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On recruiting by extremist groups

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I was once recruited by a far left group. They recruited through front groups, personal contact, the internet and did so quite deliberately, with planning, meetings, and discussion of who to recruit. Islamists recruit using the same process. To defuse the now-obvious Islamist threat, we need to understand how recruiting happens. We are engaged in asymmetric warfare against Islamists. They cannot be defeated using guns alone because there is no defined battlefield and the foe is not always known. We need to win through better ideas and smarter recruiting.

Academic authors tend to focus more on explaining the puzzle of weak actor victory in war: if “power,” conventionally understood, conduces to victory in war, then how is the victory of the “weak” over the “strong” explained? Key explanations include (1) strategic interaction; (2) willingness of the weak to suffer more or bear higher costs; (3) external support of weak actors; (4) reluctance to escalate violence on the part of strong actors; (5) internal group dynamics[3] and (6) inflated strong actor war aims. Asymmetric conflicts include both interstate and civil wars, and over the past two hundred years have generally been won by strong actors. Since 1950, however, weak actors have won a majority of all asymmetric conflicts

Recruiters for far left / far right / religious extremists groups never let potential recruits know the full story and the real agenda at first. They are eased into in via the always popular method of starting front groups ostensibly about a certain cause or belief. The front groups attract people who are monitored and those deemed possible recruits are slowly spoon-fed the more radical ideologies to see how they react. Then the weeding-out process begins. The potential recruit has no idea this is happening or how closely they are being watched.

Then, say, the recruit is invited to a party where among the good times, it becomes apparent what the group is really about. Slowly the recruit is given more access, more things to do, until most of not all of their social life revolves around the group. Then the formal invitation to join is made.

That’s how it works. That’s what we need to counter. And we can use the same methods to steer recruits away from mindless violence and fanaticism not towards it.Of course, our front groups should be transparent about goals and who is running them.

As for that far left group I joined, I got purged a few years later. I’ve always had a low tolerance towards accepting doctrinaire bullshit uncritically. For some of us on the left, being purged from groups like this is a badge of honor, a rite of passage. 🙂

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