Disengagement and Deradicalization: A Critical Discussion

EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Disengagement and Deradicalization: A Critical Discussion

DATE: 24th March , 3:00pm  – 4:00pm

VENUE: Online

SPEAKERS: Dr Julie Chernov, Prof John Horgan, Dr Kurt Braddock



Matt Dryden  00:00

Hello, thank you for joining us today for this discussion on disengagement and deradicalization, a session by the Henry Jackson Society here at the radicalization centre on radicalisation and terrorism. So, thank you very much for joining us, everybody. We’ve got a great panel of speakers today, described by Mubin Shaikh as the terrorism studies Olympic team. So, it’s great to be joined by the three of you today, John, Juliet, and Kurt. So, before I introduce everybody, I just need to go through a couple of points about the way that the session will work today, and then we will dive straight in. So essentially, I will introduce our guests, who will each speak for 10 to 12 minutes, roughly, and we will then go to a q&a session at the end. So please, everybody, feel free to submit your questions via the q&a chat function. We will look at those questions and submit a number of those to our guests at the end. And we will try to get through as many of them as we possibly can. So, without further ado, I’ll introduce our guests for you now. So, we have Professor John Horgan, who is professor of psychology at Georgia State University, and the author of “The Psychology of Terrorism: Walking Away from Terrorism and Terrorist Minds.” Also with us is Dr Kurt Braddock, assistant professor at American University and the author of “Weaponized Words and the Strategic Role of Persuasion in Violent Radicalization and Counter Radicalisation.” Also with us is Dr Julie Chernov Hwang, director of international relations program at Gaucho College, and the author of “Why Terrorists Quit: The Disengagement of Indonesian Jihadists.” So welcome to you all. It’s a real privilege to have you here today. I’m sure I’m looking forward to this session just as much as all of our guests that are watching this today, with some really fascinating issues to talk about. Many of which are in the media, currently, including today, quite a lot being said about disengagement and deradicalization specifically. There continues to be, you know, much definitional ambiguity and conflation of terms, which will hopefully clear some of that up today during this session. Great, so we’ll dive straight in. So, if we can start with yourself, John, please. And just if you can help us to clear up some of that definitional ambiguity that I alluded to. And I know you’ll be providing us with some information about what we can do better and the problem space in terms of disengagement and deradicalization as it exists today. So over to you. Thank you.

