Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Path to Radicalization: Case Studies, Finding Parallels

In the months before he was accused of attacking the Capitol, Doug Jensen was sharing conspiracy theories that he consumed online. But that wasn’t always the case, says his brother, who remembers how he once posted photos of family and vacations familiar to almost all social media users.

A world away, Wahab had not always spent his days immersed in jihadist education. The produce of a wealthy Pakistani family and the youngest son of four, he was into cars and video games, had his own motorcycle, even studied in Japan.

No two thinkers are alike and the gap between different types of extremists, including how deeply they embrace violence in the name of their cause, is as wide as it is obvious. But focusing only on the differences obscures the similarities, not only in how people assimilate extremist ideology but also how they address grievances and mobilize action.

For any American who treats violent extremism as a foreign problem, the Capitol siege of January 6 held an uneasy mirror that as any society would consider the same conditions for imaginary thinking and politically motivated violence. reveals.

The Associated Press examines the paths of radicalization through case studies on two continents: a 20-year-old man rescued from a Taliban training camp on the border with Afghanistan, and an Iowa man whose brother watches him fall down on nonsensical conspiracy theories. and eventually joined. The crowd of Donald Trump loyalists that stormed the Capitol.

Two places, two men, two different stories as seen by two relatives. But take away the ideologies, and look at the psychological processes, the roots, the experiences, says John Horgan, a researcher in violent extremism.

“All those things,” Horgan says, “they look far more alike than they are different.”


America met Doug Jensen, 42, via a widely circulated video that exposed the mob mentality inside the Capitol. Jensen’s man, in a dark cap and black “Trust the Plan” shirt, leads a mob chasing a Capitol police officer up the stairs.

William Roth of Clarksville, Arkansas, had an unsettled spirit even before the riots. “I said, if you go out there and you’re going to do peaceful things, that’s fine. But I said keep your head down and don’t do anything stupid.”

In interviews with the AP days and months after his younger brother’s arrest, Roth portrayed Jensen, a Des Moines father of three who worked as a union mason worker, as a man who A traditional American enjoyed the trap of survival.

“It was a shock to me more than anything, as I would not have thought of my brother Doug, because he is a very nice, hardworking family man and has good values.”

Exactly how Jensen came to assimilate the conspiracies that took him to the Capitol is shocking to Raut. But in the months before the riots, the brothers communicated about QAnon as Jensen shared videos and other conspiracy-filled messages they purportedly sought to find meaning.

Before January 6th, Roth says, “We’re being asked for the last — what? — seven, eight months that if the Democrats get control, we’re losing our country, right? That’s a lot of people. scares.”

A Justice Department memo that argued for Jensen’s detention, citing his criminal history and his eagerness to drive more than 1,000 miles “heard President Trump declaring martial law.” It notes that when the FBI interrogated him, he said he went to Washington because “Q”, the movement’s amorphous voice, predicted that a “storm” had arrived.

His attorney, Christopher Davis, countered Jensen by calling him “a victim of several conspiracy theories” and a committed family man whose initial devotion to QAnon was “its declared mission to eliminate pedophiles from society.”

In July, a federal judge agreed To release Jensen on house arrest, Jensen referred to the Capitol building as the White House, citing a video showing that he could not have planned the attack in advance “when he There was no basic understanding of where he was even that day.”

But in September, Jensen was ordered back to prison. to violate the conditions of his liberty. A federal official visiting Jensen found him using an iPhone in his garage to watch news from Rumble, a streaming platform popular with conservatives.


Wahab had it all. The youngest of four from a wealthy Pakistani family, he spent his early years studying in the United Arab Emirates and briefly in Japan. Wahab loved cars, had his own motorcycle and was a fan of video games.

His uncle, who rescued the 20-year-old from a Taliban training camp on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan earlier this year, said his full name should not be used because terrorists have deep access to the northwest where the family lives. He agreed to be quoted using his middle name, Kamal.

Kamal is one of five brothers who run a family-owned import/export conglomerate. Every brother has prepared his sons for business.

Wahab’s future was no different. He returned to Pakistan from abroad in his early teens.

His uncle blames his slides for bigotry on teenage Wahab’s neighborhood in his northwest Pakistan hometown, as well as video games and Internet sites telling him about attacking Muslims, raping women and killing children. I told.

“He felt like he didn’t know what was going on, that he had spent his life in the dark and felt that he should be involved. His friends insisted that he should. They told him he was rich and that he should Our people should be helped,” said his uncle.

As for his uncle, Wahab was becoming increasingly aggressive, preoccupied with violence.

Wahab suddenly disappeared earlier this year. When Wahab’s father learned that his son was in the training camp, he was furious, his uncle said.

“He told people ‘Leave him there. I no longer accept him as my son.’ But I took it upon myself to bring him back,” Kamal said.

Today Wahab is back in the family business, but he is being closely monitored.

“We are seeing all the young boys now, and most nights they have to stay at home – unless they tell us where they are,” Kamal said.


moral outrage. Sense of injustice A feeling that things can only be fixed through immediate, violent action.

They are what motivate people to turn to extremism, says Horgan, who directs the Violent Extremism Research Group at Georgia State University.

“Those parallels you’ll find again and again across the board, whether you’re talking about the extreme right-wing militias in Oklahoma or you’re talking about the Taliban branch in northwest Pakistan,” says Horgan.

Research shows that people who support conspiracy theories perform poorly on measures of critical thinking, underestimating complex world problems with convincing answers, says Weill Cornell Medical College at Cornell University, a professor of extremism. says expert Jive Cohen.

This is where the stories of Jensen and Wahab seem to be intertwined. Both were asking for something. Both got answers that were flashy, ludicrous and distorted versions of reality.

“For reasons he still doesn’t understand today, he became a ‘true believer’ and was convinced he was doing a great service by being a digital soldier for ‘Q’,” Jensen’s attorney, Davis, told June’s court. Entered. . “Maybe it was a mid-life crisis, the pandemic, or maybe the message seemed to move him from his normal life to a higher position with a respectable goal.”

But has that goal ever been achieved? Perhaps counterintuitive, says Cohen, research has shown that when extremists’ conspiracy theories are reinforced, their anxiety levels rise rather than fall.

“It seems like people aren’t able to get enough of a conspiracy theory,” he says, “but they are never satisfied or really convinced.”


Associated Press writer David Pitt in Des Moines contributed to this report.


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