Ending ‘Victim’ Narrative Could Thwart Extremist Group Recruitment

Extremist organizations attract vulnerable members by emphasizing victimization and sense of identity.

TORONTO — Extremist groups, both at home and abroad, often portray themselves as victims and champions of a just cause in order to recruit new members. But a literature review of “White Power” groups in the United States and radical Islamic groups abroad suggests changing this narrative and providing alternatives messages aimed at vulnerable people may stem the rise in the ranks of such organizations.

David Brown, a third-year medical student at the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, said that those most at risk to join radical groups are those “with a weakened sense of identity and belonging,” making them feel isolated. “They seek answers in the brotherhood of militant extremism.”

During a presentation at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting, Brown said that the groups focus on being victims in order to attract people who feel the same way. These “groups portray themselves as overcoming [a] threat.” They see themselves as “victims of an oppressive force who assume the role of heroes or champions to a global threat.”

The way the groups recruit is also somewhat different. While “White Power” groups often hold congresses or live music events, Islamic radical groups tend to use social media more.

In order to counter this threat, measures should be developed to counter the idea of victimization and come up with alternate ideas that challenge what extremists groups are saying, according to Brown. He added more of an effort should be made to utilize anti-violence voices in communities.


Brown D. Recruitment, Ideology and Strategic Prevention in Radical Extremism: A Literary Review. Presented at: APA 2015. May 16-20, 2015; Toronto, Canada.