Violent Extremism in America: Can It Be Stopped?


Rajeev Ramchand, Senior Behavioral/Social Scientist

RAND had been working for a few years with the Department of Homeland Security to take approaches we were using to evaluate public health programs, to evaluate programs that were working to counter violent extremism. We wanted to take this approach one step further, and we applied to the National Institute of Justice to use approaches we use to study suicide, to study violent extremism. Specifically, we interviewed family members and friends of those who had radicalized, as well as people who had formerly radicalized themselves, to understand their pathways to radicalization so that we could determine how such pathways could be prevented.

Todd Helmus, Senior Behavioral/Social Scientist

We first wanted to know, who were our participants? And what were their experiences? Many had financial problems throughout their lives, and it's not uncommon also from January 6. Many of those who participated in the riots also struggled with financial problems. Mental health was common, with over half of our sample struggling with problems related to anxiety, depression, even past suicide attempts and ideology. Finally, many experienced social problems. Half, in fact, reported problems related to being victimized, stigmatized, marginalized. Many of these people felt like they were on the edges of society. We can't say that these experiences caused their extremism, but many of our participants directly tied these experiences to their radicalization.

Ryan Brown, Senior Behavioral/Social Scientist

We, of course, have to focus our resources on detecting and interdicting attacks and plots before they occur, before they're executed. We can also get upstream of that attack plotting and execution process to deradicalization.

There are really two stages to deradicalization. The first is just exiting the group. We found that that was most frequently motivated by disillusionment, number one. The second is ceasing to abide by or believe in the radical ideology of the group. We found that interventions by individuals, institutions, or even sort of self-motivated deradicalization usually involved some optimal exposure to diversity. So, some unexpected kindness, or provision of help, or a helping hand during a difficult time by a member of the hated group. So those two kinds of phenomena really helped to push individuals away from radical extremist organizations.

Sarah Weilant, Senior Policy Analyst

The threat of extremism in the United States is real, and collective efforts between community members and organizations are needed to prevent the radicalization of individuals and to deradicalize those already in extremist organizations. Critical to the prevention of individuals radicalizing, we must ensure access to social support networks, also mental health services and diverse experiences. Needed are pathways for individuals to offramp from radical organizations and ways for family and friends to recognize the signs of extremism in their loved ones.