Violent Versus Non-Violent Actors: An Empirical Study of Different Types of Extremism

Sarah Knight, Katie Woodward, Gary Lancaster

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It is notoriously difficult to distinguish between those who simply espouse radical beliefs and those who are prepared to commit acts of extremist-related violence. This poses a problem for those responsible for counter terrorism (CT) needing to discriminate between the two. The present study adopted an empirical approach to compare violent and non-violent extremists. In-depth case studies on 40 extremist individuals were developed and analyzed for key themes, sub-themes and underlying variables. Violent extremists (VEs) and non-violent extremists (NVEs) were compared to understand where similarities and differences lie. Identified were a number of variables that distinguish between VEs and NVEs; this has implications for CT in terms of prevent, pursue and intervention. Results can, for example, assist those responsible for CT and law enforcement to focus on variables that distinguish between violent and non-violent extremists in order to identify those who are most high risk (i.e. likely to actively facilitate and/ or commit acts of extreme violence) and focus their efforts on these, rather than on those who are not. Results can also inform CT practitioners and policy-makers on the development of tailored interventions for different types of extremist individuals and groups.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)230-248
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Threat Assessment and Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Extremism
  • Violent actors
  • Non-violent actors
  • Terrorism
  • Counter-terrorism
  • Intervention

Cite this

Knight, S., Woodward, K., & Lancaster, G. (2017). Violent Versus Non-Violent Actors: An Empirical Study of Different Types of Extremism. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 4(4), 230-248.