Most people fall into violent extremism by accident according to Virginia Tech expert
Violent extremism and domestic terrorism cases are on the rise and racially motivated extremists are the biggest part of that. Virginia Tech's Ashley Reichelmann says belief in such ideologies often comes without much coaxing.
February 17, 2021
Recent examples of domestic violent extremism demonstrate that everyday individuals, such as neighbors, family, and friends, can believe in such ideologies without much prompting or coaxing, according to Virginia Tech sociologist Ashley Reichelmann.
“The Internet has provided a haven for validating one’s views and offers an echo chamber,” said Reichelmann. “However, recent research also reveals that most people fall into this information by accident. They are not necessarily looking for it, but rather click down a rabbit hole, link after link. Or it is shared with them by friends.”
Reichelmann is an assistant professor of sociology, and associate director of the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on racial prejudice and white extremism.
“While we often blame individuals for ‘falling victim’ to conspiracy theories, we rarely discuss the lack of structural forces that could slow their spread and inform individuals of the factual validity of what they are viewing” she said. “Given the increasing amount of exposure both younger and older folks have on the Internet, there is a pressing need to educate ourselves on how to become critical consumers of both information on the Internet and general discourse around us.”
“While groupthink does not explain how individuals come to believe such ideas, it could explain how they can remain captivated with little to no ability to reflect on the ideas’ plausibility or lack of evidence.”
Last fall, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified that domestic terrorism cases are on the rise and that racially motivated extremists are the biggest part of that, particularly those with white supremacist ideologies.
Reichelmann believes that, “In order to more fully understand how extremist forces relate to race and racial animosity, we would need to step back and consider socio-historical changes that have resulted in a feeling of lost community, a lack of discussion about the historical facts of how the country arrived at its current state and the evolving narrative about racial identity in the United States.”
Dr. Ashley Reichelmann is also an affiliate faculty member of the Race and Social Policy Research Center at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on collective memory and past violence as a cause and consequence of contemporary violence and prejudice, specifically focusing on the concept of threat. With specializations ranging from hate crimes and school shootings to prejudice and identity theory, her work sits at the crossroads of social psychology, race studies, and criminology, attempting to better understand how past violence impacts modern identity and intergroup relations.
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