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Composite Violent Extremism: A Radicalization Pattern Changing the Face of Terrorism

Government officials and private-sector researchers have used a variety of different terms to discuss ideological mixing among extremists.

Before opening fire in a Bend, Oregon, grocery store in August 2022, Ethan Miller expressed his hatred toward “EVERYONE & EVERYTHING.” Bearing this out, his rambling online posts displayed racial animus and extreme misogyny. He also railed against the U.S. government’s coronavirus response, police, religion, and technology. To Miller—whose attack killed two people—the 1999 Columbine High School shooters were icons and role models. But though Miller’s journal and online posts exhibit a range of extreme and targeted sentiments that seem to qualify the attack as a form of ideologically motivated violent extremism, he explicitly rejected being labeled a white supremacist or incel (involuntary celibate). Given the range of disparate sentiments that Miller expressed, if he were indeed a violent extremist, what kind should he be understood as?

Miller’s complex ideological profile is not unique, nor are the questions and confusion surrounding his motivations. Over the past few years, the United Kingdom and the United States have expanded their counterterrorism efforts to include individuals like Miller. British counterterrorism officials created the mixed, unstable, or unclear ideology category to include extremists who did not fit other counterterrorism categories (for example, the extreme right). The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s 2019 counterterrorism strategy addresses targeted violence alongside terrorism, in recognition of the fact that many acts of targeted violence bear the hallmarks of terrorism even if they may not be categorized as such. The FBI has also begun to employ the phrase “salad bar extremism” to describe a trend of ideological mixing. In recent congressional testimony, for example, FBI Director Christopher Wray described extremists who hold a “weird hodgepodge blend of ideologies,” noting that this trend is producing challenges in “trying to unpack what are often sort of incoherent belief systems, combined with kind of personal grievances.” Other government officials and private-sector researchers have used a variety of different terms to discuss the same phenomenon, including ideological mixing and ideology à la carte. While government officials and experts have highlighted the particular challenges that this phenomenon poses for law enforcement and prevention practitioners, the trend as a whole is insufficiently conceptualized and lacks a framework for understanding distinct elements within.

Read more at Lawfare

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