Decoding the Signals

Recognizing Signs of Violent Extremism and Taking Action

If you need support after reading this page, please visit our sister website at for additional resources.

What's Violent Extremism?

Violent Extremism is when people support or advocate for using violence to achieve their goals. The reasons for such violence are multifaceted and do not always stem from devotion to an extreme ideology. Online radicalization, social alienation, and untreated mental health challenges are some of the many factors that can contribute to a deeper level of extremism and an escalation to violence.

Signs to Look Out For

Extremist violence isn’t a snap decision. Friends and loved ones often see warning signs long before an attack happens. There is no one thing that can predict who might resort to violence, but a few warning signs include:

Suddenly distancing themselves from friends or family, especially those who don’t share their political or religious views.

Growing levels of anger and hostility, especially when talking about their beliefs.

Changing Speech
Using hate speech or other words, memes, or symbols that promote hostility or violence against another group based on characteristics like race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. 

Using private browsers online and/or making attempts to hide things from loved ones.

Group Ties
Hanging out with new friends or organizations pushing violence. Sometimes this is exclusively online.

Sense of Injustice or Having Grievances 
Believing they've been wronged in some way, whether real or imagined.

Emotional Vulnerability
Struggling with feelings of anxiety, depression, or extreme loneliness.

Obsessed with the Past 
Having a sudden interest in past violent attacks, historical conflicts, genocides, or the people who committed such violence.

Craving Purpose
Looking for belonging or purpose through involvement in extremist groups or beliefs. 


What do I do if I see warning signs?

Discovering that a loved one may be showing signs of escalating toward violence can be a very distressing and challenging experience. As someone who cares deeply about their well-being, it's natural to feel worried, confused, and unsure of what to do.

It's important to know that seeking help or support shows your concern; it’s not the same as passing judgment.

The CCC's program DEEP is here to help and you can contact us anytime. 

Tips for Helping a Loved One

Create a Private Space

Talking to your loved one about your concerns requires a lot of sensitivity and thoughtful communication. Choose a time and place where you both feel comfortable and safe. If the conversation is happening virtually, it might be best to express your concerns in private messages instead of in public-facing comment sections. 


Be Curious, Not Confrontational

Arguing with your loved one will not change their minds. In fact, if they feel mocked or belittled they may double down on their beliefs. Don’t start off by condemning their beliefs or trying to prove them wrong. Instead, try to get them to open up about how they came to believe what they believe. It’s crucial to listen actively, validating their feelings and creating a space where they feel heard and understood. Hateful beliefs can sometimes arise from feelings like fear, helplessness, and loneliness. Conspiracy theories and extremist messaging can provide a kind of comfort to those who believe them, temporarily alleviating those feelings. Encourage your loved one to share their thoughts and concerns without fear of judgment or criticism.


Show Them You Care

Express your feelings using "I" statements, emphasizing your care and worry for their well-being. Make it clear that you love them, respect them, and want to work toward a better future together. Encourage them to seek help from a DEEP specialist or other trained mental health professional who can help them face uncomfortable emotions or difficult situations.


Stay Connected

Understand that it takes time to change beliefs. One conversation is not likely to change your loved one’s mind, but by continuing to show empathy and listening without judgment, you can help them shift their perspective little by little. Try to stay involved in your loved one’s life. Plan activities together and keep them focused on shared interests or happy memories outside of their extremist beliefs.

If you believe your loved one's behavior poses an immediate risk to themselves or others, don't hesitate to reach out to 911 for local law enforcement or for 988 the suicide crisis hotline. These services can help ensure the safety and well-being of everyone involved.


Take Care of Yourself

Supporting someone consumed by hate or anger can take a toll on your own well-being. Remember to take care of yourself. Set limits with your loved one if they are not showing you the same respect you are giving them. It’s okay to walk away from a difficult conversation if you feel yourself getting angry or overwhelmed. Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or your local county mental health center for support if you need it.

For more information, please visit our sister website at There you will find resources and guidance for helping you talk to friends and loved ones who might be on the path toward extremism.