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."
The attack on the Capitol forces us to confront an existential question about privacy.
- The insurrection attempt at the Capitol was captured by thousands of cell phones and security cameras.
- Many protestors have been arrested after their identity was reported to the FBI.
- Surveillance experts warn about the dangers of using facial recognition to monitor protests.
If ever there were a reason to wear masks, the insurrection at the Capitol last week would have been it. But many of those present believed the anti-mask rhetoric being used as a distraction from the nation's skyrocketing death rate. In fact, the day might even prove to have been a superspreader event, with at least two congresspeople becoming infected after the siege.
Those involved in the attempted coup d'état were not concerned about a virus. Nor, apparently, were they worried about shielding themselves from the tens of thousands of hours of recorded video taken by thousands of phones. In a strange merging of social media and dark web chat rooms come to life, separating actual insurrectionists from revolutionary tourists could prove to be a cumbersome vocation. One thing is certain: identifying them is not difficult.
Instagram-worthy sieges bring us to a longstanding existential question: should law enforcement be allowed to use AI and cell phone data to prosecute offenders?
Of the many security failures that day, one stood out: the small number of arrests for a breach of outsized magnitude. As the nation ogled at an unemployed actor turned conspiracy shaman behind the speaker's chair in real-time, scenes of horrendous violence took hours, even days, to be released. In a game of seemingly futile catch-up, federal agencies opened tip lines to identify the insurrectionists that should have easily been in their grasp.
But the public responded.
Brad Templeton: Today's Surveillance Society is Beyond Orwellian
There's the ex-wife of a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel whose neck gaiter was pulled down; the patriotic cohort of Internet detectives crowd-sourcing information for the FBI; the director of the infamous pseudoscience film, "Plandemic," praising the "patriots" that breached the building moments after he left the siege himself; and that unemployed actor who regularly attended QAnon events leaving the most public trail imaginable, and who is currently in custody facing serious charges.
Fish in barrels, all of them. What of the remaining thousands?
This privacy discussion is not new. Arthur Holland Michel, founder and co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, warned Big Think in 2019 about the dangers of surveillance technology—specifically, in this case, a camera known as Gorgon Stare.
"Say there is a big public protest. With this camera, you can follow thousands of protesters back to their homes. Now you have a list of the home addresses of all the people involved in a political movement. If on their way home you witness them committing some crime—breaking a traffic regulation or frequenting a location that is known to be involved in the drug trade—you can use that surveillance data against them to essentially shut them up. That's why we have laws that prevent the use of surveillance technologies because it is human instinct to abuse them. That's why we need controls."
Late last year, University of Miami students pushed back against school administrators using facial recognition software for potentially insidious means—a protest not limited to that campus. Can you place students refusing to attend classes during a pandemic with armed insurrectionists attempting to change the results of a democratic election? Not even close. More to the point, however, we should leave political leanings out of the equation when deciding who we think should be monitored.
Protesters enter the U.S. Capitol Building on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump.
Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Shortly after the siege, the New Yorker's Ronan Farrow helped reveal the identity of the aforementioned lieutenant colonel while conservatives claim the riots were actually antifa—a conspiracy theory that's been peddled before. Politics simply can't be avoided in this age. Still, Albert Fox Cahn, founder of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, doesn't believe the insurrection attempt justifies an uptick in facial recognition technology.
"We don't need a cutting-edge surveillance dragnet to find the perpetrators of this attack: They tracked themselves. They livestreamed their felonies from the halls of Congress, recording each crime in full HD. We don't need facial recognition, geofences, and cell tower data to find those responsible, we need police officers willing to do their job."
The New Orleans City Council recently banned similar surveillance technologies due to fears that it would unfairly target minorities. San Francisco was the first city to outright ban facial recognition nearly two years ago. Cahn's point is that the FBI shouldn't be using AI to cover for the government's failure to protect the Capitol. Besides, the insurrectionists outed themselves on their own social media feeds.
When Pandora's box cracks open, it's hard to push the monster back in. Naomi Klein detailed the corporate takeover of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in "The Shock Doctrine." Real estate brokers, charter school companies, and government agencies didn't cause the flood, but they certainly profited from it. The fear is that companies like Clearview AI, which saw a 26 percent spike in usage of its facial recognition service following the attack, will be incentivized, as will police departments to use such technology for any means they choose.
Cahn comes to a similar conclusion: don't expose American citizens to the "anti-democratic technology" known as facial recognition. New Yorkers had to endure subway backpack checks for nearly a decade after 9/11; this slope is even slipperier.As the US braces for further "armed protests" in all 50 states over the coming week, phones need to keep capturing footage. Bystanders need to remain safe, of course. But if last week was any indication, the insurrectionists have difficulty deciphering between social media and real life. Their feeds should reveal enough.
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."
'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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
If its claims are true, Clearview AI has quietly blown right past privacy norms to become the nightmare many have been fearing.
- Recent reporting has revealed the existence of a company that has probably scraped your personal data for its facial recognition database.
- Though social platforms forbid it, the company has nonetheless collected personal data from everywhere it can.
- The company's claims of accuracy and popularity with law enforcement agencies is a bit murky.
Your face is all over the internet in images you and others have posted. Also lots of personal information. For those concerned about all those pictures being matched somehow with all that information, there's some small comfort in public assertions by Google, Facebook, and other platforms that they won't use your data for nefarious purposes. Of course, taking the word of companies whose business model depends of data-mining is a bit of a reach.
Meanwhile, as revealed recently by the New York Times, with further reporting from BuzzFeed News and WIRED, one company called Clearview AI has been quietly scraping up much of this data — the company claims it has a database of 3 billion images collected from everywhere they can. Their sources presumably include all sorts of online sources, as well as all social platforms including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and so on. They even scrape Venmo, a particularly chilling revelation given the rigorous security one would expect a money-exchanging site to employ.
