Model & Strategy
Most strategies to counter violent extremism focus on the violent fringe and on countering the efforts of violent groups through law enforcement and security approaches to surveil, monitor, ban, and arrest individuals and groups. But today, most extremist violence does not come at the hands of individuals who have formal group memberships or ties. On the contrary, most mass shootings and domestic violent terrorist attacks are committed by people who self-radicalize through networks online after being exposed to propaganda and conspiracy theories, often in social media forms like memes and short-form videos. Today’s political and hate-fueled violence needs a different set of strategies adapted to online worlds where people are most often exposed to hateful, false, manipulative, or conspiratorial content.
PERIL utilizes a public health approach to preventing violent extremism by building resilience within the mainstream to reduce the fertile ground in which anti-democratic, hateful, or false ideologies take root. To do this, they design and test out-of-the-box ideas and upstream prevention strategies that aim to reach entire communities through broad civic education and media literacy to safeguard against harmful online content, propaganda, and false information. PERIL’s specific strategies include short-form videos (video-based inoculation), community-based training and advising, and a variety of toolkits and guides to help people recognize red flags and be more empowered to intervene and interrupt early radicalization. Their tools are written for and tested for broad online populations and on-the-ground communities of parents and caregivers, educators, coaches and mental health counselors, faith leaders, youth mentors, small business owners, local government officials, and more.
Over the next decade, PERIL anticipates engagement in every region of the country, with on-the-ground intervention happening in evidence-based regional hubs guided by tools that are tested and refined with communities’ needs at their center. PERIL is committed to providing evidence about what works and sharing it (and their methodologies and tools) for free.
Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss (Founding Director) is a Professor in the School of Public Affairs and the School of Education at American University. She was inspired to launch PERIL after twenty years of work on Germany’s post-war prevention strategies. She is the author, co-author, or co-editor of six books, including Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right (Princeton University Press, 2022), and appears regularly in the media as an expert source and political commentator.
Dr. Brian Hughes (Co-founder and Associate Director) is a Research Assistant Professor in the department of Justice, Law, and Criminology at American University. He develops studies and interventions to reduce the risk of radicalization to extremism through research exploring the impact of communication technology on political and religious extremism, terrorism and fringe culture. His writing has appeared in the CTC Sentinel at West Point, the International Journal of Communication, CNN, and Lawfare.
5,000,000 people have watched PERIL’s short-form videos, and they have engaged at least 3,000 parents and caregivers.
All of their tools and videos are tested through pre- and post-testing and/or with comparison groups, and are designed with rigorous research from the ground up– nationally representative surveys, focus groups and listening sessions with practitioners, interviews, and participant observation.
They have demonstrated that it is possible to meaningfully improve communities’ awareness and ability to intervene with a person who is exposed to harmful online content in as little as seven minutes of reading, and in videos as short as 30-seconds.