Is Deradicalization Key to Fighting Domestic Terrorism
Is Deradicalization Key to Fighting Domestic Terrorism
How does one fight domestic terrorism – an internal menace that threatens violence against pretty much anyone that happens to catch the ire of an unhinged loon?
I know our readers are used to somewhat unbridled rage from me when events like this make me feel helpless and out of control. But I want to get some thoughts down for you guys – without ire or fun invective. I want to explore some solutions outside the box to domestic terrorism, because inside the box doesn’t work.
After the mass murders in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio last week, politicians have jumped into action, trying to appear like they’re doing “something,” while gun control groups, bathe in the blood of the innocent victims, and do a tribal dance trying to draw attention to their political agendas.
The President – whom I’ve never trusted on guns, I’ll be honest here – came out strongly in favor of “strengthening” background checks and “red flag” laws, which will do nothing to prevent acts of violence, but will certainly serve to eliminate private gun sales and erode due process.
Nonetheless, Republicans in their frothing zeal to appear “reasonable” on gun control (because the thousands and thousands of state and federal gun control laws are simply not enough, and if they pass just one more, that will be the magic bullet, so to speak) are flocking to “commonsense gun control measures” such as red flag laws and universal background checks to combat domestic terrorism.
It is no surprise that Trump has come out in favor of depriving citizens of due process. I remember listening horrified during the 2016 election as he agreed with Hillary Clinton that people on TSA’s no-fly lists should be deprived of their right to keep and bear arms, due process be damned! And now, he’s making noises about disarming people because someone with or without an agenda deems them “a danger.”
Let me remind you that in 2014, the Intercept somehow got a copy of and reported on a classified report that showed a breakdown of people on the terrorist tracking system during the Obama years. What they found was that hundreds of thousands of potentially innocent people were caught up in this database, and those are the people our now-President wanted to disarm without due process!
Nearly half of the people on the U.S. government’s widely shared database of terrorist suspects are not connected to any known terrorist group, according to classified government documents obtained by The Intercept.
Of the 680,000 people caught up in the government’s Terrorist Screening Database—a watchlist of “known or suspected terrorists” that is shared with local law enforcement agencies, private contractors, and foreign governments—more than 40 percent are described by the government as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” That category—280,000 people—dwarfs the number of watchlisted people suspected of ties to al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah combined.
Just a note to you that this is not written so you can engage in a lengthy diatribe in defense of the President. Sure, you can if you want, but my point here is to show that watchlisting people based on dubious criteria to deprive them of their rights is immoral, will probably do nothing to address domestic terrorism, and is likely to result in a zero reduction in gun or any other kind of violence.
When the President and Lindsey Graham claim that “red flag” laws provide “rapid due process” to people whom anyone can accuse of being a danger to themselves or others without ever showing their face or swearing out an affidavit, I have a hard time believing that. What exists on paper is widely different than what exists in practice, and legislating away the rights of Americans who engaged in no criminal activity whatsoever, based merely on someone’s assessment (biased or not, expert or not) about their mental capacity or their sanity, or participation in groups someone might find objectionable and would therefore slap the “domestic terrorism” label on them, is not endearing the GOP to anyone.
I’ve written that mass murder is an illness in our society, not a flaw in our laws that needs to be fixed. And much like you can’t legislate morality, and can merely punish immoral actions through laws, you can’t legislate mental health, anti-radicalization, or law away the existence of violent groups that result in acts of domestic terrorism. So what can you do?
I’ve been recently reading about Denmark’s Aarhus program. You see, despite the fact that Denmark has some of the most generous welfare programs in the world and some of the most welcoming people to immigrants, Denmark had a radicalization problem – probably one of the biggest ones in Europe (deflating the left’s claim that poor, underprivileged people are joining extremist organizations, and therefore, if we just give them more benefits at others expense…). In 2015, Denmark had produced the second highest number of Jihadist fighters in Europe, after Belgium, with 27 per 1 million Danish citizen have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria.
