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Focusing on Prevention: SPLC-PERIL Strategic Partnership Interview

As in years before, far-right extremists persisted in targeting and harming communities. Notably, extremists used 2023 as a year of preparation and growth. As the number of racist white nationalist groups grew to the largest recorded by the SPLC, they doubled down their attacks on LGBTQ+ people and immigrants and mobilized resentment through antisemitic conspiracies.

Across last year, the SPLC and the Polarization & Extremism Research & Innovation Laboratory (PERIL) housed at American University in Washington, D.C., engaged in several projects to maximize and sustain its commitment to delivering safe, effective and actionable resources at the community level. The following interview focuses on two specifically. First, the 12-month longitudinal study of the Parents & Caregivers Guide to Online Youth Radicalization is a rare endeavor in SPLC and PERIL’s respective fields. This study will help illuminate how the knowledge shared in the guide endures over time for readers, and how it may spur them to take action when recognizing warning signs of radicalization and intervene positively in the lives of young people they care for. Among many other valuable data points, the findings show study participants’ willingness to build local networks so they can develop shared power to reduce harm in their own communities.

The interview also addresses the groundbreaking investment in and launch of Michigan- and Georgia-based Community Advisory on Resilience and Education (CARE) Centers. These pilot CARE Centers will directly support communities affected by hate, discrimination and supremacist ideologies with research, resources and referrals across networks of organizations and practitioners for further support. To tailor each CARE Center to the needs of communities, researchers working on the partnership team conducted dozens of listening sessions and meetings with community members and stakeholders across a multiple months long process of documenting needs locally. Communities’ needs differ and change over time, so listening sessions and meetings will continue through 2024, even as on-the-ground work and collaborations are launched.


PERIL’s Pasha Dashtgard, Pete Kurtz-Glovas, Wyatt Russell and Rashmi Chimmalgi answered the following questions as a group. This interview highlights not only the partnership’s commitment to an effective “do-no-harm” approach, but also its commitment to transparency and testing. Both are foundational to earning the trust of communities in seeking to reduce or prevent harms provoked by polarization and radicalization toward hard- and far-right extremism.

In the video: Members of the Polarization & Extremism Research & Innovation Laboratory (PERIL) explain their partnership with SPLC to create Community Advisory, Resource and Education (CARE) Centers.

What makes the longitudinal study unique and valuable for overlapping fields of research, intervention and resource development?

Pasha Dashtgard
Pasha Dashtgard, director of research, PERIL. (Credit: Jared Soares)

The goal of the Parents & Caregivers Guide is to equip communities with the knowledge and tools to better prevent the uptake of supremacist ideologies, misogyny, conspiracy theories and misinformation in their communities. Research evaluating the impact of resources on readers/viewers over time is quite limited, particularly in looking at how readers apply and use information learned over time. Our longitudinal study is the first of its kind both in its evaluative framework (assessing changes in knowledge and in intention to act) and also in its measuring of the guide’s impact on readers over time.

Using both qualitative and quantitative data analysis, this study seeks to understand how readers’ levels of awareness and knowledge of terms, concepts and strategies discussed in the guide relate to readers’ behavioral intention – their intention to take action, to practically apply knowledge gained from reading the guide. Additionally, this study evaluates how awareness, knowledge, capability, capacity, confidence and willingness of readers change over time. This is crucial to understanding how long our guide affects behavior, when we start to see dips in knowledge retention and how long before we need to re-share the resource to jog people’s memories of specific skills, strategies and information found in the guide.

How do such studies better support communities and stakeholders by providing them with more actionable, evidence-informed resources and interventions? What about the preliminary results most excites you and demonstrates how the partnership can better deliver value as it progresses?

Pete Kurtz-Glovas
Pete Kurtz-Glovas, deputy director of Regional Partnerships, PERIL. (Credit: Jared Soares)

By developing an evidence-base to assess the impact of our guides, toolkits and resources, we learn not just if a resource of ours is effective, but for whom is it effective, what in particular is it about the resource that is effective, are there specific groups or types of people that the resource impacts to a greater degree (e.g. moms, Republicans, Muslims, etc.), how long does one need to engage with the resource before they start to see benefits and how long before readers need to be re-exposed to the guide? Determining the mechanisms by which the resource impacts the people who consume it helps us tailor resources and interventions to the audiences we are trying to reach. A one-size-fits-all approach to resource development leaves behind too many constituencies and often leaves people feeling like the resource wants to be for everyone in general, but in fact is for no one in particular. Conversely, a resource that is targeted and specific conveys careful consideration of the needs and particularities of the audience it is intended for.

