ALPF’s Response to Violent Extremism in Charlottesville, VA on August 12th, 2017
By: Kerry O’Brien Smith, Ph.D. (ABD), ALPF Visiting Fellow
Radicalization and violent extremism are topics of concern that have become much more pronounced in recent years (Sedgwick, 2010), and radicalization can be defined as the development of extremist ideologies and beliefs (Borum, 2011). Many factors influence individuals to turn from nonviolent to violent ideologies, including propaganda on the Internet (Maher, 2007), social networks and communications with other extremists (Sageman, 2004), political leaders and authority figures (Moghaddam, 2005), and intergroup conflict (McCauley & Moskalenko, 2011). Any of these factors individually, or a combination thereof, may contribute as catalysts for heightened radicalization (Bubolz & Simi, 2015). However, there are many unanswered questions among radicalization scholars regarding why certain individuals tend to act in a violent and extreme manner regarding certain political and religious ideologies. The rally that transpired in Charlottesville, VA Saturday with white nationalists and counter-protestors, left three dead and 19 injured, with five critically injured, makes the study of radicalization, violent extremism and counter violent extremist programs that much more relevant and necessary.
While we may study the reasons why individuals attach to extremist groups, it is also important to stay focused on solution-based practices to help extremists deradicalize and move away from radical ideologies (Bubolz & Simi, 2015). Studies in cognition in-group attachment help us to understand why individuals become attached to extremist ideologies and violent actions. However, we must also know what may help individuals to reduce their commitment to extremism, change beliefs to conform more to peaceful values, and deradicalize by reducing the likelihood of reengaging in violent behavior (Horgan & Braddock, 2010). Government agencies have focused on countering violent extremism, deradicalization, and disengagement in recent years (Neumann, 2010). Several deradicalization programs worldwide include Summit Against Violent Extremism (SAVE) in Dublin, Ireland, which focused on how the Internet and social media serve as sources to recruit new ideological members, and European EXIT programs have been implemented in several countries to focus on how to implement the process of deradicalization and disengagement (Neumann, 2010).
To help an individual become disengaged and deradicalized, there must be a focus on education, encouraging the transition process to different social networks, vocational training and mental health support to address psychological needs (Neumann, 2010).
While Europe has far exceeded the United States’ strides in the implementation of deradicalization programs, we must not lose hope that deradicalization programs can be developed here in the United States. The American Leadership and Policy Foundation has launched Children Protected from Radicalization (CPR), a nationally-recognized program to communicate to our communities that radicalization and violent extremism have no place in our families, communities, towns, and cities that constitute our great country.
Research shows that if we address the issue of violent extremism similar to the way we address disadvantaged and at-risk youth, we will be more successful in saving individuals from harmful actions (Klein, 1971). The first steps include psychologically questioning and challenging the beliefs and values of the movement (Balch, 1986). Next steps include behavioral disengagement, cognitive restructuring, spending time with other groups, and physical withdrawal from violent extremist activities (Balch, 1986).
Hate groups form because of enmity toward an entire class of people based on ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, religion, or inherent characteristic (Woolf & Hulsizer, 2004). Hate groups increased after Obama’s Administration, with over 1,000 hate groups being recorded in the U.S. (Potok, 2013). Recruitment to such groups includes flyers at schools, night clubs, live musical performing shows, low-income neighborhoods, and social media (Blazak, 2001). The reasons why radical groups are successful in recruiting members are reasons such as sympathy for the political ideology, anger toward immigrants, leftist anti-racists, or authority figures, protection against perceived threats, the search for adventure or thrills, the desire to join a militant event, substitution for family, and the search for identity or status (Bjoro, 1997).
White supremacists are known to commit physical assaults, acts of terrorism, hate crimes, and theft, and the actions that occurred in Charlottesville attest to their capabilities (Simi & Futrell, 2010). And while extremist groups can commit these crimes, they also engage in other activities such as public marches and rallies, the distribution of extremist literature, and the development of separatist communities (Simi, 2010).
We must educate ourselves on the types of hate groups in our communities and actively work to encourage the deradicalization of such individuals. This occurs through changing an individual’s values and belief systems, rejecting extremist ideology, and embracing values of peace, cooperation, collaboration, and teamwork. Violence is not a way to affect social change. We must focus on how we will help individuals to disengage and find more peaceful solutions for conflict or disagreement.
Kerry O’Brien Smith is a Visiting Research Fellow and National Director of ALPF’s Children Protected from Radicalization (CPR) campaign. As a researcher, Ms. Smith brings a wealth of education and experience in family advocacy, law, and social research.
With 20 years of public relations, budgeting, fundraising, marketing, and research experience, Ms. Smith is enthusiastic about ALPF’s examination of the impact federal and state policies that affect the American family have on national security. In addition, she will help examine issues relating to efforts by international terrorists to take advantage of at risk demographics.
Ms. Smith holds a bachelor’s degree with majors in English literature, secondary education, and business administration from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA and a master’s degree with specialization in strategic public relations from the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Ms. Smith is also currently working toward a Ph.D. in health and human services with specializations in nonprofit management and public service leadership from Capella University in Minneapolis, MN.
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