The Ctrl+Alt+Del-Hate-PDX project seeks to prevent and reduce targeted violence and to transform the landscape of conflict throughout the Pacific Northwest, with a particular focus on Portland. Portland and the broader pacific northwest (PNW) represent a domestic “radicalization hub” that has served as a flashpoint for the contagion of toxic polarization and violent protest-counterprotest dynamics giving rise to “cumulative extremism,” and “reciprocal radicalization.” Efforts to mitigate such effects are critical, and doing so would do a great deal to address the underlying drivers of conflict that increasingly threaten democracy around the country.
Partisan violence in the U.S. rose dramatically in 2020, with states in the Pacific Northwest seeing particularly intense protest/counter-protest activity, recruitment to groups and ideologies promoting violence, and rising acts of targeted violence. The storming of the Oregon Capitol by right-wing protestors on December 21, 2020 may have formed a playbook for the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, and frequent violent protests in cities like Portland and Seattle threaten to have the same effect for other groups promoting the use of violence throughout the U.S. Like other forms of extremist violence, partisan violence is contagious, and mitigating it requires a holistic approach.
Data shows that susceptibility to radicalization at both individual and group levels is on the rise. Oregon, with a population of just over four million, hosts a disproportionate number of hate-based organizations, while the Portland metropolitan area has become an epicenter of violent clashes between organized groups. One-sixth, or nine out of 54, violent far left/far right attacks or plots occurred in the PNW in 2020, a concentration that highlights how radicalization can spread “through a social contagion process, in which extremist ideologies behave like complex contagions that require multiple exposures for adoption.”
Portland has become a hub for pro-violence activity, with recent trends exhibiting the three main characteristics of infectious behavior in populations: clustering, spread, and transmission. For over 20 years, Cure Violence Global (CVG) has utilized an epidemic-control approach to violence reduction, identifying clusters of violence and intervening with those at the highest risk for committing violence to prevent violence and alter norms and behaviors relating to the acceptability of violence. At the same time, to date, CVG’s epidemic control-approach has not been applied to rising concern for radicalization and violent extremism in the U.S. So, the Ctrl+Alt+Del-Hate:PDX program combines CVG’s approach with the tailored expertise of Parallel Networks (PN), a not-for-profit focused on combating polarization, hate, and extremism.
When applied to the context of recruitment and radicalization, the same pattern of clustering occurs as seen with other contagious behaviors. Radicalization research has documented that even where the threat of targeted violence and violent extremism may appear diffuse and random, particularly in an era of online radicalization, it is the presence or absence of radicalization hubs, rather than socioeconomic conditions, that serves as the main factor determining levels of radicalization. Such hubs typically form where “organized structures, charismatic personalities or, in some cases, tight-knit groups of friends'' create networks and craft a context conducive to disproportionate rates of radicalization locally with outsized impact nationally. The increased presence of groups that explicitly espouse the use of violence to achieve their goals has made Portland and the surrounding areas perhaps the most prominent example of a radicalization hub in the United States.
A COMBINED APPROACH
CVG’s epidemic playbook model is based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) approach to reversing the spread of infectious diseases. It has been successfully replicated in diverse settings globally, proving its effectiveness across a variety of communities, cultures, and contexts. In the U.S. the approach has been externally evaluated eight times, each time finding statistically significant reductions in shootings and killings. As violence and viruses behave like a contagious problem - that is, they are transmitted through exposure, acquired through contagious brain mechanisms and social processes, and can be effectively treated and prevented - then violence can be treated using the same health methods used to treat a contagious disease. To date, however, the public health sector and professionals have been highly underutilized for the prevention, treatment, and control of violence.
The approach applies three strategies:
The Ctrl+Alt+Del-Hate:PDX project blends CVG’s violence reduction method with Parallel Networks’ (PN), unique expertise and ecosystemic approach to preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE). Over recent years, PN has established an approach to P/CVE that operates across the radicalization prevention/intervention spectrum and is informed by the organization’s unique trauma-and-countering-violent extremism informed model.
CVG AND PN’s WORK ON ELECTION VIOLENCE AND EXTREMISM
In the lead-up to and aftermath of the 2020 November U.S. general elections, CVG partnered with The Carter Center to assist groups and individuals nationwide to anticipate and prevent election-related violence and to use their influence to shape norms and expectations. CVG’s efforts included developing an online training platform, conducting over a dozen online regional and national training sessions on de-escalating conflict, and establishing sources to gather information and insights on evolving high-risk situations in order to guide future interventions. At the same time, PN was working to monitor online activity, disseminate alternative and counter-narratives, and assist in conducting interventions with those increasingly radicalizing to violence around the country.
During the course of this work, CVG and PN developed many local, regional, and national partnerships, including with individuals and groups in the Portland metropolitan area. CVG also partnered with the Mourning into Unity initiative to engage faith leaders from across the country in efforts to shift norms relating to the acceptability of the use of violence and to counter hateful words and actions. While doing this election-related work, CVG and partners realized the serious deficit of proven approaches to preventing targeted violence and radicalization by groups espousing the use of violence. The Ctrl+Alt+Del-Hate-PDX project offers a unique and innovative approach that seeks to reach and change the thinking and behavior of those who have taken significant steps toward committing violence, as well as those at the highest risk of being recruited and radicalized by violent groups.
PROGRAM OBJECTIVES AND ACTIVITIES
To adapt CVG’s epidemic playbook, Ctrl+Alt+Del-Hate:PDX will employ a novel synergistic blend of survey assessments to better understand the dynamics of radicalization and extremist recruitment in the PNW. To this end, it will utilize social media analysis of trends in radicalization and online recruitment and mobilization to continuously inform on-the-ground training and awareness-raising activities, and thereby improve the effectiveness of primary, secondary, and tertiary interventions aimed at people using or promoting the use of violence, their peers, friends, and family members. The project seeks to enhance community resilience to radicalization, decrease recruitment by groups espousing the use of violence, mitigate the spread of violence, and establish a sustainable prevention program that is scalable and replicable in other communities across the country.
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