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Preventing Violent Extremism in Schools, FBI, 2016

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High school students are ideal targets for recruitment by violent
extremists seeking support for their radical ideologies, foreign fighter
networks, or conducting acts of targeted violence within our borders.
High schools must remain vigilant in educating their students about
catalysts that drive violent extremism and the potential
consequences of embracing extremist beliefs.


























Framing the Threat
Despite efforts to counter violent extremism, the threat continues to evolve within our borders.
Extremism and acts of targeted violence continue to impact our local communities and online
violent propaganda has permeated social media. Countering these prevailing dynamics requires
a fresh approach that focuses on education and enhancing public safety—protecting our
citizens from becoming radicalized by identifying the catalysts driving extremism.

Emerging Trends
Youth are embracing many forms of violent extremism; those perpetrated by terrorist
organizations or other domestic violent extremist
The Reality:
movements, to those maintaining biases towards
ISIL messaging likely influenced a 17-year old student to
others due to their race, religion, or sexual
create, produce, and disseminate violent extremist
orientation. Youth aged 13 – 18 are actively engaged
messaging via social media to radicalize other youth to
violence. The youth connected with violent extremists
in extremist activities including online
and like-minded aspirants to distribute ISIL messaging to
communication with known extremists, traveling to
a network of friends and followers on multiple social
media accounts.
conflict zones, conducting recruitment activities, or
supporting plotting against U.S. targets. These
factors signify the potential for increased risk within our schools and local communities.
Although violent extremists are predominantly male, there are noted increases in the number
of females embracing violent radical ideologies due in part to their roles becoming more
defined. Extremist organizations actively seek females to fill operational roles, including
carrying out attacks in the Homeland or traveling to fight—in addition to historic supportive
activities such as fundraising or traveling to marry foreign fighters.

Impact on Schools
As this threat evolves and more youth embrace extremist ideologies, it places a growing burden
on our educational system to provide appropriate services to students who view hatred or
targeted violence as acceptable outlets for their grievances. To complicate matters, youth
possess inherent risk factors making them susceptible to violent extremist ideologies or
possible recruitment. A current body of research on developmental behaviors, which is
discussed later in this guide, suggests that a youth’s risk factors and stressors, if not properly
addressed through personal actions or third-party intervention, can lead to negative outcomes
in the form of suicide or violence against others.
Our educators are in a unique position to affect change, impart affirmative messaging, or
facilitate intervention activities due to their daily interactions with students. These interactions
allow for observing and assessing concerning behaviors and communications—students
embracing extremist ideologies and progressing on a trajectory toward violence.




Educating, building skills, and assisting students with developing strong social and emotional
well-being are essential components to preventing violent extremism and other types of violent
acts. These preventative measures diminish the likelihood of schools becoming potential nodes
of radicalization or recruitment hubs for violent extremists.

This document serves as a guide to educate school personnel about at-risk behaviors and
activities that assist students with reducing social and psychological commitment to violence as
a method of resolving a grievance. This guide can be a powerful tool to help empower schools
and local communities who play prominent roles in building resilience and providing influence
for youth.
The FBI is committed to assisting schools with understanding the drivers of violent extremism
which are more fully described herein. Drivers of violent extremism can be addressed by:
 Building resilient schools through enhanced student social and emotional well-being;
 Increasing awareness about the forms and dynamics of violent extremism;
 Enhancing information sharing among those stakeholders who can provide support and
services to students;
 Facilitating disengagement programs to turn at-risk youth away from violent
 Leveraging school programs to deter youth from embracing extremist ideologies; and
 Fostering the ideals of diversity, inclusion, and tolerance, while upholding Constitutional
freedoms and rights under the law.
This guide encourages sustainability and long-term success by:
 Raising awareness on the catalysts driving violent extremism within our communities;
 Establishing collaborative grass roots initiatives fostering community buy-in and,
 Facilitating intervention activities within our schools.
Law enforcement cannot arrest its way out of violent extremism. Countering violent extremism
is a shared responsibility between law enforcement, civic leaders, and their communities.
Schools share in this responsibility within their local communities, which builds resiliency
against the catalysts driving violent extremist activities. Schools should remain a healthy
environment for learning, personal growth, physical and cognitive development, and not be
infused with extremist or hateful rhetoric. Communities can grow stronger against outside
influences targeting our youth by informing about the perils of violent extremism. These
collaborative efforts will help youth make informed decisions on the impact violent extremism
poses to their lives, families, and communities.




The FBI is a leader in preventing Homeland attacks and educating local communities and
families about the impact of violent extremism. In recent years, local communities were
targeted by myriad types of violent offenders including active shooters, terrorists, gangs,
criminal enterprises, human traffickers, and online predators. The motivations behind these
acts suggest financial gain, a personal or ideological grievance, or feeding on vulnerable youth.
As these threats evolve within our communities, a corresponding impact within our schools also
The FBI’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program addresses these emerging issues. The
CVE mission identifies the catalysts and grievances motivating individuals to advocate violence
as a solution to a perceived grievance and facilitates alternative behaviors to guide individuals
down a less destructive path.
This program focuses on one aspect of violence prevention—that which is advocated for or
perpetrated to address ideologically motivated grievances. This guide discusses three main
categories of ideologically motivated violence: international terrorism, domestic violent
extremism movements, and hate crimes.

