Adapted from Marie von Hafften
Violent extremism refers to the beliefs and actions of people who use or support the use of violence to achieve political, ideological, religious, or social goals. American citizens are quick to condemn examples of violent extremism around the world, from WWII's Nazi Germany, to the 1994 genocide of the Rwandan Tutsis, to radical Islamic violence in the Middle East, but are often reluctant to label and condemn acts of extremism within our own borders. As uncomfortable as as the topic may be, however, recent years have clearly demonstrated that white supremacist ideologies pose a clear and present danger to the United States - culminating in the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021. Since 2000, white supremacist groups have been responsible for more domestic terrorism attacks than any other extremist group in the U.S.
With these events in mind, this collection offers four approaches to combating violent extremism through dialogue with potential, current, and former extremists: offering help, networking, educating, and redirecting. Together, these responses show multiple ways of effectively interacting with proponents of violent and hateful ideologies.
Click here for more stories in the Solutions Story Tracker on counterterrorism.
- Why are efforts to rehabilitate far-right extremists typically underfunded?
- Julie Carr Smyth's article explores a high school course that teaches seniors how to interact with extremist viewpoints. What are the pros and cons of this kind of class? Would you be interested in a similar experience? Why or why not?
- Neil MacFarquhar's articles describes a type of software that uses targeted advertising strategies to redirect internet users away from white supremacist content. Jason Burke reported on a mentorship program in Kenya that pairs vulnerable individuals who are at risk of recruitment by Islamic extremists to a mentor in their community who can help them overcome serious issues in a different way. Which approach do you think would be more successful in the U.S.? Why?
- What is driving Americans to join extremist organizations? What effect does extremist violence have on the mind and body?
- Journalism is a collaborative practice: reporters are writing for their community, but they also depend on community members as sources for information. Indeed, the very purpose of journalism, according to the American Press Institute, is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. With that in mind, SJN wants to help connect news readers and journalists. Beside the name of the journalist on any of our story pages or the results page of the Solutions Story Tracker, you’ll find a Twitter icon that will link you directly to the journalists profile. Tweet at them with questions or compliments about their piece - you might be surprised by how much writers want to engage with their audiences! Don’t forget to tag us too (@soljourno) and use the hashtag #journalistintheclassroom if you are reading as part of an academic assignment.
- Despite the pervasiveness of white supremacy in the United States, government organizations and nonprofits are uncomfortable acknowledging the issues. The Trump administration specifically rescinded funding targeting domestic extremism in 2017, choosing to focus only on external threats and immigration. Additionally, the existing research on successful interventions against extremist beliefs lacks consensus on best practices (and historically has focused more on gang membership and Jihadis than white supremacy).
- Answers will vary. The teachers of the course (U.S. Political Thought and Radicalism) rely on a few ground rules: presenters must come from across the political spectrum, they can't be censored, students must remain respectful, instructors can't share their personal political beliefs., and all participants should do their best to avoid judgment. Past students described the opportunity to experience meaningful dialogue on contentious topics as "priceless," but concerned parents and community members were uncomfortable with the risks associated with bringing notoriously violent groups such as the KKK into the community.
- Answers will vary.
- People join hate groups for a variety of reasons: fear that the world around them is changing, lack of belonging in other social groups, family disruptions like divorce and abandonment, and often a certain degree of black-and-white thinking about society. Dov Baron compared leaving hate groups to becoming sober, calling hate an "addiction" that members use to avoid other issues in life.