Andy Berke, former mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Sasha Havlicek, cofounder and chief executive officer of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), discussed how organizations like ISD’s Strong Cities Network are equipping local leaders with the data, tools and capacities needed to combat extremism.
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Thank you. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations State and Local Officials Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR. We’re delighted to have participants from forty-eight U.S. states and territories with us today for this conversation. Thank you for taking the time to join us. This discussion is on the record.
As you know, CFR is an independent and nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher focusing on US foreign policy. CFR is also the publisher of Foreign Affairs magazine. Through our State and Local Officials Initiative, we serve as a resource on international issues affecting the priorities and agendas of state local governments by providing analysis on a wide range of policy topics. So we’re pleased to have with us today, Andy Berke and Sasha Havlicek. We previously shared their bios, so I’ll just give you a few highlights.
Andy Berke served as mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee from 2013 to April 2021. In 2015, Mayor Berke was named municipal leader of the year by American City and County magazine for his leadership following a domestic terror attack in the city. From 2007 to 2012, he served as state senator for Tennessee’s tenth district in the Tennessee Senate. So thank you, Mayor Berke for being with us.
Sasha Havlicek is a cofounder and CEO of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. She specializes in conflict resolution, extremism and digital information operations, she serves as the advisor to the UK Counter Extremism Commission, and the mayor of London’s counter extremism campaign. In 2015, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue established the Strong Cities Network to mount a city-led response to hate, polarization, and extremism. So thank you both for being with us. Sasha, I’m going to first start with you. I think it would be helpful if you could define what we or what you or what we mean by extremism, and really give that some a definition. And then we can go from there to talk about how Strong Cities Network help cities cope with extremism ideology. And Sasha, you’re muted.
Of course. Every one of these webinars has to start with somebody speaking on mute. Apologies.
Irina, I want to say thank you, for us, to you and to CFR. It’s a wonderful opportunity to speak to all of you today, I’m very, very grateful. I’m thrilled to see Andy Berke, who’s a great leader and has been an important pillar of the Strong Cities Network. You’ve asked me to start by giving you my definition of extremism, I say mine, I mean, it’s the Institute’s definition of extremism, these definitions vary. But I think that the core elements of this definition hold, and that is, extremism is a belief. It is a worldview, if you like, that posits the supremacy, the superiority of one in-group over all outgroups, and advocates, the dehumanization of that outgroup and ultimately advocates for political and social change, in line with that worldview. And I think that those components are very important to understand, it isn’t just a prejudice that you hold privately. It really is the advocacy of political and social change to reflect this supremacist worldview. As such, it is antithetical to human rights to universal human rights, it is antithetical to cohesion, and indeed, to democratic civic culture. It is therefor problem. It is not to be to be muddled with radical behavior or views, or, or just the idea of somehow—be that you know, things on the fringe. You can have extremism, of course, take hold across an entire society. And we’ve seen that, of course, in terrible parts of history around the world.
I don’t know if you’d like me to say a couple of words about the trends that we’ve seen in extremism through our research in the U.S., and perhaps internationally over the recent period. With the incidents around the sixth of January, of course, very fresh in people’s minds. I think it’s important to say, you know, we’ve been we’ve been researching, analyzing, and innovating both policy and operational responses to extremism now since 2006, at the Institute. And what we’ve seen is really a wholesale transformation of the extremist ecosystem and threat since that time. What were once a disparate parochial, primarily small scale, often violent, set of street groups of Trump’s transformed into a fully transnational, tech-savvy, large-scale online subculture. A set of subcultures able to translate, quite effectively, their online mobilization into real-world action, offline action and successfully coordinate around key political objectives. And we see this sort of sharing increasingly of a common worldview, not only representing local struggles and issues, but a sort of existential battle for survival and supremacy. And I think it is important to say, you know, that a broad church emerged, what we saw come out on the day—on the sixth was, was evidence of a set of trends.
We see this broad church emerging a coalition building, across a fairly broad ideological spectrum. And we’ve seen that coalition building happened, for instance, in Charlottesville, in Kenosha, then at the Capitol. And, you know, coalescing with with very specific political goals in mind. COVID, I should say, was a terrible crucible in a way for the expansion of the audience for disinformation and hate. It became a vector for a mass of disinformation online related to COVID itself, vaccination, and we’ve seen that full spectrum. But of course, QAnon that—we’ve been watching QAnon since 2017—that QAnon burst onto the scene at scale, in March of last year, really coinciding with the onset of COVID. And you see, the growth of the QAnon networks and related conspiracy networks really become a vector for the expansion of the sort of outreach, if you like, by extremist actors into much more mainstream constituencies. And QAnon was very effective with pastel Q, and various campaigns like “save the children”, and getting to much, much broader audiences, if you’d like, to reach well beyond the hardcore of the extremist ecosystem. Their communications have shifted. It’s important to understand this courses for courses they’ve consciously brand cleansed when speaking to the normies when trying to reach out to constituencies that aren’t necessarily bought into a fully extremist worldview. And they’ve adapted their language around broader grievances and political issues: political correctness, free speech, and so on. So they’re very consciously looking at ways in which to communicate to wider, wider audiences.
