July 20, 2022 - Podcast

Episode 289 — The journey out of extremism

After George Floyd's murder in May 2020, one social media post caught the eye of IU Ph.D. candidate Danny Carroll, who had begun his doctoral program in the IU School of Social Work examining race-based trauma and traumatic stress. The tweet read, "white supremacy isn't something that will be dismantled until white individuals see it as something they need to confront rather than something they need to empathize or sympathize with." Carroll says as cliché as it sounds, that one tweet changed his trajectory completely. He had been looking at the problem of racial injustice and the byproducts of it, but he shifted focus and began looking at whiteness and white supremacy. Carroll says extremism is a significant threat to the United States, with racially motivated hate crimes occurring frequently across the country. A lot of research has been conducted on how people are radicalized into white supremacist and white nationalist hate groups. But Carroll says very little has been done on the journey out of extremism. That exit is the focus of Carroll's dissertation, which includes interviews with 18 former extremists about their own exits from extremist groups. One of Carroll's focuses is on "post-extremist traumatic stress," which examines individuals from a humanistic strengths-based approach rather than the criminal justice and political science lens they are often viewed through. Studying their roles through a humanistic lens allows for a wider variety of engagement and intervention, he said, while not focusing solely on the bad behavior. According to Carroll, many individuals who get involved in far-right extremism don't do so initially because of racism. But like a cult or gang, there are a lot of psychosocial elements at play that draws people in, and the extremist ideology is adopted as a result. He says if an extremist ideology can be learned, it can also be unlearned. However, there are currently no best practices in place for the journey out of extremism, no exit ramps and no services available. Carroll says he hopes his research will ultimately help train social workers in dealing with this unique population by providing new ideas for treatment and engagement, while adding tools to national resources for dealing with extremism.