A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

Community-level Indicators of Radicalization: A Data and Measurement Workshop


Community-level Indicators of Radicalization: A Data and Measurement Workshop

Project Details

Abstract: 

Building upon past and current START research, this effort will expand START's work on the processes by which individuals are radicalized to explore whether there are common characteristics of local communities in which radicalization has been known to occur. This project will focus on exploring what measures could be used to evaluate existing theories of the factors related to radicalization and on assessing existing community-level data (e.g., census, archival and institutional data) for their relevance to the study of radicalization processes.  This project will involve a workshop of leading scholars studying individual radicalization, communities, and on measurement to generate a final report that suggests how future research might contribute to understanding of radicalization.

This research was supported by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate's Human Factors/Behavioral Sciences Division.

Primary Findings: 

Scholars from around the world with expertise in radicalization, communities in the United States, and innovative methods from related fields, agreed to serve on a working group exploring whether empirical research, using archival or institutional data at the community level, could provide new insights into factors that might leave individuals vulnerable to radicalization. The group was brought together for a day and a half to explore the potential relationship between community characteristics and susceptibility to radicalization. The working group began with the theoretical premise that some communities might possess certain characteristics that make the likelihood and/or rates of radicalization higher in those communities. Marginalized communities (including Diaspora groups), those that experience relative deprivation (of resources, both financial and otherwise), and communities that have experienced significant social disruption emerged as priority areas for future research.

To conduct empirical research, three categories of dependent variables were identified by participants as potential proxies for violent radicalization. The categories are:

  • The amount of terrorism - this variable could include the number of incidents, the number of casualties or an estimate of the damage caused by an attack.
  • The number of other severe ideologically motivated crimes (both violent and financial) - this may well serve as a gateway to other ideologically motivated violence, thus, a community with other ideological crimes may well be a proxy for radicalization. 
  • The number of attempted terrorist attacks - there is a need to consider not just successful attacks but attempts as well. Using thwarted and successful attacks is most likely a better indicator, both theoretically and statistically, of concentrations of radicalization.

To test theories of radicalization, participants suggested specific conditions under which radicalization may be more likely to emerge:

  • Marginalized communities measuring the extent to which a subgroup, including Diaspora communities, feels included in or excluded from a larger community.
    • Economic measures = to assess the extent of economic distress felt by a community, including variables such as unemployment rates, median household income, income inequality, and data on participation in government assistance programs.
    • Social capital = the extent to which members of a community feel connected or trusting of neighbors and government, with lower levels of social capital being indicative of marginalization. Variables included here are family structure (divorce rates, single parent families), the number (or density) of social service organizations, civic organizations or arts/sports organizations, and voter turnout rates.
    • Political inclusion/exclusion = the extent to which members of a community feel included in local politics and political institutions. These variables include participation rates in local elections, active involvement in campaigns and the extent to which a members of a subgroup are elected or appointed to local offices.
    • Social support = the greater the amount of services available, the less vulnerable a community may be to radicalization. Measures of support include Head Start programs, number of children enrolled in CHIP or Medicaid, and, for Diaspora communities, number of organizations or individuals receiving money from state Offices of Refugee Resettlement.
    • Demographics of Diaspora community = the social structure of an immigrant community is vital to a community's success. Such factors that may impact the prevalence of radicalization include the age at which immigrants arrive in the United States, the number of foreign language speakers or students in ESL classes and the extent to which the community establishes its own institutions such as banks and local media.
  • Ideology - the variables discussed previously were assumed to affect radicalization across ideologies. However, there should be some indicators that are ideology-specific. Extremist organizations are ideologically motivated and may (or may not) serve as a gateway toward extremist violence.

In all, participants of the workshop concluded that pursuing research using community-level archival or institutional data to study radicalization was a challenging but necessary task. Issues such as the marginalization or deprivation of certain communities, especially Diaspora communities, are increasingly important to study. To date, violent radicalization is still a fairly rare problem within the United States, thus, it may be possible that the community level is too broad to adequately give guidance on when, where or how individuals radicalize. However, if such research does prove successful then it may have a significant impact on the way in which law enforcement deals with terrorism. A full report is available at http://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/START_HFD_CommRadReport.pdf.

Methodology: 

The findings were based on a 1.5 day workshop of subject matter experts, engaged in presentations and discussions related to factors suspected to be related to radicalization and methodologies used to conduct comparative analyses of U.S. communities.

Timeframe

Project Period: 
September 2009 to February 2010