And then I think it’s important to understand that what we’ve seen is really a hybridized threat landscape, it is no longer coherent to talk just about extremist actors, without understanding the interplay of conspiracy networks, as I’ve just mentioned, but also disinformation networks, including state actors. Where we’ve seen, increasingly, the online, through information operations, the online boosting, if you like, of, of extremism, of hate, in a way as to as to cause division essentially designed to stoke aggression and division, among constituencies. And we’ve seen some of this happen, of course, with the Kremlin playbook. What we see other state actors also come into this into this space. And then of course, that grab bag of tactics we came to associate with the Kremlin. All of the online grab bag of those tactics, that the tactics that the false accounts, the false networks, amplifying this type of content, in a massive way to millions of people. That grab bag is now in everybody’s hands, we see extremist actors use disinformation, to get their messages out again to wider audiences and distort the playing field, the information playing field online.
And of course, that brings me finally just to the role of the internet and social media platforms, which I hope we can come to and speak to. But here we see, you know, not only extremists being able to deploy and reach further and faster than ever before, and commercialize hate and fund for hate. We did a big piece of research on how seventy-three hate groups across the U.S. were using online fundraising platforms, commercialization, to fund their activities. But it’s also that the technology on these social media platforms essentially amplifies, algorithmically amplifies extreme messaging, as you see this big, big amplification. And in the end, what we see is a set of trends around, obviously, a rise in violence. I mean, this is very clear, we’ve seen not just a rise terrorism and globally speaking, there’s been a 250% rise in religiously and ethnically motivated terrorism internationally over the last five years. You see that reflected, of course in a U.S. context where law enforcement and the DHS have identified that type of extremism as a number one threat. But you also see hate crime in like 2019, I think was the peak in recorded hate crimes across the United States. And of course, we’ve seen now this recent bout, which is really, really terrible of hate crimes of violence, of course, massively on the rise. But it’s important to know that that violence is coming from across the ideological spectrum that I just talked about. It isn’t just ostensibly violent groups. And it isn’t just from groups, there is a kind of post-organizational terrorism appearing, where you see people inspired to terrorism inspired to acts of violence that aren’t necessarily card carrying members of groups. And so prescription—purely prescription based group based responses are going to be challenged in that sense. And then, of course, I think it’s important to remember that the real impact here, beyond violence, has been a social impact: polarization. Polarization has really been, you know, in a way, the major fallout from this massive transformation of the operational and communications tactics of these extremist groups today.
Thank you so much, Sasha. That was really very rich. Let’s go now. Mayor Berke, can you talk about the spectrum of policies and programming, and acted as mayor to confront extremism in Chattanooga? And maybe you could also give your definition of extremism as you saw it through the prism of a mayor.
Sure, thanks, Irina, and appreciate the Council on Foreign Relations allowing me to say a few words on this and really have learned a lot from Sasha and the Institute over these last several years. So I think it’s, you know, listen, I’m American, patriotic, and, you know, we do have this rich history of people talking about extremism in our country. Barry Goldwater, of course, famously said extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. We understand that there are people who are always going to be pushing for change, and to make sure that our country improves, that’s part of the, the natural course of the United States. But there is a different type of dialogue that is out there now. That is extremism that seeks to alienate people from society that seeks to tear apart the social fabric that people, like me and mayors across the country and council people who are on this call, are trying to build. That frequently tries, as well as pulling apart our society to polarize it, can also lead to violent acts. And that is the kind of extremism that at least for me, I have spent these last several years thinking a lot about and trying to combat.
And I think it’s worthwhile to say a few minutes about why this has reached the mayor of Chattanooga. And I remember back in June of 2015, watching one of my idols Joe Riley as a guy named Dylann Roof had had walked into Mother Emanuel church in Charleston and shot nine people and killed nine people and think to myself: how can he even be up there going through this. And then roughly a month later, we had our own terrorism attack in Chattanooga that was inspired by hate. Just as Sasha was talking about, this was a person who had been inspired by ISIS, was not a quote card carrying member of it, but had been led down this extremist path, watching videos online, killed four marines and a sailor at a naval operations support center in our community.
As a result of that, you know, we started thinking more proactively, not just about how we combat extremism, but also how we network across communities. Because then Orlando happened and El Paso and we can keep the list going on, there’s been on shootings, there’s been more than one mass shooting average per day in the United States this year. And then we know what’s happening with Asian-American crime and hate crimes right now, you know. We needed to take action, and the Strong Cities Network was the platform that I saw that provided us the best opportunity to learn from others, and then to do things ourselves. So one of the one of the lessons that I learned was that we needed to we had had a number of things that were going right to try to promote inclusion, and to have a society that was cohesive, but we also needed a platform, for example, to, to really speak out against the hate that I saw forming in our, in our society, and particularly after Charlottesville.
My family, I come from a family that were refugees, just two generations ago, saw, you know, came to this country to be part of a better society. And then I saw in Charlottesville, people walking down the street with tiki torches, and really felt moved to act, not just with this international group, but to act locally, as well. So we started a Council Against Hate, it was to examine policies, to educate, to make sure that we could, that we could help those who were working in these areas, for example, in the education system. So we’d have speakers come in, we change policies, we gave toolkits out to those who wanted to act and to speak out against hate. And just to give you like a small example of the kinds of things that that we would do. We would change small policies like anytime that there was a hate incident reported, we would always do a follow up from the police department, with a detective-level person coming out there to show that this was an elevated type of occurrence in our city. And also to make sure that the target of that knew how seriously that we took it, we provided opportunities when there was an incident of, of a public official in our community, who was espousing hate, the leaders of the Council Against Hate spoke out and said, here, here’s why this is wrong in our community.