Prof John Horgan  02:56

I’d be happy to Matt, thank you. And thank you very much to the Henry Jackson Society for putting this event on and allowing me to be part of this very illustrious panel. I’m a huge fan of Julie and Kurt, and I’ve learned from and been challenged by their work over the years. And so, a huge honour for me to be here today. You know, I think it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. But as different types of terrorism come and go, you know, these are serious, lingering issues we have to deal with, and we’ve all seen how ideology and bigotry and Islamophobia and things like that get in the way of us making serious progress in this space. And one of the reasons I’m grateful for the Henry Jackson Society for putting this on is that you know, we have three people here who value rigor in science and evidence and I think it’s important not to take that for granted anymore. Now, don’t get me wrong, we can argue about the evidence, we can argue about the data, we will definitely argue about the terminology. What discussion about terrorism would be complete without a discussion of terminology, we can argue about all of those kinds of things. But and I say this to everybody watching in, if we can at least agree that science and data and evidence and rigor matter, then we are we well on our way to developing solutions, actionable knowledge to actually help protect and make safer communities affected by the scourge of terrorism. So again, thank you. So, let’s dive in. Disengagement and deradicalization are distinct and sometimes related processes. Okay, I want to repeat that. They are distinct and sometimes related, one is not a substitute for the other. I see a lot of arguments in white papers and policy documents about substituting one term for the other. And I think with respect, those kinds of recommendations are way off the mark. I’ll define the terms as I see them, and then break them down a little bit further and try to scaffold on that. So, let’s think of this in basic terms first. Disengagement means ceasing to be involved in terrorism. That’s all it means. It means stopping, walking away, it just implies a cessation. Deradicalization has two, at least two distinct meanings. It refers to a process experienced by some terrorists, whereby their views change in such a way that it signals to us that maybe they are moving away, maybe they’re becoming less committed to the ideology, the cause, the group, their commitment, and perhaps, that in turn signals that they are at any reduced risk of re-engaging in terrorism down the road. So that’s one meaning of it. The other meaning of the term, at least one other meaning of the term, because I think it’s sort of acquired a life of its own now, is that it’s a shorthand label to describe a collection of programs, a fairly idiosyncratic set of programs aimed at rehabilitating and reintegrating former terrorists. So also, you know, this sort of deradicalization programs has become for good or for bad, the shorthand description of that. So, I want to further tease those apart a little bit. Why does this engagement happen? Well, it can happen for a number of reasons. And these are by far not exclusive to terrorism. Things like getting burned out, personality clashes with colleagues, boredom, stress, you know, all the stuff we face in our daily lives. Sometimes people want to stop because the group has gone too far. Sometimes people want to leave the group because the group hasn’t gone far enough, they might leave one group with the intention of joining or starting up another with even more bloodshed on their minds. Psychologically speaking, the life of a terrorist can be quite onerous and challenging, and not everyone is cut out for that life. Not everyone can cope with the demands of being involved and remaining involved and remaining committed to this to this pathway, some acquiesce, some cope better than others, others don’t, and they just drift away. Disengagement can be short term, it can be long term, it can be permanent. Sometimes members just want a break. That’s all, they start to get burned out and they decide you know what, I just need a little bit of time off here. And other times they know for sure, you know, look, this isn’t for me, and I want out.  Not all terrorist groups, where we’re talking about groups and organizations, not all terrorist groups manage disengagement in the same way. Some will allow it under certain conditions and circumstances of course, others will completely pour hate at it. We can think of we can further think of disengagement as voluntary. In other words, you know, I want to get out please, can I do it? At what cost? When can I get out? How can I get out? What will happen to me once I’m out? It can also be thought of as involuntary. So obviously, when the police show up at your door and haul you off, well, you are involuntarily disengaged. You might get kicked out of the group, you might fall ill, you might be injured. I mean, again, there is a multiplicity of reasons, and they might vary from person to person even within the same small group. So, let’s begin to add a little bit more to this. People disengage for different reasons. Like I’ve said, this is where things have the potential to get a little bit complicated, so bear with me. Sometimes people disengage and they have no change of heart about the things that they’ve done. Okay. They might leave the group, but they might remain just as committed to the ideals, the cause, the ideology, the group, the personalities. Okay, hold that thought. Other people might disengage and in doing so, they also have a change of heart. They express remorse for what they’ve done, they might express disillusionment. And it certainly might seem to us looking from the outside, that they’ve turned their backs and hearts and minds away from their cause. And that in turn, then we allow to influence some of the decisions we might make about, in some cases, managing cases of people who either want to get out or on the way out. So put another way, some people can disengage without deradicalizing, others disengage, and deradicalize. In fact, sometimes people disengage because they’re becoming deradicalized. But there’s another side to this as well. It’s possible for someone to deradicalize, and not actually disengage, which we shouldn’t, we shouldn’t forget this. You might be an active, engaged, even violent member of a terrorist group. And simultaneously, you might be deeply disillusioned. You are for all intents and purposes deradicalized, but you might not yet be disengaged, or you might not even be able to disengage. I remain fully committed to the idea, to the belief rather, that terrorist groups are full of deeply disillusion people, many of whom simply cannot get out. So back to the start, like I said, these are distinct but related processes. Sometimes one happens without the other, sometimes one precedes the other. And other times again, one follows the other. So, happy to talk more about those, but I do want to spend a little bit of time in what I have left, I think I’ve got maybe 10 minutes left, to talk about deradicalization programs because I know it’s a big hot button issue and it’s becoming increasingly so again. Policymakers often ask things like, does deradicalization work and our deradicalization programs effective? I’m a typical academic, of course, and I’ll say well, look, those questions aren’t easily answerable. If we ask more precise questions, we might get better answers. But here’s what I’ll say: deradicalization happens. I mean, that is not up for debate. It happens. It doesn’t happen for everyone. And you can’t expect it to happen for everyone. That’s just basic uncontroversial assertions here before we even begin to talk about how can we somehow engineer something to try to make it more likely to happen, okay. Deradicalization programs, which I think you know, I made a point earlier about terminology, I think we’ve got enough a bit of a false start when it comes to some of the terminology. These programs are probably more accurately and definitely more helpfully better described as rehabilitation, or reintegration programs. Kurt and I, a few years ago, did a paper and we propose the idea well, why don’t we call them risk reduction programs or risk reduction initiatives? I think part of the issue here is this word deradicalization has too much baggage. And I think that’s part of the acrimony that surrounds you know, a lot of the discussion here. No program can be 100% successful, nor is it realistic. I don’t care who you are, but nor is it realistic to expect that. Now, at the same time, look, I get it, the consequences of getting this stuff wrong, or having someone fall through the cracks can be profound. There is a huge cost to getting it wrong. But even when people get it wrong, or when it just goes wrong, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to invest in and explore the feasibility of these programs. If people get it wrong, my sorts of questions as an academic would be, so why, what happened? Was it something the practitioners missed? Was that that somebody, you know, a faked good? Was it that some invalidated risk assessment tool was used to make a judgement about the risk somebody posed? We don’t know nearly enough about not just the inner workings of these programs, but about the failures. So, we ought to be documenting the failures, we ought to be learning from them. It’s not about pointing the fingers. It’s not about hanging people out to dry. It’s about figuring out what did we miss and what can we do better next time, and we need to have the space to do that, irrespective of the profound consequences of getting it wrong. You will continue to find lots of allegations of programs saying that they are tremendously successful. And it is certainly easier to demonstrate success when your entire sample comprises nonviolent offenders who view participation as little more than a stepping stone to getting out early. Now to be devil’s advocate, there’s nothing wrong with that. Critics might say, well look, you know, you’re shooting fish in a barrel  by not being able to address the hardcore supporters. Okay, fine. But surely, if we can thin the herd, and if we can make an impact, we ought to do it, we ought to continue to do it. Presumably, hypothetically, at least some of the rank-and-file supporters will eventually go on to more senior influential positions. So, certainly there are many, many reasons why we ought to not be too critical about programs that claim success by still only focusing on fringe members inside these movements. So, you know, to criticize deradicalization programs because they work mostly with low-ranking members, I think cynically misses the point that there is benefit to be had here. I’ll wrap up in in 60 seconds here, Matthew. So again, you know, the counterpoint to this is, if something seems to work, we need to know why. If you tell me that your program works, I want to know why. If something seems to fail, we also need to know why. There will inevitably be politics, there will inevitably be blamed to be passed around, but we still need to know why and what happened. Let me put my cards on the table here, I am deeply sceptical of the radicalization programs, I am simultaneously deeply supportive of their development, I want to see them succeed, I want to see them develop, but not without opening up and being more transparent in what they do and how they do it. I want to see better discussions, I want to see better partnerships between policymakers, practitioners, program managers, academics, like Julie, Kurt and myself, people who know a little bit about terrorism, and people who know a little bit about disengagement and things like that. And also, specialists who know about evaluation. You know, whenever I hear things like, well, these programs can’t be evaluated. That tells me that the person who says that, to me doesn’t know about evaluation. There’s nothing we can’t evaluate. And we can scale these things up, we can scale them down, but do not tell me we cannot evaluate these programs. I’ll stop there. And I’m to unpack any of that even further. And I’ll pause for now. Thank you very much.

