Home » Extremism » Ways into and out of extremism

Ways into and out of extremism

Why would anyone become part of an extremist environment?

The vast majority of people view extremist notions and environments with a healthy dose of scepticism. Most people also have moral and emotional barriers that prevent them from causing harm to others. If individuals develop critical thinking, democratic skills and a sense of belonging to social communities as a result of their upbringing, education and participation in the community, this can help to hone their scepticism of extremism. However, none of these factors is guaranteed to prevent radicalisation.

Research provides no simple, clear answers as to why or how people are radicalised. Radicalisation may sometimes involve complex processes in which many factors play a part, while at other times the processes are fairly simple and just a few factors are crucial. Social conditions, group dynamics and personal and psychological circumstances may all have a part to play in radicalisation processes.

What persuades some people to leave extremist environments?

Many people leave extremist environments of their own accord. Some of the reasons for doing so may include:

  • Their extremist affiliation no longer meets their social and psychological needs For instance, it may no longer be relevant to their formation of an identity, or no longer meet their need to be part of a community
  • Their affiliation to an extremist group comes at too high a cost to themselves or their families Such ‘costs’ may include prosecution, enmity with other groups or social stigma
  • Discovering weaknesses in the organisation or philosophy of the extremist group
  • Experiencing a sense of disappointment with leaders or friends within the group who fail to meet their expectations
  • Social changes that make extremist involvement less relevant
  • Losing faith in the legitimacy of the extremist group's actions, e.g. realising that the use of violence has gone too far
  • Being disillusioned about the fact that too little is being achieved by their extremist involvement
  • Meeting new people and encountering new surroundings through work and education, for example, that offer new ways of looking at the world
  • Adopting new interests and priorities, e.g. a desire for a normal life with a family and job without being part of a stigmatised or violent environment

(Inspired by Tore Bjørgo and John Horgan (Eds.). Leaving Terrorism Behind: Individual and Collective Disengagement. New York: Routledge, 2008.)

In some instances, people in extremist environments need help and support to leave them.

Find out more about the Danish prevention initiative

Find out more about help and support in the Toolkit

last modified Jun 08, 2018