Violent extremism refers to a person or group who justify or use fear, terror and violence to achieve ideological, political or social change. This can include what most of us know as terrorism or hate crimes.
Violent extremism can come from any side of the political spectrum, any religion, race or other grouping. While there is no single profile of what makes someone turn towards violent extremism, in many cases the path begins with loneliness, social isolation and a need to belong. Often this can show up as social problems before it escalates into violent activity.
That’s why a person’s support networks are so important – as they are closest, they are best placed to notice changes in behaviour that might indicate something is wrong. Getting help early is the most important and effective way to prevent someone from taking the path towards violent extremism. As a family member, friend or community worker, you may be the first person to notice changes in the behavior of those around you. While there is no ‘one’ path to becoming involved in extremism, it’s important to look for shifts in behavior. The earlier we notice changes, the better the chances are of preventing someone from taking this path.
So how do you know if someone’s behaviour is changing? It can be hard to tell, as some of the signs of potential extremist interest could also be signs of someone experiencing other difficulties (depression, bullying, the challenges of a new school, home etc.). That said, it’s important to address any kind of social health difficulty, regardless of potential outcome, to help those you care about lead happier and healthier lives. The fact is that simply by providing a friendly, caring and non-judgmental space for people to speak openly about their feelings, you can help protect them from seeking out other, less healthy outlets for expression.
Initial potential indicators that someone may be showing an interest in using violence for social, political or religious change are listed below (and on our “should I be worried?” page).
However, it’s important that if you have any concern, that you discuss it with someone before taking any further action. Our trained counsellors can help work through your concerns and advise you on what the most sensible next steps could be, and how best to support someone you care about. If you’re in NSW and need to talk, call Step Together on 1800 875 204 or use our anonymous online chat service.
Low concern: You may notice that someone you know is starting to exhibit major changes in their behavior. This can include starting to show an initial interest in extremist ideology. Significant shifts in identity are common (especially among young people) and are not necessarily a significant problem. For more visit our “should I be worried?” page.
Medium concern: You may notice someone developing a clear ‘us vs them’ mentality and withdrawing from society, spending time exclusively with a new group. These behavior shifts can include identifying with extremist ideology and groups. For more potential signs of medium concern visit our “should I be worried?” page.
High concern: You may become aware that someone you know has undergone a major change in their beliefs, particularly around the use of violence. At the ‘high concern’ level, some people begin to see the use of violence to achieve change as not only acceptable, but necessary. This may indicate an intent to engage in violence to support extremist views (or the intention to travel to do so). Here a violent attack may occur quite quickly. While very few individuals will ever reach this stage, it’s important that you report anyone as this stage to law enforcement immediately, by contacting the police or the National Security Hotline.
If you need help or advice on how best to support someone, our trained counsellors can help. We’re available 7am – 9pm, seven days a week. If you need to talk, give one of our Step Together counsellors a call on 1800 875 204 or use our anonymous online chat service.