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Why Countering Extremism Fails

Washington's Top-Down Approach to Prevention Is Flawed

Still frame of a masked man speaking in what is believed to be a North American accent in a video that ISIS militants released in September 2014. FBI Handout / Courtesy Reuters

In 2014, as a speaker at a countering violent extremism conference, I had to pull the organizers aside for an awkward conversation about a post to my Twitter account. Just before I was about to present, a supporter of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) had publicly tweeted at me: “Kill them, you have their trust.” His logic was simple: The conference would be the perfect opportunity to engage in mass murder because no one would see it coming. He knew that the conference included a number of people who, like me, work daily to push back against the extremist propaganda circulated online by people like him.

Such incidents—witnessing people targeting and recruiting others to engage in violent activities or issuing threats on social media—are not uncommon to those who work in my field. On Saturday, another shooting took place, but this time in Copenhagen. On Jan 7, 2015,

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