The events of 9/11 serve as a grim example of how radicalization of individuals can wreak havoc on an unimaginable scale (Challacombe, 2022; Farhadi, 2022; Stern, 2016; Trip et al., 2019). Motivated by extremist ideologies, the terrorists involved took thousands of lives and forever altered global history (Farhadi, 2022). Meanwhile, the Heaven’s Gate cult shows how people can be manipulated into committing collective suicide based on the overvalued, delusional, or influenced beliefs that the coercer teaches about reaching a better life in the afterlife (Rahman, 2018). Similarly, the Jim Jones massacre revealed how a charismatic leader could wield so much control and manipulation over his followers that they drank a substance poisoned with cyanide, resulting in the deaths of over 900 people (Kelley, 2019).
Who is at risk for Radicalization?
Under specific circumstances, people can be radicalized, coerced, or manipulated (Schwartz, 2018; Rahman, 2018). A manipulator is skilled in accessing the needs and desires of individuals and then selling their harmful ideologies toward the person’s specific interests, regardless of whether it’s true. The people investing in the doctrines based on their own needs being met may have early-life attachment disruptions in their lives. Or, perhaps the manipulated individual is at a crossroads and open to new and exciting ideas or solutions (Schwartz, 2018; Rahman, 2018, Trip et al., 2018).
How does it happen?
Victims of radicalization are isolated from their friends, families, or support systems and are hearing and learning about what the coercer, extremist, or manipulator is telling them. The abuser often demonizes certain groups or individuals. They constantly disparaged perceived enemies, using manipulated and often false information. Without an appropriate flow of evidence-based information to correct these new beliefs, individuals risk harming themselves or others (Farhadi, 2022; Schwartz, 2018; Rahman, 2018; Trip et al., 2018). Radicalization, coercion, and manipulation is often a subtle and dangerous process.
What are the dangers?
The dangers are twofold: not only do these manipulated individuals pose a risk to themselves, but they also can inflict immense harm on others (Fontes, 2015; Trip et al., 2019). Whether it is families torn apart, communities shattered, or nations gripped by terror, the ripple effects are devastating. Moreover, it is difficult for people and communities to recover from violence influenced by bad actors (Fontes, 2015; Reid et al., 2013). During this observance of 9/11, the Freedom Train Project Incorporated wants people to know what they can do their best to keep safe from harm. Therefore, learning the signs can help you avoid being radicalized, coerced, or manipulated to commit violence and injury toward others.
What are the signs?
While there is no perfect formula to know what groups or individuals may attempt to influence people to engage in harm, there are a few factors to look for. For example, one group may have 2 or 3 of these factors, while another group may have all of them. However, these are some of the signs that will help to know if they may be falling into dangerous territory.
What are the flags?
- Isolation: Being cut off from friends, family, and other support systems. For example, creating an insular group that the individual spends time with and making plans during holidays and other time generally spent with family or friends.
- Change in Behavior: Sudden changes in habits, appearance, or speech. For example, discussion of new ideologies, use of idioms that the person has never used before, and changes in routines such as diets (i.e. changing to a vegan diet suddenly when they have always eaten meat).
- Unquestioning Loyalty: Blind allegiance to a group or leader, ignoring ethical or moral reservations. For example, feeling angry when anyone questions the group or leader.
- Depersonalization: Feeling like you are just a tiny part of a more significant cause, diminishing personal responsibility and efficacy. For example, changing verbiage from “I” to “we” when discussing beliefs, routines, or behaviors.
- Emotional Extremes: Experiencing frequent emotional highs and lows, often manipulated by the group or leader.
- Stereotyping and Demonization: Viewing outsiders as evil or lesser, making it easier to justify harming them.
- Secrecy: Involvement in activities that are kept hidden from non-members or authorities.
- Financial Control: Surrendering financial independence to a group or individual. For example, investing in something the group wants or tithing extreme amounts of money compared to one’s income.
- Rigidity: A lack of openness to other perspectives, viewing the group’s ideology as the absolute truth.
- Us-vs-Them Mentality: A polarized worldview that pits your group against the rest of society.
How do we overcome radicalization?
Recognizing these signs can be the first step in seeking help, either for yourself or for someone else (Challacombe, 2022; Farhadi, 2022; Kelley, 2019; Rahman, 2018; Reid et al., 2013, Stern, 2016; Trip et al., 2019). The journey from radicalization and coercive control to a healthy mindset is often long and challenging, but acknowledging the problem is the starting point (Trip et al., 2019). Consequently, it is important to address these issues for an individual’s well-being and the safety and harmony of society at large (Farhadi, 2022; Rahman, 2018; Trip et al., 2019).
Challacombe, D. J. (2022). Synergy Between Cults and Terror Groups: A Systematic Review of Recruitment Processes. International Journal of Coercion Abuse & Manipulation, 3. https://doi.org/10.54208/1000/003/005
Farhadi, A. (2022). Post-9/11 radicalization theory and its impact on violent extremism. Handbook of Security Science, 123-148. https://www.usf.edu/arts-sciences/departments/religious-studies/documents/farhadi-materials/farhadi-chapter-post_9-11-hss.pdf
Fontes, L. A. (2015). Invisible chains: Overcoming coercive control in your intimate relationship. Guilford Publications. https://amzn.to/45JTNy1
Kelley, J. L. (2019). “I have to be all things to all people”: Jim Jones, nurture failure, and apocalypticism. New trends in psychobiography, 363-379. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-16953-4_20
Rahman, T. (2018). Extreme overvalued beliefs: How violent extremist beliefs become “normalized”. Behavioral Sciences, 8(1), 10. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs8010010.
Reid, J. A., Haskell, R. A., Dillahunt-Aspillaga, C., & Thor, J. A. (2013). Contemporary review of empirical and clinical studies of trauma bonding in violent or exploitative relationships. International Journal of Psychology Research, 8(1), 37. http://search.proquest.com/openview/07fd197de8cad307c17fecb6057bd63f/1?pq-origsite=gscholar