Signs of violent extremism

When should people get in touch?

Have you been noticing changes in a loved one or someone you know? Perhaps they are more withdrawn than usual, spending a lot of time alone on the computer, acting with more aggression, or becoming less tolerant of others in the community. These are some of the signs that someone you know may need help. 

There are many factors that can make someone vulnerable to violent extremism. They can apply to any age, social class, religion, ethnic or educational background.

Sometimes when people feel alone or misunderstood, they find a sense of belonging with extremist groups who prey on their vulnerabilities.

These groups promote, justify and encourage the use of violence to achieve their own political, social, religious or ideological change. Our aim is to protect people from going down this path.

What are the signs?

There is no single road to violent extremism nor a definitive check list on what to look for. 

Changes often occur in people’s identity and behaviour for a number of reasons unrelated to violent extremist interest. Significant shifts in identity are common (especially among teenagers) and are not necessarily a significant problem. Some of the signs below could describe someone on the path towards violent extremism. On the other hand they could also describe the behaviour of someone suffering for a different reason or significant life change or shift.

Below is a list of some potential indicators may indicate someone needs help. Please remember, if it has come to your attention that a person may already be planning to carry out an act of violence, then you must immediately report this to the police or the National Security Hotline.

  1. Loneliness

    Loneliness, withdrawal or isolation.

  2. Helplessness

    Feelings of helplessness or defeat.

  3. Appearance

    Change in appearance.

  4. Social withdrawal

    Withdrawing from school or pro social activities.

  1. Us vs. Them

    Adhering to an ‘ us versus them’ mentality, often with clear ‘enemies’.

  2. Ideology

    Sympathising, or identifying with, extremist ideology and groups.

  3. Intense interest

    Showing intense political, ideological or religious interest.

  4. Arguing

    Arguing with those around them based on their new ideas or behaviour.

  1. Online activity

    Increased time spent online.

  2. Violent content

    Reading, watching or listening to violent content.

  3. Language

    Using confrontational language.

  4. Extremist material

    Looking at material associated with a violent extremist group online.

Often combined with;

  • Advocating violence and aggressive behaviour as a means to achieve change.

These signs and vulnerabilities are not listed in any order of importance.

You may notice other concerning changes that are not listed. There can also be other explanations behind the behaviours you are seeing. Even if you are unsure, you should reach out for help as soon as possible to discuss your concerns further. This way we can connect you with available support in your community.

Callers could be a family member, friend, colleague, acquaintance, or community worker.

Protecting our youth

Helping your children safely navigate their digital world and educate them to avoid harmful online experiences is extremely difficult and requires constant attention and education. We understand how hard it is if you are worried your child may be at risk of a violent extremist narrative. We are here to listen and can help. By reaching out early for support and advice, you can help protect your child before their extreme views become more of a danger to themselves or others. We can provide solutions for a better pathway.

It can be more difficult to spot some of the signs in children and younger people. This is because they are often associated with ‘typical teenage behaviour,’ which is why it’s important to consider the intensity of the behaviour you are noticing rather than any one sign. It may be a combination of signs. Typical teenage behaviours may start to be paired with more extreme behaviours.

What could make my child vulnerable to radicalisation?

While the ideological environment of extremism today is fluid and complex, the age for people of concern is getting younger and younger. The focus is also shifting to more regional and remote parts of NSW.

There are a number of factors that can make a young person vulnerable to exploitation by extremists. This could include low self-esteem or a lack of belonging, which has left them feeling isolated. What we see is a growing prevalence of neurodiverse cases, with complex behavioural or developmental challenges. In these cases they may be struggling at school with learning difficulties and are often subject to bullying by their peers. They seek escapism online where they can create a different persona and feel a sense of connection. Parents can be easily overwhelmed and lack any understanding of the digital world, leaving children unmonitored and more exposed to negative influences.

Violent extremist threat can take place online, or face to face with someone they know including friends and family, or through contact with extremist groups. Sometimes curiosity can lead children or teenagers to actively seek out the groups themselves, or research information they feel supports their views.

Some indicators to look out for in our youth may be:


Increasingly isolated from family and friends.                                         

Skipping school

No longer want to attend school.                                         

Online activity

Increased time spent online.                                         

Unusual speech

Talking as though from a script.                                         


Intolerance to differing views.                                         


Increasingly angry about issues they feel are unfair or unjust.


Changed appearance.                                                              

Lack of engagement

Unwilling to engage with you or discuss their views.                                         


Secrecy about meeting people both online or in person.

There may be other explanations for your childs behaviour. Talk to them to find out what could be causing them to react in this way. Don’t ignore behaviours you are concerned about.

Visit Support and advice for families to access further information.

Advice and support

If you would like further advice and support on how best to help someone you care about, contact our Step Together helpline workers.

Last updated:

06 Dec 2023

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