Research on Domestic Radicalization to Violent Extremism: Insights from Family and Friends of Current and Former Extremists

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Ryan Brown


As concerns over domestic extremism have intensified, research is building a broader, deeper understanding of the causes and effects of domestic radicalization and radicalization-to-violent-extremism pathways. One recent study has combined the perspectives of those who chose an extremist path with the unique insights of family and friends to gain knowledge of why people radicalize or exit extremism.

Some key insights from the study by the RAND Corporation, supported by the National Institute of Justice, are:

  • Financial instability, mental health issues, and social factors contributed to the radicalization of significant segments of people covered by the study. Social factors include victimization, stigmatization, or marginalization.
  • More than half the former extremists in the study had experienced a “reorienting event” — a dramatic or traumatic life event — that had pushed them to reject former views and adopt radicalized beliefs.
  • Most described consuming propaganda during their radicalization process, including mainly online materials but also books and music.
  • Some study subjects had been recruited to extremism.
  • In a majority of cases, forming new social bonds motivated individuals to join an extremist group.
  • Some subjects noted positive aspects of the radicalization experience, such as feeling connected, and a new sense of power.

Another key insight from the interview-based study was that many respondents had exited extremism with the aid of their own or others’ “homegrown approaches” to deradicalization. Individuals formerly engaged in extremism created such approaches themselves and were employing them informally to assist others in deradicalizing. One research recommendation from the study called for the “scaling up and testing” of such approaches that had been found to work for the study subjects. The approaches include:

  • Addiction-based programs countering hate and radicalization, including buddy systems designed to deter relapse.
  • Educational and outreach efforts to help family, friends, and others identify early signs of radicalization.
  • Social network approaches to individuals in radical organizations who might be ready to deradicalize.
  • Deliberate exposure of radicalized individuals to positive contact with groups that were the targets of their hatred. (Former extremists reported that such exposure could be transformative.)
  • Programs that create a safe, mentored space for individuals to freely express themselves and challenge each other’s beliefs.

The new research addresses a data gap in existing literature in terms of first-hand accounts of radicalization and deradicalization experiences.


National Criminal Justice Reference Service

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Brown, Ryan "Research on Domestic Radicalization to Violent Extremism: Insights from Family and Friends of Current and Former Extremists"


Countering Violent Extremism


The Project Gravity Team

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The study identifies factors that push and pull members out of extremist belief and related alliances. The most commonly mentioned factors for exiting a group were senses of disillusionment and burnout. Specifically, these cases mentioned feelings of disappointment by former members, hypocrisy or other negative behaviors were cited as reasons for these feelings.

Individuals often help others exit these groups, and can do so in many ways, including providing diverse cultural and demographic exposures, emotional support, financial or domestic stability. However, interventions can also fail when family members try to intervene, and interventions by law enforcement often lead to increased extremism. Most former group members emphasized the importance of being reached at the right place at the right time.