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Exiting Domestic Violent Extremism

Researching and Evaluating Terrorism Prevention


To contribute to solutions for scaling effective terrorism prevention programs.


Learn from individuals exiting Domestic Violent Extremist (DVE) groups, through surveys and in-depth interviews, each month over the course of one year. 


This research will provide firsthand accounts to inform intervention and prevention efforts to disrupt radicalization pathways. These firsthand accounts will provide prevention professionals (among others) with real life understanding of what people need to leave DVE groups.

Over the past decade, anti-government, white nationalist, and militia movements have become the primary domestic terrorism threat within the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation found that the year 2020 witnessed more domestic violent extremism (DVE) investigative activity than in the past 25 years. Simultaneously, the image and presentation of DVE as well as its recruiting and indoctrination avenues have broadened, with expanded emphasis on social media platforms.

The increasing prominence and changing face of DVE pose major threats to public safety and political stability. To protect against this, it is important to understand:

  • the trajectories through the life course that bring people to participate in DVE groups,
  • the phenomena of DVE,
  • and how to develop effective policy and programming for terrorism prevention.

A key component of terrorism prevention programming is to develop real-world supports to intervene in the radicalization process.

Through funding from the Department of Justice (DOJ), experts from RTI International have begun a study of individuals in the process of exiting DVE. This project grows out of another RTI research study on individuals that previously left violent DVE groups. The former study found that most people enter DVE groups through a cocktail of vulnerability, isolation, and trauma. They are driven to hateful ideology through participation in the movement, rather than hate driving the participation in these groups. In addition, RTI researchers found that leaving DVE behind involves disengagement (leaving their group) and deradicalization (abandoning and/or disavowing extremist ideology).

While the previous study focused on building a stronger understanding of the motivations and processes of leaving behind DVE groups, this new study evaluates participants actively in the process of leaving. The study puts researchers in the “front seat” during an extremist’s exit, providing insights into the processes and challenges of leaving a DVE group. This research will contribute to a greater understanding of opportunities for people to exit these movements.

To recruit potential participants, RTI’s team partnered with Life After Hate (LAH) and its “Exit USA” program. LAH is a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting individuals attempting to leave DVE organizations. It links individuals attempting to leave these groups with social workers and counselors who support the disengagement and deradicalization processes. For this study, all participants will complete extensive surveys every month for 12 months, as well as in-depth qualitative interviews every other month. The study will examine how participants change throughout the 12 months and their successes or relapses into extremist behavior while leaving DVE social networks.

Domestic Violent Extremism is a serious threat to American public spaces and institutions, and to combat this threat it is important to understand the experiences and motivations that drive people to join and exit these groups. This study will contribute to evidence-based public policy development related to terrorism prevention and equip organizations and families with the knowledge necessary to provide effective prevention measures and programming.