Coronavirus quarantines are meant to keep everyone safe, but the increased social isolation also gives recruiters of extremist ideologies greater access to kids.
There are two elements recruiters need in order to lure youth toward extremism, and isolation is the first. Vulnerability is the second.
For millennials and Generation Z — the two most at-risk populations for radicalization — a global pandemic is the first real crisis many of them have experienced.
The lifestyle adjustments that must be made will be a significant experience for that demographic, and it may be enough to make them vulnerable to extremist recruiters.
It goes without saying that with mandated social isolation — and in some areas total lockdowns — youth will be spending more time on the internet.
While extremist ideologies deploy recruiters through the internet, self-radicalization is more likely the cause of quarantine-time radicalization due to influences including:
- Conspiracy theories circulating about the cause of the pandemic which fuel paranoia and alienation at the expense of rationalism and cooperation
- Nations (especially Europe) turning toward the nationalism that many once stigmatized as the trademark of the Far Right
- Extremist ideologies using the crisis to amplify their message of an all-out war toward the catastrophic breakdown of society
Last year, Clarion Project introduced readers to former English Defense League organizer Ivan Humble, whose own story toward radicalization mirrors that of so many others who self-radicalize online. Humble shared how the steady supply of niche YouTube videos pulled him deeper into the echo chamber of Far Right extremism.
With heightened risk of radicalization under the coronavirus quarantine, these stories are poised to increase. Last week, Time magazine raised the same concerns in an article titled, “‘Right Now, People Are Pretty Fragile.’ How Coronavirus Creates the Perfect Breeding Ground for Online Extremism.”
Citing approximately a 12-15% increase in internet use, the article interviews a support group called Life After Hate, that also reinforces that statistic: Extremists prey upon any kind of societal or communal division.
In speaking with individuals classified as extremists within Islamist ideologies, it is particularly intoxicating to listen to a charismatic leader weave conspiracy theories into a fact-based narrative. The same can be said about anti-Semites and neo-Nazis.
With events unfolding in real time with little factual corroboration of reliability, there’s an opportunity not unnoticed by recruiters to come in and offer a false sense of security and meaning, especially for young individuals seeking to understand these chaotic times.