What Do Former Extremists and Their Families Say About Radicalization and Deradicalization in America?

Who is at risk of joining violent extremist organizations?

How do they find groups of like-minded people to join with?

Can families and friends recognize whether someone is becoming radicalized?

How do individuals change their minds and walk away from extremism?

What can communities do to stop the growth of extremism in their areas?

RAND Corporation’s latest research brief, What Do Former Extremists and Their Families Say About Radicalization and Deradicalization in America? sheds light on these important questions and offers insights for policymakers and members of community organizations working to address the threat of domestic violent extremism in the United States. RAND research briefs present policy-oriented summaries of individual published, peer-reviewed documents or of a body of published work; the full report associated with this brief can be found here: Violent Extremism in America: Interviews with Former Extremists and Their Families on Radicalization and Deradicalization.

In this study the RAND Corporation research team gathered and analyzed first-hand accounts of extremist radicalization and deradicalization by conducting 36 interviews with 24 former domestic extremists (both white supremacists and Islamic extremists), as well as their families and friends. Although the sample size is small, their findings provide key insights as to how “individuals become radicalized, how they leave extremist groups, and what communities can do to stop the growth of extremism in their area.”

Summarized below are their recommendations for the way ahead:

  • Expand opportunities for mental health care
  • Provide opportunities for expanding diversity exposure.
  • Help at-risk parents and families recognize and react to signs of extremist radicalization and engagement
  • Present deradicalization messages at the right time and place
  • Consider the trade-offs between punitive and “soft” law enforcement interventions
  • Organize community-based educational opportunities

For more information, view topics on HSDL related to violent extremism, or view Featured Topics on Domestic (U.S.) Terrorism.

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