Over the past months Step Together has looked at the factors that might contribute to someone heading down a path to violent extremism. This month, we take a deeper look at different types of extremist groups and the broad messages they may promote.
Wanting extreme changes to society, or following an extreme religion or even cult is not, in and of itself, a societal concern. People may hold beliefs compatible with the messages of extremist groups, but not undertake or condone violence to further these messages. As we’ve discussed before, there are many peaceful and constructive ways to make your voice heard and influence change. As the civil rights leader Martin Luther King once stated, “normal and healthy discontent can be channelled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action”.
However, when people plan, use or encourage the use of violence as a method to further those beliefs there are huge implications for the safety of others. In this blog, we discuss extremist groups that have been known to use violence to further their aims – rather than on those who simply espouse extreme views.
Extremist groups that advocate violence as a tool for change (violent extremism) tend to prey on individual vulnerabilities to attract group members – tailoring messaging to offer a sense of belonging, or reward, involvement in a “higher calling”, or the promise that a person’s life would be better if it weren’t for another race, religion, group of people, etc.
These extremist groups use a range of sophisticated marketing techniques to promote these viewpoints and get others involved. This could be in person, or online via social media platforms – both public facing and on the dark web.
The below list of group types is by no means comprehensive, and some groups may have elements of more than one type of extremist doctrine. However, knowing more about what violent extremism is – and what types of groups may be trying to groom others – can help in noticing signs in those we care about.
Here are just some of the types of extremist groups that have been known to use or advocate violence and the messages they use:
These groups are often involved in violent political struggles based on race, culture or ethnic background. They claim to represent the interests of a certain cultural group, and / or race, and often believe violence is the solution to what they perceive as “oppressive action (or inaction) on the part of the government and/or the majority population”.
This could include Far right, Far left, Christian or Islamist fundamentalists, among many others. The similarities between these groups is strong adherence to religious teachings or a particular worldview and the “othering” or demonization of anyone outside of their race, religion or set of beliefs.
Far left groups are characterised by a desire to overthrow the current political state and replace it with an anarchist or communist system.
According to the Radicalisation Awareness Network, Far right groups tend to be nationalistic, racist, xenophobic, anti-democratic, and support a strong state – though not all of these characteristics are present in each group.
Religious extremists, such as Islamist or Christian fundamentalist groups, are based on extreme interpretations (and often misrepresentations) of religious texts of beliefs. These groups believe they are superior to those who don’t believe what they do, and often promise rewards in the (in the present, but also in the afterlife) to those who undertake violence in their name.
Issues based extremists are those who condone or use violence with the aim of furthering their agenda around an issue – this could include environmental or animal liberation extremists.
If you’re concerned about someone you know and think they may be considering the use of violence to advance an extremist objective, there are some things you can do to help protect them:
If you need advice on how best to help someone you care about, call our Step Together helpline workers on 1800 875 204, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.