Gabrielle Mérite

Describing (De)Radicalization

What causes individuals to join violent extremist organizations? And why do some extremists end up leaving these groups? Looking for answers to these questions—and insights into addressing the threat of violent extremism—RAND researchers interviewed former extremists and their family members. The interviews uncovered 32 unique stories from 24 white supremacists and eight Islamic extremists.

Gabrielle Mérite's second piece for RAND Art + Data tells these stories of radicalization and deradicalization in a new way. She created collages by cutting out words and phrases used in RAND's report. The resulting visual essays provide viewers with a deeper understanding of what might lead someone down the path toward extremism—and what could help them find a way out.

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The first essay highlights reasons why people may turn to extremist ideologies. The interviews conducted by RAND researchers revealed that negative life events—such as abuse or trauma, difficult family situations, or bullying—often play a part in one's path toward extremism. However, these events are never the sole or most direct cause of radicalization.

Gabrielle Mérite's visual essay features words and phrases used in RAND's report, Violent Extremism in America, to describe what may cause individuals to leave extremist groups and abandon extremist ideologies

What leads someone toward extremism? Words in the capitalized font are used by the report's authors to describe radicalization, and phrases in the italicized font are quotes from interviewees.

The second narrative highlights some reasons why extremists become deradicalized, leave their organizations, and in some cases, join the fight against radicalism. Notably, RAND research shows that heavy-handed attempts by intelligence and law enforcement agencies to deradicalize individuals often fail.

Gabrielle Mérite's visual essay features words and phrases used in RAND's report, Violent Extremism in America, to describe what leads individuals down a path of radicalization

Those who escape from extreme groups often do so because an individual or group intervenes to help them reject the philosophy.

The third and final essay combines both narratives to show the evolution and complexity of individual experiences with radicalization and deradicalization. You may notice, for example, that dramatic life events and highly meaningful social interactions (both negative and positive) play fundamental roles in both processes.

Gabrielle Mérite's visual essay features words and phrases used in RAND's report, Violent Extremism in America, to describe radicalization and deradicalization.

Behind the Scenes

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Explore RAND Research on Violent Extremism

Findings from RAND research on this topic suggest that incorporating the voices of those who have personal experience with ideological extremism can help inform future research efforts, as well as the development of policies that prevent radicalization and promote deradicalization.

  • Light catches the security fence around the U.S. Capitol, erected in the wake of the January 6th attack but now scheduled to be removed, in Washington, D.C., March 15, 2021, photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Report

    Violent Extremism in America: Firsthand Accounts

    The January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol emphasized the need for more research to inform violent extremism prevention and deradicalization strategies. Interviews with former extremists and their family members shed light on what leads people to join—and later leave—extremist groups.

  • Protesters gather during the Indiana Stop Asian Hate Rally on Monument Circle in Indianapolis, Indiana, March 27, 2021, photo by USA Today Network via Reuters

    Research Brief

    What Former Extremists and Their Families Say About Radicalization in America

    Violent extremism is an evolving, ongoing threat in the United States. Interviews with former extremists—and their families and friends—offer insights into how individuals become radicalized, how they leave extremist groups, and what communities can do to stop the growth of extremism in their area.

  • A white supremacist protester is escorted away in handcuffs by a sheriff during a demonstration in Paris, Texas, July 21, 2009, photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

    Report

    Can Extremism Be Addictive?

    Why do former extremists feel drawn back to radical ideological thoughts and long for reengagement with the movements they left? Is it like an addiction? There could be opportunities to apply lessons from addiction research and treatment to efforts to counter hate and violent extremism.

About Gabrielle Mérite

Portrait of Information Designer Gabrielle Mérite

Gabrielle Mérite is an information designer specializing in empathetic data visualizations for truth-seeking, ethically driven organizations. Deeply passionate about social justice and humanity's responsibility for one another, her work breathes life into numbers so that people can truly feel their importance.

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