Matt Dryden  17:41

That was really helpful. And, you know, some really good points in there, you know, particularly about, you know, not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we hear, you know, for calls for programs to be to be scrapped because they can’t prove 100% effectiveness. And as you mentioned, that can never be the case anyway. And also, a great point there on evaluation. You know, if we, if we’re talking about whether these programs either are or are not, or can or cannot be effective, we’ve got to be able to open those up to independent evaluation. And I think the independent evaluation is key, because if we can’t show, you know, objectively that a program does or doesn’t work, then there’s very little to go off in terms of working towards improvement. So, fantastic. Thank you very much for that, John. It’s all really useful, and no doubt our audience will take a lot from that, thank you. And just to move on to you now Kurt, if we can, to kind of build on some of that. So, I know that the work that you’ve done on sort of counter narratives, and that sort of thing is really fascinating. I know that your book really helped me a lot as a practitioner looking to understand why people are drawn in to extremist groups or terrorist groups, and why, so what message appeals and why and what part of that message has that persuasive appeal. So, you know, your book was really helpful to me. I know you’ll be touching on that. And also, specifically the concept of attitudinal inoculation, which I think will probably be quite unfamiliar to some of our guests. So over to you. If you can unpack some of that for us, please. And that’d be fantastic.

Dr Kurt Braddock  19:31

Sure, thank you, Matt. And I just want to echo John in thanking the HJS for having us present here. I very much value Julie and John’s work as well. I’ve worked with John quite a bit. I’ve worked with Julie not as much but I’m looking forward to working with her more hopefully. But this is fantastic, and I appreciate it. Building off of john, I’m just going to muddy the water a bit more, in john talking about definitional issues surrounding disengagement and deradicalization, I’m going to throw another term into the ring: Counter radicalisation, because that’s a lot of where my work lies. Whereas disengagement relates to the ceasing of actual behavioural activity for whatever reason related to terrorism, and deradicalization, though it has many definitions, relates to kind of the ideological moving away from an idea. Counter radicalisation is more what I think a lot of military and intelligence folks would call left of boom, meaning it’s more interested in intervention in the radicalisation process and interrupting the process by which somebody develops that increased commitment to an ideology, to the point that they actually become a risk for engaging in physical violence. So, whereas disengagement and deradicalization are more related to helping people move away from terrorism, whether it be ideologically or actual engagement and physical violence, my work focuses much more on preventing those who are on that path from going all the way down that path. So, Matt you mentioned some of my work in counter narratives and alternative narratives, and a lot of that was focused on that area. And I’ll talk a bit about inoculation, which I think is a bit more promising, if I can be blunt, relative to what counter narratives have shown us. Now, I do want to contextualize the counter radicalisation work that I do that I’ll be talking about in the greater discussion surrounding disengagement and deradicalization. I look at them very much as kind of the counter radicalisation efforts and deradicalization/disengagement efforts as part and parcel of larger kind of counterterrorism ideological ideology efforts. I look at it as almost a tub filling with water, where John mentioned that we filled the herd by trying to get the people who may be less hardcore adherence to these to these ideologies. I look at those individuals as water in a tub already and deradicalization and disengagement are meant to scoop the water out of the tub. My work is trying to turn off the spigot. So, if we look at an increasingly filling tub, as something that grows in terms of danger, for the risk of terrorism, we want to get the water out from both ends, both scooping it out and turning off the spigot. So, I do look at them as being part of a larger effort to prevent terrorism, by means other than kind of hardline military security type ways. Now, having said that, I’d like to explain how I kind of got to my current research agenda, and my focus on inoculation. It really stems from the fact that within my field, communication studies, the vast majority of people are focused on things like health, communication, interpersonal communication, persuasion and marketing context, things like that. And as a function of those focuses, we have literally 100 years worth of theory that’s been tested, validated using data over and over again, to see whether or not our theories are correct. And it occurred to me that if these theories of social influence work for more traditional political communication, health communication, interpersonal communication, then they might work in preventing people from adopting terrorist ideologies and becoming an increased risk for engaging in terrorism. So, because of this, I’ve started to look into a theory called inoculation theory, specifically inoculation theory in the context of the far right, just because if we look at the data, the far right in the US especially, is by far the greatest risk to domestic security. But if I can explain inoculation theory very quickly, with 60 years of research in about 60 seconds. Inoculation theory builds on the idea that in individualistic cultures, especially, and I say individualistic, not as any kind of derogatory term, I just mean that in societies where individuals value their own autonomy, making their own decisions, things like that, relative to other societies, where there is greater kind of looking to leaders to make decisions for people, we really don’t like it when we think that other people are trying to make up our minds for us. So, when we when we experienced that. When we think somebody is trying to persuade us, to change our minds about something that we have already held beliefs that are contrary to the beliefs that they’re trying to change our minds to, we’re motivated to resist those persuasive attempts because it allows us to re-establish our own autonomy. So, inoculation theory predicts, and there’s quite a bit of data to show that this is what happens, that if you raise the spectre of threat, and I don’t mean physical threat, I mean the threat that somebody’s beliefs and attitudes are at risk of changing, then they will be motivated to defend those beliefs and attitudes. Now, once they’re the threat is aroused and they believe that their beliefs and attitudes are worth changing, you can provide them with counter arguments that run contrary to the persuasive attempts they may encounter. And what the research in health communication and other domains have shown is that people will defend their current beliefs and attitudes to prevent persuasion down the line. So, what I’ve done is I’ve taken that concept, and I’ve applied it to people’s exposure to terrorist propaganda and recruitment efforts to see whether or not individuals will resist those efforts. If you raise the spectre of threat that there is this persuasive attempt on the