International Terrorism
Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs): The U.S. Department of State defines FTOs
as organizations that advocate violence or conduct violent activities against U.S. interests
domestically and abroad. The FBI protects the Homeland and U.S. interests through
investigation and disruption of terrorist operations perpetrated by these FTOs. Many terrorist
organizations continue planning or plotting external operations against U.S. interests and our
Since 9/11, the U.S. government’s efforts to disrupt and dismantle Al-Qa’ida’s terrorist activities
made successful gains but the terrorist organization is still a viable and persistent threat. An
international terrorist landscape that was once controlled by Al-Qa’ida is now dominated by the
Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
ISIL’s emergence and growth is threatening our borders and youth, who are targets of ISIL’s
recruitment efforts.

Domestic Violent Extremism
Domestic Violent Extremism Movements: Domestic violent extremism is defined as individuals
or groups attempting to advance social or political beliefs through force or violence and in
violation of federal law. The FBI recognizes several domestic violent extremism movements,
including but not limited to white supremacists, animal rights and eco-terrorists, and antigovernment or radical separatist groups. There is no specific crime of domestic terrorism, but




rather the individuals or groups are investigated based on a specific criminal violation.
Violations include hate-based activities, weapons violations, or possessing a destructive device.
As some adults embrace domestic violent extremist ideologies, their beliefs can permeate
family norms, oftentimes influencing their children. This dynamic fosters biases leading to
hatred and intolerance, and drives the need for action.

Hate Crimes
Hate crimes: A hate crime is violence or the threat of violence based on a victim’s actual or
perceived race, national origin, religion, or other protected classification. For example, the
Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 makes it a crime to
willfully cause or attempt to cause bodily injury to another based on the target’s actual or
perceived race, religion, color, national origin, gender, disability or sexual orientation. Other
federal hate crime statutes prohibit using force or the threat of force to interfere with
employment, housing, access to public accommodations, and other federally protected rights,
based on certain protected classifications, or to interfere with religious exercise.

Behavioral Models
Numerous behavioral models outline the dynamics and factors leading to violent extremism.
Most notably, violent extremism is not a linear progression, but an evolving dynamic situation
involving numerous factors, catalysts, inhibitors, and mobilization variables. Behavioral experts
hypothesize that the efforts of those seeking to combat radicalization can be informed by
consideration of other models of social behavior and development, including:
 The Pyramid Model – promoting a child’s social development through early intervention
and the prevention of social-emotional delays or the occurrence of challenging behaviors.
An at-risk child may exhibit developmental delay or disorders, resulting from low quality
supportive environments.
 Social Identity Theory – an individual’s self-image and status is directly connected to the
group to which they belong, resulting in social categorization. A sense of belonging
becomes an important factor in pride and self-esteem. The central theme is that group
members seek to find negative aspects among other groups, which enhances their selfimage, but also might result in prejudice, hatred, and violence toward other groups.
 Gang Model of Criminal Behavior – a gang member feels de-individualized and willing to
commit violent acts consistent with the gang’s behavior and feels less personal
responsibility. This separation from one’s self results in less accountability and reduced
self-awareness, and therefore, manifests in instances of deviant behavior.




 Causation Model of Juvenile Delinquency – a child is vulnerable to detrimental influences
from familial, socioeconomic, educational experiences, or ideological factors, often
resulting in criminal deviant behavior. Once exposed to dysfunctional norms, the child
begins to exhibit behavior that is contrary to social expectations.
 Risk Analysis of Terrorist Attacks – an individual is thought to become “at-risk”, when
three elements are present: threat to core values or beliefs, vulnerability, and
consequence of one’s actions. These three elements are not independent of each other,
but rather all must be present to result in an “at-risk” individual. The sum of these three
elements equate to an individual’s risk to act on their intentions, subscribing to their
motivation, intent, capability, opportunity, and psychological gain.
A main challenge for our schools is understanding the underlying catalysts associated with a
student’s behavior and determining the form of ideologically motivated extremism the student
has embraced.

A body of research conducted by mental health practitioners, academia, and social service
providers, documented three risk categories—adolescent, environmental, and entrance risk
factors—that affect youth and their proper cognitive and physical development.

Adolescent Risk Factors
According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, adolescence is marked by
the transition from childhood to young adulthood and viewed as one of the most dynamic
stages of human development. The characteristics of adolescence include physical, emotional,
and intellectual changes, as well as changes in social roles, relationships, and expectations.
Adolescence is characterized by redefining and developing relationships with parents, family
and peers, and consists of not one developmental stage, but three inter-related periods:


Early Adolescence
Middle Adolescence
Late Adolescence

10 – 14 years of age
15 – 17 years of age
18 – 24 years of age

Each period of adolescence contains inherent expectations that cause an individual’s needs to
fluctuate dramatically. As needs fluctuate, so do the associated risk factors. There are
associative risks within schools from guns, gangs, drugs, bullying, sexual harassment, and
developmental issues that can result in violence, including suicide or targeting others.
High schools are comprised of students in each adolescent developmental period creating a
unique dynamic. High schools might be at greater risk and students may be more susceptible to
embracing violent extremist ideologies, joining extremist organizations, or self radicalizing, if




