– Executive Summary –

In 2014, the United States initiated formal programming to counter violent extremism in three test cities, pursuant to the White House’s countering violent extremism (CVE) strategy outlined in 2011’s Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States. Since the creation of the pilot program, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) established the $10 million CVE Grant Program to fund localized CVE initiatives, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) created Shared Responsibility Committees to prevent individuals from further radicalizing. With three-city pilot program stalled, the continuance of those DHS and FBI efforts are now in question. The United States continues to face enduring threats from violent extremism, yet the effort to develop and implement a functioning national CVE strategy remains ineffective. America’s current CVE strategy suffers from a lack of scale and foundational scientific support, and contains no system of metrics to evaluate its success.

This thesis conducts a comparative policy analysis of the CVE strategies in the United States and the United Kingdom to identify their respective strengths to, in turn, determine which UK policies may be leveraged to improve the American CVE strategy. This study found that the United Kingdom’s approach to CVE under the Prevent strategy has matured into a nationally led implementation plan that incorporates soft power resources from the whole of government to augment the hard-power practices of counterterrorism. The United Kingdom’s strategy affords communities the opportunity to choose the CVE programming and resources that best fit their needs while creating a referral process to connect individuals who are radicalizing to a variety of services. Additionally, the United Kingdom’s Home Office has dedicated significant resources to countering extremist narratives and messaging in social media platforms to reduce domestic radicalization and recruitment efforts from abroad. The research finds promise in these strategies and supports their consideration into future policy discussion for American CVE efforts.

In furthering the discussion surrounding improved American CVE efforts, this thesis surveyed several models from social science to demonstrate the value of incorporating scientifically supported research into future CVE policy discussions. The research evaluated general strain theory, social identity theory, the radical puzzle model, and the stairway to terrorism model separately to discern a set of common interdisciplinary variables that underlie the root causes of radicalization and terrorism. This comparison found variables related to an individual’s response to anger, subjection to prejudice, feelings of cultural isolation, and resentment of Western policy as positively correlated with radicalization. It is believed that incorporating decades of scientific scholarship into future CVE policy discussions will lead to impactful, evidence-based CVE policy in the United States.

Concluding the comparative analysis and discussion of scientific theory, the thesis closes with a series of eight policy recommendations and implementation plans for consideration. Based on the research presented, it is recommended that the United States adopt nationally led, locally implemented CVE policies similar to those found in the United Kingdom’s Prevent strategy. Furthermore, it is recommended the U.S. government create an office dedicated to countering the extremist narrative online, and to affirm its commitment to continuing the DHS CVE Grant Program to fund localized programs. This study also supports the inclusion of formal metrics and additional monitoring efforts to evaluate the progress and effectiveness of future CVE programming and to reestablish a non-coercive intervention strategy that redirects individuals away from extremist activities. Finally, this research argues that all future CVE policy considerations should be supported by scientific research.

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