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Western Radicalization: Rethinking the Psychology of Terrorism

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Technical Report

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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The U.S. strategy to counter violent extremism relies heavily on the expert consensus that terrorists are engaging in political group speak and are by nature psychologically normal. Thus, anyone is susceptible to radicalization. To counter radicalization, finding answers is like finding a needle in a haystack. However, in the psychologically similar phenomenon of arson by firefighterwhen a firefighter deliberately sets and then extinguishes a fire to appear heroicthe needle was found in an objective detailed analysis of offenders. This thesis takes the known root causes of arson by firefighter and applies them to the unknown root causes of Westerner radicalization. The small percentage of firefighters who commit this type of arson do so to establish an identity and sense of belonging. Similarly, disconnected Westerners radicalize to pursue a narrative of belonging and significance. This thesis argues that while captured and former terrorists may appear normal and motivated by grievances, the reality may not be that simple the human mind is not a light switch that flips evenly between normal and abnormal. The consensus view on countering violent extremism, which dismisses psychoanalytical or psychological approaches, must be reevaluated.

Subject Categories:

  • Unconventional Warfare
  • Psychology

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