So there are lots of different things that we can do as local officials. But I think it goes back actually, to that really important first question that that we were trying to establish is, what is extremism? And how are we going to combat it? And I think there actually is a positive and a negative side of this, the negative side being we have to speak out and say why hate is wrong. And then we also need that piece that is how do we build a cohesive society that is inclusive and welcomes everybody, because right now, we are talking about a lot in our country about right-wing extremism, it’s obviously a huge issue. But we have all kinds of extremism, and we need to make sure that people are not alienated in our communities and feel part of the fabric that that we’re building.
Right. And I think that is, you know, how can we talk about, and leaders, local leaders and you know, talk about extremism without appearing partisan or alienating the other side? Because as you pointed out, you know, we are, the focus right now is really due to, you know, January sixth, and this this talk, it seems to be alienating one side. So how do we move beyond that and talk about it. It’s all of our problems, and it’s not pitting people against each other?
Well, the first thing to acknowledge is that that is actually more challenging than then it should be. I started Council Against Hate now, what could be less controversial than a Council Against Hate? That just sounds like something that people should be in favor of. And yet there was a relatively mainstream group that was operational in our in our community that took nonstop pot shots at talking about how terrible it was that we had a Council Against Hate. And that was entirely, in my opinion generated by a partisan type of view that actually being against hate was—I’m a Democrat let’s go on and say what it is that I was a Democrat—that my view of trying to combat hate was a partisan issue to go after the Republican Party, which is, of course, nonsense, it’s nonsense. I got plenty of other issues that I can, you know, disagree with people about hate is something that tears at the fabric of our community, and makes it harder for all of us, Democrats, Republicans, independents, to live in a place that we enjoy. So, um, you know, for me, you know, we mobilize religious leaders. We mobilize community leaders. We ensure that, that people across the religious spectrum, were able to speak out and, and by the way, never made it a partisan issue to say that everyone in our community has the right to, to be free from hate, and to be feel included in in our society. And we did everything that we could. Now the truth is that it is that there are still some people who are going to listen to those forces, but I know of no other way to, to work on this, than just to do the things that we need to do, and to be genuine and sincere, and then hope in the long run, that helps us get past this partisan divide.
And Sasha, can you talk about the lessons that Strong Cities Network learned, has learned, you know, at the global level, and then the work that you’ve been doing with cities in the U.S.? And how you are helping local leaders to track polarization and extremist extremism, discourses in their communities?
Absolutely. And and I should say, actually putting this into the context of a global network, you very quickly see, of course, that you’re dealing with many different forms of extremism. And what we try to do is provide support to local leadership, local authorities, and communities. Both to understand what those dynamics are of polarization or indeed, of extremist mobilization in whichever ideological context they emerge. And, and to provide them with toolkits to help prevent, and then mitigate those problems once they see once they see extremism take hold in some way. Ultimately, this is about building a kind of public health perspective on violence prevention, so I don’t think it’s too late. We mustn’t exceptionalize this work too much. I mean, this is when you bring it down to the nuts and bolts of what you do locally, you’re creating a framework for local prevention of violence. And that is across the spectrum, just to your point about not politicizing this too much.
And maybe I say just a couple of words about the Strong Cities Network and how it’s emerged and what it what it’s done. And then maybe some of the resources that are available for, for U.S. partners, as we now think about rolling this out in a U.S. context. And we’d love to get feedback and thoughts from your guests here. I had, as I said, you know, we’ve been working on understanding and responding to extremism for many, many years.
But what we realized quickly was that, you know, beyond the national conversation, policy conversation, cities and their communities were really at the coalface of this challenge, and needed to be supported better, and enabled to lead the charge on turning the tide on these threats. Not least because actually, they were able to de-politicize some of this work in a more effective way. And we had started to work with local authorities across Europe. I had the privilege of then working with Eric Rosand now now the interim director of the SCN, who was then at the State Department, which spearheaded we launched together at the UN General Assembly in 2015 with twenty-five global mayors, the Strong Cities Network. Wow this is the first global network of its kind dedicated really to powering solutions at a local level to these rising tides of extremism and polarization. It’s now a network of over 145 cities in more than forty-five countries spanning every major global region. And it’s delivering tools, the training, the resources, and on-the-ground programming and support to cities and their communities to build response. Now we’ve engaged and trained over five thousand professionals and community leaders, 750 city officials, we’ve worked with over one hundred mayors. So it’s been a very interesting learning journey.
But I can just say, a couple of things that I think one of my colleagues might be able to post a little bit of information about, there’s a five year anniversary video that says a little bit about the achievements of the network and a brochure that maybe she can post in the chat. But number one, its data—data for cities. So we combine digital state of the art digital analysis with on-the-ground research to really provide local leaders and practitioners with evidence, you know, evidence-based recommendations for how to go about doing their local planning work. And this gives you really an insight into both on and offline how, how these problems might be mobilizing. This has been particularly important in the context of, for instance, COVID, where you’ve seen this, you know, expansion of, of those threats.
The second thing is local infrastructure for prevention. And this is a kind of whole of society response, a model for facilitating partnerships between the local authority, the community frontline services, and it is that sort of local prevention framework and network that we now have a model for building that I think it’s so vital for work in the U.S. on this. This is multi—sort of team building at a local level, multi-sectoral engagement of the sort that Andy’s just been talking about. That gives you then an opportunity to respond to whatever threat you might be seeing. And that is the entity then through which you can do so much programming, whether it’s prevention or interventions at the sharp tip of the problem. And we offer expert services and training and on all sorts of, you know, key topics from rehabilitation and reintegration of those that have already radicalized, psycho-social support, youth engagement, digital resilience, strategic communications, monitoring, evaluation.
