The Safe Communities Institute (SCI) ended the year on an organizational “high,” although we acknowledge the realities of a somewhat global “low,” with violent incidents so commonplace that our heightened threat environment is the “new normal.” Gone are the days when a mass shooting or vehicle-borne attack could be neatly ascribed to a single extremist ideology or mental illness. Indeed, we are realizing that the attack strategies used by a range of violent actors now constitute a menu of horrific tactics that can be adopted by any extremist, regardless of their ideological motivation. The only increasing common component is their origin, as most of them are homegrown.
Even as ISIS has lost all significant land holdings and has for the most part been disbanded, the group’s ideology and online propaganda continue to inspire violence. The tactics they espouse do not go unnoticed by adherents to other ideologies. Case in point: the vehicle-ramming attack in Charlottesville, Va.
The challenge today is to address both the root causes that facilitate recruitment and radicalization and the array of tactics violent actors may use to target innocent people. This threat is increasingly pronounced—and visible—among right-wing white supremacist and anti-government extremist groups. The FBI has reported the threat of white nationalist violence in the United States is at least as big a threat as that posed by ISIS and similar groups. This has fueled increasing federal and legislative attention, such as the proposed Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act.
The threat of homegrown violent extremism is too vast for any one public, private or academic institution to address on its own. The challenge demands collective effort. For our part, SCI recently hosted the USC summit, “Global Solutions in the Age of Homegrown Violent Extremism.” This has spawned several synergistic collaborations into which SCI is moving.
We are finalizing a formal relationship with London’s Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), which has been at the forefront of forging innovative real-world solutions to the rising challenge of violent extremist movements and the ideologies that underpin them. Our partnership will expand the Against Violent Extremism Network’s (AVE) collection of education, research and related activities.
SCI is also excited and honored for its appointment to the Life After Hate (LAH) board of directors. LAH was founded in 2011 by former members of the far-right extremist movement to help people find pathways out of extremist groups. SCI will help guide LAH’s work in academic research, education, outreach and consulting focused on individuals who wish to leave a life of hatred and violence influenced by intolerance and racism.
As we head into 2018, we offer deep thanks to our donors, friends, and domestic and international partners for supporting our efforts. We have an exciting year planned, including a number of events featuring authors and speakers addressing contemporary issues related to public safety and violence prevention. Join us as we continue the essential effort to develop the knowledge, programs and policies that can help engender safe communities around the world.
Dr. Erroll G. Southers
Director, Safe Communities Institute