The violence America witnessed at the Capitol was more than unleashed rage. Terrorism experts say it was the culmination of years of radicalization.
“A lot of people at the Capitol protest I would describe as radicalized,” said Mary Beth Altier a professor at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs and an expert in political violence. “I’m worried about the next two to three weeks, and then after the election about the potential for escalation.”
Wednesday’s insurrection left much of the nation stunned. But many friends and family of the rioters felt something else, too: grief, powerlessness, humiliation. The daughter of a Virginia man who was arrested said she was “ashamed and disgusted” by her father’s actions. The sister of Rosanne Boyland, who was killed in the riot, said her family begged her not to go.
“It can be heartbreaking for families to realize that they have lost family members to this way of thinking,” said John Horgan, a psychology professor at Georgia State University and director of the Violent Extremism Research Group.
USA TODAY spoke with Altier and Horgan about what radicalization is, how de-radicalization works and where there is room for loved ones to help.
What is radicalization
Radicalization is when someone accepts or believes in ideas that are considered extreme or outside the status quo, Altier said.
When someone becomes radicalized, they are so committed to their extreme beliefs that they can’t accept the fact that other people believe different things.
Not all people who become radicalized are violent, though radicalization can lead to violent extremism. Some people at the Capitol riot were radicalized, Altier said, but not all committed or even condoned violence.
What is de-radicalization
De-radicalization is the process of giving up your belief in an extreme idea. It’s also accepting pluralism – allowing for a reality in which we can all hold different beliefs and recognizing that we shouldn’t impose our beliefs on others. Extreme ideologies usually maintain that other versions of reality aren’t acceptable.
Horgan said de-radicalization usually happens when someone grows disillusioned with their involvement in an extreme group. Often many people have to cross a line before they decide to step back.
Why someone can’t be forced to de-radicalize
Experts say people generally can’t be forced to de-radicalize. An individual has to want to change.
“It’s not something that people can be convinced to do,” Horgan said. “I don’t know that it’s ever necessarily too late … but be careful about the allure of a quick fix.”
He notes much of what we know about the process of de-radicalization from terrorism comes from prison settings, which is not comparable to a setting in which a concerned family member may approach a loved one. But even then, the success of these efforts has been limited.
Experts say the process of de-radicalization can take years, decades even, especially when someone is deeply ideologically committed.
“I’ve interviewed a neo-Nazi who would look at bagels and wouldn’t eat them because they were ‘of the Jews’ essentially,” Altier said. “Even though he’s left this Nazi group, he doesn’t really engage in that anymore. … You’ve trained your mind to think one way, and now you have untrain it – that when you see a bagel, you don’t think horrific things.”
Preventing radicalization is the most effective strategy
It’s easier to prevent radicalization than it is to become de-radicalized. Once someone becomes radicalized, they engage in what’s called “psychological reactance.”
“The more that you tell them something’s wrong, the more they kind of dig in and believe it, especially if it’s coming from a non-credible voice,” Altier said.
It can be frustrating for families since their efforts to help are often reflexively rebuffed, while the Internet acts as a vital accelerant for radical ideas.
When someone is vulnerable to radicalization, they are often in distress, so if you see someone you care about struggling, experts say reach out and offer support. The problem, they say, arises when distress becomes combined with ideology.
“When somebody tells you, ‘Hey, I know you’re in distress, but guess what? Somebody is responsible for it.’ That’s when people find themselves being radicalized and scapegoating others,” Horgan said.
Offer an alternative social safety net
Directly challenging someone on their beliefs will not be fruitful. Instead, experts say to offer alternative opportunities to channel frustration that don’t involve violence, as well as alternative avenues for socialization.
Altier said some of the people who attended the Capitol riot likely did so because they were lured by the group.
It can be as simple as saying to someone “Hey, come hang out with us and do something else,” she said.
Studies show over time, when people have more social options, when they engage in other social relationships through their jobs or their schools, their beliefs can start to change.
“They’re interacting with people who have alternate views, but those views aren’t being pushed on them, they’re being exposed to them,” Altier said.
A role for all of us to play
The bad news is there are no easy answers. There are endless pathways to radicalization impacting people with diverse histories who are motivated by a mix of grievances. Some people won’t be reached. Others will, but it will require patience and a recognition there are limits to what loved ones can do.
