Cumulative extremism: Behind the scenes of toxic us-versus-them dynamics
Publication date: 23/01/2023
Cumulative extremism is the process by which different forms of extremism interact and reinforce each other, which often translates into a dynamic of violent or non-violent reactions and counter-reactions. The current, multifaceted landscape of extremism in Europe – with some forms of extremism diametrically opposed to one another – calls for renewed attention to this phenomenon.
In her analysis, which you can download in full here, researcher Annelies Pauwels takes a closer look at the phenomenon of cumulative extremism as well as the possible implications for policymakers.
- Cumulative extremism can act as a catalyst for existing threats of violent radicalisation; it can
lead to increased radicalisation of individuals, spirals of violence, and broader trends of social
- Far-reaching visions of the in-group (one’s own victimhood) and the out-group (the “threatening
other”) can perpetuate and escalate processes of cumulative extremism. Governments
can influence this toxic framing in negative or positive ways. If they want to mitigate the risk
of cumulative extremism, it is important that they commit to creating an accurate picture of
extremism that closely reflects reality.
- Diffuse manifestations of extremism, extremists’ use of ambiguous tactics and strategies, and
their tendency to operate online create obstacles to any attempt to accurately gauge the various
forms of extremism. This situation, as well as challenges faced by frontline practitioners to
recognise signs of radicalisation, may lead to over- and underreporting of extremism.
- Such ambiguities in threat assessments may feed toxic narratives about the in-group and outgroup,
heighten tensions between opposing movements, and fuel perceptions that policy and
practice apply double standards when dealing with extremism. This paper suggests a number
of avenues for policymakers and practitioners to improve their perception and understanding
of the current landscape of extremism.