they are unable to withstand the many influential factors and daily stressors in their lives. This
dynamic also presents unique challenges for our educators—recognizing and understanding the
underlying catalysts to violent extremist behaviors and designing grass roots initiatives to help
students resist the temptations and lure of extremist organizations.
The Virginia Youth Violence Project, administered by the Curry School of Education at the
University of Virginia, developed a threat assessment model for addressing the underlying
catalysts to concerning behaviors. The model emphasizes early attention to problems such as
bullying, teasing, or other student conflicts before they escalate into violent behavior.
Educators adopt a problem-solving approach vice a punitive zero-tolerance behavior
modification approach. This new approach promotes student-staff interactions resulting in a
more positive school climate in which students feel treated with fairness and respect.
Violent extremists primarily target adolescents due to developmental vulnerabilities. These
vulnerabilities make them susceptible to recruitment efforts by groups offering personal
support and providing a sense of meaning and belonging. Adolescents, like most individuals,
tend to choose group affiliations—social and antisocial—based on the “fit” of the group with
their developmental needs. The type of group the individual gravitates towards is largely
determined by accessibility, opportunity, and relationships formed over time. According to a
Psychiatric Times article entitled, Why are Young Westerners Drawn to Terrorist Organizations
like ISIS, dated September 2015, researchers believe many adherents drawn to violent
extremist organizations are not psychopaths or brainwashed, but rather everyday young people
in social transitional stages in their lives. The desire to ascribe meaning to one’s life and being
part of something much larger than oneself is an overriding wish in human nature. Researchers
concluded that embracing violent extremism is due to vulnerabilities in human nature that are
exacerbated by aspects of Western societies.

A student may use a relevant group as a standard of reference against which oneself is
compared creating aspirational or associative dynamics.
Youth embracing domestic extremist movements (across any extremist ideology) are
sometimes raised in an environment where racial, religious, or cultural bias is viewed as
acceptable. This results in behaviors influenced by family involvement. Youth growing up in
these environments are exposed to extremism at a very young age, which permeates their
values, and aids the formulation of radical beliefs. Youth view these forms of extremism as
family norms, although they are not acceptable in mainstream society. This dynamic
perpetuates the cycle of hatred and intolerance.

A student’s personal crisis or underachievement may trigger impulsive or violent acts.




Environmental Risk Factors
According to the World Health Organization and other social services providers, adolescents
exposure to environmental risk factors affect health and well being, coping skills to withstand
life stressors, physical and cognitive development, and their ability to make prudent decisions.
These environmental risk factors include nutrition; parents and families; neighborhoods and
communities; cultural backgrounds; school districts; access to civic organizations or social
services; employment opportunities; availability of proper health care; societal norms and
socio-economic status.
One or several of these factors might affect a student’s coping ability and drive acceptance of
violent extremist ideologies. Oftentimes, students become disillusioned by factors outside of
their control thus giving way to resentment, emptiness, loneliness, or feeling lost and
abandoned. Cultural differences can intensify these feelings leading to isolation or alienation. A
nurturing environment might help a student withstand the threat from violent extremists, while
a dysfunctional environment might lead to greater acceptance or adherence to extremist

Students act on feelings of isolation, alienation, disenfranchisement, sense of belonging,
adventure, glory, or thrill seeking.

Entrance Risk Factors
An article in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Building Resilience to Violent Extremism – One
Community’s Perspective, dated April 2014, cited a recent cultural assessment conducted on
youth, parents, and community service providers in a select American community. This article
outlined entrance risk factors that create opportunities for entering into violent extremism and
how protective resources could stop, delay, or diminish such opportunities.
An entrance risk factor is defined as an opportunity provided to an individual to allow for access
to an activity or initiate a negative behavior outside the purview of friends, family, peers, or
These findings suggest prevention activities should be directed at three factors contributing to
potential involvement in violent extremism:
 Unaccountable time and unobserved space;
 Perceived social legitimacy of violent extremism; and
 The potential for contact with violent extremists.
Each of these entrance risks contribute to a student’s initial involvement in or facilitating
acceptance for violent ideologies occurring out of their family’s view; therefore, without their
direct knowledge or consent.
Unaccountable or unobserved space provides a window of opportunity for students engaging in
activities contrary to their family norms or desires, thus creating additional vulnerabilities and




opportunities for exposure to violent extremists or violent rhetoric. Students in unobserved
space may contact or be contacted by a known violent extremist, who assesses the youth for
possible future recruitment. Students’ consumption of violent propaganda while in unobserved
space may ignite the radicalization and mobilization process. Limiting idle times and
unobserved space provides less time to engage in negative activities. Replacing idle times with
positive social interactions may reduce activities in unobserved space.
Violent extremists attempt to legitimize their actions as appropriate and necessary to help the
cause, or wage war to protect culture, heritage, or beliefs. Students can readily view stories on
nightly news broadcasts, internet websites or social media forums, which highlight foreign or
national policy. These stories serve as catalysts or promote grievances for extremist
organizations. Students assign meaning to these conflicts building resolve and support for the
call to action.
To offset its impact, communities and governmental entities should promote open dialogue
about underlying issues or craft affirmative messaging to counter this violent rhetoric.
Communities and families are credible voices to overcome this daunting challenge and turn
youth away from violent trajectories—endorsing positive family ideals and nurturing
environments. Parents, older siblings, and educators may be effective in facilitating discussions
with adolescents and fostering critical thinking resulting in alternative behaviors. Also, some
immigrant families may not be sufficiently present in a youth’s life due to work constraints to
foster critical thinking. In this scenario, educators and trusted community partners can aid that
process to ensure a youth is afforded the appropriate resources.
This cultural assessment concluded that risk and resiliency are properties of the community and
its families that can be modified based on community-based or family-focused prevention
activities. These efforts empower schools, families, and civic leaders, raising the level of
involvement in local resiliency efforts.

