. The research team conducted an interview of 36 people: 24 former extremists, ten family members, and two friends. Covering 32 separate cases of radicalization, 24 were white supremacists and 8 were Islamic extremists. To find key areas for analysis, participants were asked to describe their early lives, and any major turning points which led them to deradicalization.

Three factors for radicalization are highlighted in this document: Financial instability, mental health, and social factors. Once involved in extremist groups, common experiences participants shared was a feeling of family and friendship, a sense of power, and having a new mission in life. “Like radicalization, there is no standard model of how people turn away from or reject extremist views or why they leave extremist groups. Nonetheless, the existing literature does identify factors that push and pull members out of such beliefs and related alliances.” Factors contributing to deradicalization include distrust, a feeling of burnout, and an inability to hold employment.

Participants were asked for ideas on how to prevent violent extremism and promote deradicalization. Their recommendations were to ensure an exposure to diverse ideas in childhood, participate in activities that embrace inclusiveness, and to work on developing critical thinking skills. The findings from this study emphasize the importance of community policymakers to continue to work towards ending domestic terrorism and ideologically inspired violence through prevention and intervention.

For more information, view topics on HSDL related to violent extremism, or view Featured Topics on Domestic (U.S.) Terrorism. Please note an HSDL login is required to view some of these resources.

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