Exit Extremism

This is a repost of something that I shared on social media. Since this blog is about politics and data, I thought that it was appropriate.

During these times of magnified focus on extremist acts, we need to keep in mind some ideas about extremist and terrorist violence.

1) Overall, terrorism is a rare phenomenon and the statistical likelihood of you being killed or attacked is small.1

2) The goal of terrorist acts is not to kill you, but to make you angry or fearful. They want you to overreact or give up. These are their strategies and it is the same for Right-wing terrorists, Left-wing terrorists, or Islamic terrorists.2

3) The majority of those that commit such acts of violence are not psychopathic or hold un-malleable beliefs of hatred. Extremism is a social phenomenon that is the product of many socio-psychological, economic, political, and social factors.3

We should be most cognizant of this third point. Extremist groups, whether they are Islamist or Nazi, are often like gangs. They produce intense peer pressure on group members to join and to maintain their status as a member. Their control over members is strengthened by extreme othering of outsiders. This othering thrives on commonly held arguments that paint in-group members as being psychologically or morally defunct.4

So what can we do? Sweden and Germany have had success with creating accessible and understanding decradicalization programs. One such program is called EXIT.5 EXIT Deutschland has been instrumental in helping members of violent Nazi gangs and radical Islamist groups quit their lives as members of these organizations. EXIT sets up anonymous hot lines that provide advice, counseling, and understanding. If a member wishes to quit their group, EXIT can help to provide former extremists with safe housing and protection from reprisal.

Americans from the left, right, and center have fear of those that have taken up the mantel of extremism, but fear is our own worst enemy. We owe it to ourselves to empathize and understand those that commit such acts and to provide a bridge for them to escape the siren call of extremism and the illusion of safety and comradeship that it creates.

As you think of ways to make a difference politically or socially (whatever that may be), we can all agree that our democratic duty is to help those that are trapped in cycles of violence and extremist social pressure. Here are some organizations that one may think of donating to or volunteering with in the United States. Most importantly as well. If you personally know someone who you fear is courted or already a part of an extremist organization take time to reach out to them and to point them in the direction of these organizations. Even if they do not respond, you have planted the seed of doubt. If their doubt grows, these organizations can help them live again.

Life After Hate


Project Against Violent Extremism

  1. http://politicalviolenceataglance.org/…/evidence-based-pol…/ 

  2. Kydd, Andrew H., and Barbara F. Walter. “The strategies of terrorism.” International Security 31, no. 1 (2006): 49-80. 

  3. Victoroff, Jeff. “The mind of the terrorist A review and critique of psychological approaches.” Journal of Conflict resolution 49, no. 1 (2005): 3-42. 

  4. Atran, Scott, Hammad Sheikh, and Angel Gomez. “Devoted actors sacrifice for close comrades and sacred cause.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 50 (2014): 17702-17703. 

  5. Lombardi, Marco, Eman Ragab, and Vivienne Chin, eds. Countering radicalisation and violent extremism among youth to prevent terrorism. Vol. 118. IOS Press, 2014. 

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