If someone does want to take a step back from their extreme beliefs, to re-examine them or eventually dis-engage, one of the most productive things we can do is make it safe for them to change their minds.
“We need to reassure people that there are ways for them to come back,” he said. “They have a role to play in warning others about the dangers of getting sucked in.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Capitol riot, conspiracies, extremism: Understanding de-radicalization
11 thoughts on “If someone you care about has been radicalized, here’s what to know”
“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” ~ Thomas Jefferson
I think a coup d’etat qualifies.
what a crock of Hilary
Here is what I know. If you do not defend our law you are my enemy. The end.
If a family/friend/acquaintance approaches you with this B.S., cut them from your life and do your best to make them forget you ever existed.
They are a threat to your preps, firearms, freedom and your life, as the system has been put in place for them to call in and snitch on you, unless that’s the hill you choose.
They are borg beyond saving or a loved one who has been bitten by a zombie and there’s nothing you can do except put space between you and the inevitable or open a space between their eyes.
Getting taken out of the fight by one of these little rat basturds is an anticlimactic way to lose.
Thank you Martist, for this point of courage, this clarity. It is what I am currently dealing with in my life right now. Difficult to disengage. Long-time loyal ties turning to shreds. I will find a way, for I know how this hinders true liberty. I will call on my inner JD who says we’ll have to shoot anyone in the way of our freedom, no matter whom; that it’s kill or be killed. Until a few years ago, this was something I never thought I’d have to consider. The religious upbringing was about martyrdom before killing. So much to transcend, overcome. Where is the womanness that used to be. A vague memory of gentleness. It’s like being asked to become something we’ve never been before. May all that God and life have to offer, come to assist in this process.
This is not what we’ve chosen, WE are merely reacting to a direct threat. We are simply defending what is OURS and any American national who recognizes what rightfully belongs to US. Take everything away from someone and corner them and find out just how much fight you’re gonna get, MF’s.
Don’t have the time to read Yahoo News crapola…..but good to know that the crapola they promote is visible and denounce-able. For me the headline is denounce-able enough.
Basically, the people whom stood their ground and shot dead the enforcers of tyranny at Lex/Concord like Sam Whittemore were of the utmost “Radicalized”!
They all should have had a higher, more servile attitude towards the Authority and “Status quo” of the day, of course none of these little commie, tyrant scum running around crying would exist here today, to do so if they didn’t shoot those maggot red coats.
Anyone and I mean any single mthrfkr anywhere or in any agency, institution gov what the fk ever; take heed of the following;
If you are violating the people’s laws, the Bill of rights, you are the criminal, you are the radical, you are the tyrant. And such violence begets more violence in resistance to such, pretty fkn simple!
No matter how small or trivial the violation appears to be.
Now is that Radical, to state that the bill of rights is the Law superseding all other authorities? If it is, then we are all already at war..!
Gfy, they talk about keeping the communities safe from radicalized violence and harm; it is the Authorities whom are causing this harm to the communities and people by violating our rights.
All a psych war now, they are trying to demoralize and remove people’s will to resist and fight, it is pre-invasionary, make people scared to be labeled as part of some perceived extremists, terrorist group etc
Soon you will be seeing the formation of some new community stasiesque Gov group that will be tasked to go thru all the neighborhoods doing safety, wellness and risk assessments of “resident civilians”
How far we have fallen…!
Gonna be a hell of a ride
Powerful truth, Norm. Especially these words: “If you are violating the people’s laws, the Bill of rights, you are the criminal, you are the radical, you are the tyrant.”
On the positive side of being a radical, the dictionary gave many definitions for the word. Here is just one:
“Radical, adjective: far-reaching or thorough, of or relating to the root of something.”
Origin: from late Latin radicalis, ‘root.’
Says to me that radicals are fed up with what’s shown and want to get to the root of the matter, the root of the problem.
This article of psychological sludge is to get our people to look at radicals as being ill. It is psy-op extraordinaire. And like you said, the radicals at Lexington/Concord shoved the door closed on tyranny. They were likely some of the sanest men who ever lived.
This is one feminized Marxist that’s in fear of radicals standing up to their criminality.
Go suck your thumb, baby!
AOC Demands Federal Funding To ‘Deradicalize’ White Supremacists, Conspiracy Theorists:
This sounds like a repeat of days gone by: