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Focus Areas

Preventing Targeted Violence and Terrorism

Developing, implementing, and evaluating targeted violence and terrorism prevention strategies, as well as programs for active or former extremists.

Preventing Targeted Violence and Terrorism

RTI security threats and extremism staff have a robust and growing portfolio of work focused on developing, implementing, and evaluating targeted violence and terrorism prevention strategies, as well as work focused on programming for active or former extremists. This includes evaluations of federally funded targeted violence and terrorism prevention grant projects, an assessment of available prevention programming resources, and a mixed-methods, longitudinal study examining the processes by which individuals disengage from white nationalist groups. Leveraging subject matter expertise and advanced research methodologies, project teams have produced several technical and academic products to inform not only the work of prevention-focused practitioners but also to communicate key findings to this emergent field.

Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP)

Preventing and responding to extremist violence is approached through various objectives, target audiences, and implementation practices. The DHS funds a variety of programs across the United States each year through its TVTP grant program. However, because this field of programming is relatively new, there is not a clear understanding of which programs are effective, how to identify realistic program outcomes, and how programs should be implemented.

RTI serves as the primary program evaluator for DHS TVTP programs, beginning with the DHS CVE grant program evaluations in 2018. In this capacity, evaluation staff leverage subject matter expertise and multimode data collection capabilities to provide robust program evaluation research. Our evaluations examine program implementation and outcomes in order to improve future programming efforts in the field.

This team has evaluated or is currently evaluating 25 different programs funded by DHS grants. These evaluations consist of methods such as monthly meetings with grantees, site visits, observations, interviews, quantitative data collection, and document reviews.

Prevention Programming

Decades of programming to prevent and respond to extremist violence around the world, ranging in focus from community-based prevention to disengagement and deradicalization efforts, have shown how difficult it is to develop effective programming. This is made more challenging by the fact that the field has not yet determined what works and what does not work for each of these different programs. However, while the research in this field is limited, there are still lessons emerging that indicate which approaches, activities, and factors might affect the success of these programs.

To help close this gap, the project team has systematically examined the diverse TVTP programs implemented in the United States and internationally to discern these emergent promising practices. In this capacity, RTI has leveraged the subject matter expertise of its staff, as well as global practitioners and academics, to identify concrete and actionable steps that government sponsors and practitioners can take to refine, adjust, and improve prevention programming and measurement.

Exiting White Supremacy

Several intelligence agencies have recently noted that racially motivated extremist groups are the top priority for terrorism prevention practitioners. Despite a growing academic and policy focus on domestic extremism, significant social changes in recent years have necessitated a renewed focus on domestic extremism and its prevention.

Fortunately, not all individuals who become radicalized engage in violence. Most of those who do engage in violent extremist groups will eventually exit. However, the exit process is often long and complex: individuals must stop participating in violent extremist groups (i.e., disengage) and abandon their extremist beliefs (i.e., deradicalize). Greater knowledge of the facilitators of and barriers to exit could help practitioners like mental health professionals provide needed support to those seeking to leave violent extremism.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has awarded RTI two major grants in recent years to interview and survey individuals who are leaving groups and movements associated with white nationalism. This work has revealed several key findings:

  • Entering and exiting white nationalist groups involve identity transformations.
  • For many, support for the white nationalist ideology is an outcome of movement involvement, not a driver of it. Rather, it is the prospect of community and belonging that draws people into white nationalist groups.
  • Those who join white nationalist groups often have significantly higher rates of adverse childhood experiences, substance use, mental health concerns, and relationship issues than the general population.
  • The experiences of entering white nationalist groups, being a member, and exiting are different for men and women. The gendered dynamics of involvement have implications for the exit process.
  • Exiting violent extremism is not a simple transition – it is a dynamic process that often takes a long time and, for many, involves returning to the movement.