New research sheds light on the indoctrination process of radical extremist groups.
- A new study features interviews with 24 former extremists on the radicalization process.
- Financial instability, online propaganda, and reorienting events that caused them to "snap" are leading causes of indoctrination.
- The research team offers potential solutions, including exposure to diverse ideas during childhood and a tamping down of polarization and media sensationalism.
Researchers are continuing to unpack the reasons why extremists stormed the Capitol on January 6. Political scientist Robert Pape hypothesized that answers could be found in increasingly desperate economic conditions—the distance between the wealthiest and everyone else has never been so stark in America. As he dug into the data, however, a different story emerged.
"If you look back in history, there has always been a series of far-right extremist movements responding to new waves of immigration to the United States or to movements for civil rights by minority groups. [The Capitol insurrectionists] are mainly middle-class to upper-middle-class whites who are worried that, as social changes occur around them, they will see a decline in their status in the future."
Pape isn't the only researcher contemplating the path from aggrievement to insurrection. A new study, published by the RAND Corporation, takes a detailed look at the indoctrination process through interviews with white nationalists, Islamic extremists, and their family members and friends.
The researchers set out with a basic set of questions to better understand the radicalization process in the hopes of developing prevention and intervention measures.
- What factors lead individuals to join violent extremist organizations?
- How and why do extremists become deradicalized, leave their organizations, change their minds, and in some cases join the fight against radicalism?
- What can we do better to assist those who have been radicalized and prevent extremist organizations from recruiting new members?
After poring over existing research, the team conducted 36 interviews, consisting of 24 former extremists, 10 family members, and two friends. Most of the subjects were active in this millennium, with six only active before the year 2000.
The researchers discovered three major background characteristics that led people to become extremists. (1) Financial instability: In 22 cases, financial instability was key, with seven former extremists claiming this as the main reason they joined an extremist organization. (2) Mental health issues: In 17 cases, overwhelming anger predominated, but PTSD, trauma, substance abuse, and depression around physical issues also played a role. (3) Social factors: Marginalization, victimization, and stigmatization were mentioned in 16 cases.
Often, these background characteristics weren't enough. In over half the cases, there was a "reorienting event," that is, a moment that "broke" them, such as being rejected from the military, experiencing long-term unemployment, or enduring a friend's suicide. Propaganda was involved in 22 cases, predominantly through social media but also through books and music. Another factor was direct and indirect recruitment, with indirect recruitment being much more common. In other words, the individuals sought to join extremists groups. Social bonds played a role in 14 cases, including "graduating" from one organization to a more extreme group.
A Proud Boy member is armed with a gun labeled "Zombie Killer" as members and supporters of Patriot Prayer gather in Esther Short Park for a memorial for member Aaron J. Danielson in Vancouver, Washington on September 5, 2020. Credit: Allison Dinner / AFP via Getty Images
How to help extremists
Why do extremists quit? The most common reasons for leaving are feelings of disillusionment and burnout. Members grew disappointed by the failed promises of leaders or noticed hypocrisy among the ranks. Over half of the individuals were involved in failed deradicalization efforts, however, showing the resilience of these organizations even when family members and friends try to intervene.
The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. An extremist isn't a lost cause. The team lists important steps for helping extremists leave hate groups as well as for preventing people from being seduced in the first place. The researchers' recommendations include:
- Exposure to diverse ideas, especially during childhood
- The development of critical thinking skills
- Participation in prosocial activities that promote positive behaviors and inclusiveness
- Exposure to different racial and cultural groups
- Addressing marginalization more broadly
- A tamping down of polarization and media sensationalism
- Better access to mental health treatment
- Targeted outreach and support for military veterans
The researchers note that this is a small study sample, so further work is necessary. Yet, these interviews offer a starting point for understanding the true scope of the problem. The reasons people become extremists are complex and multivariate. Preventing extremism therefore requires a holistic approach that addresses topics such as childhood education, poverty, mental health, ethnic and racial animosity, and the prevalence of propaganda.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
Of course, it's all about where you move. The authors argue that it needs to be less populous regions.
