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Local News

'Need, narrative, network' helps people fall prey to extremist movements, expert says

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Cory Sharber
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WVXU
Shannon Foley Martinez (pictured left), a former white supremacist, and Arie Kruglanski (right), a distinguished professor of psychology and scholar from the University of Maryland, spoke to the media following a discussion on combating radicalization Thursday at the Holocaust and Humanity Center.

A professor and a former white supremacist discussed combating radicalization and why people turn to extremism Thursday at the Holocaust and Humanity Center.

The program, "Hate at Home: Understanding the Rise in Violent Extremism," explored why people fall victim to extremist movements and ideologies, how the COVID-19 pandemic led to a rise of extremism, and how communities can combat extremist movements.

Arie Kruglanski, Ph.D., is a distinguished professor of psychology and scholar from the University of Maryland studying violent extremism. He says America is dealing with a "pandemic within a pandemic" and that stress creates extremism. He says education is the key to combat radicalization.

"It has to be at the level of the community, at the level of the religious institutions, at the level of the police, at the level of the schools," Kruglanski said. "It has to be done locally, at the grassroots, to create that kind of awareness that this is wrong."

In his research, he devised a term called the "3 Ns of Radicalization": need, narrative and the network. The need is a person's quest for significance; the narrative is what can direct a person to violent extremism; and the network is the group one associates with. It validates the need and dispenses narratives.

"Once they are together, once you have the need awakened or once you're exposed to a narrative that tells you this is the way to do it, and the network of your friends - once you have these three, you can have radicalization," Kruglanski said.

Shannon Foley Martinez is a former violent white supremacist who has worked for two decades to combat the rise of violent extremism. She got involved with extremism as a teenager after her family moved from Philadelphia to near Toledo, Ohio.

She was sexually assaulted when she was 14. Growing up in a dysfunctional household, she didn't have any means of processing the trauma and felt like an outsider. At punk rock shows, she befriended neo-Nazis and was involved in white supremacy for more than four years.

"One of the things that is true at this point is that any culture, whether it's gaming culture, you know, political culture, any platform and any culture that's out there, Nazis will definitely show up," Martinez said.

She says the antidote to these extremist efforts are communities showing collective opposition.

"Just because in America it's not illegal to have those ideas, that doesn't mean that we as a community have to legitimize their use of the platform of public discourse in our communities," Martinez said.

The program "Hate at Home: Understanding the Rise in Violent Extremism," was presented in partnership with the Cincinnati Regional Coalition Against Hate and the JCRC’s Leaders in Light. You can view the program below: