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ELEMENTS FOR SUCCESS IN COUNTERING VIOLENCE AND EXTREMISM Based on the key mistakes identified by the experts interviewed and outlined above, as well as other factors, the following best practices are suggested as key elements of a successful strategy to counter religious violence and extremism:

Avoid militarization of conflict and ensure transparency of criminal prosecutions The militarization of conflict, use of covert paramilitary, and/or extra-legal operations should not be employed. Like undercover operations, however, covert law enforcement activity is effective if the ensuing prosecutions are public and above-board. Ensure proportionality in any law enforcement response. Recognize that the transparency of prosecutions is essential to establishing government legitimacy and undermining the claims frequently made by extremist groups that extra-legal conduct by government justifies military-style operations against government targets and civilians.

Decouple political ideology from criminal actions Law enforcement and policymakers with responsibility for security issues need to understand the theology and social history of the groups involved, but they must discard the notion that they are being asked to take sides in a political debate and focus instead on effective prosecution of criminal activity. Toward that end, law enforcement must be trained to clearly separate the criminal behavior from a group’s message and ideology. It is the criminal conduct that requires investigation, followed by a transparent prosecutorial process. And, where possible or appropriate, the underlying social issues and demands must be dealt with through the political system.

See the threat as broader than criminal activity It is essential for NGOs, opinion leaders, and policymakers alike to erect a moral barrier against political and social movements and campaigns whose goals are to deprive individuals and groups— especially racial, social, ethnic, and religious minorities—of non-derogable and inalienable rights. Civic and political leaders must do more than simply call for the prosecution of those who engage in criminal activity. They must work within the framework of civil society to build and promote countervailing ideas and values in an acceptable human rights framework that can be effectively embodied in executable policy.

While it is important to weigh the potential liabilities associated with generating increased visibility for violent groups and associated social movements—and thereby facilitate their legitimacy or acquisition of recruits—it is critically important to recognize that silence itself can be interpreted as a form of passive endorsement. In contrast, effective communication, organizing, and education campaigns by NGOs and other entities that directly address the moral, political, economic, and values issues involved are absolutely essential if such movements are to be challenged effectively.

Take these groups seriously Investigators, analysts, and experts should study the background of these movements and track current propaganda and public communications. As hindsight has clearly shown, many of the principle actors within these movements have regularly disseminated information leading to the identification of persons later responsible for violence. Resist the inclination to stereotype movement activists or blame the violence on psychologically or emotionally disturbed individuals. Criminal justice agencies should cultivate relationships with NGOs, academics, and other sources that can provide them with additional background and analytical information on religiously-based social movements likely to commit domestic terrorism and criminal violence. Remain vigilant. Just because there may be a lull in violent activity does not mean it will not recur.

Challenge collusion or permissiveness by local officials When local elected officials, law enforcement, or prosecutorial authorities engage in conduct that plainly encourages law breaking or political activities likely to result in the deprivation of rights, they should be taken to task, both publicly and privately, and their actions sanctioned, where possible and appropriate, through formal and informal means.

Challenge the credibility of the group Use the media and other venues to expose the heretical and inaccurate nature of the groups’ beliefs, as well as the hypocritical conduct of members and leaders. Highlight how these beliefs naturally lead to criminality and are associated, where applicable, to extreme violence. Utilize the Bible and other relevant religious texts with specificity to expose mistakes in their theology where appropriate. Public knowledge of the perceived moral failings of key local or national leaders (especially divorce and family abandonment) has sometimes been significantly demoralizing to participants in the movement, especially in cases where those leaders have based their legitimacy on religiously derived moral authority.