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These groups in Ohio work to prevent extremist violence

Jamie Small works for the University of Dayton Human Rights Center on a 2022 Department of Homeland Security funded project called PREVENTS Ohio. It works with individuals and community groups to spark conversations about difficult topics.

This leads to a concept that Small and other experts say is at the core of almost all extremism and radicalization prevention: communication.

Small said creating a space for these tough conversations prevents people from ending up in an echo chamber of extreme beliefs. From there, members of a community can build trust and suppress stereotypes and hateful ideologies.

“One thing we do to lower the temperature and give people the impression that they can solve a problem is to recognize that the majority of people are not hateful, but that the majority of people are peaceful in their communities “I want to live,” she said.

UD visiting professor Paul Morrow also works for the PREVENTS project. He said reaching out to his neighbors is the best way to enforce shared values ​​against violent beliefs before they spread.

He cites examples of community groups painting murals praising diversity to cover up hateful graffiti. Such a clear message could help ensure that extreme beliefs are not normalized, he said.

“It’s not organized by the government, it’s not coming from the top down that you have to do a mural now,” Morrow said. “It’s about people taking the actions that are easily accessible to every person living in America by simply coming together with their neighbors to do something in response to these transgressions.”

Prevent violence

But sometimes the danger posed by violent beliefs and homegrown extremism is more pressing. This is where law enforcement comes into play. Ryan McMaster is a researcher at the Begun Center for Violence Prevention at Case Western Reserve.

“A lot of the training over the last few decades has really focused on foreign terrorist organizations like ISIS and al-Qaeda,” he said. “January 6 really changed the landscape across the country on this issue.”

McMaster has helped put together training programs for local law enforcement officers on local threats of violence from across the political spectrum.

These programs help officers, in their daily work, identify signs that an individual or group is preparing to commit violence beyond constitutionally protected speech.

“If you show up at the scene of an accident, have you had any training that makes you aware of these signs?” He said: “Weapons procurement and storage, people misrepresent themselves, whether it's stealing some form of identification or lying, who they are to obtain material that could help carry out an attack.”

Recognize recruitment

McMaster said another of those signs is recruitment efforts – groups trying to recruit the next generation of extremists.

Jeff Tischauser, a researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center, agrees. He said one way extremist groups are trying to grow their ranks is by engaging with children online.

“It’s video games and TikTok,” he said. “That’s what we’re worried about when it comes to recruiting young people.”

Jamie Small, the UD professor, said the fight comes down to good communication. It can be scary for parents to realize their child has been exposed to extremism, she said, but it's best to give a young person space to talk about why those messages are compelling.

“Whenever you're trying to connect with a person, giving them an ultimatum or using a top-down approach won't work as well as open-ended questions to understand what that connection or group needs fulfilled for that person And is there another way to fulfill that need,” she said.

Reasons for optimism

Morrow said with the PREVENTS program, the key is keeping the door open for people at risk of radicalization.

“Our project is trying, above all, to show people that there are both institutional resources and civil society groups, volunteers who are trying to create space for people who are marginalized in our society and address some of the risks.” factors “,” he said, “(these) are not just risk factors for becoming an extremist, they are risk factors for all sorts of negative outcomes in people's lives – social isolation, economic disruption, substance abuse.”

Morrow says he's optimistic: He cites polls that show a decline in the number of people in Ohio willing to engage in political violence in the years since the uprising. But he admits there is still a lot of work ahead.

Anna Harden

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