I think it’s important, we built some tools for cities that really work from the real world, you know, on building the how to. So for instance, a post-incident response toolkit, building from the experiences of our mayors of our cities, in dealing with, for instance, terrorist attacks or hate crimes. How the step-by-step how to respond to that in a way that de-escalates the problem, that enables cohesion to be established, and that protects the victims. And so again, there’s some really interesting resources there. There’s an online hub, where you can find those resources. And, again, the evolving resources, a COVID-19 resource center for cities. So really looking at the threats now. And the challenges these are augmented threats that cities are facing.
And finally, it’s this sort of interconnection of local leadership. That exchange piece is so important, we’ve seen so much happen because of exchanges, really international exchanges, but also domestic exchanges. Partnerships between Montreal in Canada and Dakar in Senegal, which saw exchanges between police, youth leaders, and city officials. Seen as a model adapted for frontline prevention training that was developed in Canada, but adapted to this vibrant youth volunteer network in Senegal. You’ve seen these kinds of exchanges inspire models in in various different places. And as we look forward, really, I think the aim is to look at how across the U.S. all the amazing good practice that’s being done at a local level, gets a spotlight on it gets shared, gets distilled and shared in a in an effective way across the U.S.. And there’s a number of things I think that can happen now, to bring this whole of society approach, especially in the aftermath now of January the sixth and the new administration’s drive to support this whole of society approach and to address this threat. There is, I think, a unique opportunity in the U.S.. And I think especially now with Secretary Mayorkas’s announcement in February that the DHS will provide at least $77 million to city and other sub-national jurisdictions across the country to protect against domestic violence, extremism, there will be real means by which to do some of this work at a local level.
Thank you. Mayor Berke, the U.S. Conference of Mayors—is such an important group and really mobilized to take on the challenge of climate—was extremism, while you were there, was that sort of coming into onto the agenda? And what other mayors were you cooperating, you know, what other cities were the cities that you were cooperating with, to sort of build exchange best practices and, you know, come together?
So the U.S. Conference of Mayors is absolutely leading out there on the these issues. And, you know, the sad fact is that that it has to, we don’t have a lot of choices. I remember maybe it was two years ago, two or three years ago, I was on a panel at the U.S. Conference of Mayors about mass shootings. And I think there were there were nine of us. And just to look down colleagues, people whose phone numbers I had in my phone, you know, and to know that it didn’t go very far, because he had Pittsburgh and Chattanooga and Orlando, and San Jose, and again, El Paso, you keep going, many of these motivated by hate and extremism. And so the U.S. Conference is responding well, to the, to the needs of the of the members. And I would guess, although, you know, I became mayor in 2013, I can’t say for sure. But, you know, you have these kind of twin problems of both mass shootings, and then hate violence, which sometimes, but not always overlap. And the U.S. Conference has had to take that on as one of its issues, because the members are having to deal with it every day.
So Sasha is talking about how the federal government is now responding. One of the—I mean, it is absolutely terrific that the federal government is having is leading on this issue, but it’s also responding to the needs that it sees from local leaders like those who are on this call, who are saying: we need more tools, we need more knowledge, we need more data about what’s actually going on. And the city to city interactions are really important. And so Sasha was talking about this, and and I know, at least I worked with a guy at the State Department named Mike Duffina lot. He connected as well as Sasha, they connected us with, with some of the Arhaus model of what they were doing in Denmark. Or some of the interventions that police were doing in The Netherlands, when they found people who had been radicalized or some of the interventions that a nonprofit was doing in Australia to deal with mostly, or purely, young men, who had been alienated from society had been radicalized. And they were trying to, basically, do heavy duty social work, to pull them back into to the mainstream of society. Listen, not all those things are directly transferable to the U.S., but I can see the principles and thought a lot about the principles underlying them. And how do I take that and make something that can work in my own city?
And so dealing with you know, yeah, Bill Peduto in Pittsburgh, and Buddy Dyer in Orlando, and Greg Fischer in Louisville, and Nan Whaley in Dayton, Ohio. Those are the kinds of conversations that we have, you know, both formally and also informally, when we’re at a conference together to say, kind of what are the things that you’re doing? How do we do this? And I think the important part about trying to do more of this in the U.S. is we need to, we need to formalize those so that they’re, they’re occurring more regularly with purpose and direction.
Just to add to that, I find my I mean, the, you know, Strong Cities Network has done some work and interacted with with over a dozen cities. We have members in the U.S. and it’s been wonderful to work, you know, as Andy said, with Orlando, with San Diego, with Louisville, with Chattanooga, with Pittsburgh, with L.A.. And we keep getting requests for assistance from across the U.S. from cities that are facing some of these challenges. And we have actually been privileged to have a very strong working relationship with U.S. Conference of Mayors and set up a working group on hate and hate, responses to hate at a local level with a number of the mayor’s from the Strong Cities Network and the U.S. Conference of Mayors and that’s been extremely helpful. I think this is the moment to really formalize and build a network. So that the practices that are now going to be put in place don’t get lost. That we’re not reinventing the wheel. That there is an opportunity to really learn from across the U.S., but also from international practices, some of which, as I said, in terms of the principles in terms of the approaches can be quite informative. And I think that there is really an opportunity now, in a U.S. context to do that at scale.
Right, I’m going to go to questions and from all of you. So if you want to raise your hand, you can raise your hand clicking on the icon, or you can type your question in the Q&A box. And just be sure to unmute yourself. Sasha’s colleague put a lot of resources in the Q&A box, we’re going to copy those over to the chat. And we will also share them out after this. So you don’t have to worry. We will, we will circulate them so that you can dig into them at your convenience and share them with your colleagues. That is the point of this.
