You may be in a position to identify and support someone who may be vulnerable to becoming involved in extremism or terrorism. See some of the signs here…
People can often become drawn to principles and ideologies held by others and some are particularly susceptible to this type of control.
Such individuals may be lacking moral role models in their lives or experiencing a lack of access to proper education or balanced arguments that can enhance their sensitivity to this form of manipulation.
These ideologies may be shared through local ‘teachers’, national groups and often on the Internet. Individuals are attracted to those with such perceived authority and knowledge through particular methods of indoctrination. Radicalisers use normal social processes of influence when trying to persuade vulnerable people towards their beliefs. There’s no magic formula or secret skill. The difference is they use it to potentially extreme effect.
Individuals may be at risk due to general insecurities or feelings of vulnerability and alienation following recent conflict or absent family relationships.
Those intent on recruiting individuals to extremist activities may target people who have experienced a trauma, particularly any trauma associated with war or sectarian conflict.
People can often find themselves in situations they perceive as ‘unfair’. It is at this point that they may become vulnerable to indoctrination and radicalisation.
Often the most vulnerable are those who perceive discrimination, experience racial or religious harassment, or distrust government. They may have experienced poverty, disadvantage or social exclusion that has left them with a distorted opinion of the world.
They may experience a sense of righteousness, thinking that they know the ‘truth’ and no one else does. Their truth can become contaminated and based on one-sided information, which, with certain influences can lead them towards a terrorist ideology.
A transitional stage in life can be anything from moving to a new area or country, ending or starting a new relationship, starting or graduating from college or university, changing jobs, recovering from an illness or a number of other situations which can leave people questioning ‘what’s next?’
Personal crises, significant life events such as loss or bereavement or major situational changes like homelessness or poverty can leave individuals questioning their identity and seeking new meaning.
Organisations intent on radicalising others can have an incredibly powerful and dominating effect on individuals.
People may choose to follow certain groups to earn credit amongst their peers or with those they perceive to be in an authoritative position/a group leader or head. They may not initially be aware of the group’s true intentions or fully understand the extent of the beliefs held.
Leaders and members that hold strong beliefs can use their power and influence to induce guilt, shame and a sense of duty in the wider group. Individuals who show allegiance can be left with feelings of obligation, a need to fit in, a duty to comply or to ‘keep the peace’ and may have concerns around their own self-perception, worried about what others will think of them if they disagree or fail to conform.
We trust those closest to us and can be influenced by those we trust. We tend to share the same beliefs as our peers and often will not question the motives of those we love and respect.
It can be easy to follow the same ideals and it’s comfortable to share the same way of thinking – even when that thinking may be misguided.
For many, friendship networks and gangs are clearly significant in certain areas and for certain groups, particularly young people. There may be reason to believe that people are associating with others known to be involved in extremism – either because they associate
directly with known individuals and close friends or because they frequent key locations where these individuals are known to operate.
There may be evidence that a significant person in the individual’s life has extremist views or sympathies and they may be exposed to extremist material through these close connections.
It may be that an individual has encountered peer, social, family or faith group rejection or isolation. They may choose to tackle feelings of resulting low self-esteem or loneliness by exploring new groups and cultures.
They may be searching for answers to questions about identity and faith and experiencing a need to belong and feel a part of something.
Individuals may be distanced from their cultural/religious heritage and feel uncomfortable with their place in the society around them. These individuals may show signs of disassociating from existing friendship group and becoming involved with a new and different group of friends.
Common forms of mental distress or disorders such as anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and relational or personality problems can leave individuals particularly susceptible to radicalisation.
Perceived ‘support’ from others can offer a release from inner angst and turmoil. This is why those suffering from mental health issues can be particularly at risk of becoming the victims of radicalisers or groups supporting a terrorist ideology.
Vulnerability to radicalising influences is heightened among young people in particular who may be suffering from long-term, undiagnosed mental health problems.
Some individuals might desire greater power and increased standing within their communities due to a lack of identity, a feeling of being lost among the crowd or previous experiences of inadequacy.
People seeking a higher position in life have been found to be at risk of radicalisation because of their search for a more potent identity or a desire to command respect and control others. Individuals can be driven by feelings of unmet aspirations and may spot an opportunity to move up the ranks within their social groups.
People may be presented unexpectedly with an opportunity to become involved with groups or individuals they may not otherwise associate with. They may be taken by surprise by ‘psychological hooks’ that quickly take hold.
They may see an opportunity to personally benefit from a situation and subsequently and unknowingly be lead down a path of radicalisation that they do not fully appreciate or understand.
During that process people may sometimes pass through a phase of holding extremist but not violent views,
before reaching a position where they are prepared to pursue damaging actions.
Individuals and young people in particular are often influenced by views and opinions provided by online propaganda and can associate opportunities for adventure with potentially dangerous situations.
This desire for risk-taking can be exploited by radicalisers who are intent on recruiting susceptible individuals open to new and exciting opportunities.
Some individuals may have a natural tendency to want to dominate or rule over others. The process of radicalisation and the journey towards a terrorist ideology can present opportunities for individuals to control and lead others, which can be of great appeal to some.
Such individuals may command respect from others but this is often achieved through manipulation, intimidation or fear. They may attempt to enlist the attendance of others at private group meetings or events at institutions and they are often very vocal about particular ideologies.
Some people could react strongly to the emotive subject of extremism and terrorism, often with disgust or outrage. In some cases, this can lead to an overwhelming need for change, either political or moral.
Individuals may have been personally affected by international events in areas of conflict and civil unrest, resulting in a noticeable change in behaviour. For some, watching the suffering in places of conflict and believing that they unable to contribute can create extreme feelings of anger and alienation.
These powerful feelings experienced can leave individuals susceptible to people or groups who may offer an ‘answer’, a way to step in and actively tackle the problem and a network of others in support – an attractive proposition for some.