Violent Extremism in America
Interviews with Former Extremists and Their Families on Radicalization and Deradicalization
Terrorism and ideologically inspired violence represent persistent and serious threats to U.S. national security. The January 6, 2021, attack at the U.S. Capitol and other recent events emphasize the need for more research to inform prevention and deradicalization strategies. In this report, the authors aim to characterize why and how individuals joined extremist organizations, as well as how some of them exited these groups. Semistructured interviews were conducted with former extremists and their family members, representing 32 unique stories of 24 white supremacists and eight Islamic extremists.
Exposure to propaganda on the internet, in music, and in books and literature was present in more than two-thirds of the sample. Although formal, top-down recruitment occurred for three Islamic extremists, the majority of white supremacists actively sought out participation in extremist organizations. Among the sample, 26 had exited the organizations; of those, six were still undergoing cognitive and emotional deradicalization. Among those who exited, 22 mentioned that a person or group intervened to help them by providing diverse cultural and demographic exposures, emotional support, financial stability, or domestic stability.