This might not sound like a lot to us, because we’re a huge country, but to tiny Denmark, it’s pretty significant. Denmark wanted to find ways to address the causes of radicalization. Why did a country that has “given them so many opportunities” produce so much hatred? And according to Jacob Bundsgaard, the mayor of Aarhus – a small town in Denmaark – “it is obviously in part because we have failed […] in making sure that these people are well integrated into Danish society.” So Aarhus decided to try something different.
Recognizing that the need to join ISIS stems from feelings of exclusion in Danish society, the Aarhus model aims first and foremost at helping radicalized youth to feel included. This includes making sure that immigrant youths—many of whom live in the poorest neighborhoods in Denmark and may feel socially excluded from their other Danish peers—have a vast network of help that they can depend upon. Individual counseling is provided for people who intend to travel to Syria or Iraq, with mentors (many of whom are returned, deradicalized fighters themselves) assigned to specific cases. Parents of at-risk children are also required to take part in self-help groups, in order to produce a network of elders that can disillusion radical youth with the ISIS dream. For returned fighters, (so long as they are found innocent of any war crimes) individuals are also offered counseling and the chance to become mentors for radicalized Danish citizens intending to leave the country to fight.
According to one young man’s testimony of his experience with the Aarhus model, after he had become increasingly radicalized following a family vacation to Mecca, the police contacted his family and had him brought into the station. Instead of punishing him, however, he exclaimed that the police “offered him a cup of coffee” and told him they would be assigning him a mentor who better understood his frustrations than they did. The young man, whose name was Ahmed, was successfully dissuaded from joining ISIS, and has since graduated from a Danish University and gotten married.
This might sound to some as a “Hug a Terrorist” type of program, but since its implementation, the Aarhus model has set an international standard for combating radicalization in the West and has resulted in a dramatic decrease in Danish citizens joining ISIS and other Islamist groups.
Do I think that exact model will work in the United States to combat domestic extremists and domestic terrorism? No. Probably not.
Do I think that looking at the Aarhus model as an example to develop our own counter-radicalization programs – either for Islamic extremists or race supremacists – might help us counter our own extremists? Maybe.
Deradicalization isn’t the same for everyone, but maybe these programs could be adapted here and could help.
We often talk about social isolation. People are absorbed in their phones, are deeply steeped in Internet relationships, and often shun social interactions. People are angry – venting their rage on social media and other Internet communities, where they find kindred spirits. My husband has often said that no matter what your freakish kink, the Internet will always find you a buddy and make you feel like you’re part of a community. Hey, you’re into orgiastic goat porn set in the Tundra? We’ve got a forum for that!
But the sense of community the Internet provides is false, and people today are less and less capable of functioning among real human beings. That’s why 8chan and other similar, largely unmoderated community fora are so important to these people. They protect their freedom to be freaks and provide an environment that deceives them into thinking they’re not alone, and that there are others like them out there in the world.
Do we support limiting freak speech on these fora? Of course not. Do we support taking action against them like Cloudflare did when it deplatformed 8chan? What about deplatforming the Daily Stormer like Cloudflare did after the Charlottesville riots? What about deplatforming conservatives from social media like Twitter and Facebook? These companies are free to do what they want – what they believe is best for their business – and maybe it’s best to let them do it.
That said, maybe there’s also a way to engage with the extremists in those communities – not deprive them of their rights or arrest them, but maybe offer them alternatives, human interaction, mentorship, and help. Maybe adopting the Aarhus model to engage with these marginalized, isolated malcontents and challenging some of their preconceived notions about society, about police, and about the world in which they live will work better than depriving them (and innocent Americans writ large) of their rights.
We’ve been largely reactive when it comes to extremist violence, emotionally and hysterically advocating for more laws, instead of looking at the causes of radicalization and battling those.
Maybe it’s time for a change. Maybe it’s time to think outside the box.