Extremist groups that use violence

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.

The difference between extremist thinking and violent extremism

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.

Similarities in messaging

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.

Some Group Types

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:

Ethno-nationalist or separatist

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”.

Ideological/Religious Extremists

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

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.

How can you help?

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:

  • Ask questions and keep the conversation open.
  • Take an interest in what family members and friends are looking at online and in the media.
  • Show people positive ways to enact or influence change – being upset about real injustices is valid, but it’s important to show others how to advocate peacefully for what they believe in.
  • Encourage critical thinking and expose people to different sources and perspectives.
  • Talk through your concerns with a friend or helpline support worker, who can advise you on practical ways you can help those you are concerned about.
  • In very rare cases, you may only find out when it’s too late and someone intends to harm themselves or others. In this case it is important that you report this immediately to emergency services or the National Security Hotline.
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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