line, and thus far, including my initial study, which I considered more of a pilot, I think it’s got 2019 publication date, I did it about two years ago, I found that whether or not somebody is exposed to right wing extremist propaganda, or left wing extremist propaganda, and this is among an American population, if you inoculate them, and by inoculate, I mean, tell them that they may run into messages that will try to persuade them to adopt left or right, right wing extremist propaganda, and then give them counter arguments to that propaganda, I found four distinct things happen, all of which seem to be very valuable. Number one, they seem to perceive the group that produces the propaganda as far less credible, than if they’re not inoculated. Number two, they counter argue against the propaganda more than those who weren’t inoculated. And more than that, they develop counter arguments against kind of tangential topics. So, they build their own ideas out against this terrorist propaganda, even beyond what the counter arguments that you give them. Number three, they get very angry at the extremist group for trying to persuade them if you’ve raised that spectre or threat. And most importantly, number four, they report a much less intention to engage in support of the extremist group in four ways: financially, logistically, ideologically, and most importantly, with armed support. That’s on the left wing and the right wing, it worked for both. Building off of that study, I’m now involved in a series of studies at  American University at a research lab run by Cynthia Miller-Idriss called peril: the polarization and extremism research Innovation Lab, sorry, we have a lot of acronyms at AU. Where we’re running, we’re trying this again, we’re trying to use inoculation to protect against other kinds of messages that are more contemporary. So, radical means radical videos that people might encounter online that really weren’t as popular even five, seven years ago. And we’re finding the same exact thing that people had the same outcomes when people are inoculated against these sorts of things. So, the research that we’ve started doing is really showing the inoculation has some benefit to preventing people from adopting these radical ideologies. And most importantly, I want to emphasize, when I say we’re inoculating against radical ideologies, I’m not saying that we’re inoculating against beliefs consistent with those ideologies, other than the idea that violence is a means of perpetuating this ideology. So, I’ve actually caught some flak on neo Nazi websites really recently, because of the work I’m doing on inoculation against far right propaganda. And they of course, accused me of being the thought police and Maoist and all these other fun things. But if they read the studies, they’ll see that I’m actually inoculating against beliefs consistent with the idea that violence is a viable means of perpetuating a political goal. So, I’m inoculating against attitudes about terrorism, not ideas that underpin traditional left or right wing beliefs. Now in terms of the benefits of inoculation that I believe in, relative to other forms of countering ideologies consistent with what terrorist groups adhere to, number one, the reason it seems to be so effective, at least I believe so, is because unlike other forms of efforts that mean to challenge terrorist ideologies, they assume innocence on the part of the target rather than guilt. So, whereas counter narratives, which I’ve used, which I used to study are meant they seem to have this underlying assumption that these ideas are wrong and you are susceptible to buying into these ideas, therefore, you are kind of guilty before we even begin talking. The inoculation message says, listen, we know you’re not violent, we know you don’t have a proclivity for engaging in violence, but there are individuals like you who’ve been persuaded by these groups that want to exploit you, to engage in violence on their behalf. That doesn’t mean you can’t agree with what their ideology is. It doesn’t mean you can’t believe whatever you want to. You have freedom of expression in this country, but they are going to try to change your mind about the engagement and violence piece. So, it assumes that the individual is innocent. And starting from that point, your target regardless of ideology is going to be more susceptible to actually listening to you rather than dismissing you outright, which is a huge problem in many counter messaging campaigns. Number two, I mentioned earlier that it inoculates against behaviour, rather than things like traditional right-wing beliefs or attitudes that underpin or ideas that these groups use as kind of justifications for their violence. So, we can say, for example, that you can be a huge Second Amendment advocate, all you want to, but some of these groups are going to use that belief to make you think you need to pick up one of those guns and go attack something to defend it. So, the inoculation message allows for the possession or the adherence to any belief or attitude you want. So, it seems to be more in line with individuals proclivities for having freedom of expression in the US, for example, so it’s useful in that domain. Now, there is kind of one caveat to all this. And it’s kind of the final note I want to make about inoculation generally, because I have run into people who push back against inoculation when I make this statement in relation to it. But I think it’s absolutely imperative that we adopt this perspective, if we want counter messaging to be effective for individuals who are vulnerable to these messages. It forces us to adopt a perspective, that’s going to be unpalatable to some, that individuals who are targeted by terrorist propaganda are victims in their own right. Now, people don’t like that. People don’t like hearing that those who may be targeted by terrorist propaganda are victims in their own right. But a lot of individuals who do not have violent beliefs, do not have violent attitudes, they move into violence because they are targeted by these messages. And they are pushed in that direction, or rather pulled in that direction by the groups. So, if we move towards them from a perspective of saying, listen, we’re trying to help build your resilience to these messages that want to exploit you, I think that we’ll find that our audiences are much more receptive to us then if we come at them from a position of thinking that they’re guilty. A caveat to that caveat is that I by no means think that we need to step back securitization of those who are already moving towards violence. That is an absolutely something that I’m a believer in, and individuals who are guilty of breaking the law must be tried, prosecuted, all that good stuff, because I’ve also been accused of trying to take the gun out of the military’s hands, which is not the case. Those who are engaging in violence or are moving towards that absolutely need to be investigated, and if applicable, arrested and prosecuted, but individuals who are only vulnerable, I think, by looking at them as those who are vulnerable and aren’t  already, quote, terrorists, will have much more use, or will have much more effectiveness out of our counter messaging campaigns then if we don’t. So, I will stop there, and I will look forward to your questions, presumably about more definitional issues surrounding counter radicalisation. But from that, I will sit back and look forward to Julie’s talk, because I know we’re going to learn a lot from that. Thank you.

