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.

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.

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.

Behind the Scenes

This is placeholder content for now. If we get the time-lapse video of Gabrielle building the narratives, we could put a YouTube video of it below.

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.

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    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.

  • 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.

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    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

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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