Combining their database with proprietary artificial intelligence, Clearview AI says it can identify a person from a picture nearly instantaneously, and are already selling their service to police departments for identifying criminals. You may think you own your face, but Clearview has probably already acquired it without your even knowing about it, much less granting them permission to do so.
Is this legal? And does it matter?
Image source: Anton Watman/Shutterstock
In terms of Federal law protecting one's personal data, the regulations are way behind today's digital realities. The controlling legislation appears to be the anti-hacking Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) enacted in 1984, well before the internet we know today. Prior to a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last year, the law had been used to fight automated data-scraping. However, that ruling determined that this type of scraping doesn't violate the CFAA.
Social media sites generally include anti-scraping stipulations in their user agreements, but these are hard — and perhaps impossible given programmers' ingenuity — to enforce. Twitter, whose policies explicitly forbid automated scraping for the purposes of constructing a database, recently ordered Clearview AI to knock it off. Given last year's CFAA ruling, though, sites have little legal recourse when their policies are violated. In any event, tech is a troublingly incestuous industry — for example, a Facebook board member, Peter Thiel, is one of Clearview AI's primary investors, so how motivated would such people really be to block mining of their data?
Is Clearview AI legit?
Image source: Clearview AI, through Atlanta public-records request by New York Times
Clearview has taken pains to remain off the public's radar, at least until the New York Times article appeared. Its co-founders long ago scrubbed their own social identities from the web, though one of them, Hoan Ton-That, has since reemerged online.
In efforts to remain publicly invisible while simultaneously courting law enforcement as customers for Clearview's services, the company has been quietly publishing an array of targeted promotional materials (The Times, BuzzFeed, and WIRED have acquired a number of these materials via Freedom of Information requests and through private individuals). The ads make some extraordinary and questionable claims regarding Clearview's accuracy, successes, and the number of law enforcement agencies with which it has contracts. Not least, of course, among questions about the company's integrity must be their extensive scraping of data from sites whose user agreements forbid it.
According to Clearview, over 600 law enforcement parties have used their product in the last year, though the company won't supply a list of them. There are a handful of confirmed clients, however, including the Indiana State Police. According to the department's then-captain, the police were able to identify the perpetrator in a shooting case in just 20 minutes thanks to Clearview's ability to find a video the man had posted of himself on social media. The department itself has officially declined to comment on the case for The New York Times. Police departments in Gainesville, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia are also among their confirmed customers.
Clearview has tried to impress potential customers with case histories that apparently aren't true. For example, they sent an email to prospective clients with the title, "How a Terrorism Suspect Was Instantly Identified With Clearview," describing how their software cracked a New York subway terrorism case. The NYPD says Clearview had nothing to do with it and that they used their own facial recognition system. Clearview even posted a video on Vimeo telling the story, which has since been removed. Clearview has also claimed several other successes that have been denied by the police departments involved.
There is skepticism regarding Clearview's claims of accuracy, a critical concern given that in this context a false positive can send an innocent person to jail. Clare Garvie, of Georgetown University's Center on Privacy and Technology, tells BuzzFeed, "We have no data to suggest this tool is accurate. The larger the database, the larger the risk of misidentification because of the doppelgänger effect. They're talking about a massive database of random people they've found on the internet."
Clearview has not submitted their results for independent verification, though a FAQ on their site claims that an "independent panel of experts rated Clearview 100% accurate across all demographic groups according to the ACLU's facial recognition accuracy methodology." In addition, the accuracy rating of facial recognition is usually derived from a combination of variables, including its ability to detect a face in an image, its correct-match rate, reject rate, non-match rate, and the false-match rate. As far as the FAQ claim, Garvie notes that "whenever a company just lists one accuracy metric, that is necessarily an incomplete view of the accuracy of their system."
Image source: Andre_Popov/Shutterstock
It may or may not be that Clearview is doing what they claim to be doing, and that their technology is really accurate and seeing increasing use by police departments. Regardless, there can be little doubt that the company and likely others are working toward the goal of making reliable facial recognition available to law enforcement and other government agencies (Clearview also reportedly pitches its product to private detectives).
This has many people concerned, as it represents a major blow to personal privacy. A bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate has seemingly failed. In November 2019, Democrats introduced their own privacy bill of rights in the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (COPRA) while Republicans introduced their United States Consumer Data Privacy Act of 2019 (CDPA). States have also enacted or are in the process of considering new privacy legislation. Preserving personal privacy without unnecessarily constraining acceptable uses of data collection is complicated, and the law is likely to continue lagging behind technological reality.
In any event, the exposure of Clearview AI's system is pretty chilling, setting off alarms for anyone hoping to hold onto what's left of their personal privacy, at least for as long as it's possible to do so.
UPDATE: The ACLU announced on Thursday that it is suing Clearview in the state of Illinois. CNET reports that Illinois is the only state with a biometric privacy law, the Biometric Information Privacy Act, which requires "informed written consent" before companies can use someone's biometrics. "Clearview's practices are exactly the threat to privacy that the legislature intended to address, and demonstrate why states across the country should adopt legal protections like the ones in Illinois," the ACLU said in a statement.
For more on the suit, head over to the ACLU website.
Does the President get to decide when to ignore the law?
- During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln decided to suspend habeas corpus, a protection in the Constitution that prohibited imprisonment without a trial.
- From Lincoln's point of view, following the law to the letter during that unprecedented and pivotal moment in history (i.e. the threat of war and secession from the Union) would put lawfulness itself at risk, so some restrictions of civil liberties were necessary.
- The war and the president's actions changed how the founding document is interpreted and sometimes challenged by the rule of men.