Matt Dryden  33:34

Okay, that was that was fascinating. And you can look at the concept of inoculation theory has almost been, I guess, in one way, it’s almost been kind of super early intervention, you know, you’re not waiting for an issue to arise , you get in there to prevent the persuasive appeal of a message when and if it arrives, further down the road. So, that’s really interesting, and I think he’s something that will appeal to many people working in the counter narrative world, or the supporting of people vulnerable to radicalisation. So that’s great, and I’m sure there’ll be some more questions on that. Just a reminder on questions to everybody, please, as well do feel free. I know, some people are entering questions into the q&a box as we speak. Please continue to do that, and we’ll either get to them as we go through or at the end, we will allow some time there to take any further questions. We can, you know, we can ask people to unmute and ask their questions if they’d like to do so, or we can read them out ourselves. So, keep those questions coming. That’s fantastic. Okay, so Julie, fantastic to have you with us. It’s a real pleasure. And I know that your work on disengagement and reintegration in the kind of Southeast Asia context is, you know, is really highly influential to many people, and it’s really well thought out. And I know you’ll be discussing that today, as well as specifically the importance of those alternative social networks, whether it be friends, families, mentors, in ensuring as much as we can or increasing the chances of that successful disengagement and reintegration. So over to you Julie, I’m excited to hear to hear you talk.

