Domestic Radicalization to Violent Extremism

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Overview of Domestic Radicalization to Violent Extremism

Countering and preventing violent extremism is a primary concern for state and local law enforcement agencies as well as the federal government. Violent extremists are those who support or commit ideologically motivated violence to further political, social or religious goals. The goal of NIJ’s work on violent extremism is to provide community leaders with evidence-based practices for bolstering resilience and developing communitywide responses that can prevent and mitigate threats posed by violent extremists.

Important questions remain about the nature of violent extremism, but few are as vexing as why and how individuals become violent extremists. This process, often referred to as “radicalization to violent extremism,” is the central focus of NIJ’s research and evaluation efforts addressing violent extremism.

To improve our understanding of radicalization to violent extremism as it occurs in the United States, NIJ supports research aimed at answering several questions:

  • What common threads exist among cases of domestic radicalization to violent extremism?
  • Which models of radicalization to violent extremism explain how the process occurs in the United States, and what can these models tell us about preventing and countering violent extremism?
  • Why do people adopt radical beliefs, and why do some people choose to engage in violence to further those beliefs while others do not?
  • How are U.S. communities responding to radicalization, and what works to prevent violent extremism?

Research and Evaluation Program on Radicalization to Violent Extremism

NIJ has funded research on violent extremism since 2002. Its current research and evaluation efforts addressing domestic radicalization to violent extremism are central to its broader Program on Transnational Issues. Since 2012, NIJ has focused its research investments in this area on developing a better understanding of domestic radicalization to violent extremism and advancing evidence-based strategies for effective intervention and prevention of radicalization in the United States.

Program Year 1

In the first year of the program, NIJ focused its call for research proposals on four areas of interest:

  • Empirical evaluation of social science theories of domestic radicalization
  • Examination of the radicalization process for individuals, including “lone wolf” extremists
  • Comparative analysis of violent extremists, organized criminals, gangs, hate groups and/or cults
  • Influence of community-level and policing strategies on domestic radicalization

After a competitive review process, NIJ awarded six grants and one evaluation contract.

Program Year One Research & Evaluation Awards
TitleDescription
Identity and Framing Theory, Precursor Activities, and the Radicalization Process
University of Arkansas NIJ award 2012-ZA-BX-0003
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This study will empirically evaluate “identity” and “framing” theories relevant to understanding radicalization to violence. The project will focus on how terrorists’ actions before the commission of violence display components of these theories. The researchers will use their findings to develop an integrated theorized understanding of radicalization to violence.
The Role of Social Networks in the Evolution of Al Qaeda-Inspired Violent Extremism in the United States, 1993-2013
Brandeis University
NIJ award 2012-ZA-BX-0006
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This project aims to discover what motivates Americans to volunteer for Islamist extremist violence and terrorism. The researchers will determine whether there is a predictable individual trajectory toward violent radicalization and the role Internet-based recruitment plays. Ultimately, the project will create profiles of violent jihadist extremism that can be used to develop targeted approaches to prevention.
Understanding Pathways to and Away From Violent Radicalization Among Resettled Somali Refugees
Children’s Hospital of Boston
NIJ award 2012-ZA-BX-0004
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The goal of this project is to understand why some Somali refugees embrace violent extremism, whereas others with shared life histories move toward gangs, crime or nonviolent activism. The study will provide evidence of specific modifiable indicators related to changes in openness to violent extremism — explaining the factors that lead youth to be more or less vulnerable to recruitment into terrorist organizations.
Community Policing Strategies to Counter Violent Extremism
Duke University
NIJ award 2012-ZA-BX-0002
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This project will examine the extent to which police departments around the country have adopted community policing practices, the methods they are using to address the threat of violent extremism, and what they consider to be best practices in the field. Using a nationwide survey, interviews and focus groups, the project will produce a wealth of information to inform policing practices and support future efforts to identify evidence-based practices.
Lone Wolf Terrorism in America: Using Knowledge of Radicalization Pathways to Forge Prevention Strategies
Indiana State University
NIJ award 2012-ZA-BX-0001
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This project will identify a set of “signatures” that individuals with terrorist intent demonstrate when preparing for an attack. The researchers will create a database on lone wolf terrorism and conduct a case study and a comparative analysis aimed at distinguishing lone wolves from those who undergo radicalization in a group context.
Empirical Assessment of Domestic Radicalization, University of Maryland
NIJ award 2012-ZA-BX-0005
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This project will focus on four key areas: (1) differences between extremists who accept the personal use of violence for political purposes and those who do not; (2) the relationship between radical beliefs and radical behavior; (3) differences between radicalized individuals and radicalization processes within different ideologies; and (4) how strongly evidence supports existing radicalization theories. The project’s findings will allow researchers to draw valid, generalizable inferences about who might be at risk of radicalizing.