- Moving from densely-populated urban regions is more effective in stopping the spreading of disease than closing borders.
- Two researchers from Spain and Italy ran 10,000 simulations to discover that travel bans are ultimately ineffective.
- Smaller cities might suffer high rates of infection, but the nation overall could benefit from this model.
As the holiday season approaches, tens of millions of Americans will not be seeing their families or loved ones this year. On the flip side, tens of millions will travel locally, nationally, and even internationally (where they can get in). The reality of "two Americas" has wedged itself into the conversation of coronavirus dangers, which we can see clearly in our travel patterns.
Few questions have inflamed the national consciousness this year as "Are lockdowns necessary?" and "Should we close our borders?" A new study, published in the appropriately named journal Chaos, dissects this issue by looking at migration patterns.
In a simulation study that included 10,000 iterations, Spanish researcher Massimiliano Zanin and Italian researcher David Papo argue that moving away from densely-populated urban regions is far more effective in stopping the spreading of disease than closing borders.
The authors wanted to know if banning travel is the ideal way of stopping the spread of disease. While it seems to be a commonsense approach to some—stop mobility patterns and the virus won't spread—the authors point to research that suggests allowing for some travel actually hinders infection rates. Of course, it depends on where people travel—or, in this case, move.
Regardless, a smart flow of traffic turns out to be a better solution than an outright ban on travel.
"Our results confirm that, under certain conditions, allowing individuals to move from regions of high to low infection rates may turn out to have a positive effect on aggregate; such positive effect is nevertheless reduced if a directional flow is allowed."
Naturally, when we think of restrictions, we consider international travel bans. This pandemic played out differently, however, with regional bans enforced as well. Of course, putting restrictions on regions with low infection rates—this happened in the United States, Italy, and Spain, for example—has the potential of increasing the spread of the virus there, but the authors were more interested in how the entire system operates.
Credit: Alexander Ozerov / Adobe Stock
The author realizes this model has limitations. Their focus was purely on population densities. Ideally, mobility during a pandemic coincides with public health measures, such as wearing a mask, washing your hands, and self-quaranting—factors that differ radically depending on what region you happen to be in.
While their modeling is hypothetical, it does track with real-world migration patterns. A mass exodus has been occurring from New York City, for example. The reasons for so many people fleeing are manifold, but the pandemic certainly catalyzed the migration. Similar trends are occurring in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In their paper, Zanin and Papo wonder if forced relocation, from high-density to low-density regions, could be proactively enforced. Of course, there would be political pushback for initiating such measures, though it appears it could impact the spread of disease as well.
The authors also note that their model does not take into account the impact on regional health care systems, which, at least in America, are often not equipped to handle population increases. And they recognize the political concern—hypothetical modeling does not necessarily take ethical considerations into question.
That said, this is and will remain a political issue. As Zanin says, the success of any pandemic response lies in the cooperation between national and regional governments looking at their country as a whole, as well as considering the impact of their actions on the rest of the planet.
"Collaboration between different governments and administrations is an essential ingredient towards controlling a pandemic, and one should consider the possibility of small-scale sacrifices to reach a global benefit."
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His new book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
'Critical Tourist Map of Oslo' offers uniquely dark perspective on Norway's capital.
- Your standard tourist map is irrepressibly positive about its location—but not this one.
- Norwegian activist/artist Markus Moestue reveals the dark and shameful sides of Oslo.
- He hopes his 'Critical Tourist Map' will inspire others to reveal the dark side of their cities.
"Only negative stuff about Oslo"
Tourism is a conspiracy of euphemisms. Visitors only want to see the best parts of the places they visit. And the places they visit only want to show them their nicest bits. But now, Norwegian activist/artist Markus Moestue is completely reversing that premise. His 'Critical Tourist Map' of Oslo shows the worst, most shameful parts of the Norwegian capital. "It's just like a normal tourist map," he says, "but everything is negative."