Dr Julie Chernov  35:27

Thank you. And I just want to echo John and Kurt and thank the Henry Jackson society for their invitation. I learned a lot just by listening to John, listening to Kurt, and definitely feel like I can layer on. I’ll be definitely referencing some of what John said and scaffolding and building on that as well. For those who aren’t familiar with my work, I just want to give you a small bit of background. I’ve been working on disengagement, and the processes of joining and the processes of disengagement of Indonesian and more recently, Filipino as long as extremists in Southeast Asia, for now, going on 11 years. I’ve conducted over 150 interviews with 81 members, 14 Indonesian Islamic extremist groups scattered across three islands, and 25 interviews with members of two Islamic extremist groups in the Philippines. Now to do that, I worked through a network of guides and fixers and as often as possible, and I’ve worked with them for a very long time, some of them run terrorist rehabilitation, NGOs, some are academics, at one point one was a journalist, human rights activists and I’ve long standing relationships with all of them. And as often as possible, I conducted repeat interviews, two three up to five times over the course of this 11 year period, and that repeat process of repeat interviewed allowed time to see someone right when they got out of jail to watch them, figure out what they wanted to do with their life to try something to fail . I have several long standing interviewees who are going for their PhDs now. It also enabled me to build that trust. So then eventually, I could meet the wife, I could meet the children, I could meet the mother. And in doing all of that, to gain a fuller picture of their story to address factual inconsistencies. Now John has already covered the concepts what disengagement is and how it differs from deradicalization. I want to add a few points here. I’m not going to emphasize that disengagement is gradual. It’s a process. It’s gradual. It often takes months and years, even from when a person first feels disillusioned with aspects of the groups, but it’s tactics to disengagement reintegration. And that’s something I think we have to keep in mind. That if we parachute in and take a snapshot of a person at a given time, they may be in the process of disengaging, but they may not be disengaged, they may be disengaged, but they may not be even close to reintegrating. They may be disengaged, reintegrated, but they may have only deradicalized on this one small barometric and on this one small metric and they may five years from now be disengaged on two or three other metrics, deradicalized on two or three other metrics. Deradicalization is also a slow and gradual process. These processes are nonlinear, they proceed in fits and starts. A person may feel disillusioned, and then they push it out of their mind. Friendships, relationships take a while to build up and build salience. So, it very much is this nonlinear process. There’s no one single trajectory of disengagement. There are certain factors that emerged, John listed some, I’m going to list others in about 30 seconds, some of which complement john, some of which are a little different. The weighting of each factor and the presence of each factor is going to vary from individual to individual. Disengagement doesn’t require exit from the movement. It may in some cases, but you can cease participation in acts of violence, you can cease participation in acts of terrorism in some groups, and go inactive and still keep your friends. You may disengage from violence but give money to the group, help with their media operations, do completely nonviolent activities, teach at one of their schools. Other groups don’t allow for that, you’re in or you’re out. But oftentimes, disengagement doesn’t require a complete exit and severance from the movement. And finally, disengagement is in coterminous with reintegration. Disengagement means you cease participation and acts of violence, but you may still keep all the same friends, you may still keep all that same community. Reintegration implies that you are embedding yourself within a new community, you are reintegrating back into society, you are making a commitment to re-join society to some degree, and that is hopefully going to deepen over time. So how does it happen? In my research, I identified four major factors that appeared prominently, there were others that appeared less prominently. The first one was disillusionment, which John mentioned. And the most frequent way this manifested my research was disillusionment with the tactics of the movement. Also, to a lesser degree, disillusionment with the leaders, it might have been disillusionment with one’s own role. But overwhelmingly, when people talked about disillusionment, it was tactical. It was the use of bombings, it was the idea that we weren’t ready to take on the state, we weren’t ready. We haven’t won hearts and minds. We didn’t have the necessary capacities. It was too soon, the target was wrong, the timing was wrong, the location was wrong, the condition was wrong. And it was this deep emotional resonance, this almost sense of betrayal. In that sense, and this sense of disappointment that was part of this dissolution. The second factor was rational assessment of context, cost and benefit, the costs of violence outweighing any potential benefit. Third, was the establishment of that alternative social network of family, friends, and mentors. And finally, a shift in priorities away from the group or family, gainful employment and furthering one’s education. Now, what I found is that disillusionment and rational assessment of context, cost and benefit, work together to push a person to disengage from violence over time. But as John noted, a person can disengage from violence and still stay in the movement. And, in Indonesia, this is especially true in Jemaah Islamiyah, for example. Their whole view of reality, they want you in. They don’t care if you’re part of the military wing, there’s so many different jobs you can have, you can be part of the community and not be part of the group that’s doing paramilitary training, or anything to do with weaponry or guns. So, those two factors, disillusionment, reassessment of context, cost and benefit, were sufficient to move someone from violence. This doesn’t mean you have to stay out of that movement. The linchpin of successful disengagement and reintegration in my research, as you pointed out Mat, and the thing that I tout over and over and over again, is the establishment of that alternative social network of supportive family members, friends, these can be new friends, these can also be old friends from before you join the movement who were from Islamised groups or just regular society who reembrace you, and mentors, new mentors. And the reason why a person who joins the group, and this is what my new research is looking at, a person who joins a group and commits to being part of an extremist group, especially in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia, where there’s so many different types of groups out there, it’s a fantastic rich landscape to do any research on Islamic extremism because there’s just so many groups at every point in the Islamised political spectrum. And there’s so many groups on the Salafi jihadi spectrum. A person who joins an extremist groups and commits to that particular group does so in large part because of the social network they build of trusted friends in the group. Thus, any individual who really wants to disengage, who wants to reintegrate, one thing that needs to be present is that alternative social network to act as counterweight. Those supportive family members who can encourage them to disengage, who can keep them on the straight path, who can pressure authorities to let my son go back to school while he’s in jail? Can he take online courses while he’s in jail? He was working on a PhD. He was working on an MA, what’s going to become of his MA now that he’s being he’s in jail? Friends, who  they can rely on, who can challenge previously held views, who can offer new narratives for perceiving the enemy, who can be there when the group members stay away. Mentors who can get them thinking about where do I want to be in five years? Who do I want to be in five years? And new friends and new mentors can facilitate those priority shifts. So, in short, a large part of whether one disengages and reintegrates successfully and the takeaway from my piece of this presentation has so much to do with the company you keep. So just a few more minutes, I was asked by Matt, can I take this out of Indonesia, make this something that’s more applicable. And I do want to make a few points. And that is that the fact that in Southeast Asia and Indonesia especially, that disillusionment isn’t as powerful as it might be elsewhere. That may be Indonesia specific. If we look at ISIS returnees from Southeast Asia, a lot of them returned, decided to leave on the basis of disillusionment alone. They got to the Caliphate, they realize, oh my God, this isn’t where I want to be. People who left them out group in the Philippines, a lot of it was based on disillusionment alone. If we look at the US, however, in the extreme right in the US, people who disengage from white supremacist groups, the presence of that alternative social network is common. Sometimes it might be as simple as one friend, or one friend’s parent who treated them like they were, you know, a human being who really saw them, and that might start that, ah ha! But, more often, it’s the construction of that entire social network of new friends, new mentors that facilitate that shift in priority. Sometimes it could be family, it could be your family, it could be somebody else’s family. But it facilitates that shift in priorities through that sustained interaction over time, new friends, new mentors, but company you keep. And I’ll stop there.