Social Media
The inundation of violent extremism in mainstream culture can be aligned in part with
technological advances. As new technologies have
emerged, so too has the virtual spread of violent
Violent extremist organizations’ ability to transcend
geographical boundaries is made possible by the
internet and the use of social media. Violent
extremists troll for youth in social media or online
forums, to spot, assess and recruit those who are
vulnerable. This targeting of youth is increasingly
putting them “at-risk” as many are tech-savvy and
often spend large quantities of time on social media
networks. Today’s youth strongly depend on social




media and seek immediate connections or gratification. This change in inter-personal
communications often replaces normal face-to-face interactions. The need for connectivity,
acceptance, or sense of belonging can drive their overall needs, online activities, and their
social sphere of influence. According to a Psychiatric Times article entitled, Why are Young
Westerners Drawn to Terrorist Organizations like ISIS, dated September 2015, researchers
opine that youth can be easily tempted by the false allure of quick and easy social connections
amidst an individualistic society from which they feel alienated.

Physical contact with extremist organizations has diminished over time.
The internet now affords violent extremists a veritable playground for spotting and assessing
individuals who are receptive to a specific grievance or
A 2009 essay by former Al-Qa’ida recruiter and
ideology and for sharing radical thoughts and beliefs. A
militant cleric, Anwar Aulaqi, labeled the internet as a
growing body of research suggests the internet acts as
great medium for spreading the call of Jihad and
following the news of the mujahedeen. Aulaqi
a catalyst to sustain radicalized beliefs more so than
referred to the internet as WWW.Jihad and urged
acting as a primary catalyst towards radicalization.
supporters to establish online discussion forums,
websites, and email lists to initiate conversations and
Regardless of the mechanism, once a violent extremist
expand the jihadist communities.
makes contact with youth, they begin assessing his or
her responsiveness for supporting a violent extremist belief or acting on behalf of its underlying

The internet serves as a primary catalyst to sustain radicalized beliefs.
While online recruitment is one potential vulnerability, social media also provides youth a
platform for identifying violent extremists or becoming curious about the subject matter to
conduct research—gaining an appreciation or understanding of its principles. Youth may find
the content appealing or attractive, especially when they meet others (peers or young adults)
online, who are violent extremists and viewed as rational people. These online contacts offer
meaning and understanding to the ideological underpinnings that drive acceptance of radical
beliefs or support for future actions. These interactions result in bringing new supporters into
the fold.

No single element is responsible for making a student vulnerable to violent extremists
seeking to impart radical views on them.




Violent extremist recruiters often encourage their followers to transition their means of
communication from open social media platforms to encrypted chat rooms—transitioning from
overt lines of communication to covert, encrypted
chats, facilitating extremism discussions and hindering
law enforcement’s ability to obtain electronic
communications or evidence pursuant to a court order
or warrant. Law enforcement defines this phenomena
as “Going Dark,” limiting an understanding of extremist
communications or future intentions. Extremists might possess a working knowledge of hacking
or anonymizer capabilities, further complicating the ability to lawfully trace communications.

Pre-operational planning, communications, or target selection facilitated via social
A threat landscape, once dominated by terrorist organizations and their hierarchical command
and control structures, is now characterized by decentralized and distributed nodes of
influence. While the volume of violent
extremist propaganda may vary depending
on the type of network structure, the ease
of access to violent extremist propaganda
on social media platforms frequented by
youths remains a concern. Even limited
exposure to violent extremist propaganda
may result on a path towards violent
These nodes alter the violent extremist
landscape by potentially exposing youth to a heightened number of extremists and quantity of
violent propaganda. These horizontal relationships–often with peers or those of the same
generation–make them more vulnerable to possible radicalization and recruitment.

Vast social networks promote agility in recruitment, radicalization, planning, and
mobilizing to violence.




Violent Propaganda
Internet-based Propaganda
The internet provides access to endless streams of violent propaganda inspiring others to
action, glorifying extremist lifestyles, or perpetuating
the spread of hatred and intolerance. The difference
between protected speech and illegal incitement can
be a very fine line. Espousing anti-U.S. sentiment or
extremist rhetoric is not a crime and is protected First
Amendment activity. The issue is not if the individual
voiced his/her support, but rather has advocated
imminent violence in support of an extremist
organization and that violence is likely to occur as a
result. As individuals consume violent propaganda, it
might resonate with them or reinforce their perceived
grievance. This results in a strengthening of beliefs
and aids development of radical views or a willingness to use violence in support of an ideology
or grievance.

Consumption of violent propaganda is a primary catalyst in self radicalization.
Online Magazines
Several extremist organizations disseminate online magazines intended for their supporters.
According to analysis on Al-Qa’ida’s “Inspire” magazine
conducted at Georgia State University, the goals of these
online magazines are three-fold: providing a platform to
disseminate information or propaganda to supporters;
motivating supporters to act; and providing the tools to
Online magazines focus on inspiring believers while
simultaneously attacking their enemies through
voluminous and often erroneous violent propaganda.
These magazines emphasize power and geographical
dominance, while decrying western policies and European
cultures. They also serve to perpetuate their grievances while glorifying the actions of martyrs.




