Radicalization’s path: In case studies, finding similarities

Within the months earlier than he was charged with storming the U.S. Capitol, Doug Jensen was sharing conspiracy theories he’d consumed on-line. Nevertheless it hadn’t all the time been that method, says his brother, who recollects how he as soon as posted the kind of household and trip images acquainted to almost all social media customers.

A world away, Wahab hadn’t all the time spent his days immersed in jihadist educating. The product of a rich Pakistani household and the youngest son of 4, he was into vehicles and video video games, had his personal bike, even studied in Japan.

No two ideologues are similar and the gulf between totally different sorts of extremists, together with in how deeply they embrace violence within the title of their trigger, is as extensive as it’s apparent. However to dwell solely on the variations obscures the similarities, not solely in how individuals soak up extremist ideology but in addition in how they feed off grievances and mobilize to motion.

For any American who casts violent extremism as a overseas drawback, the Jan. 6 Capitol siege held up an uncomfortable mirror revealing the identical circumstances for fantastical considering and politically motivated violence as any society.

The Related Press examined the paths of radicalization via case research on two continents: a 20-year-old man rescued from a Taliban coaching camp on Afghanistan’s border, and an Iowa man whose brother watched him fall sway to nonsensical conspiracy theories and in the end be part of the mob of Donald Trump loyalists that stormed the Capitol.

Two locations, two males, two totally different tales as seen by two relations. However strip away the ideologies, says John Horgan, a researcher of violent extremism, and take a look at the psychological processes, the roots, the experiences.

“All of these issues,” Horgan says, “are likely to look way more comparable than they’re totally different.”


America met Doug Jensen, 42, by way of a extensively circulated video that uncovered the mob mentality contained in the Capitol. Jensen’s the person in a darkish cap and black “Belief the Plan” shirt, main a crowd chasing a Capitol Police officer up the steps.

William Routh of Clarksville, Arkansas, had an unsettled feeling even earlier than the riot. “I mentioned, for those who go down there and you are going to do a peaceable factor, then that is high quality. However I mentioned preserve your head down and do not be doing one thing silly.”

In interviews with the AP days and months after his youthful brother’s arrest, Routh painted Jensen, a Des Moines father of three who’d labored as a union mason laborer, as a person who loved the trimmings of a standard American existence.

“This was a shock to me greater than something, as a result of I’d not have thought this from my brother Doug, as a result of he is an excellent, hardworking household man and he has good values.”

Exactly how Jensen got here to soak up the conspiracies that led him to the Capitol is bewildering to Routh. However within the months earlier than the riot, the brothers communicated about QAnon as Jensen shared movies and different conspiracy-laden messages he purported to seek out that means in.

Earlier than Jan. 6, Routh says, “We’ve been being instructed for the final — what? — seven, eight months that if the Democrats get management, we’re dropping our nation, OK? That scares lots of people.”

A Justice Division memo that argued for Jensen’s detention cites his prison historical past and his eagerness to drive greater than 1,000 miles to “hear President Trump declare martial regulation.” It notes that when the FBI questioned him, he mentioned he’d gone to Washington as a result of “Q,” the motion’s amorphous voice, had forecast that the “storm” had arrived.

His lawyer, Christopher Davis, countered by calling Jensen a “sufferer of quite a few conspiracy theories” and a dedicated household man whose preliminary devotion to QAnon “was its acknowledged mission to get rid of pedophiles from society.”

In July, a federal decide agreed to launch Jensen on home arrest, citing a video exhibiting Jensen referring to the Capitol constructing because the White Home as a probable indication he could not have deliberate an assault prematurely “when he had no fundamental understanding of the place he even was that day.”

However in September, Jensen was ordered again to jail for violating the circumstances of his freedom. A federal officer visiting Jensen discovered him in his storage utilizing an iPhone to observe information from Rumble, a streaming platform standard with conservatives.


Wahab had all of it. The youngest son of 4 from a rich Pakistani household, he spent his early years within the United Arab Emirates and for a time in Japan, finding out. Wahab preferred vehicles, had his personal bike and was loopy about video video games.

His uncle, who rescued the 20-year-old from a Taliban coaching camp on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan earlier this 12 months, requested that his full title not be used as a result of militants have deep-reaching tentacles within the northwest the place the household lives. He agreed to be quoted utilizing his center title, Kamal.

Kamal is considered one of 5 brothers who runs the family-owned import/export conglomerate. Every brother has groomed their sons for the enterprise.

Wahab’s future was to be no totally different. He returned to Pakistan in his early teenagers from overseas.

His uncle blamed his slide to radicalization on the neighborhood teenagers Wahab socialized with of their northwest Pakistan hometown, plus video video games and Web websites his pals launched him to that instructed of Muslims being attacked, girls raped and infants killed.

“He felt like he hadn’t recognized what was happening, that he had spent his life in darkness and he felt he needs to be concerned. His pals insisted he ought to. They instructed him he was wealthy and will assist our individuals,” his uncle mentioned.

To his uncle, Wahab appeared to grow to be more and more aggressive, fixated on violence.

Earlier this 12 months, Wahab abruptly disappeared. When Wahab’s father found his son was at a coaching camp, he was livid, his uncle mentioned.

“He instructed the individuals `Depart him there. I do not settle for him as my son anymore.’ However I took it on myself to convey him again,” Kamal mentioned.

At the moment, Wahab is again within the household enterprise, however is being carefully watched.

“We’re watching all of the younger boys now, and most nights they must be dwelling — except they inform us the place they’re,” Kamal mentioned.


Ethical outrage. A way of injustice. A sense that issues can solely be fastened via pressing, violent motion.

These are what are likely to inspire individuals who gravitate towards extremism, says Horgan, who directs the Violent Extremism Analysis Group at Georgia State College.

“These similarities you will see that repeated throughout the board, whether or not you are speaking about excessive right-wing militias in Oklahoma otherwise you’re speaking a few Taliban offshoot in northwest Pakistan,” Horgan says.

Analysis reveals individuals who espouse conspiracy theories are likely to do poorer on measures of crucial considering, decreasing complicated world issues to reassuring solutions, says Ziv Cohen, an skilled on extremism at Weill Cornell Medical Faculty of Cornell College.

That is the place the tales of Jensen and Wahab seemingly intersect. Each have been searching for one thing. Each discovered solutions that have been engaging, enticing — and distorted variations of actuality.

“For causes he doesn’t even perceive at the moment, he turned a `true believer’ and was satisfied he (was) doing a noble service by turning into a digital soldier for `Q,”‘ Davis, Jensen’s lawyer, wrote in a June court docket submitting. “Possibly it was mid-life disaster, the pandemic, or maybe the message simply appeared to raise him from his unusual life to an exalted standing with an honorable purpose.”

However is that purpose ever reached? Maybe counterintuitively, analysis has proven that when extremists’ conspiracy theories are strengthened, their anxiousness ranges rise fairly than fall, Cohen says.

“Individuals appear to not be capable of get sufficient of a conspiracy concept,” he says, “however they’re by no means fairly glad or actually reassured.”


Related Press author David Pitt in Des Moines contributed to this report.

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