“For too long we have ignored the problem of white supremacist extremism which has allowed this problem to grow and fester.” said Dr. Pete Simi, Associate Professor of Sociology. “Now, we are facing on and offline recruitment occurring across a wide range of social media platforms and youth subcultures with increased sophistication sometimes relying on covert or hidden codes. We hope this project can be part of a larger effort to provide families with more resources about identifying the threat of white supremacy.”
In February 2020, the University of Nebraska, Omaha was awarded a 10-year, $36 million grant to establish the National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education (NCITE) Center of Excellence (COE). This consortium of academic, industry, government, and laboratory partners throughout the country is committed to the scientific study of the causes and consequences of terrorism in the United States and around the world. The COE builds on nearly a decade of research and government support that has helped identify and prevent the radicalization of individuals by extremist groups like ISIS, as well as curb efforts by these groups to quickly mobilize violent attacks. Chapman University (and Dr. Simi) is one of the seventeen partner institutions of the NCITE research consortium.
Simi has studied extremist groups and violence for more than 20 years, conducting interviews and observation with a range of violent gangs and political extremists. Simi’s research builds on the Strengthening the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative with a project that explores Barriers That Prevent Extremists’ Families From Getting Help. This project aims to fill an important gap in suspicious activity reporting by tapping a crucial source: Those closest to extremists, their families. Relatives are best poised to prevent terrorism by alerting authorities and/or seeking community resources to help address their relative’s slide into extremism. The goal is to help families better understand the warning signs for white supremacist extremism and identify other barriers that may decrease the likelihood of families seeking help for their relatives.
Family members of homegrown violent extremists play an important part in countering violent extremism, whether it be with deradicalization and disengagement, or by alerting authorities when concerned for the safety of their loved ones and others. Given the threat posed by homegrown violent extremists in the United States, including the inevitable release of the many convicted terrorists currently incarcerated, and the important roles family members play in countering violent extremism, a better understanding of families of homegrown violent extremists is warranted. Simi’s research project employs in-depth, life-history interviews with family members (i.e., parents, siblings, intimate partners, and/or children) of suspected or convicted white supremacist extremists in order to understand their unique experiences and to garner insight for countering violent extremism from those experiences.
The long-term research goal is to understand barriers to reporting suspicious activity by family members. In year 1 of the research program, Simi will conduct a Suspicious Activity Reporting needs assessment to deliver a research brief that will inform the research plan. During the second half of year one, Simi will conduct a pilot study with 2-3 family members of white supremacist extremists to establish proof of concept in preparation for a more robust interview-based study during year 2 of the research program.