Alright, so there are a few written questions. I’m going to ask from Gail Patterson Gladney, and she asked do counties or cities, townships that have diversity, inclusion and equity programs/departments have less problems with extremism?
Sasha may add, but let me let me let me say, first, that that’s a great question and an empirical one, that I don’t I don’t know the answer to. I think, for me, I’m not sure we seen some of those, especially some of the DEI work over the last few years, we probably need to give it some more time to be effective. But I do think that what I have seen, again, then Sasha can say if she has some data on this. Is that the cities who are proactively thinking about how to be inclusive, and how to ensure that they build this social cohesion piece are more successful in combating hate around the around the globe and in the U.S. And, and that’s why I think these conversations are important it is it may be DEI, there may be other things that that you’re doing. But as long as you are thinking about and looking for ways to promote the inclusion of more people into the broader society that has that has got to be helpful for you in the long run.
The real the real question is always—and this comes back, Irina, to the question you asked earlier is—how do you ensure that that work doesn’t get politicized? That you it’s, it’s seen as genuine and sincere and about everybody. So that, that you can make sure you could do this. I’ll tell you, when we had our terrorism attack in the U.S., in Chattanooga. One of the things I wrote on the board within a few minutes of that happening for the entire staff was no one will be radicalized as a result of what happened in Chattanooga today. No one. Not, not another young Muslim kid, because we reacted harshly to the Muslim community and not any body in, in our in the rest of our community because they thought that we didn’t care about what was going on or that something. We were going to include everybody in the response and that that kind of overall attitude or worldview of the goal here is to ensure that everybody in our community feels part of the recovery of this and that everybody feels safe. We would say this, everybody in our Muslim community is going to feel safe, like they do not suffer any retribution or do not ever feel any kind of worry about walking down the street. But also we’re going to genuinely ensure that people know that this is important to all of us, and that our entire community is going to recover together from this. You know, there was a lot of we had a great New York Times article about our response. There was a lot of work, but I think that overall attitude always helps us city.
Yes, I mean, it’s hard to add to that because it’s it’s absolutely right. And I completely agree. But I would say—firstly, it’s such an interesting question, I don’t have any empirical data on it. And I think it would be really interesting thing to, to research properly. What we do know is that cities, communities in which diversity and inclusion programming, if it is done in a way that enables the building out of relationships across the community—and it shouldn’t just be in one part of the community, it really needs to be across the community. Those relationships work in a number of ways. And they work both to be able to give insights into any changes into any developments that may ultimately lead to extremist mobilization. If you have your ear on the ground, and you’re talking to community members, whether it’s whether it’s schools, whether it’s parents associations, whether it’s religious leaders in in whichever shape or form, you’re more able to know what may be emerging as a set of threats and challenges.
Now, we tend to complement that work that on-the-ground outreach and engagement research work as a baseline for any community with online work now, because so much of this mobilization to extremism happens, of course, in these in these subcultures online. And it’s important to understand what they look like, and whether they in fact, are targeting your community in any specific way. And there are ways to track, you know, localized engagements online, as well as the sort of more generalized engagements and the overlaying of that data, I think, can be very important. Those communities that have good infrastructure, built out with the communities are also in a much better position, as Andy has said, to respond, if there is an attack, whether it’s a hate crime or anything of that kind. They’re able to mitigate what can be an escalating event in a much more in a much more effective way. And to those questions that I see about, you know, whether then culture and art and all of these things can be used? Absolutely. I think, you know, creating a positive environment for a community, a community where people do feel a sense of belonging and other things. Those things are absolutely critical in, in every part of extremist research, you see that belonging, a sense of disenfranchisement, a sense of a lack of belonging, these sorts of things, play a part in as one of many, many influential aspects to that radicalization process. So, yes, that broader space, I think, is absolutely critical. But of course, then there is, you know, if you do find that people are progressing down a pathway to radicalization, there are very specific things that a community can do in terms of early interventions to prevent somebody going from radicalization to violence. And the community infrastructure that I talked about, those prevention frameworks are essentially set up as multi-sector networks in order to be able to both spot that potential transition that somebody may be going through, and then to essentially enable case management in a way that brings the relevant services to the table, whether it’s education, social services, or indeed police, in a way that can prevent that stemming into an attack of some kind or violence. Psychosocial support is really, really important here. And bringing the community to the table in some inclusive way around that is also really important here. So there are indeed, models for how to go about doing that prevention work at a local.
Fantastic. Um, so I was gonna call on Danielle Brazell, but she did put her hand down. And I don’t know if you want to ask the first part of your question, Danielle, if you want to unmute yourself.
Sure, sure. And I really appreciate the question—answering the question around the role that arts culture can play as part of a belonging strategy because I run the cultural department for the City of Los Angeles. So my, my appreciation to you for that. But I think the first part of my question, and forgive me, but I did miss the first few minutes of the of the session, but what would you identify as the top three to four primary drivers of extremism? And of course, I put some examples in there. You know, is it our algorithms? Is it our biased media? Or and how do these factors kind of contribute to that rise in and maybe it’s also, you know, we’re seeing an unprecedented population shift in this country and mass migration as a result of some pretty intense causes for mass migration. So I just, I thought I’d throw that out there. And again, thanks for lifting up the role that culture and creativity can play in creating human to human contact and belonging for any local community. And Mayor Berke, I’d love to hear what you’ve done in Chattanooga on that front.