In a clip on his website, he's seen wheeling a self-made kiosk across Oslo to distribute his work to passersby: "You guys want a free tourist map? It's a critical one: only negative things. So, nothing about sweaters or lasagna, only negative stuff about Oslo and Norway." Some hesitantly accept the map. Most walk by, nonplussed.
In the same clip, Moestue muses: "If you feel like you live in the best country in the world, take a moment to consider: Is that really a fact? Or is that just the result of a very successful national propaganda?"
One thing is for sure: Norway does have a very positive opinion of itself, and successfully projects that image to the rest of the world. Like its neighboring countries in Scandinavia, it regularly tops global rankings of happiness, equality, eco-awareness and other positive social indicators.
But Moestue argues that there is something rotten in the state of Norway, and he uses the otherwise irrepressibly positive medium of the tourist map to make his point.
"The Critical Tourist Map of Oslo might help you shatter a few myths about the greatness of Norway. Among the topics you'll learn about is Norway's aggressive foreign policy, our involvement in colonial slavery, the unfair asylum system and why Amnesty International has their eyes on our prisons."
A short overview of the places and issues he singles out (see map for full text) follows.
"Cleverly constructed doublethink"
The Royal Palace in Oslo. "The Royal Myth was created by King Olav in 1973, when he arranged a photo of himself pretending to pay for a tram ticket," says Moestue.
Credit: Palickap, CC BY-SA 4.0
Det Kongelige Slott (the Royal Palace) – Slottsplassen 1
"The Royal Myth was created by King Olav in 1973, when he arranged a photo of himself pretending to pay for a tram ticket. That iconic image showed the king being just like us. But of course, it was such a big deal because he's not one of us. This is very cleverly constructed doublethink."
Stortinget (Parliament) – Karl Johanns gate 22
"In 2011, these people voted to bomb Libya. 588 Norwegian bombs helped reduce that country from one of the most stable states in Africa into one of civil war with extreme suffering for its people."
Tordenskioldstatuen (statue of Tordenskiold) – Rådhusplassen (east side)
"Our national hero Tordenskiold operated as a slave-trader during the colonial era. Norway actively downplays this part of our history and has not provided any apologies or paid any reparations."
4. Oslo Prison
Oslo fengsel (Oslo Prison) - Åkebergveien 11
"Amnesty International has complained that this prison in Oslo keeps prisoners in isolation for up to 23 hours a day. This equals torture and may have long-term implications for the prisoners' mental health."
5. Lesbian bench
Karl Johanns gate (?)
"This bench is a memorial for all in Norway who have been discriminated against—and still are—because of their sexual orientation. Still today you can find discrimination, and some religious sects are still trying to 'heal' young people from homosexuality."
6. Indigenous peoples
Samisk Hus (Sami House) - Dronningens gate 8B
"Many efforts have been made to assimilate the indigenous people of Norway. Sami and Kven have had their cultures diminished. Use of their languages and symbols was discouraged, sometimes outlawed. Today, these languages are under threat of extinction."
The gap between history and reality
"In most countries, what we are taught about our own nation in school does not correspond much to reality," says Moestue. This map sets about correcting that shortcoming, at least for Oslo and Norway.
7. Oslo Courthouse
Oslo Tingrett (Oslo District Court) - C. J. Hambros plass 4
"Norway often claims to defend freedom of speech. But unfortunately, we are one of many countries that has not wanted to protect Julian Assange. When the Dalai Lama visited Norway, our prime minister refused to meet with him."
8. Government building
Regjeringsbygget (the Cabinet Building) – Akersgata 42
"In 2011, a Norwegian right-wing terrorist bombed this building, and killed 69 people in another location that same day. Altogether, 77 people lost their lives. He was a former member of the political party FrP. In 2018, the justice minister from FrP was forced to resign after spreading the same conspiracy theories as the terrorist had—mainly hate speech towards Muslims and the Labor Party."
