Radicalisation is the process through which people develop support for extremist political, religious or other ideas. This can lead them to support violent extremism and terrorism. People can become radicalised if their views and beliefs are influenced by extreme ideas and perspectives.
People may be radicalised through exposure to a particular ideology. Others may become radicalised for non-ideological reasons – for example because of a specific grievance, or hatred of a particular person or group.
People can be radicalised by family members or friends, through direct contact with extremist groups, or through the internet. Radicalisation can happen over different periods of time – anything from a few days to several years.
Belief in an extremist cause and membership of an extremist group can offer people a sense of purpose, identity and community. This may be particularly appealing to someone who is experiencing difficulties and challenges in their life.
The government has developed a strategy called Prevent to stop people from being radicalised and committing terrorist acts. It provides practical help to people who are at risk of radicalisation or are being radicalised. Early detection and referral into Prevent provides the best chance of stopping someone from being drawn into terrorism. Follow our reporting flowchart to find out how to refer someone into Prevent.
Being radicalised and holding extremist views is not illegal and people referred into Prevent will not be automatically criminalised.
If you suspect that someone is about to travel to join a proscribed organisation, or is involved in plans to commit a criminal offence, please contact the police on 999.
National and local context
The UK faces threats from international terrorism and terrorism linked to Northern Ireland and right-wing extremism. Within Devon right-wing extremism and single-issue groups (such as radical animal rights groups) are significant concerns.
All parts of the UK face the threat of people in the local community being drawn into terrorism. These individuals may plan to commit a terrorist act in their local area, in another part of the country, or abroad.
The threat from ‘lone actors’ is increasing. These people act independently of terrorist networks and are more difficult to identify. The preparation time required to carry out a lone actor attack may be very short, and lone actors can be involved in spontaneous terrorist acts.
The average age of potential attackers has lowered to people in their early twenties. Vulnerability to radicalisation among adolescents and young people has therefore become a particular concern.
Factors increasing vulnerability to radicalisation
Anyone of any age, gender, ethnicity or religious belief can be radicalised.
However, certain people may be more vulnerable to radicalisation. This can include:
- people who have experienced fighting or living in a conflict zone – experiences of conflict may lead people to develop a grievance towards a person, group or country, or become attracted to an extremist political cause
- people who have experienced hardship, emotional stress or trauma – emotional triggers can be used to encourage people to adopt extreme views
- people who have a learning difficulty or an autism spectrum condition – they may find it difficult to understand the implications of supporting an extremist idea or belief and may be more easily groomed
Emotional triggers can be used to manipulate people into adopting radical views. Individuals experiencing hardship or emotional distress are particularly vulnerable.
This can include individuals experiencing:
- Emotional difficulties
- Mental health difficulties
- Social isolation
- Economic vulnerability
- Neglect or isolation from their family, friends or the community
- Lack of identity, meaning or belonging
- Unstable or unsafe home environments
- Discrimination or harassment
- Feelings of grievance and anger, whether perceived or real (for example due to discrimination)
Most people with the above experiences will not become involved in terrorism. However, a small number of people lacking protective influences may become radicalised.
In these cases, people may become attracted by the sense of purpose, status, identity, belonging and excitement that accompanies commitment to an extreme cause or group.
- The internet, particularly social media sites, online extremist content and gaming platforms.
- Reading of extremist literature.
- Attendance at events hosting extremist speakers.
- The home, if a family member of friend holds extremist views.
- Social or religious groups and activities.
Signs of exploitation
Signs that an individual is being radicalised include:
- Changes in behaviour, social groups and interests. May begin associating with others who hold radical views.
- Isolation from family and friends.
- Increased secretiveness, especially around internet use.
- Centering of day-to-day behaviour around an extremist ideology, group or cause.
- Changes to appearance or clothing in line with that linked to a group or cause.
- Becoming more argumentative or domineering when expressing a viewpoint. Being quick to criticise alternative views and opinions and being closed new ideas.
- Becoming fixed on a particular subject.
- Talking as if from a script.
- Displaying intolerance or hatred of other people or communities. Using hate terms to exclude others or incite violence.
- Expressing justification for offending on behalf of a group, cause or ideology.
- Mistrust of mainstream media, belief in conspiracy theories, anger about government policies.
- Visiting extremist websites, networks and social media sites.
- Possessing materials or symbols associated with an extremist cause.
- Expressing sympathy for extremist causes, glorifying violence, or promoting violent extremist messages.
- Possessing firearms or other weapons, or showing an interest in obtaining them.
This is not an exhaustive list of the signs presented by people who are being exploited and warning signs will present differently in each individual.
It is important to assess your concerns within the context of someone’s wider behaviour and personal circumstances and to raise concerns over anything that does not feel right.
Connor regularly attended a local youth group and enjoyed discussing computer games with his friends. A youth worker at the group became concerned after overhearing Connor’s conversations, in which he appeared to express extremist views about individuals of other ethnicities and religions.
The youth worker contacted Connor’s father to ask about Connor’s behaviour at home. Connor’s father said that Connor was secretive about his internet usage, and spent large amounts of time playing games online. Whilst playing these games Connor would talk to people through his gaming headset late into the night.
The youth worker became concerned that the people Connor had met through gaming websites were exposing him to extremist views. They decided to send an email to the Devon and Cornwall Prevent team, expressing their concerns and seeking support.
After receiving this email the Prevent team contacted the youth worker, Connor’s father, and Connor’s college to gather more information about his behaviour. From this, they decided to refer him into CHANNEL, a government programme for supporting those at risk of radicalisation. This programme helped Connor to question the right-wing ideologies that he had been exposed to and provided him with practical and pastoral support.
As a result Connor was able to challenge his views towards other members of society. He enrolled in a local cadet force and created plans to join the armed forces after college. In light of these positive outcomes, it was felt that CHANNEL had successfully prevented Connor from being radicalised, and he was able to exit the programme.
This case study is based on a number of real cases which have occurred in Devon. In the interests of confidentiality, all names and other identifying features are fictional.
Additional case studies can be found on the Devon and Cornwall Police website.
The wider picture
Like other forms of exploitation, radicalisation can happen when someone’s vulnerability is taken advantage of by people wishing to advance their own interests.
Given that the internet and social media can be key platforms for exploitation, people who are radicalised online may have also been exposed to other forms of exploitation.
Radicalisation can happen in a gang context, if the identity of the gang is linked to particular beliefs and ideologies. Gangs can also provide a place for people with extremist views to spread their ideology to others.
Radicalisation also contains links to hate crime. Hate crime refers to criminal offences motivated by hostility or prejudice towards a person’s race, ethnicity, religion, belief, sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability.
Hate crime is not always related to extremism. However, radicalisation and extremism can be motivated by hostility towards particular individuals, or by past experience of hate crime.