HAVLICEK:I think just in terms of the drivers there, you know, this is very complex, and there’s always multiple drivers. And they’re not all the same for each individual, obviously. But there are, I’d say, push factors and pull factors, broadly speaking.
Push factors can be a set of both personal and social grievances. And we do see people turn to turn to violence, ultimately, disproportionately affected by some kind of incident of personal grief. Or, you know, issues that may have a mental health ramifications. So there are interventions that happen, of course, across the across the public health space that I think can be quite important early on. But it isn’t just that. There are social grievances, often. A lack of feeling of lack of belonging, a feeling of a community no longer having the standing that it might have once had a feeling threatened by others, by outsiders, by changes that may have been happening locally, internationally, and narratives that are built around that. But I think all of that doesn’t translate into the kind of the kind of mass extremism that we’ve seen on the rise, without social mobilization without the pull factor.
And that pull factor is a combination of, as I said, the transformation of organizational and communications tactics, to reach wider audiences, to engage, to radicalize and so on, and the means by which that’s being done, which absolutely is, of course, partly the changes that we’ve seen in our information ecosystem. I mentioned the internet, the algorithmic amplification of extreme messaging and polarization. We know that the content that comes closest to the red line in terms of acceptability on the platforms is most likely to be viral. And so you’re starting to reach much, much broader audiences with with a barrage of this kind of, of communication and content, which grabs on to and leverages local grievance, national grievance, wider grievances, turns that into narratives that really, that really mobilize people over time. I hope, I hope that that sort of answers that but there’s a lot more to be said on that. I’d be happy to take that offline.
Thanks. And let me let me just add a little bit because I think it gets the two questions are related in a strange way. Listen, we have a toxic stew going of things right now in the U.S., that is causing this extreme polarization, everything from social media and the algorithms that you’re talking about, to the media culture that is that is making money off of division. To leaders who think that it’s in their best interest to get elected to stoke division. And you put those things alongside the personal grievances, which are, which are inherent in every society, and you have a huge toxic stew, that that can lead to extremism and violence. And this is something that really worries me, really worries me for our country. And so, I’ve been thinking a lot, also, to the point about what are the things that bind us together. It’s not just about what tears us apart. And I think that if you think about what binds us together as Americans, there might be fewer of those things as well. We don’t share facts, areas are more different from each other than they ever were in terms of if you live in a place like Los Angeles or you live in rural Tennessee. You know, languages are different. And then you combine that with how we segment every other part on top of income and wealth inequality.
So, so what binds us together is weaker and what tears us apart is more active. That is a problem for us. And so I think, you know, things like art and culture are actually one of the things that brings us together. It’s one factor that we can celebrate and listen and enjoy each other’s company in a non-political setting that is often a place where we can learn about other cultures and show empathy for one another. And, and that’s one of the reasons that I believe in in arts and education. And we, you know, we in Chattanooga had a huge public art department. But I, you know, in the long run, we had to continue to have a conversation about how we strengthen those ties on top of, you know, fighting against those pulls that Sasha is talking about that tear us apart.
So there are a few questions, comments in the chat, there are a lot. So I’m just going to group a couple there two mayor’s from Tennessee, and from Hillsboro, North Carolina, that are talking about being in small towns, and have very limited capacity and resources. So given that, how you prepare for extremist attacks, if you have limited resources? And then there is another question about talking about counties, counties represent huge swaths of the rural U.S.. These areas are not often talked about, and it’s where extremism and hate is growing. People are being left out left behind not included. So how do we how do you connect with those communities?
Irina, may I bring my colleague, Eric Rosand, into the conversation. Eric is the director for the SCN, interim director and has been a leading official at the State Department in the counterterrorism department for many years and knows this very well, and is looking at exactly these questions of how this might roll out in the U.S. Over perhaps to you, Eric.
Sure, thank you, for including me. I think that’s the other questions from this small town mayors and people representing county governments, is really important one. And it’s one that I think of when we think about rolling out the Strong Cities Network, the United States, it’s exactly the kind of issue we’re trying to get at. In part, because we’ve seen so many of the bigger cities, we’re able to and quickly mobilize to apply for DHS funding or other federal government funding to initiate programs in this area. But a lot of the smaller communities get left out for various reasons. And that’s actually where more and more of the issues lie. And so our hope is that, by connecting more of these localities and counties to our network, they’ll have access to tools and resources and support that they currently have trouble accessing. And they’ll be able to learn much more from other others around the country facing similar challenges, but also from our network overseas, that many of them representing small towns, many of them representing large sort of rural communities as well. So again, I think it’s just another avenue for this work to grow. And I would just—sort of a little plug here is—would encourage all those mayors and county officials on this call who want to get engaged at a very early stage in what we’re trying to do to somehow get in touch with us, or we’ll get in touch with you to try to get you involved because again, we think that’s sort of a missing piece of the of the problem solution set right now that we’re hoping to try to make a dent in here.
HAVLICEK:I just listed, your contact details, Eric and mine in the chat in case any body does want to follow up with us about this. And Andy has done the same.
Yes. And thank you for doing that. We will also just so we will circulate and make it really easy for people to contact you. We will circulate your emails after this to everybody on the call because I think it is important. I mean part of this is to connect people and to have access to resources and obviously you you’re bringing so much. Alright, so I’m going to go next to a raised hand. And I’m going to go to that goes. Sorry, keep toggling back and forth is not good. Everybody put down their hands. No, I’m looking. Sorry, all the hands were lowered. Okay, that’s why I can’t find any. So I’m going to go back to, we had like three raised hands, and they’ve all gone down. So there is a question from Stephanie Gandsey. What does an intervention look like when someone is identified as extremist? Who identifies and has the conversation on a local level? I don’t know who wants to take that?