Matt Dryden  48:48

Thank you, Julie. That was that was fascinating, and really interesting to hear your experience of the Indonesian context, but then how much of that really, when you break it down, much of it can be applied to any other context, you know, you’re talking about the importance of friends and families and support networks. And, you know, I’ve seen that in my work previously. And I think that those issues around support and support networks, quite often the way or the reason that somebody became involved, whether it’s an extremist group or whatever it might be, speaks volumes about their existing social networks at the time. And what’s really struck me is the importance of figuring that out, in order to identify the best way for those individuals to be able to leave or walk away or leave terrorism behind. It’s, you know, it’s striking to see how important those social bonds are in those processes. So that’s, that’s really helpful. Thank you very much. I know there’s been a huge amount of questions for everybody here, and I think many of those have been answered in the in the chat, which is great. I’ll just go to, there was a question from an anonymous user. I’m not sure whether this has been answered. But if not, I think this one was aimed more at yourself, Kurt. Just for the benefit of other people watching as well, it was a question around how much it matters who delivers that message, that inoculation message. And I think that’s a really important point to raise. Because it’s not just about the quality of the messages. It’s the person, perhaps the credibility of the person delivering it, but I’ll leave that up to you.

Dr Kurt Braddock  50:41

Matt I’m glad you asked that because I screwed up when I tried to answer that question. So, I wanted to make sure I answered this one. So, in the initial pilot that I ran, I was interested in whether or not source mattered, but when you do experimental work, you’re kind of constricted in how many different variations of messages you can deliver, because the number of people you need for your study grows exponentially as you do. So, one thing I was able to test although I did do left and right wing, propaganda and inoculated against the both. Another thing I tested was I had two inoculation messages for each left and right wing. One of the inoculation messages was delivered by me or framed as being delivered by myself as the researcher. So, when the person was inoculated, they read a segment and it was basically assigned by me the researcher. And then in another condition, the individual was inoculated by a former member of the group whose propaganda they were exposed to. Now it was, it was me, but it was signed as some by somebody being a former extremist. So, it wasn’t a video inoculation. They were made to believe that it was a former member of the group delivering an inoculation message to them. What I expected was that the individuals who received the inoculation message from the former extremists would see greater effects, greater counter persuasion effects. What I found was that there was no difference across the board, everybody like there was there was no boost in counter persuasion for the former extremist’s condition in either the left or the right wing condition. There’s a couple of reasons for this or a couple of possible explanations. Number one, a video inoculation message might have been more effective if it was a former extremist, because it would add a level of closeness you don’t get through text. It could also be that individuals perceive those who are speaking out against their former groups almost as turncoats, or as being less credible, because they were involved. My impression, and this is something, this ia an empirical question that needs to get studied a bit more, is I’d be curious to know about the credibility of former extremists kind of writ large, because we’ve largely assumed that they are the most credible sources for these this kind of counter messaging, but we’ve never looked at it empirically. We don’t have data to this effect. So, I think it would be something worth looking into to see what kind, whether a former extremist is the best source of inoculation message. That said, I’m finding in terms of sourcing of inoculation message, that I haven’t yet identified who the exact inoculation message source will be the best one, but trust in that source is the critical component of whether or not inoculation message is effective or not. So, I’m trying to identify who these individual persons might be, though that deliver inoculation messages to different audiences. But as is often the case, in social science, it’s probably going to depend condition to condition, ideology to ideology, geographic domain to geographic domain. So, it definitely does matter, source credibility matters. So that’s something I’m looking into probably in the next year or two.

Matt Dryden  54:01

Really good answer and really good question there. Another question. I’ll read it out to you. It’s for I think, for John or Julie, but Kurt as well might feel free to jump in. This was around, I think it may have been answered in the chat, but just for the benefit of others as well. Just a question about detecting fake or false compliance and when it comes to programs of work, I wondered if either of you, or any of you had any thoughts on how we can do that, if we can do that, and why should we do that?

