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Domestic Radicalization Research Yields Possible Keys to Identifying Extremists on the Path to Terrorism

NCJ Number
Date Published
June 2018
2 pages

This fact sheet summarizes the findings of two new NIJ-funded studies by Allison G. Smith that synthesize key findings from eight NIJ-funded terrorism research projects that involved leading American and foreign terrorism researchers.


The two papers largely cover the same research projects; however, one of the papers is organized around risk factors and indicators linked with radicalization to terrorism; and the other paper focuses on how that radicalization occurs, with attention to the processes that facilitate the extremist's emergence as terrorist and models and frameworks that help explain the transition to violent terrorist acts. The research on how and why extremists become terrorists notes the social nature of radicalization, as individuals strengthen ties to those who support terrorism while reducing contacts with those who do not. The paper on risk factors highlights the opportunity for community members to act when communications from lone-actor extremists may signal intent to commit a terrorist act. Depending on the individual case, prevention and intervention may be effective in countering individuals' terrorist beliefs, improving employment or educational prospects, treating mental health issues, or helping individuals develop positive relationships with non-extremists. Risk factors associated with both group-based terrorists and lone terrorists are having a criminal history, having mental health issues, being unemployed, being single, being a loner or socially isolated, and having military experience. This overview of the two papers cautions, however, that the research reported only provides information on the process of radicalization to violence, but it does not identify the causes of terrorism. Another limitation noted is that the impact of various combinations of risk factors was not assessed.