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 may become radicalised if their views and beliefs are influenced by extreme ideas and perspectives.
People may be radicalised through exposure to a particular ideology, or due to non-ideological reasons – for example because of a specific grievance, or hatred of a 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 a range of time-periods – 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 if someone 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 at risk of radicalisation, or who 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.
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.
People from any local area and any community can become radicalised. They might plan to commit a terrorist act locally, 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.
Concerns also exist over people who may develop plans to harm others (for example, in a shooting), where the motivations for their actions are unclear and may not be linked to a particular ideology, political belief or grievance.
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, including:
- people who have experienced fighting or living in a conflict zone – experiences of conflict may lead them to develop a grievance towards a person, group or country, or become attracted to an extremist political cause
- 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
- people who have experienced hardship, emotional stress or trauma, including people who have encountered the experiences listed below – emotional triggers can be used to manipulate people into adopting extreme views
- discrimination and harassment – these may lead to feelings of grievance or anger
- emotional difficulties
- experiencing questions over one’s identity, meaning or belonging
- financial difficulties
- living in an unstable or unsafe home
- mental health difficulties
- social isolation, including from family, friends or the community
Most people with the above experiences will not become involved in terrorism. A small number of people lacking protective influences may become radicalised. In these cases, people may be attracted by the sense of purpose, status, identity, belonging and excitement that accompanies commitment to an extremist cause or group.
Locations where radicalisation takes place
People can be exposed to radicalising influences in many places and settings, although they are more likely to be exposed to these influences in the following locations:
- events hosting extremist speakers or discussing extremist views
- the home – a family member or friend may hold extremist views
- the internet, particularly social media sites, online extremist sites and gaming platforms
- social or religious groups.
Signs that someone is being exploited
Common signs that someone is being sexually exploited include those listed below. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and that warning signs will show themselves differently in each person. It is important to explore all concerns over someone’s behaviour and personal circumstances and to consider whether these could be signs of exploitation.
Appearance and behaviour
- becoming isolated from family and friends
- becoming more secretive, especially around internet use
- centering day-to-day behaviour and activities around an extremist ideology, group or cause
- changing appearance and clothing in link with that associated with a group or cause
- developing a fixation on a particular subject.
Thoughts and communication
- becoming more argumentative and domineering when expressing viewpoints
- being quick to criticise alternative views and opinions, and being closed to new ideas
- expressing intolerance or hatred of other people or communities
- expressing justification for offending on behalf of a group, cause or ideology
- expressing mistrust of mainstream media, belief in conspiracy theories, anger about government policies
- expressing sympathy for extremist causes, glorifying violence, or promoting violent extremist messages
- expressing thoughts about harming, or using violence towards, others
- talking as if from a script
- using hate terms to exclude others or incite violence.
- associating with different friends
- associating with different social groups
- associating with others who hold extremist views.
Other observations and circumstances
- accessing extremist websites and social media sites
- attending meetings held by extremist groups or hosting extremist speakers
- possessing materials or symbols associated with an extremist cause
- possessing firearms or other weapons, or showing an interest in obtaining them.
More information about identifying signs of radicalisation can be found on the Let’s Talk About It website.
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.
More case studies can be found on the Devon and Cornwall Police website.
Links between radicalisation and other forms of exploitation
Like other forms of exploitation, radicalisation happens when someone’s vulnerability is taken advantage of by people wishing to advance their own interests – people who have been radicalised may have been exposed to other forms of grooming and 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 can arise from 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, people may develop extremist views because of hostility towards particular individuals, or by past experience of hate crime.