Model & Strategy
The Polarization & Extremism Research Innovation Lab (PERIL) aims to reduce threats of harmful online and offline polarization and radicalization to supremacist ideologies, misogyny, propaganda, mis- and disinformation, and conspiracy theories. They seek to address and reverse problems that underpin our well-documented democratic crisis, including election and health disinformation, support for conspiracy theories, and record-breaking hate-fueled violence targeting racial, religious, ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities.
PERIL calls for a public health approach to preventing violent extremism, building resilience within the mainstream to reduce the fertile ground in which antidemocratic, 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 inoculate against harmful online content, propaganda, or false information.
PERIL’s specific strategies include short-form videos (video-based inoculation), community-based trainings 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 for 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.
PERIL’s approach is rooted in the needs of communities and members of targeted groups, is holistic and whole-of society, is reliant on evidence-based interventions, and is focused on building resilient systems, not just resilient individuals. And part of their mission is to cultivate next generation leadership that will change the field—they do this by hiring and cultivating a broadly diverse team of scholars and practitioners who bring a range of personal, professional, and disciplinary lenses to their work.
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.
PERIL is committed to providing evidence about what works and sharing it (and their methodologies and tools) for free.
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.