Violent Escalation Logic Among Extremists

burning vehicle, street violenceThe Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) released a study that looks into reasons why certain ‘extremist groups’ choose violence while others do not. In addressing this complex phenomenon, the authors use three different case studies to highlight unique group dynamics that lead to violence. The primary goal of this study is to analyze the logic of violence thresholds in each given scenario and how these tendencies can be constrained by the external stimuli.

The basic premise of this research relies on identification of the “internal brakes,” or, “the intra-group mechanisms through which group members themselves contribute to establish and maintain parameters of their own violence.” Given these accounts, the authors aim to develop a descriptive typology of patterns in violence escalation.

In turn, these “internal brakes” exemplify five underlying preferences, including the following internal logics:

  1. Strategic – focuses on the utilitarian approach, whereby the best course of action is chosen given the circumstances and the ultimate objectives;
  2. Moral – refers to considerations of whether it is right, or morally justified, to use violence in achieving certain objectives;
  3. Ego maintenance – relates to the construction and maintenance of in-group identities and self-perceptions;
  4. Out-group definition – focuses on the process of building us-against-them narratives that are essential to the development of conflict; and
  5. Organizational – refers to the development of collective identity and certain degrees of path dependency that might constrain or, instead, encourage choices to pursue violence.

While the typology is not the sole source of information on how groups become more or less violent, it does provide an invaluable insight into intergroup tendencies. Consequently, this project adds to the body of research addressing the processes of non- or limited escalation among “extremist groups.” As the authors suggest, this research sheds light not only on the standard concepts of “intent” and “capability,” but also the “pathways” that justify the use of violence.

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