Prof John Horgan  54:38

Why should we do it? I think we’ve got no choice. We have to do it. I mean, look, I mean, sometimes people will, sometimes people will fake it. I mean, sometimes people will try to fool their managers, the people who are, have the unenviable and extraordinarily difficult task of making decisions that may affect that person’s release. There is no, you know, to invoke a cliché we see in terrorism all the time, but you know, there’s no silver bullet solution here. There’s no simple tool that I can point to you to or give you to say, this is, you know, these are the five questions you need to ask to find out if someone is not being truthful. The real hard work of reintegration starts when a person is led out the front door, you know, post release, monitoring, supervision, accountability, monitoring the kinds of changes and experiences that somebody is undergoing now that they’ve been allowed back out if you like, that’s where the real challenging stuff happens. And, again, to invoke another overused cliché, but it takes a village. And so, where that where that deception may or may not emerge, I mean, it might emerge in prison, it might also emerge six months down the road where a person isn’t being entirely truthful about what’s happening to them. So, I’m not sure I’ve answered the question. But yes, yes, it needs to be done. Yes, it’s very, very hard to do. And don’t expect some magic risk assessment tool to do it for you, it doesn’t work like that. We’re talking about teams of people who make the best decisions they possibly can with the information available to them. I mean, you know, it seems to be it seems to be de rigueur in the UK to bash prevent practitioners, and not just prevent practitioners, but CT practitioners in general. But this is really, really hard. And it’s not just about making crude decisions. I think very often, you know, those of us on the outside just have no sense of how hard these decisions are to make. So sorry, forgive me, Julie.

Dr Julie Chernov  57:04

Not a problem. I would also simply say, I want to echo what John is saying about that. And to say that it’s important when you’re doing that post release monitoring, to keep two things in mind. First of all, that someone let’s say, tries to start a business they may fail. Well, who is going to be there for them? Is it going to be the people who are monitoring them? Or is it going to be their old friends from the group? If that business fails, there has to be an alternative network that steps in and says, let me help you. Otherwise, they may go back to the group, because, and not necessarily in an intentional I’m going to go back to the group, but because someone in the group reaches out and helps them and now they have a car, they have a car rental business. But who are they driving? Well, what is their purpose? Why did they get back in? Well, initially, it started out they just needed to put the food on the table. The other thing I would keep in mind is that somebody who is disengaging and reintegrating, when people are monitoring them, they need to monitor them in a way that isn’t very obvious. The person living over there is a terrorist, who’s newly released from jail. It has to be done with discretion. It has to be done with respect and there is a way to do that, and there is a way to make it obvious. And the third point I would say, is when you look at the recidivists, you have to look at why, why they keep going back. Well, what are their marketable skills. What are their transferable skills? If somebody is a gun runner, and all they know how to do is run guns, and they get out of jail, and they’re a gun runner, and you’re monitoring them and you know, they’re a gun runner, but then they run guns to the wrong person who gives it to an extremist group, well, then maybe what needs to happen is they need to be given a different set of skills. They need to be offered the opportunity to get a different set of skills, that enables them to make as much money as they can gun running. So there needs to be there needs to be in engagement in order for there to be effective disengagement, how do we know if somebody is faking it?  I think we know when we’re watching them in those six months, or the year after. I would also say when we’re looking at the programs in jail, who is designing these programs? What purpose? What assumptions are being made? What are the indicators of cooperation, because I’ll just give an example from Indonesia. When the military got into the disengagement program, and said, well, it these people who are becoming terrorists are suffering from a deficit of nationalism. And they’re making them take pictures saluting the Indonesian flag. That’s not proving disengagement, that’s proving you want to get out of jail early. So, the picture and you can google this of Umar Patek, on the shoulders of two military generals with his fist in the air saluting the Indonesian flag with a great big smile on his face. He’s no more patriotic than he was before. He just wants to get out of jail and start life with his wife. So, you have to ask yourself, and you’re designing these programs, what’s the function? What are the interests? How well do we know these people? And we know their motivations. And what do we want to get out of this? And I’ll stop there.

Matt Dryden  1:01:04

Okay, yeah. And that’s, that’s such an important point, we know that people who are involved in extremist groups or terrorist organizations, often the group gives the individuals a great deal, whether it is belonging or whether it’s, you know, whether it’s security, whether it’s money, whatever it might be, we know that in a lot of cases, that’s very much the case. So, if we, if we are to expect people to disengage from those groups, and not to reoffend, we do need to think about the incredible alternative for those people to pursue, you know, those life choices to build their life and to build resilience and alternatives. And if we don’t do that, then unfortunately that’s when we see this this sort of high recidivism rate. So fantastic. That’s brilliant. We are out of time. I could talk about this all day. And, you know, I really could, you know. I want to thank the audience today for logging in and joining us and for asking those fantastic questions. And to John, Kurt, and Julie, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to come and speak to us all today. It’s been really informative. And I really, I really do appreciate it. So, it is time to go, unfortunately. But thank you all very much and hopefully speak to you again next time.


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