These online magazines serve as reference documents outlining possible targets, summarizing
protocols for weapons acquisition, and serving as a how-to guide for bomb-making capabilities.
The magazines are professionally designed and of high quality.
They are disseminated on a massive scale ensuring penetration
of their radical messages, and disseminated in multiple
languages, allowing them to target a particular population for
manipulation or radicalization. This may affect some of the U.S.
Diaspora populations, which either don’t speak English or
prefer their native language, thus impacting multiple
generations. Posting these magazines in online forums in
English specifically targets western and European audiences.
Further, these organizations either have access to individuals
from the regions they are targeting with their messaging or are
very adept at synthesizing the region’s local concerns and manipulating those issues to
advocate their position.
They also contain flashy graphics, mimicking those in present day video games. The primary
motivators behind these online magazines are drawing attention to their cause and enticing
more supporters into the fold—notably youths who view the content as appealing.

Engaged families are the first defense to monitor internet usage, content, or violent
propaganda alerting to possible extremist beliefs, contacts, or future intentions.

Online Gaming
Online gaming adds yet another level of vulnerability for our youth. We assess that online
gaming is sometimes used to communicate, train, or plan terrorist activities. Many youths are
very proficient in gaming techniques, online
communications, and user forums, leading to
interactions with online gaming enthusiasts, who
are assessing vulnerable youth for possible
recruitment opportunities. These online contacts
might be supporters of an extremist organization
and actively recruiting for their cause.
A 2003 study conducted by Loyola UniversityChicago suggests online gaming promotes social
interactions, develops expressive skills, aids
strategy formulation, and promotes planning in a simulated environment. The gaming
environment facilitates social connections by strangers sharing common interests. Online
gaming can also teach rudimentary warfare protocols, rules of engagement, and other military




actions, which can be applied to real-life scenarios such as conducting an act of targeted

A Definition
The FBI defines violent extremism as encouraging, condoning, justifying, or supporting the
commission of a violent act to achieve political, ideological, religious, social or economic goals.
The FBI uses an intelligence-driven process in its daily investigative and analytical activities to
conduct baseline collections and assessments. Empirical data is extracted from investigations
to assist in the identification of concerning behaviors.
Concerning behavior is defined as behavior that comes to the attention of third parties
(bystanders) that suggests a possible future intention, resulting from a statement or action that
causes concern. A 2002 Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and Creating Safe School
Climates, drafted jointly by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education,
suggested acts of targeted violence are rarely impulsive and some may be preventable through
the detection of planning behavior. This concept also applies within the violent extremism
context, as students on the pathway to becoming radicalized or mobilizing, often exhibit
behaviors, indicating support for extremist ideologies or highlighting future intentions.
The FBI does not advocate the application of any psychological or demographic “profiles” or
check lists of indicators to identify students on a pathway to radicalization. Rather, the FBI
endorses taking a holistic approach in considering the totality of concerning behaviors in the
appropriate context, assessing the likelihood an individual is progressing on a trajectory to
radicalization and/or future violent action in furtherance of an extremist cause.
The 2002 Safe School Initiative (SSI), drafted jointly by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S.
Department of Education, shares the same conclusion. The SSI stated the use of profiles is not
an effective tool for identifying students who pose a risk for targeted violence or assessing the
risk that a particular student may pose for targeted violence. Rather, schools should focus on a
student’s behaviors and communications to determine if the student appears to be planning or
preparing for an attack.
The SSI conclusion also applies within the violent extremism context, as students on the
pathway to becoming radicalized often exhibit behaviors or engage in communications,
indicating support for extremist ideologies or highlighting future intentions. This progression is
paramount to educators who rely on recognition of such concerning behaviors and
communications to initiate the disengagement process intended to direct students down a less
destructive path.

Violent extremists do not share a “typical” profile. They might be self-radicalized, selftrained, and self-executing.




Radicalization is defined as the process by which individuals come to believe that engagement
in or facilitation of nonstate violence to achieve social and political change is necessary and
justified. Radicalization enabling factors can be personal, community, group, socio-political, or
ideological. Research conducted on youth-related radicalization indicates a vulnerability
concerning a distinct identity, meaning, adventure, and belonging in their lives. However,
factors driving or inhibiting radicalization change over time and vary individually.
Normal developmental vulnerabilities common to adolescents make some amenable to the
influence of violent extremism, a trajectory that through inhibitors such as community
engagement, mentoring, therapy, and education can be altered or suppressed.

Enabling factors advance the radicalization process while inhibitors deter progression.

Mobilization is defined as the process when a radicalized individual prepares for violence or
engages in violence to reinforce their beliefs. Generally, mobilization to violence is
premeditated and consists of acts directed against targets symbolic to their particular cause.
The FBI and other experts studying these issues observed similarities in the pre-attack
behaviors of lone offenders and those perpetrators from other forms of targeted violence,
including terrorists.

The student’s acceptance of lethal violence to advance an ideological, political, social, or
religious cause.
Mobilizing is a behavioral pre-cursor to an act of
targeted violence. The concept of “targeted violence”
contains unique characteristics that befit most
 Targeted violence is the end result after a
process of thinking and behavior;
 Perpetrators do not “just snap”; and
 Successful attacks typically require planning
and preparation related to key activities
(timing, tactic, target, capability).

A shift in attacks from directed at specific targets to targets of opportunity.




