Exploring non-violent extremism in the UK

The aim of this research project is to gain a better understanding of non-violent extremism in the UK.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Dr. Elisa Orofino
Police region
Level of research
Professional/work based
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

This project aims to make a core contribution in the understanding of vocal (non-violent) extremism in the UK today.

Identified as a research priority from the Home Office, vocal extremism includes those groups and organisations that hold extreme ideas (mostly anti-establishment and seeking a radical change) but who do not espouse violent methods. Vocal extremists can work as a ‘conveyor belt to terrorism’ (Baran, 2005, p. 11) in Western democracies where freedom of speech and association facilitate their actions.

As the UK continues to experience home-grown terrorism, it is essential to take a step back from violence and study ‘what happens before the bomb goes off’ (Neumann, 2008, p. 4).

By responding to academics’ and practitioners’ call for more research on vocal extremism (Knight and others, 2017; Stanley, Guru and Gupta, 2018), this project focuses on the following main research question.

  • To what extent can vocal extremist groups act as conveyor belt to terrorism in the UK?

In order to answer this question, this project will focus on the experience of individuals referred to Channel – the main Prevent programme. Channel stands as an early intervention programme for people at risk of becoming radicalised and engage in violent acts.

This project aims at capturing Channel users’ experiences and analyse whether they had previous link with any specific non-violent group prior to their referral. In so doing, this project aims at mapping out non-violent but extreme groups still operating in the UK that can effectively work as a conveyor belt to terrorism for some individuals.

Besides the main research question, 3 sub-questions (S.Q.s) were identified.

  1. Are individuals referred to Channel affiliated with any specific non-violent but extreme groups?
  2. If yes, how has the group contributed to shape their radical mind-set?
  3. How has the individual’s behaviour changed after being affiliated with the group?

Research methodology

  1. Reviewing international and national literature – to provide an extensive and current literature review on the role played by vocal radical groups as a conveyor belt to violence.
  2. Exploring the journey towards radicalisation – gather evidence from practitioners delivering Channel programmes (mentoring, social work, faith guidance, psychological support) on the affiliation of the users with any specific non-violent extremist group.

    I will sit as an observer to different Channel panels across the UK (e.g. Bedford, Norfolk, Luton) for 12 months. During these panels, members from different agencies (e.g. NHS, Counter Terrorism Police, social services) present the cases they are dealing with.

    I will take notes during these meetings which will help me building a database of cases with relevant information also on users’ the affiliation with any specific vocal extremist group.

    I will also disseminate a stakeholder survey to Channel practitioners and conduct 10 individual interviews grasping the experiences of practitioners working with radicalized individuals (or at risk of radicalization) and their perception of the role of vocal extreme groups legally operating in the country.
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