Utlendingsinternat (National Police Immigration Detention Centre) - Trandumveien 80, Mogreina
"Asylum seekers in Trandum camp, north of Oslo, are held in conditions worse than in prison, including days of complete isolation, no chairs and minimal medical assistance. They have not had any trial and have not committed any crimes."
Equinor Oslo – Martin Linges vei 33, Fornebu (farther location than shown on this map)
"State-owned energy company Equinor spends millions on advertising aimed directly at the Norwegians. Their non-stop campaigning has made the Norwegian population one of the most climate-illiterate in the world."
11. Nobel Peace Center
Nobel Fredssenter (Nobel Peace Center) – Brynjulf Bulls plass 1
"The myth of Norway as a peace-loving nation has been widely promoted. However, since Norway's contribution to the bombing of Serbia, the attack on Afghanistan and the U.S. war against Iraq, this image should be adjusted."
East Side Oslo – Nylandsveien area
"Even though most drug use takes place on Oslo's West Side, the poorer East Side suffers more arrests and fines. Lots of resources are spent on the war on drugs, but the policy is lacking a holistic approach."
13. Jewish deportations
"During WWII, more than 600 Jews were deported from Norway to the Nazi death camps. The Norwegian police arrested the Jews and put them onto ships. After the war, the police chief in charge was pardoned. His next job was to hunt communists."
"In most countries, what we are taught about our own nation in school does not correspond much to reality," says Moestue. This map sets about correcting that shortcoming, at least for his own country. "Is Norway the most happy place, the most environmentally conscious, the most peace-loving or the most ethical [country on Earth]? Hardly!"
Seagull resting in Tordenskiold's hat. "It sometimes feels like Norway has no colonial history and nobody ate any sugar in the 17th century."
Credit: Michal Klajban, CC BY-SA 3.0
Perhaps somewhat too convinced of the malleability of public opinion, Mr Moestue muses: "People don't want to just come to Oslo, look around, go back home and say: Hey, I've been to Oslo, to have the best kebab or to have some mediocre Chinese food there. No. People want to go to Oslo and then they want to go back home, and they want to say: I've been to Oslo. I've seen Oslo. And it's really, really bad."
Most foreigners - and a good deal of Norwegians - will probably not know that the country has a colonial past, for example. "We had fortresses in Africa and colonies in the Caribbean. Norway actively downplays this part of our history and has not provided any apologies or paid any reparations," says Moestue. But "it sometimes feels like Norway has no colonial history and nobody ate any sugar in the 17th century."
However, don't mistake Mr Moestue's negativism for nihilism. Ultimately, his map has a positive point to make: "I feel that Norway is using too much resources appearing to be good, and too little effort actually doing good!"
And there's another thing the artist hopes is map will achieve: "I'm hoping others will make their own tourist maps about their own cities. If they look hard enough I'm sure it's also pretty bad!"
Learn more about Mr Moestue's map on his website.
Strange Maps #1056
Got a strange map? Let me know via email@example.com.
'Battlefield maps' show continent under attack from hostile invaders.
- Maps aren't objective. And migration maps aren't innocent.
- Consciously or not, their content and form can confirm anti-migrant prejudices.
- Alternative mapping options are available – but perhaps the answer isn't a map at all.
Don't believe the map
Satellite picture showing a scirocco blowing desert dust across the sea from Libya to southern Europe. Most of the irregular migration into Europe takes place across this part of the Mediterranean, either from North Africa to Italy or from Turkey to Greece.
Image: NASA, public domain
One map can say more than a thousand words. That's why we shouldn't believe all they're telling us. See, maps have a problem. They appear neutral, objective, authoritative. But that's exactly all that they're not. Each map reflects the many choices the cartographer has made, consciously or not, both in terms of content and form.