In 2000, the FBI conducted a study of school violence, The School Shooter, resulting in the
identification of “leakage”—a common warning behavior for students advocating violence.
Leakage occurs when a student intentionally or unintentionally reveals clues to feelings,
thoughts, fantasies, attitudes, or intentions that signal an impending act. These clues emerge as
subtle threats, boasts, innuendos, predictions, or ultimatums and are conveyed in numerous
forms (e.g. stories, diaries, journals, essays, poems, manifestos, letters, songs, drawings, and

Leakage is one of the strongest clues prefacing a violent act.
According to the Indicators of School Crime and Safety, published in July 2015 through a
partnership with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice - Office
of Justice Programs, there are many factors impacting school safety. These factors include
victimization, teacher injury, bullying, cyber-bullying, fights, weapons, gangs, drugs, and alcohol
abuse. These factors resulted in death, suicide, theft, simple assault, property damage, hate
crimes, intimidation, and forced sexual offenses. This study highlighted valuable metrics and
insight into the current school safety environment:
 Nearly 85% of public schools reported a criminal incident, resulting in an estimated 1.9
million crimes.
 Over 23% of public schools reported that bullying among students occurred on a daily or
weekly basis; 22% of students reported being bullied at a public school.
 Nearly 7% of students reported being cyber-bullied during the school year.
 Over 16% of public schools reported gang activity.
 Over 2% of public school reported cult or extremist activities.
 Nearly 7% of students reported being the target of hate-related words and 25% of
public schools reported hate-related graffiti.
 Nearly 88% of public schools utilize controlled access, monitoring, locking entrances, or
security staff to enhance school safety.




Leakage applies to today’s violent extremism environment, particularly through discovery—the
uncovering of posted electronic messages, pictures, or
videos on social media platforms that are of a violent
nature or support violent extremist ideologies. Discovery
can also take the form of written or verbal communications
that reveal planned travel overseas or a willingness to
commit a violent act.
To address leakage, a body of research suggests
interactions extremists have with individuals occurring
within their own social circles provide clues to their future
intentions. Third parties who interact with radicalizing
youth are referred to as Bystanders—individuals such as
family members, peers, authority figures, and strangers whose relationship and level of
interaction with an extremist enables them to witness or become aware of activities or
behavior that may indicate radicalization or mobilization to violence. A student’s interactions
with a bystander provide opportunities for observations of suspicious behaviors and actions; or
information relevant to future intentions. The key is communicating these observations and
information in a timely manner to the proper authorities or a trusted community partner,
mitigating a potential threat before an individual mobilizes to violence.

No behaviors depict an individual’s willingness to commit a violent act.
The 2000 FBI School Shooter study suggests a student’s personality, family, school, and social
dynamics must be analyzed by school administrators and counselors to determine how best to
respond to concerning behaviors or communications. Recognizing behavior or communications
indicative of radicalization leading to violence allows for a community’s preemptive action,
including intervention or disruption, prior to mobilization.
An intervention takes many forms, including risk mitigation and conflict resolution; or
disengagement. An intervention is conducted by experts from multiple disciplines, and if
unsuccessful, law enforcement executes a disruption to mitigate the threat to the local

Abuse, Injury or Death
The actions of violent extremists result in multiple outcomes such as abuse, injury, death, or
For example, American youth traveled to conflict zones where education is no longer needed
but instead received lessons in violent extremism and military training that includes proficiency




with AK-47s. Science, history, art, and sports are considered incompatible with the pursuit of
the extremists’ cause. The indoctrination of youth is essential to sustaining violent agendas, and
requires youth to disavow and disregard their parent’s wishes. When allowed to pledge support
or conduct horrific acts on behalf of violent extremist organizations, it controls our youth and
their beliefs for years to come.
Youth who traveled to conflict zones were subjected to bodily abuse including rape, fingernail
removal, electric shock, and beatings, or forced to watch or participate in beheadings or
assassinations of entire families. These actions strengthen the violent extremists hold on youth
and their developing minds. Females are particularly at risk. They are sold into slavery, forced
to become child brides, and commit atrocities on behalf of a violent extremist organization.
If a student succeeds in traveling to a conflict area, chances are great he or she will not return.
There are reported instances of individuals experiencing doubt and wishing to return to the
U.S., who were assassinated by extremists for desiring to leave.

A student can perpetrate an act of targeted violence, but can also become a victim. Victims who
are targeted include: members of a particular religious faith or racial population; United States
government facilities, employees and their families; law enforcement personnel and their
families; military personnel and their families; and, individuals whom violent extremists oppose.
Additionally, members of the public have been innocent victims, along with individuals who
speak out against others based on personally-held beliefs—a retaliatory action.
Families often experience shame and are victimized because their children support extremist
ideologies. Religious and social stigmas are attached to children joining criminal or extremist
organizations. This results in a family’s rejection or ostracization within their local community.

Intervention is not a new concept for schools who are already engaged in secondary and
tertiary forms of prevention to address behavioral issues.
Many schools already possess Crisis Response Teams or
Behavioral Assessment and Care Teams in place to
develop intervention strategies for students in need of
support. Existing teams can expand their scope to include
violent extremism-specific concerning behavior.
Intervention strategies that address violent extremismspecific concerning behavior should involve those who
can most appropriately respond to the student’s
perceived grievance. The response should leverage the
strengths of governments, community organizations,
social service agencies, and other professionals to provide what is commonly referred to as an




The goals of intervention are fourfold:

Facilitate a student’s disengagement from a violent trajectory;
Facilitate a student’s disengagement from a violent ideology;
Design, develop, and implement an “Off-Ramp” specific to the student; and
Assist with the student’s social and emotional well-being so they are better-equipped to
be productive in the classroom and the community at-large.