Program Year 2

In the second year of the program, NIJ undertook a coordinated effort to bring together stakeholders and demonstrate the importance of the research. The effort culminated in a meeting of grantees and key stakeholders from federal, state and local criminal justice agencies.

The research and evaluation goals were expanded to include six research grants targeting new questions that were brought to the table. NIJ identified the following areas of interest for year 2 proposals:

  • Comparative analysis of individual violent extremists, mass casualty perpetrators, gang members, hate group members and/or organized criminals
  • Online radicalization to violent extremism
  • Evaluations of promising practices
  • The relationship between and convergence of organized crime and either violent extremist groups or transnational gangs

After a competitive review process, NIJ awarded six grants.

Program Year Two Research & Evaluation Awards
TitleDescription
Transnational Crimes Among Somali-Americans: Convergences of Radicalization and Trafficking, University of Illinois at Chicago
NIJ award 2013-ZA-BX-0008
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This project focuses on refugee and immigrant Somali-Americans and their involvement with radicalization to violent extremism and trafficking in persons. To understand how trafficking and violent extremism are related, it will look at vulnerable communities and current criminal networks. By learning more about these crimes and their links, this project can help supply at-risk communities with much-needed information about developing resilient and specific policies to improve responses to radicalization and other transnational issues.
Across the Universe? A Comparative Analysis of Violent Radicalization Across Three Offender Types With Implications for Criminal Justice Training and Education
University of Massachusetts Lowell
NIJ award 2013-ZA-BX-0002
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Through a series of studies, this project will compare the behavior since 1990 of three types of U.S.-based offenders: solo terrorists, lone actor terrorists and individuals who engage in mass casualty violence but lack an ideological motivation. By examining the similarities and differences in offender behavior, the researchers hope to evaluate the distinctions made between offender types and to categorize specific traits and warning signs to help law enforcement agencies and community organizations promote safety and prevent violent radicalization.
Evaluating the Federal CVE Initiative
Duke University
NIJ award 2013-ZA-BX-0004
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This project will collect information on the engagement efforts that U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center are conducting as part of the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Initiative. The project’s data collection efforts will include a survey of U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and in-depth interviews with key officials to catalogue federal outreach and engagement work. It will begin to assess the impact of this engagement work through focus groups of Muslim-American community leaders in three cities. Although the study is not a formal evaluation of engagement efforts, the resulting catalog will provide the basis for future evaluations, and the focus groups will provide valuable feedback concerning outreach efforts in the United States.
Prisoner Recollections: The Role of Internet Use and Real-Life Networks in the Early Radicalization of Islamist Terrorist Offenders
Brandeis University
NIJ award 2012-ZA-BX-0006
View award detail
This project aims to discover what motivates Americans to volunteer for Islamist extremist violence and terrorism. The researchers will determine whether there is a predictable individual trajectory toward violent radicalization and the role Internet-based recruitment plays. Ultimately, the project will create profiles of violent jihadist extremism that can be used to develop targeted approaches to prevention.
Sequencing Terrorists’ Precursor Behavior: A Crime-Specific Analysis
University of Arkansas
NIJ award 2013-ZA-BX-0001
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This project will attempt to determine whether there is a pattern to the actions terrorists undertake before being involved in an incident. By looking at patterns that vary by group type, group size and incident type, the researchers hope to find out whether certain aspects of the planning process correlate with the successful completion or prevention of a terrorist incident. Their findings will give law enforcement agencies and community organizations information about possible indicators of violent extremism.
Evaluation of a Multifaceted, U.S. Community-Based, Muslim-Led CVE Program
University of Massachusetts Lowell
NIJ award 2013-ZA-BX-0003
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This research will evaluate programs focused on countering violent extremism and domestic terrorism. The researchers will conduct the evaluation in Montgomery County, Md., in collaboration with the community-based, Muslim-led CVE program as well as the police department and the Montgomery County Office of Community Partnerships. The researchers hope to create an evidence-based model for outreach at the community level that will help counter domestic terrorism. This study also will provide an understanding of which programs for countering violent extremism increase engagement among communities and organizations, including criminal justice agencies.

Program Year 3

Year 3 of the program has focused on the dissemination of early results. NIJ hosted practitioners, including representatives from U.S. Attorneys' Offices, other federal agencies, state and local law enforcement agencies, and international partners, at a program update meeting in June 2014. The meeting provided a chance for the first-year grantees to present their initial findings and for the second-year grantees to introduce their new projects.

NIJ also released a third call for proposals for research, development and evaluation related to domestic radicalization to violent extremism. Any awards made under that solicitation will be announced by November 2014.

Read the solicitation, Research and Evaluation on Domestic Radicalization to Violent Extremism (pdf, 28 pages).

Other Resources on Preventing Violent Extremism

Read an explanation of the National Strategy for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States (pdf, 23 pages).

Read the Strategic Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States (pdf, 23 pages)

Date Created: July 7, 2014