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Redirecting Radicals

​Right now, certain alienated residents of the United States are already starting down the path of ideological radicalization, experts say. But is it possible for the U.S. government to build a system of intervention where those individuals would be identified and redirected away from extremism, before they commit acts of terror? 

A bipartisan study group says yes. But such a system has not been built, the group adds, so it lays out strategies and recommendations for doing so in a new report, Defeating Ideologically Inspired Extremism: A Strategy to Build Strong Communities and Protect the U.S. Homeland.

The study group, which includes former officials from Republican and Democratic U.S. presidential administrations, was convened by the Washington Institute, a think tank dedicated to U.S. Middle East policy. The release of the study was timed to coincide with the Trump administration’s review of programs aimed at countering violent extremism, referred to as CVE programs.

The group advocates for an additional emphasis on prevention (P/CVE) and calls for the U.S. government to formulate a holistic P/CVE strategy, aimed at implementing both “preventative measures intended to inhibit radicalization from taking hold within communities in the first place,” as well as “measures meant to counter the process of radicalization affecting an individual when it does occur,” according to the report.  

For prevention, the study calls for the federal government to support local public-private partnerships focused on building resilience within communities to promote public safety and prevent violent extremist ideologies from taking root. These could be modeled after public health initiatives designed to prevent disease epidemics.

“More than ever before, relationships between law enforcement partners, stakeholders, and community members need to be in place to prevent attacks,” the group says in the report, quoting former Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis.

For individuals who are already under the sway of extremism, the group calls for public-private partnerships that facilitate community-led intervention programs focused on countering radicalization and recruitment. Partnerships could involve community organizations such as mosques and churches, civic organizations, social worker groups, and mental health centers.

In addition, the new system would include programs to help formerly radicalized individuals rehabilitate themselves. Currently, the U.S. government does little to ensure that people convicted of terrorism do not return to terrorism, the study group found.