Well, I can, I can say, and Eric can get there. There are a lot of different models of how you use this. But often, it is some kind of, hopefully, you have people in your community who are trained and understand how to do this, which is the first step and often difficult is how do you use some kind of case management to deal with people? And what are the what are the types of issues that they face? And how do you help them? But I know, I know, we’re running out of time and just say, think that proactively, kind of think about who that could be. And what are the models that they can use? And how can you train them? Those are the--I put my information in the chat. And I think these are the kinds of things we need to figure out together. And how do you how do you adapt that kind of model to your own community, because obviously, that case management might look a little different in in rural North Carolina than it does and in Chicago.
HAVLICEK:And there are absolutely models that can be adapted to different contexts that we would use in terms of those referral systems, case management, the concepts for how to set them up, but also the training for those for those constituencies. And sorry, Eric.
I will just add that I think the challenge here is the probably this individual isn’t right for being brought to the police because they haven’t necessarily committed a crime. But the people who might ordinarily be best placed to help this individual might be a little bit nervous. A social worker, or a teacher or community member who is a little concerned about getting too close to quote unquote, an extremist. And so how do you sort of build that trust within the community and understandings in the community on how to actually engage with someone who is on the path towards radicalization of violence without having to refer them to law enforcement. And I think that is the heart of the nub of the of the issue here. And a lot of communities just need sort of the team building, collaboration approach that is often missing, when we’re talking about violent extremism.
Right, I’m gonna go next to Jonathan Lewis, who has raised his hand.
First, forgive me, I’m one of the people who raised and lowered and now has raised again. Thank you for you forbearance. So, I’m a trustee of the village of Scarsdale in Westchester County. You’ve raised some really great issues in this presentation. I’ve really appreciated learning about the opportunities for engagement. I think there’s a unique set of challenges for local government, a) due to resource limitations b) the challenge of overcoming the inertia that’s inevitable when you need to collaborate with state, county, and local entities. Right? There’s a lot of budgets to collaborate with, and a lot of different silos to be broken down. And so one, if you could sort of help me think that through a little bit and, and how that may work? And the degree to which the police reform issue in the U.S., either is creating new opportunities for dialogue, or is maybe making people less eager to dialogue because of the political heat around these subjects? Thank you.
Let me let me start with that. And I think you’re 100% right with with all those pieces. So I think one of the ways that I think about this is that any approach has to be multi-sectoral. And so it’s not just government. It’s also how do you get private industry involved? How do you get nonprofits involved? How do you get the civic sector as part of that? And, and one of the reasons that, that I formed the Council Against Hate was to build a table where lots of people could sit and contribute, and they would be different kinds of people. Well, I will tell you, that that we always struggle with multi-governmental levels, on all kinds of things, not just this. But oftentimes when it comes to public safety, we can try to identify those people who might have the, the best attitude or most in line with what we’re trying to achieve. But if we kind of build a table that has not just us at it, but lots of other types of entities, religious leaders, private sector leaders, and, and civic leaders, then that often helps us to also get other governmental entities involved, as opposed to the other way around. So it doesn’t look like it’s just the mayor’s thing, the city mayor’s thing, the state doesn’t want to do it. You know, whatever we have to we have to broaden that responsibility a little bit to create an opening for people.
If I can just add to that, I think it’s a fantastic question, because it just highlights how important a network is because I’m sure there are other local leaders around the country grappling with the same issue, and how to understand and how to work in the space. And because the ability to connect with each other is it would be so important to learn from each other. But also, I would just make one point here is, since 9/11, you’ve seen the concept of joint terrorism task force emerge, obviously, across the United States, where you have federal, state and local officials working together in a task force to counter terrorism. But there hasn’t been the same kind of federal state local collaboration around prevention. And I think what you highlight, Jonathan is a critical gap here. And I think something on your network could help advocate for and promote in this country. This sort of layered prevention task forcing.
Fantastic. So, Sasha, you had referenced at the very beginning in your remarks on social platforms. And there are a few questions in the chat, or in the Q&A boxes about how do you handle social media interactions when there are extremist sentiments churning within your community? You know, Jess Kramer says there’s a widely viewed Facebook group in his community or in their community where local government issues are addressed. But also extremist ideologies, and conspiracy theories are pushed by the group’s moderator. As an elected official I had stopped posting information in this group out of fear of legitimizing it. But I also worry about isolating/disenfranchising citizens. They’re coupled. So if you could just sort of talk about that. And yeah, and Mayor Berke, maybe.
HAVLICEK:I do think that there’s a real challenge here, because engagement and open conversation is an absolutely critical part of how to deal with some of these challenges. And you know, we do that both in in a one-to-one context. So the types of engagements that have worked in terms of interventions across that radicalization spectrum, with those with extremists have been interventions that aren’t combative. They are human outreach. They seek to understand where these people come from. They look at some of the underlying potential causes. And they seek to have a genuine conversation. Establishing a form of relationship, a mentoring relationship is probably the best way in which to prevent somebody tipping over the edge in terms of violence. And so in many contexts, we have set up that kind of direct human intervention. Sometimes we have worked with former extremists to establish those relationships, and counselors to do that work offline. And we’ve actually transferred some of that work online. And we’ve attempted scaled programs and direct interventions carefully with extremists online with people who repeat post dehumanizing and sometimes violent rhetoric online, to try to engage them in a conversation. And I think that those conversations are important to have. But I think there’s a balance to be struck here.
