Author: Jytte Klausen
The rapid rise in domestic violent extremism has created an urgent need for metrics that can help law enforcement assess the danger represented by Americans who have become radicalized by ISIL and other foreign terrorist groups.
The purpose of this study was to outline model for assessing the radicalization trajectory of violent jihadist homegrown extremists. Instead of trying to profile and identify at-risk populations, the research sought to determine how people become terrorists in the service of ISIL.
The model focused on tracking progressive radicalization through the use of behavioral indicators known to be associated with Al Qaeda-inspired groups advocating violent extremism.
American homegrown offenders in the study displayed regular patterns of overt behaviors that signified their newfound religiously-inspired extremist political beliefs and that pointed to progressive radicalization. These behavioral signifiers were generally but not always apparent to bystanders, family, or friends.
Many of the behavioral indicators were ideology-specific, but social background and demographics (e.g., age and gender) and lifestyle changes also shaped the behaviors of terrorist offenders. Other behavioral indicators included domestic physical training and societal disengagement.
The importance of real-life peer groups in driving further radicalization was highlighted by the finding that peer immersion nearly always preceded public expressions of a desire for action.
Indicators of non-violent support for terrorism included fundraising for terrorism, efforts to recruit others, and the communication of threats. The diversity of the subjects analyzed indicated, however, no uniform profile of jihadist terrorists.
The researchers acknowledge that while social media played a role in radicalization cases, both as a tool for communicating with recruiters and as the source of information about “what to do,” it was direct peer involvement that primarily drove rapid progression to illegal action.
The research supports a number of recommendations for law enforcement, families, and communities to better identify and track individuals who may be in the process of becoming radicalized and for how to better educate the public about the radicalization process.
These include a dynamic risk assessment protocol that is updated through iterative testing against case files; a focus on countering violent extremism programs for mobilizing families in the fight against violent extremism; outreach programs for Muslim community organizations and mosques; and a focus in schools on preventing the development of cliques among students endorsing violent extremist belief systems.