The school formulates an intervention plan in conjunction with the community and non-law
enforcement entities on the federal or state level. Ideally, an intervention cadre should contain
professionals from the local community representing multiple disciplines such as mental health,
social workers, law enforcement, school resource officers, faith-based organizations, and/or
crisis intervention teams.
A community-led intervention program’s focus is disengagement or containment—resulting in
violence prevention.
 Disengagement – The process of reducing a student’s social and psychological
commitment to violence and he/she no longer views violence as an answer to a
 Containment – Allows for increased engagement between a student and local
community members or agencies.
The plan is tailored to the student, allowing the best community resource to address the
underlying issues resulting in violent extremist beliefs. The plan or “Off Ramp” may involve
mental health evaluations, social services, job skills counseling, housing support, religious
education, or substance abuse counseling.

The optimal outcome of an intervention is disengaging a student from a violent
Interventions should also consider Conflict Resolution Education or Targeted School-based
Social Information-Processing Interventions that aim to resolve disputes or direct prevention
efforts to students who are at-risk for violence or already exhibiting concerning behaviors. The
National Institute of Justice (NIJ), Office of Justice Programs, offers myriad evidence-based
programs that provide strategies to manage conflict and develop social cognitive competence
in school-aged children.




If a student continues on a trajectory to violence, the one remaining option is a law
enforcement disruption. Violent extremists commit a wide
array of criminal violations that occur when those with
extremists views act with the intent to encourage, endorse,
condone, justify or support violence. Historically, the FBI has
investigated a variety of violent extremist actions: raciallymotivated violence, religiously-motivated violence, and
socially-motivated violence.
These types of violent actions result in disruptions, such as
criminal arrests and convictions under federal and state
charges, to include:

Material support for terrorism
Conspiracy to kill, injure, or maim
Using a Weapon of Mass Destruction
Providing financial support
Providing false statements
State weapons offenses

The FBI, state, local, or tribal law enforcement partners cannot arrest their way out of the
current threat environment; however, the FBI is committed to providing options for youths to
help them disengage from violent extremism or a trajectory to violence. Arrests remain a viable
option, however, if disengagement activities are not successful.

The disengagement process begins when observations lead to contemplating two key
questions: Who should I tell and When? The FBI advocates for the empowerment of school
districts to affect change when concerning behavior or communications are exhibited by an atrisk student.

The totality of concerning behaviors or communications provide context that aids
assessment of an individual’s progression on a trajectory to radicalization or future violence.
Many times, fellow students or educators observe behaviors or are privy to another student’s
communications and commitment to a violent ideology that may be indicative of future
intentions. Students likely feel awkward, reluctant, or fearful discussing a fellow student and
their beliefs. Educators may be reluctant to notify law enforcement of a student’s exhibited
behaviors for fear of a law enforcement action. Overcoming these obstacles requires




establishing life lines between students, educators, and local communities, allowing for
communication of information without fear of reprisal or becoming a target of fellow students.
These relational life lines initiate disengagement while promoting awareness of an emerging
threat within the school district. Students and educators are encouraged to convey their
concerns and observations to trusted community partners, school resource officers, or a local
law enforcement entity.
Based upon investigative data, a very small period of time exists between a youth embracing
extremist ideologies to acting in furtherance of the ideology. Therefore, acting decisively is
paramount to educators. There are limited opportunities for intervention with at-risk youth and
schools must be cognizant of this. Law enforcement refers to the time between radicalization
and crossing the threshold to a violent action as “flash to bang”.

The time between “flash to bang” can be relatively small.
The implications of communicating concerning behaviors or communications from at-risk youth
are significant:

Aids prevention activities;
Enhances school safety;
Aids a student’s disengagement from a violent trajectory;
Fosters open lines of communication within the student body and administrators; and
Enhances overall school climate.

Several intervention points that impact outcomes are available to schools and communities.
Countering a potential negative outcome results when a school communicates observations
and actions of an at-risk student to trusted community partners; or intervenes when a student
embraces violent ideologies or acts on behalf of an extremist organization. As the graphic on
page 24 illustrates, an act of targeted violence results from a spectrum of concerning behaviors,
manifesting into several risk categories cited below:
 Disenfranchised – student feeling lost, lonely, hopeless, or abandoned;
 Mental Health – student exhibiting a mental health disorder;
 Group Supporters – student supporting a designated terrorist organization or a
domestic extremist movement;
 HVE – Homegrown Violent Extremist inspired by Al-Qa’ida/ISIL;
 Active Shooter – student using violence to address a personal grievance;
 Foreign Traveler – student desiring to travel overseas and join a foreign fighter network;
 Criminal Element – student conducting criminal activities for financial gain.

Violent extremism is not a linear progression but an evolving dynamic situation.




The following community partners/roles facilitate disengagement activities within high schools,
including the initiation of interventions:
Community Roles In Disengagement
Grief counselors

Resource Officer
School Boards

Guidance counselors

Community or civic leaders
Family Physician

Faith-based leaders
Social Workers
Parents and family members
Scout troops

Mental health
Crisis Intervention
Extra Curricular Leads

Law Enforcement:
Local Police Department
Major City Chief
Local FBI field office

County Sheriff
District Attorney
FBI Resident Agency

State Police
U.S. Attorney Office
FBI CVE Program

The FBI encourages schools and their local communities to lead interventions of at-risk youth,
unless the subject is mobilizing to violence. Interventions and corresponding action plans may
consist of threat assessments, safety plans, progress updates, and re-assessments of the
student. For a comprehensive intervention for an at-risk youth, schools should consider utilizing
school administrators, faculty, counselors, and representatives from state/local law
enforcement or school resource officers to staff your intervention teams.
Schools may be reluctant to contact law enforcement on a student exhibiting concerning
behaviors or communications. In these instances, schools should leverage community resources
to alert them to these behaviors and communications, commencing the disengagement
If a youth’s intentions are conducting a violent act, law enforcement (e.g.
local/state/tribal/federal) should be notified to initiate disengagement or execute a disruption.
Law enforcement will aid threat mitigation activities and enhance overall school and
community safety efforts.
It’s imperative schools maintain a compendium of local law enforcement, civic leaders, and
trusted partners to aid in developing an individualized school support network and action plan.
Establishing a support network, if not already established, should be a priority for each school.
These networks will facilitate future disengagement activities on students exhibiting at-risk
behaviors or communications.