The social media platforms do in fact have rules about violent extremism. And if people are posting or running groups that contain violent extremist content and material that should be reported to the platform. And that should, in fact, come down. If there is a way to use that data, however to do then further outreach, we do direct messaging outreach to those individuals. I think it is important, but it also is important to be honest and clear about your own perspective in those interventions. And while they can be human, I don’t think I think it’s also very important not to legitimize those views. So it’s a delicate balance. Again, there are I think ways in which to train up social services, community groups to do this work in a safe in sort of within the context of sort of risk assessments that get undertaken and to do this in a safe way. And I think that they can have a great deal of impact. So I agree that stopping the conversation entirely is not a good thing. It is important to continue to have human outreach and conversation across those boundaries.
Let me just add, that I think misinformation is an incredible threat to our democracy. And something that I’m worried about. I, I have teenage daughters, I tell them that I think that’s one of their generation’s greatest threats that they’re going to have to figure out how to deal with is how do you combat misinformation? And so I, I saw in another question, talking about the First Amendment. And of course, we do have this tradition of free speech constitutionally enshrined. That is part of, of what makes us our country so great.
I’ll go back to this idea that to some extent, when you’re talking about people posting misinformation in these groups, and that is that there has to be some shared burden to respond. It can’t just be that government, the elected official, or the city manager, whoever, goes into the group and says, “No, you don’t understand here’s the here’s the deal.” There actually has to be some shared burden between people in the community who say on behalf of the community, we don’t believe that this is the, you know, this is not accurate and this type of information can be harmful to us as we try to build, whatever that language is that’s right for y’all. I would be always be careful of, especially as elected or as government officials, trying to tell people this is the information because typically that that can spur more misinformation and disinformation. But there obviously there can be some of that, but you have to create ways to share that burden across again, religious leaders and private sector leaders and nonprofits and community activists so that they can come in and say, listen, we live in a community where we want to tell the truth, and we want to be respectful. And this is this conversation is isn’t getting us there.
Thank you. I’m going to take the last question from Lenard Diggins from Arlington, Mass.
Well, thank you.
And actually, I thought I, I thought I put my hand down here. But I will go ahead and ask anyways, because I think this might be a little bit out of out of scope. So that’s okay. But in terms of how to make the conversations more inclusive, when one side just inherently doesn’t trust the other and or is afraid of, or afraid of the other. And this isn’t so much an extreme example. But when, for instance, if you have folks who are supporting Black Lives Matter, meaning you want to include the police, but then you get complaints that they we’re afraid of the police representing us, how do you how do you get how do you get the inclusiveness that you need, in order to really create an effective dialogue?
HAVLICEK:It’s interesting, because we’ve worked in places as challenging as municipalities in Lebanon, which faced terrible division, you know, sectarian division and conflict. And it is interesting to see how nothing happens overnight. But over a three-year process, we’ve been in a position to establish working relationships across the community with the various services required but across the community and community representation across the across the different communities there. In a way that I think has gone further in establishing local trust than anything that’s happened at a national level. And their ability to flag when things when things are heating up and the effectiveness of that approach, I think has been built further trust. And having spent a decade working in conflict environments, it is I have to say, painstaking work, but absolutely possible. In particular, when there is a more conducive political, national, political, geopolitical environment in which to do that. And I say that just because in certain conflict contexts, you can build very, very strong local relationships that then get knocked by a wider conflict happening. But if that isn’t happening, I think that is doable, but it takes a long time. And it means making sure that you do in fact, have representation from all parts of the community at the table. And then you have them working together on problems. And that joint problem solving, I think makes makes a very big difference over time, but it doesn’t happen immediately.
I would just echo what Sasha said. Sorry, Irina, just wrote real quick and say that, you know, that trust building, we have to work hard at it. In the in the police and BLM context, for example, every cadet since 2014, or 15, somewhere around there, has done a marginalized community report as part of their as part of their time in the police academy. So every cadet has to go with has to spend time in a marginalized community and then report back to, in Chattanooga, report back to the larger community about—actually out loud, verbally at a big event—here’s what I learned about people of color, about people with disabilities, whatever it is. To try to build that trust, that we’re talking about. That doesn’t mean that it happens overnight. And, you know, we we think about that every day when the when we had protests every night last summer. You know, I made sure that the police chief called leaders of the of the protest to make sure they understood kind of what was going on and what we were going to do and make sure that those lines of communication. That doesn’t mean those things instantly vanish. But it allows us to try it again, build that table with more people at it, and at least over time, have a community that that people know and trust each other, even if they don’t always agree with with the perspectives.
Well, thank you all this was a really terrific conversation. There’s so many unanswered questions. But again, as I said, we will circulate email addresses resources from the Strong Cities Network, so that you can follow up and talk specifically about cases or what’s happening in your community. So Mayor Berke and Sasha, thank you very much for doing this. And Eric, for joining us. We really appreciate it. You can follow Mayor Berke twitter @AndyBerke and the work of Strong Cities Network @Strong_Cities. And of course, you can follow us @CFR_local, you know, email us please, [email protected] with topics that you want to cover on other ways we can support you all. So again, thank you to Mayor Berke, Sasha Havlicek, and Eric Rosand for doing this. We really appreciate it.
HAVLICEK:Thank you so much for having us.