Authors: Michael Jensen, Ph.D., Gary LaFree, Ph.D.
This paper discusses the Empirical Assessment of Domestic Radicalization (EADR) project, which is part of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).
The purpose of the EADR project was to advance an empirical foundation for understanding radicalization to violent extremism in the United States. EADR sought to explore a number of key questions related to radicalization, including:
• What are the demographic, background, and radicalization differences between and within the different ideological milieus?
• Are there important contextual, personal, ideological, or experiential differences between radicals who commit violent acts and those who do not?
• Is it possible to identify sufficient pathways to violent extremism?
• Are the causal mechanisms highlighted by extant theories of radicalization supported by empirical evidence?
To address these questions, EADR researchers built the largest known database on individual radicalization in the United States: Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States (PIRUS).
EADR produced a number of findings that are relevant for domestic countering violent extremism (CVE) programs, law enforcement, criminal justice policy, and academic research.
The primary findings show significant differences in background characteristics, group affiliations, and radicalization processes across the ideological milieus. CVE programs must be applied to all ends of the ideological spectrum. The results also indicate that it is important to consider age and gender when designing CVE prevention and intervention programs.
The study also found that pre-radicalization criminal activity and post-radicalization clique membership are associated with violent outcomes. CVE strategies must be aware of the role that peer relationships, both face-to-face and online, play in the radicalization processes of lone and group-based offenders. The study also suggests that online environments may be speeding up radicalization processes.
Lastly, the study found that psychological, emotional, material, and group-based factors can combine to produce eight pathways to violent extremism that often stem from lost significance, personal trauma, and collective crises. These findings suggest that successful CVE programs need to address feelings of community victimization, be tailored to specific ideological groups and sub-groups, and address the underlying psychological and emotional vulnerabilities that make individuals open to extremist narratives.
The EADR project provides an empirical understanding of extremism in the U.S. and lends support to radicalization mechanisms that are based on personal and collective psychology. These findings are important for policy makers that seek to counter radicalization and illegal extremist activities, including law enforcement agents who need empirically informed information on how best to allocate scarce resources.