And so, without us even noticing it, maps can confirm bias, entrench prejudice and perpetuate injustice. Take for instance the topic of migration, guaranteed to raise the volume of the after-dinner conversation at any party. In a recent article, Dutch news website De Correspondent argues that the cartographic depiction of migrant flows into Europe reinforces the negative attitudes many Europeans have towards migrants.
The Frontex map
Illegal border crossings at the EU's external borders in 2019: just under 142,000 (down from around 150,000 in 2018 and almost 205,000 in 2017). Most came in via the Eastern Mediterranean route (83K, up from 57K in 2019), followed by the Western Mediterranean route (24K, down from 56K), the Western Balkan route (15K, up from 6K) and the Central Mediterranean route (14K, down from 23K). Relatively minor routes: the Western African route (3K, up from 1K), the Circular Route from Albania to Greece (2K, down from 5K), the Eastern Borders route (700, down from 1K) and the Black Sea route (2, up from zero).
Image: Frontex - Risk Analysis for 2020
Here's a map taken from the 2020 annual report by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, showing the illegal border crossings into the EU for 2019. As part of the official report on illegal immigration, this map is the source of many others in the European media.While it may seem nothing more or less than a factually correct cartographic representation of objective data contained in the report, De Correspondent argues that there are several things wrong with this image.
- The arrows are reminiscent of battlefield maps, suggesting that Europe is under attack. This is aggravated by the use of the color red, which signals danger.
- The arrows are huge – larger than some countries. This homogenises a diverse group of people, and inflates the perceived size of the issue.
- The 'straightness' of the arrows indicates a clear purpose; but most migrants experience a much more circuitous and dangerous path, not always concluded successfully (or alive).
- The title refers to 'illegal border crossings', not mentioning that migrants hardly have legal means of entering the EU.
This all serves to affirm certain preconceptions about migration into Europe: the continent is being flooded by a huge influx of hostile aliens. "It's no coincidence that political parties opposed to migration use maps like these in their communication," the article states.
Red map vs. blue map
The blue map tries to confer the same information as the red one, without confirming the underlying biases.
Image: De Correspondent, reproduced with kind permission.
Can maps confer the same information without confirming those biases? De Correspondent took the Frontex map and translated it into its own house style; and then produced a kinder, gentler alternative:
- The colour is a more soothing blue rather than the aggressive red.
- The map's new title ("These are the routes via which irregular migrants reach the EU") no longer focuses on the illegal aspect of the entries.
- The military-style arrows are replaced by circles.
Thinking beyond the map
Number of migrants reaching Europe via the Mediterranean. The numbers have been declining since 2015.
Image: De Correspondent, reproduced with kind permission.
Perhaps a map is not the right way at all to present information on migration, De Correspondent argues. Here's another illustration: a simple bar chart, showing the number of irregular border crossings for each of the preceding six years. Following the dramatic refugee influx of 2015, that number has gone down significantly and consistently for each of the following years.
This offers a radically different perspective on the same reality – and one less likely to be reproduced by anti-immigration parties.
For more background (and more maps), see the original article at De Correspondent (in Dutch), which was based on an article in the journal Mobilities: The migration map trap. On the invasion arrows in the cartography of migration (in English).
Strange Maps #1045
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to Harvard economists, Democrats and Republicans both perceive reality very wrong.
There are certain debates we may never reach a consensus on. In philosophy, those perennial problems circle around questions of free will, the birth of consciousness, and the nature of mathematical objects. In politics, they focus on the size of government, how to establish a functional immigration system, and how to best promote equitable social mobility.
Unlike philosophy—which is arguably an a priori "armchair" discipline—political arguments can often be fact-checked against verifiable data. If the other side of the aisle bothered to test their beliefs against that information, we imagine, then surely their policy views would shift and the intractable problems of our partisan times could be resolved.
Obviously, it won't be that easy. According to a working paper by Harvard economists, political beliefs don't just shape our convictions; they shape our perception of objective reality.