Concerning Behavior – Community Intervention Decision Points




The following list of recommendations assists high schools with establishing collaborative
partnerships within their local communities.

 Establish Threat Assessment Teams
In 2013, the State of Virginia adopted House Bill 2344, mandating the creation of threat
assessment teams (TAT) and procedures for intervention with students whose behavior
poses a threat to the safety of school staff or students. Convening a TAT allows for
intervention with students exhibiting concerning behaviors driven by personal and
ideological factors. All states should consider legislative action or similar measures to
curb the spread of extremism within their local communities. Legislation consistent with
constitutional rights and freedoms should be a foundational component of a TAT.

 Educate on the Role of Interventions
Local school officials play an integral role in the intervention process, especially for atrisk youth radicalizing or mobilizing to violence. Faculty members are crucial partners in
identifying at-risk youth and initiating the disengagement process. A typical intervention
is comprised of a multidisciplinary team representing various job roles within the local
community, including schools. The FBI is developing training which educates school staff
on the intervention process and its role in disengagement.

 Empower School Boards, Administrators, and Faculty
School administrators and faculty are empowered to initiate disengagement activities or
craft affirmative messages that dissuades youth from dangerous paths. These efforts
help students resist the temptations of extremist messages and their violent agendas.
Schools should embrace diversity in school programming, daily interactions, and
affirmative messaging thus eliminating cultural stigmas, intolerance, and prejudice.
These factors often promote hatred resulting in targeted violence.

 Enhance Domain Awareness
Communities have access to resources to assist youth in addressing risk factors and
overcoming developmental issues and socio-economic obstacles. Schools should
maintain an inventory of trusted community partners, mental health practitioners,
social services, and state/local/tribal law enforcement to build a localized collaborative
network. These collaborative partnerships will aid high schools during a time of need
and will eventually staff local intervention programs.




 Strengthen Family Outreach and Engagement
Families are the first line of defense in keeping youth safe from violent extremism. High
schools should develop outreach and engagement programs that educate families about
the various forms of violent extremism and ways to identify at-risk youth or concerning
behaviors and communications. In fact, many of the most fruitful and positive leads
reported to authorities have come from concerned family members or community
leaders. It is very important that schools engage the students’ families through PTA or
other programs as a vital step to preventing the mobilization of possibly radicalized

 Implement Annual Violent Extremism Awareness Training
High schools can incorporate a two-hour block of violent extremism awareness training
as part of their core curriculums for grades 9 – 12. To assist these efforts, the FBI
developed a violent extremism awareness website that focuses on grades 9 – 12. The
website is housed on and educates youth on the perils of
violent extremism and the effect on their lives, families, and communities. It is an
interactive site comprised of text, games, quizzes, and media content.

 Establish Student-led Focus Groups to Address Safety Concerns
High schools should promote open communication through student-led focus groups
representing the student body, its cultures, and concerns. Focus groups can address
overall safety issues from active shooters, gangs, bullying, violent extremism, human
trafficking, and online predators. This open communication leads to a better
understanding of the risk factors and needs in the lives of adolescents. These efforts
promote exchanges of ideas and a solution that enhances overall school safety and
empowers students. To aid high schools, NIJ maintains a compendium of evidencebased strategies to combat existing risk factors and promote overall school safety.
Strategies can be located at

 Focus on Afterschool Programming
Most high schools are positioned to address overall student development through
extensive afterschool programming such as sports or club activities. Student
participation in one or more sanctioned activities promotes inclusion, team work, and
builds self confidence. Schools can be instrumental in identifying employment
opportunities for youth seeking to advance their job skills, allowing less idle time, to
engage in other activities.




 Leverage Alumni for Affirmative Messaging
High school alumni are positive role models for imparting affirmative messaging to the
student body. These role models can discuss their concerns while in high school and
impart best practices for coping with the daily stressors from high school while
promoting cognitive and physical development. Success stories inspire and breed
continued success and development within the student body, while helping students to
resist the temptations of extremism.

 Develop Relational Life Lines
High schools should consider establishing a community day through which trusted
partners, community and civic leaders, state/local/tribal law enforcement, and faithbased groups, come together to promote unity. A unified approach facilitates relational
life lines that assist a student who feels targeted for recruitment or begins to embrace
extremist beliefs. A strong community support network promotes resiliency and helps
students disengage from extremist activities without fear of reprisal.

 Educate Faculty About Bystanders
Less than half of the individuals witnessing activities or behaviors that can lead to early
intervention report their observations to community members or law enforcement.
Encouraging increased reporting and intercession by third parties could improve the
success of efforts to curb extremist acts in the U.S.

If your high school has additional questions regarding violent extremism or desires information
on other programs to build resiliency within your community, please contact trusted
community partners or your local FBI office. To locate the nearest FBI office, please refer to our
agency’s website:, clicking on the Contact Us tab.




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