A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States (PIRUS) data now available

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) has released its latest data tool, the Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States (PIRUS) dataset. The full dataset is available for download at www.start.umd.edu/pirus.  In addition, relevant variables from the full PIRUS dataset are presented in the Keshif visualization platform at www.start.umd.edu/keshif-pirus.

PIRUS is a cross-sectional, quantitative dataset of individuals in the United States who radicalized to the point of violent or non-violent ideologically motivated criminal activity, or ideologically motivated association with a foreign or domestic extremist organization from 1948 until 2013. Additional details about the information in the dataset can be found in the PIRUS Codebook and in the PIRUS FAQ section.

The PIRUS dataset was coded using entirely open-source material and contains dozens of variables with information on a wide range of characteristics, including the individuals’ criminal activity and/or violent plots, their relationship with their affiliated extremist group(s), adherence to ideological milieus, factors relevant to their radicalization process, demographics, background, and personal histories. The dataset is not limited to a single ideological category, and includes individuals representing far right, far left, Islamist, and single-issue ideologies.

START researchers recently submitted a report to the National Institute of Justice based on the PIRUS data. The report highlights several important findings about radicalization and extremism in the United States, including:

  • Significant differences in background characteristics, group affiliations, and radicalization processes exist across the ideological milieus.
  • While the radicalization of individuals on the far left and those motivated by Salafi jihadist ideologies tends to occur in early adulthood, individuals on the far right and those who are motivated by single-issues often radicalize later in life.
  • The conventional wisdom that radicalization is more common among individuals who come from low SES backgrounds and/or lack educational opportunities is generally not supported by the PIRUS data. Most extremists in PIRUS come from middle class backgrounds and have at least some college education. That said, stable employment may decrease the risk that individuals with extreme views will engage in violent behaviors. Stable employment often leads to the development of positive social relationships and places demands on individuals’ time that depress violent extremist activities.
  • Despite an increase in lone actor behavior in the U.S., radicalization remains a distinctly social process. Group and clique membership rates remain high across the ideological spectrum.
  • While competition between extremist groups in the U.S. is not significantly linked to an increase in violent behavior, group rivalries exist in high numbers on the far right. Research suggests that competition within and between groups can produce disillusionment with extremist movements for certain individuals.
  • Clique membership is high across the ideological spectrum and is linked to an increase in violent behaviors. As peers organize into small, insular groups, common biasing mechanisms, such as group think and in-group/out-group bias, often set in, producing increasingly extreme behaviors.
  • The rates of prison radicalization in the U.S. are low and consistent across the ideological spectrum, suggesting that it is not a common pathway for most extremists nor is it limited to a particular ideology.
  • Radicalization is typically a long process that often spans years, especially for those on the far right. Recent evidence, however, suggests that online environments may be speeding up radicalization processes, reducing them to several months in many cases.
  • While documented mental illness is relatively uncommon among extremists, our results indicate that mental health conditions may be linked to higher propensities for violent behavior among radicalized individuals.
  • Individuals who engage in pre-radicalization criminal behaviors are significantly more likely to attempt or commit acts of violence post-radicalization.

Funding for this project was supported by the National Institute of Justice at the Department of Justice. In addition, an effort to review and update information in the PIRUS dataset has been supported with funding from the Department of Homeland Security. The PIRUS dataset and any findings derived from the dataset do not represent the official positions of the National Institute of Justice, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, or any funding agency.