Patterns of thinking in militant extremism

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Recurrent features of the thinking pattern (or mind-set) of violent militant extremists are delineated, discussed, and related to previous research and theory. We examined extremist groups from a diverse range of continents, cultures, and political and religious orientations. We compared statements by (and, to some degree, statements about) these groups and formulated 16 themes common to the militant-extremist mind-set. Among these themes are perceptions of a crisis involving violations of posited sacred values, along with justifications for the use of violence to remediate such problems. There are indications that such themes are not infrequent in the general population. For example, research participants failed to strongly disassociate themselves from the sentiments and framings found in the fanatical items, which undercuts the notion that militant-extremist thinking represents bizarre ideation. Militant-extremist thinking appears to represent a major, aggressive form of fanaticism affected by both dispositional and situational factors. Key themes in this thinking pattern might fit together to construct a potentially compelling narrative, which may be a key part of the ideological appeal of salient militant-extremist groups.


Institute for Positive Psychology and Education

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Journal Article

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