On this page are resources, to support students in critically navigating the challenges that accompany an environment of free expression. This includes an analysis of the nature of extremism as well as a variety of resources to support information and media literacy.

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Extremism Explained

The past two decades in America  were bookended by extremist events from the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11th, 2001 to the insurrection at the United States Capital complex on January 6th, 2021.  In the days and years in between, no shortage of extremist activity occurred in the US as mass shootings, riots, and gatherings of hate groups consumed the 24-hour news cycle.

A white paper entitled “Addressing Extremism” authored by The Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR), George Mason University’s Dr Andrea Bartoli, and Dr. Peter T. Coleman, ICCCR, Teachers College, Columbia University insightly analyzes the nature of extremism:

Extremism is a complex phenomenon, although its complexity is often hard to see. Most simply, it can be defined as activities (beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions, strategies) of a character far removed from the ordinary. In conflict settings it manifests as a severe form of conflict engagement. However, the labeling of activities, people, and groups as ‘extremist’, and the definition of what is ‘ordinary’ in any setting is always a subjective and political matter.  Thus, we suggest that any discussion of extremism be mindful of the following: 

  • Typically, the same extremist act will be viewed by some as just and moral (such as pro-social “freedom fighting”), and by others as unjust and immoral (antisocial “terrorism”) depending on the observer’s values, politics, moral scope, and the nature of their relationship with the actor. 
  •  In addition, one’s sense of the moral or immoral nature of a given act of extremism (such as Nelson Mandela’s use of guerilla war tactics against the South African Government) may change as conditions (leadership, world opinion, crises, historical accounts, etc.) change. Thus, the current and historical context of extremist acts shapes our view of them. 
  • Power differences also matter when defining extremism. When in conflict, the activities of members of low power groups tend to be viewed as more extreme than similar activities committed by members of groups advocating the status quo. In addition, extreme acts are more likely to be employed by marginalized people and groups who view more normative forms of conflict engagement as blocked for them or biased. However, dominant groups also commonly employ extreme activities (such as governmental sanctioning of violent paramilitary groups or the attack in Waco by the FBI in the U.S.).
  • Extremist acts often employ violent means, although extremist groups will differ in their preference for violent vs. non-violent tactics, in the level of violence they employ, and in the preferred targets of their violence (from infrastructure to military personnel to civilians to children). Again, low power groups are more likely to employ direct, episodic forms of violence (such as suicide bombings), whereas dominant groups tend to be associated with more structural or institutionalized forms (like the covert use of torture or the informal sanctioning of police brutality). 
  • Although extremist individuals and groups (such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad) are often viewed as cohesive and consistently evil, it is important to recognize that they may be conflicted or ambivalent psychologically as individuals, and/or contain a great deal of difference and conflict within their groups. For instance, individual members of Hamas may differ considerably in their willingness to negotiate their differences with the Palestinian Authority and, ultimately, with certain factions in Israel. 
  • Ultimately, the core problem that extremism presents in situations of protracted conflict is less the severity of the activities (although violence, trauma, and escalation are obvious concerns) but more so the closed, fixed, and intolerant nature of extremist attitudes, and their subsequent imperviousness to change.  - Colman & Bartoli, 2009

Confronting Violent Extremism

The past two decades in America were bookended by extremist events from the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11th, 2001 to the insurrection at the United States Capital complex on January 6th, 2021.  In the days and years in between, no shortage of extremist activity occurred in the US as mass shootings, riots, and gatherings of hate groups consumed the 24-hour news cycle.

Individuals are not born with extremist viewpoints and much scholarship is dedicated to determining the process that facilitates an individual to become an extremist.  Individual and contextual factors both push and pull individuals to radical thinking and ultimately, violence.  Government organizations and educational institutions partner to mitigate the risk of violent extremism in our society.  The following report and video share additional information on this important collaborative effort.

Radicalization and Violent Extremism: Lessons Learned From Canada, the U.K. and the U.S.

In 2015, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) of the U.S. Department of Justice hosted a conference that brought together practitioners working on countering violent extremism programs.  In addition to highlighting the latest results from scientific studies on radicalization to violent extremism.  This report summarizes the findings presented at the conference, organized by major themes. 

Preventing violent extremism through education

This UNESCO video illustrates the importance of preventing violent extremism through education. It is based on excerpts from “My Former Life”, produced by the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace, based on testimonies of people once engaged in promoting or perpetrating extreme violence. This video also draws attention to some of the drivers of violent extremism, to the role of education in preventing violent extremism and to educational approaches recommended by UNESCO.


Information Literacy

Developing critical thinking skills is key to navigating environments of free expression both in person and online.

The News Literacy Project

These lessons show you how to navigate today’s challenging information landscape. You will learn how to identify credible information, seek out reliable sources, and apply critical thinking skills to separate fact-based content from falsehoods.  Specific topics addressed include:

  • Understand bias: Develop a nuanced understanding of news media bias by learning about five types of bias and five ways it can manifest itself, as well as methods for minimizing it.
  • Conspiratorial thinking:  Learn to recognize conspiracy theories and explain what makes people vulnerable to conspiratorial thinking.
  • Misinformation:  Understand different types of misinformation and the ways that misinformation can damage democracy.
  • The First Amendment: Discover the First Amendment’s five rights and freedoms. Through case studies, you weigh in on Supreme Court decisions in which these protections were challenged.
  • Arguments and Evidence: Experience the information aftermath of a fictional event as it unfolds on social media, learn about five common logical fallacies, then evaluate the evidence in several arguments.

Confronting Digital Extremism
UC Irvine presents six modules on the topic of digital extremism that are designed to help raise awareness about different modes of extremist activity in online environments and propose effective means of confronting them.  Specific modules include:

AllSides Media Bias Ratings
This helpful chart makes media bias transparent, helping you to easily identify different perspectives so you can get the full picture and think for yourself.

Student at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial in Duluth