Read the full article at Salon.
The white supremacist uprising in Charlottesville shocked the nation, which watched with horror the angry, racist chanting, the threats of violence against groups seen as “the other” — and the use of a car as a terrorist weapon. The many parallels to Jihadist extremism are impossible to miss.
There is another significant convergence that often escapes our attention because it is so obvious: participants are overwhelmingly young, and predominantly male. Why? Research reveals deep similarities in the mindset driving these actions: strong social connections to comrades who see their cause as “sacred”; recruitment that appeals to adolescents and youth who are disconnected from and who feel disrespected or threatened by the larger society; and the influence of authority figures who provide validation.
Although active participation in extreme groups and activities, including violence, has many sources, we shouldn’t overlook recent research on brain development showing that “capturing the passion” is a central characteristic of adolescent and youth development – and that offer clues to how we can capture this passion for positive social goals.
Dismissing violent extremism as inexplicable, or as mere moral failing (abhorrent as the behavior may be), blinds us to the fact that focused efforts to actively capture youthful passion do actually work. We need to realize that the core aspects of typical development that make individuals susceptible to recruitment by extremist groups – active engagement, connection, and meaning — are also major sources of resilience against stress.