Since the start of the Covid pandemic, as early research has indicated, the impact of social isolation and other life stressors on mental health has led to an increase in depression and anxiety. This can result in declines in social cohesion and social capital and can increase an individual’s willingness to accept recruitment messages of radicalization to violence.
“Domestic violent extremism and targeted violence are two of the gravest threats facing our homeland today,” said Secretary Mayorkas. “Over the past few years, the United States has experienced an increasing number of targeted attacks by disaffected individuals motivated by a combination of extremist ideologies and personal grievances. This investment in local communities will help our partners develop sustainable capabilities to address an evolving threat environment, including by preventing attacks and online radicalization.”
Across the United States, mental and behavioral health practitioners serve as key elements of local public health models that help prevent violent extremism and targeted violence. These practitioners define and share strategies that incorporate not just law enforcement and government agencies, but social services, mental and behavioral health services, career and education services, and civil society organizations to evaluate, address, and mitigate concerns through education, health services, social engagement, development, and intervention models at the local level. Technology, and how these services and practitioners work to prevent attacks, is more important than ever.
As mental health, behavioral health, and social services move into a virtual environment, individuals have increased access to experts who can help address social isolation through proactive, positive messaging that may help prevent targeted violence and terrorism.
In September 2020, DHS Policy’s Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention program (TVTP) hosted the 5th Digital Forum on Terrorism Prevention for approximately 60 mostly Atlanta-based civil society leaders. The Forum gave these leaders an opportunity to learn directly from technology and marketing experts on how to combat terrorist use of the internet.
The 16 speakers brought critical insights to increase digital literacy and equip communities with the appropriate tools and resources to be effective and resilient against terrorist narratives and content in the online space. Digital Forums on Terrorism Prevention bring community leaders and tech companies together to build the capacity of credible voices against terrorism in the online environment. These forums also provide a platform for community leaders to improve online effectiveness and understand the value of content creation for digital spaces. Ultimately, the goal of the forums is to build authentic, scalable and sustainable local response capacity to counter terrorist recruitment and radicalization.
After outlining the scope of the threat in the online space, participants were given vital information on several initiatives and programs across the country, including student-led projects, that work to build digital capacity and demonstrate how online behavior can help identify vulnerable populations. Panelists emphasized the importance of bystanders and how families, friends, and other community leaders are necessary in addressing the threat before an individual of concern requires law enforcement intervention. Academic and NGO partners spoke about empirically-driven research in identifying the various pathways to violence, as well as a centralized platform for terrorist content that serve to aid smaller tech companies’ moderation and awareness of harmful content.
Technology sector leaders discussed the many ways in which companies are working with nonprofit organizations, government, and civil society to increase credible positive content on their platforms. Representatives from Facebook and Twitter shared key resources for NGOs and civil society to employ in their communities, including best practices to leverage social media platform-specific tools and features in order to have the great impact for their organizations and communities.
The last panel of the day spoke about interventions and how parents, teachers, mental health practitioners, and community members can all play a vital role in off-ramping individuals on a pathway to violence and intervening when concerning messaging is exchanged online. Specific resources, including vital hotlines, apps, and online tools, serve to engage with and help vulnerable individuals.
DHS makes $20 million in funding available for targeted violence and terrorism prevention
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is making $20 million available through the Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP) Grant Program to help communities across the country develop innovative capabilities to combat terrorism and targeted violence.
Secretary Mayorkas established the following four priorities for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 TVTP Grant Program: (1) preventing domestic violent extremism; (2) enhancing local threat assessment and management capabilities; (3) implementing innovative solutions for preventing targeted violence and terrorism; and (4) challenging online violence mobilization narratives for the first time through this program.
The announcement builds upon DHS’s increased efforts to combat domestic violence extremism. In February 2021, Secretary Mayorkas designated for the first time combating domestic violent extremism as a ‘National Priority Area’ for the FY 2021 State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) and Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant programs. As a result, state, local, tribal, and territorial governments are required to spend 7.5 percent of their DHS grant awards combating this threat. Further, since Inauguration Day, DHS has increased the development, production, and sharing of intelligence and other information central to countering domestic violent extremism. The Department is also increasing training opportunities for law enforcement partners, including through threat assessment and management programs related to domestic violence extremism.
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