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

Radicalization in the Ranks


This project expands the Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States (PIRUS) database with information on the nexus of criminal extremism and U.S. military service. The expanded database includes 461 individuals with U.S. military backgrounds who committed criminal acts in the United States from 1990 through 2021 that were motivated by their political, economic, social, or religious goals. Findings from these data are detailed in three results sections of a report that can be accessed here.

The first section explores the scope and nature of criminal extremism in the ranks, detailing the rates of military service among criminal extremists and analyzing their military branch, ideological, and extremist group affiliations. This section also provides a closer look at the individuals with military backgrounds who have been charged with criminal offenses related to the Capitol breach of January 6, 2021.

Section two provides a closer look at risk factors for radicalization, comparing subjects with military backgrounds to those without records of military service. This section explores the rates of substance use disorders, anti-social relationships, and social mobility challenges among past U.S. service members who committed extremist crimes and situates these radicalization risk factors within the larger extremist context in the United States.

The final section of results examines the risk factors and vulnerabilities for radicalization that are unique to subgroups of criminal extremists with U.S. military backgrounds. Using hierarchical clustering methods, the results in this section show how the radicalization pathways of extremists with military backgrounds are likely to differ depending on whether individuals are active in the military at the time of their involvement in extremism or if they have military-specific risk factors for radicalization, such as previous deployments to combat zones or diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This report concludes with recommendations for policy and future research, paying particular attention to the potential benefits of applying a public health model to countering the spread of extremism in the U.S. military.

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Publication Information

Full Citation:

Jensen, Michael, Elizabeth Yates, and Sheehan Kane. 2022. "Radicalization in the Ranks," START: College Park, MD (April). https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/Radicalization%20in%20the%20Ranks_April%202022.pdf

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