The most exciting results so far from the longitudinal analysis of the Parents & Caregivers Guide have been the findings related to action and behavior that have been motivated by reading the guide. Around 10% of the study’s sample said that they joined or created a group that discusses youth radicalization after having read the guide, and 7% of respondents said that they used the information found in the guide to interrupt the recruitment of a young person in their life into an extremist group. That being said, it is not enough to raise awareness or even convey knowledge— what we want is to motivate action. Running studies like the longitudinal assessment of the Parents & Caregivers Guide is one way of doing just that.

This year, the partnership is launching a pilot program of CARE Centers. Can you explain what these CARE Centers are and how they can help support communities?

Rashmi Chimmalgi
Rashmi Chimmalgi, program coordinator for the Translational Research and Education Development, PERIL. (Credit: Jared Soares)

CARE Centers are our partnership’s effort to implement a community-based, public health approach to early-on extremism prevention. Rooted in the needs of each pilot region in Michigan and Georgia, CARE Centers work to equip each community with evidence-based resources to prevent political and hate-fueled violence, reduce the fertile ground by which hateful ideologies and narratives can thrive, and better support victims, survivors, and historically targeted communities impacted and affected by hate, discrimination, bias and supremacist ideologies. Informed by the 22-year-old German mobile advisory centers, this approach provides accessible and free workshops, trainings, support groups, evaluative assessments and referrals to local partners for specialized services to serve affected and concerned community members.

Working with local partners, organizations and community members, CARE aims to amplify existing community resources to serve affected and concerned residents, collectively prioritize local areas of focus, identify resource-needs gaps and collaboratively develop needed resources to meet those gaps. Based on needs identified by communities, CARE Centers engage community members and practitioners including parents, educators, policymakers, mental health practitioners and issue-specific local community organizations in co-creating interventions and resources that help meet the need of complex challenges. CARE Centers also abide by a “do-no-harm” approach to community-based work, ensuring safe, inclusive and accessible resources, backed up by PERIL’s ethically vetted, rigorous research methods. Using mixed-methods research, we’re able to test impact, continuously improve program design and incorporate community feedback into our model using pre- and post-testing impact testing, ethnographic research, interviews and focus groups. Through CARE Centers, PERIL and SPLC’s aim is to ensure community members feel supported and better equipped to prevent political and hate-fueled violence, while further strengthening the foundations of each community we serve.

Who will the CARE Centers be for, and how will the partnership strive to offer accessible, inclusive collaborations with community partners and members? How will the partnership continue to deliver on its promise to provide safe, evidence-informed resources and interventions?

Wyatt Russell
Wyatt Russell, Senior Program Manager and Policy Analyst, PERIL. (Credit: Jared Soares)

CARE Centers are designed for local community members and practitioners who are concerned about or who want to support those impacted by hate, discrimination and supremacist ideologies as well as those susceptible to radicalization. CARE organizers and staff will be based in the communities where they are working, assist in the delivery of services and resources to the entire community and help provide community members with avenues for action and support. The services and resources created and offered through the CARE Centers will be free and rooted in community expertise and needs. In order to best meet the needs of the community, we will engage community members to develop tools and services informed by their experiences.

At PERIL we know that demonstrating effective interventions is vital to preventing harms in the future. We also recognize the harm done to marginalized communities who have been targeted by counterterrorism efforts in the United States in the past. Consequently, CARE Centers will not advocate for solutions that involve incarceration, monitoring, surveillance, censorship or any other security-based approach. Our community-centered and victim-survivor-focused approach is informed by a critical understanding of past harms, and we aim to safeguard and enrich the well-being of all community members involved with the CARE Centers. This ethos will lead our work as we develop new and innovative interventions against extremism and build evidence to help lead the way toward a more socially cohesive future.

Photo at top: Polarization & Extremism Research & Innovation Laboratory members, from left, Rashmi Chimmalgi, Pete Kurtz-Glovas, Wyatt Russell and Pasha Dashtgard. (Credit: Jared Soares)