Different views, equally wrong
The paper is being written by Stefanie Stantcheva, a professor of economics at Harvard University, and Armando Miano, a doctoral candidate. Famed economist Albert Alesina also worked on the paper until his tragic death earlier this year.
According to Stantcheva, the impetus for the research was to get into people's heads to see what really drives their policy views. As she told the Harvard Gazette:
"One thing that we've been doing a lot is to study what we can observe...like what people actually do, what people learn, and what people decide. What we really have not known until now so much is: What's going on in the background? How do people think about their decisions? How do they decide which policies to support or not? How do they reason about these?"
To answer those questions, the researchers sent detailed surveys to thousands of respondents. The surveys covered topics such as social mobility, tax policy, social inequality, and immigration.
To the surprise of no one, Republicans and Democrats sported different views. The difference proved even wider when comparing respondents who did or did not vote for President Donald Trump. But which group had a more distorted view of reality?
As Stantcheva summed it up, "One group is not necessarily more wrong than the other. Everybody's quite wrong."
Signals lost in political white noise
A graph showing Democrat and Republican perceptions of politically-charged facts against the reality of those facts.
For their survey on social mobility, the researchers asked respondents how likely children born in the bottom quintile could rise to the top income bracket. Republicans believed the probability to be 12 percent, while Democrats thought it was 10.5 percent. The true probability is 7.8 percent.
While neither average was too far off, the results show that Americans as a whole overestimate social mobility in their country, and respondents from places were social mobility is lowest, such as the South and Southwest, overestimated the American Dream the most. Conversely, European respondents proved much more pessimistic of social mobility, helping to explain their widespread support of progressive social programs.
To establish causality, the researchers provided a randomly-selected group of respondents with information about social mobility. For example, they may prime respondents with data showing the high probability that rich families stay rich, while poor children struggle to even reach the middle class. The controls received no such information.
Seeing such information made the experimental respondents more pessimistic of social mobility; however, only Democrats became more supportive of progressive social programs. Republicans tended to view the government as the problem, showing that the same factual information "translate[d] into political preferences in different ways based on their other existing perceptions."
"How much you're going to change your belief as a function of that information is going to depend on the weight you put on it, and that weight will depend on what you already think," Stantcheva told the Gazette. "Without interruption, it's just a cycle that will reinforce itself."
The researchers found a similar pattern with their tax policy survey. For example, Republicans and Democrats both underestimated the top income tax rate to be 31 percent and 25 percent respectively. It's 37 percent.
But the starkest disconnect from reality was on immigration. On average, respondents believed immigrants comprised 36 percent of the U.S. population. In fact, foreign-born peoples account for only around 13.5 percent of the U.S. population, a figure that counts both naturalized citizens and undocumented immigrants.
The survey also showed that Democrats and Republicans overestimated the share of Muslim immigrants, underestimated the share of immigrants that graduated high school, and completely missed the mark on the share of immigrants who were unemployed.
Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2019 only 3.1 percent of foreign-born workers were unemployed—less than the 3.8 percentage of native-born workers.
The persistence of misperception
How do misperceptions persist despite verifiable facts being a mere Google search away?
One reason, the researchers note, is that such issues are permeated by political narratives. Even if a signal cuts through that noise, we're operating on different frequencies. As shown in the social mobility survey, our perceptions will lead us to weigh its value based on its narrative use, not its empirical merit.
They also note that the demand for accurate information is politically charged, too. In one experiment, respondents were allowed to pay a randomized amount to receive accurate information about immigration in the United States. Care to guess who was least likely to pony up?
"The people who most need the information are going to be the least likely to seek out that information. It seems that either they don't realize that they're wrong, or they're just very entrenched in their beliefs, and do not want their beliefs to be changed," Stantcheva told the Gazette.
But Stantcheva and her fellow researchers aren't entirely pessimistic about the future. By understanding the political thought process and how we create our own reality barriers, we may be able to intervene in that process and let a more accurate picture of reality seep through.