News & Politics

Extremism-Studies Programs Are a Thing at DC Universities. How Do They Stack Up?

Photos courtesy of universities.
American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL) George Washington University’s Program on Extremism (PoE)
What’s its mission? Launched in 2019, PERIL has been researching ways to prevent young people from becoming radicalized and to intervene if they do. The goal isn’t just academic: It’s trying to develop strategies that could actually help communities keep kids out of extremist groups. The focus goes beyond the United States—PoE was found-ed in 2015 to look at a number of threats, including jihad-ism and right-wing extremism. The goal is to develop policy solutions that could be adopted by lawmakers and law-enforcement agencies.
Who’s Behind It? Cynthia Miller-Idriss, an AU professor who has spent more than two decades studying far-right movements (both here and in places like Germany) and youth radicalization. The program is run by Lorenzo Vidino, an expert on Islamism in North America and Europe whose research has often focused on jihadist networks and counter-radicalization policies.
Sample project Last summer, PERIL released a toolkit that helps parents and other caregivers recognize signs of online radicalization—with an emphasis on new risks in the Covid era—and learn ways to address it. The GW Extremism Tracker, started in 2016, is a monthly report documenting cases of terrorism in the US. Each update includes details about new terrorism-related activities and legal proceedings.
Response to January 6 On Inauguration Day, PERIL put out a four-point response to the US Capitol attack with recommendations for fighting domestic extremism. One key: Tech companies must do a better job of slowing the flow of propaganda and misinformation. In April, the Program on Extremism released a 44-page report examining military experience among participants in the at-tack. Of the 357 people charged, 43—or 12 percent—had some kind of military background.