Henrich, Soren orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-4792-8725 (2023) EXTREMISM IN SECURE FORENSIC SETTINGS: THE ASSESSMENT OF VULNERABILITIES FOR RADICALISATION. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The PhD aimed to further the understanding regarding radicalisation in forensic populations with complex mental health issues and propose a conceptual model supporting psychological formulations. Currently, the role of mental health issues in the radicalisation process is not well understood (Al-Attar, 2020) and forensic populations appear understudied (e.g., Mulcahy et al., 2013). An initial systematic literature review exploring factors relevant to radicalisation yielded 63 publications, which were subjected to a quality appraisal and a thematic analysis (Braun & Clark, 2006). All studies assumed a universal pathway towards extremist violence and confirmed a social emphasis (e.g., Sageman, 2008). The analysis resulted in eight themes: (1) attitudes and justifications; (2) criminogenic indicators; (3) social influences; (4) mental health issues; (5) aversive events and circumstances; (6) impaired functioning; (7) inconsistencies in sociodemographic characteristics; and (8) content of cognitions. The findings highlight the diverse influences on the radicalisation process.

However, only one study was found investigating radicalisation in forensic populations (Trujillo et al., 2009). Additionally, a lack of consensus regarding terrorism definition was
observed. Hence, study one explored radicalisation influences specifically on the forensic patient group. A Delphi survey was conducted with 27 experts over three rounds. As expected, participants agreed on a terrorism definition that replicated the findings by Schmid (2011). While target type, goals, and forms of violence were the same, experts’ feedback framed terrorism as group-based violence. This encapsulates any form of violence which is committed in reference to a group, for example, extreme forms of activism or hate crime. As such, study one reiterated the findings by Cook et al. (2013). All subsequent studies will summarise extremist violence under group-based violence. Furthermore, study one elicited four categories of factors: (1) environmental/contextual factors; (2) criminal needs; (3) individual factors; (4) and protective factors. Especially criminal needs yielded limited consensus, which included constructs used in threat assessment instruments like capability (e.g., VERA-2R, Pressman & Flockton, 2012; TRAP-18, Meloy & Gill, 2016). Participants seemed less familiar with those approaches. Furthermore, they did not offer any offence motivation for group-based violence. In turn, the lack of agreement regarding mental health issues was expected due to limited research (e.g., Gill & Corner, 2017; Al-Attar, 2020). Overall, the experts emphasised social influences and group dynamics as important, reiterating but also expanding on the previous findings.

Study two aimed to explore those factors in the lived experiences of a radicalised forensic patient sample. Furthermore, it sought to find influences not yet represented in the research, for example, offence motivation. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with five forensic psychiatric patients. A discourse analysis (DA; Potter & Wetherell, 1987) of all verbatim transcripts yielded four common narratives that could be related to prevalent discourse strategies (i.e., the way interviewees conveyed meaning). Interviewees framed their involvement in group-based violence as means to survival, while explicitly stating that external circumstances, for example, the ‘enemy’s presence’, had led to violence. Additionally, interviewees balanced narratives emphasising their importance with claims of their own innocence. Common discourse strategies were normalising and trivialising violence, confirming that participants would frequently use justifications. In this context, findings reiterated the questionable role of ideology (e.g., Borum, 2012). Participants appeared to emphasise pragmatic goals like survival and did not demonstrate ideological conviction. Their presentation aligned with the predicted emphasis on group processes and social interactions. Participants focused on in- vs. out-group differences by contrasting humanising narratives with attempts to demonise the enemy. This replicated findings from the community, for example, by Abdalla et al. (2021) regarding the utilisation of dehumanising language in the context of extremism. As expected, no clear findings about the role of mental health issues could be found (Al-Attar, 2020), likely due to the lack of awareness regarding those issues in this population. However, the suggested overlap of general violence risk factors with factors relevant to groupbased violence could not be confirmed (e.g., Dhumad et al., 2020).

This overlap was explored in study three. Here, a group-based violence sample was compared to individuals that had committed violence alone without radicalisation indication, both samples being part of the forensic patient population. Across 74 patient files no significant differences in any risk factors were yielded, replicating Dhumad et al. (2020). However, social themes appeared to elicit limited significant correlations when comparing groups. This included peer relationships, the need for belonging, and social withdrawal as a mental health relapse indicator. Furthermore, in line with predictions, all sub-groups of the group-based violence sample were successfully differentiated from each other. Lastly, a Smallest Space Analysis (SSA; Lingoes, 1973) was conducted to develop new clusters describing forms of group-based violence. The three observed clusters were Injustice Collector, Social Offender, and Dominance Seeker. They displayed conceptual overlap with three of the four personality patterns of the Dark Tetrad (e.g., Međedović & Petrović, 2015), namely Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy.

The current research results in a conceptual model called the Eco-System of Extremist Violence (ES-EV). The ES-EV’s goal is the support of assessments and care pathway planning for forensic patients likely to engage in extremist violence. The studies indicated that ideology holds an ambivalent role, hence, being conceptualised as means for justification and target selection. The most important influences on radicalisation appeared to be social factors. Hence, those aspects are central facets of the model like the meaning subscribed to group membership. Findings suggested that these are impacted by personality styles that warrant further research. Other factors, like mental health issues, can either be conceptualised as risk or protective factors. Together with other contributing factors, based on the systematic literature review, they present optional influences contributing to the patient’s likelihood of engaging in group-based violence. The ES-EV is explicitly preliminary, requiring future validation to explore its utility in understanding the radicalisation of forensic patients with complex mental health issues.

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