Should I worried that someone I care about is headed towards violent extremism

Violent extremism refers to a person or group who justify or use fear, terror and violence to achieve ideological, political or social change. This can include what most of us know as terrorism or hate crimes.

Violent extremism can come from any side of the political spectrum, any religion, race or other grouping. While there is no single profile of what makes someone turn towards violent extremism, in many cases the path begins with loneliness, social isolation and a need to belong. Often this can show up as social problems before it escalates into violent activity.

That’s why a person’s support networks are so important – as they are closest; they are best placed to notice changes in behaviour that might indicate something is wrong. Getting help early is the most important and effective way to prevent someone from taking the path towards violent extremism. As a family member, friend or community worker, you may be the first person to notice changes in the behaviour of those around you. While there is no ‘one’ path to becoming involved in extremism, it’s important to look for shifts in behaviour.  The earlier we notice changes, the better the chances are of preventing someone from taking this path.

So how do you know if someone’s  behaviour is changing? It can be hard to tell, as some of the signs of potential extremist interest could also be signs of someone experiencing other difficulties (depression, bullying, the challenges of a new school, home etc.). That said, it’s important to address any kind of social health difficulty, regardless of potential outcome, to help those you care about lead happier and healthier lives. The fact is that simply by providing a friendly, caring and non-judgmental space for people to speak openly about their feelings, you can help protect them from seeking out other, less healthy outlets for expression.

Some potential behavioural changes  that could indicate someone may be showing an interest in using violence for social, political or religious change are listed below and on "Spot the signs":

  • Loneliness, withdrawal or isolation

  • Feelings of helplessness or defeat

  • Increased anger or frustration

  • Showing intense political, ideological or religious interest

  • Reading, watching or listening to violent content

  • Looking at material associated with a violent extremist group online

  • Sympathising , or identifying with, extremist ideology and groups

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

  • Using confrontational language 

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

Often combined with; 

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

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:

18 Oct 2023

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