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

A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Government Policies for Counteracting Violent Extremism


Government Policies for Counteracting Violent Extremism


It took the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and, more importantly, the four coordinated attacks of September 11, 2001, to produce substantial interest among criminologists in the empirical study of violent political extremism. In the past two decades, this situation has changed dramatically with research on political extremism now routinely appearing in major criminology outlets, theses and dissertations, and meetings of professional associations. In this review, we track these changes specifically as they relate to government policies on countering violent extremism. What we find is a burgeoning literature. In the past twenty years, we have moved rapidly toward developing a criminology of political extremism. But not surprisingly, given how recent the sustained interest in this area has been, we find research areas where data are weak or nonexistent, rigorous methods are lacking, and results are disconnected from theoretical frameworks. We have divided our review of government responses to violent political extremism along a continuum ranging from the most repressive to the most conciliatory. In general, the trajectory of research on governmental policies to counteract terrorism resembles the early years of criminology itself, characterized by an incredible amount of energy and imagination but at the same time struggling to produce strong empirical data, cutting-edge methods, and sophisticated theoretical explanations.

Publication Information

Full Citation: 

LaFree, Gary and Joshua D. Freilich. 2019. "Government Policies for Counteracting Violent Extremism." Annual Review of Criminology (January). https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-criminol-011518-024542

START Author(s): 
Gary LaFreeJoshua Freilich
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