Extremist Violence is Contagious – and we are all part of the cure
America has experienced yet another hate-fueled mass-casualty attack. The May 14th assault by a self-proclaimed white supremacist in a Buffalo, New York grocery store left ten people dead and others severely injured. The attack mirrored several similar attacks, including a 2019 shooting in El Paso that left 23 dead at a Walmart. The response to each of these incidents of mass violence follows a similar pattern. First is the shock from the community and media commentators that something like this can happen in our society. Then there is the political call to action, ranging from more gun control to demands that internet platforms better police themselves. What if the solution was right in were right in front of us in the form of community members? Strategies to deescalate violence don’t have to rely on police or armed security at the scene. They can occur before the actor reaches that point by changing community norms regarding the acceptability of violence and empowering individuals credible to violent actors to intervene. The 18-year-old man who has been arrested in the attack published a detailed 180-page screed and amassed a cache of weapons and military gear. What if someone close to him, a friend, or a family member, recognized his pathway to violence (highlighted by his earlier threat to attack his high school) and intervened to talk him off the ledge or find external resources to deter him from violence? A recent Oregon report found that of the thwarted plots to commit acts of extremist violence, 80 percent were stopped because someone known to the potential terrorist came forward to intervene in some way. Stopping extremist incidents before they even begin is critical given the infectious nature of these events, with each high-profile tragedy inevitably sparking copycat events. Violence is contagious, and we can look to the field of epidemiology for the means to stop the spread. Because of COVID and the challenges the US and the world have faced in managing the pandemic, the average American is far more versed in epidemiology and the dynamics of contagion than they likely ever wanted to be. Most of us have now come to know that the best approach to dealing with an infectious disease is to prevent it from spreading early in the contagion process. As a result of measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus, COVID no longer imminently threatens the very fabric of our society. Our team has been working on developing a model to prevent extremist violence like the Buffalo attack, through our Control-Alt-Delete-Hate initiative in the Pacific Northwest. We have been employing community-based early intervention strategies to encourage normalizing peaceful expression of ideologies rather than resorting to violence. These early-stage interventions can also occur in the Internet sphere, with individuals pushing back on or calling out violent or hate- filled content, or file-sharing and social media sites detecting and shutting down content that promotes terroristic threats and violence. And violence tendencies that present themselves online can be interrupted through offline interventions of family members or close friends. As mentioned above, most extremist violence plots can be stopped by someone close to the potential terrorist intervening in some way. Extremist violence is contagious, and we are all part of the cure.
Ctrl+Alt+Del-Hate:PDX project aims to reduce conflict, hate, and violence in Portland and the surrounding areas by altering norms relating to violence and building the infrastructure for addressing the root causes.
In recent years, Portland has become a hotbed for protest and counter-protest violence, radicalization, and extremism. This surge in violence has led to greater fear and uncertainty, which has been further aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic. In many ways the current situation is representative of the trauma, polarization, and division apparent throughout American society. Stories of anger and discord have come to define Portland in the minds of many. This experience serves as a warning to other cities of what can happen if we do not reverse the acceptance of violence.
Portlanders, and those in surrounding areas, have the opportunity to show the rest of the country how to overcome the hate and extremism that leads to violence. If those passively waiting for change can be mobilized, and if those that reject hate and extremism can be empowered, then the situation can be improved. If successful, the impact of these efforts will echo around the country to help us all heal.
WHAT IS CURE-PDX?
The Ctrl+Alt+Del-Hate:PDX, an initiative of Cure Violence Global (CVG) in partnership with Parallel Networks (PN), aims to reduce conflict, hate, and violence in Portland and the surrounding areas by altering the norms relating to violence and groups that espouse the use of violence and providing an opportunity for collective hope and healing.
WHO IS CURE VIOLENCE GLOBAL?
Cure Violence Global (CVG) is an international organization that utilizes a public health approach to stopping and preventing violence. For over 20 years, CVG has helped communities to implement violence prevention programs that are effective in significantly reducing violence.
WHO IS PARALLEL NETWORKS?
Parallel Networks (PN) is an organization that uses a network theory-informed approach to combat polarization, hate, and violent extremism. PN blends first-hand and empirical expertise to the Art of Strategic Communication, as well as innovative and creative mechanisms that make counterterrorism and counter-extremism more holistic and multidimensional.
Ctrl+Alt+Del-Hate:PDX promotes a methodology for countering pro-violence narratives with an alternative vision. The model draws from the three main components of CVG’s epidemic-control approach, a model which is also used to combat contagious diseases and which can be implemented in conjunction with PN’s ecosystemic model:
This project uses an innovative approach with a proven track record. Project partners will adapt and apply the epidemic playbook through a series of offline and online interventions to:
 The term radicalization in the context of this project refers to the joining of groups that explicitly espouse the use of violence to achieve their goals and objectives. This project is focused on the behavior of violence, not on ideology.