How Do Violent Extremists Make Contact?

Learn about some of the ways that violent extremists contact potential recruits.


Review each imaginary online platform to see how violent extremist groups lure, recruit, and train vulnerable individuals.

Online Forums & Chat Rooms

Online forums and chat rooms are places where violent extremists and hate groups find many new recruits. In these sites, young people often talk about things that interest them, sometimes in secret areas only for members. Violent extremists look for those who might be open to their beliefs.

Pick the statement that is most likely by a violent extremist looking for new recruits.

  • Seattle Police harass and threaten the editor of a local newspaper, so he decided to test their citizen complaint process and report on it.
  • US Government War on Hackers Backfires: Now Top Hackers Won’t Work With US Government.
  • These men died in the recent bombing at the downtown federal building…justifiable deaths?
  • The price of gold is lower than the price of oil, think on your sins.
  • New mural by NYCHOS in Brooklyn.
  • So I let the guy who opened the door for me skip ahead in line and he does this…

Internet Games

Violent extremists are recruiting a growing number of young people through Internet games that promote violence and spread hateful messages. In these games, for example, you may have to kill a world leader or destroy a certain country and its citizens. High-scoring players may be referred to violent extremist recruiters.

Pick the imaginary game that is most likely to be used by violent extremists looking for new recruits.

  • Castle Treasure
  • Animal Kingdom
  • The Meter Man
  • Seized by Force
  • Slippery Slope
  • Viktory Karts

Social Networking

Violent extremists have joined the many popular social networking sites that let you share pictures and personal information. On these sites, extremists create fake profiles and look for people who are vulnerable to recruitment. Violent extremists also spread propaganda on these sites through videos, pictures, and messages that glorify their causes.

Pick the imaginary post that is most likely a violent extremist looking for new recruits.

  • Rebecca Smith is attending a political rally.
  • Latin Khaled: Great day of fishing, blue skies, calm seas.
  • John McDowell shared a link. Horoscope of the day.
  • Alex Wu: Anyone interested in joining me on a trip next month? I’m heading over to that awful animal testing lab–going to send them a “powerful” message and shut them down once and for all!


Violent extremists are now using popular smartphone applications, or apps, that keep a person’s identity and conversations totally private. On these apps, violent extremists may ask for money or share secret information. They may even start fake romances to trick teens into traveling to other countries to join them.

Pick the imaginary post that is most likely by a violent extremist looking for new recruits.

  • Jose B: What’d you think of that new movie?
  • Angela Davidson: Hey, when you coming over?
  • Sean S: I know we haven’t met, but you should come join our fight overseas.
  • Sally: What a game!

Don’t Be a Puppet

Violent extremists often use online tools to spread their ideas and find recruits. Don’t be a puppet. When you are on the Internet, be suspicious if you are asked to talk in secret or to travel to another country. Don’t be fooled if someone you have never met shows a romantic interest in you and even wants to marry you.

Cell Phone

Many violent extremists use cell phones to help convince people to join or support them. Once they make contact, violent extremists may want to send you texts or e-mails so no one else will know you are communicating with them. Some violent extremists buy cell phones that can’t be traced to help hide their activities.

From Contact to Conversion

Contact by a violent extremist is just the beginning. The process of radicalization—when individuals come to believe that their use of violence to achieve social and political change is necessary and justified—generally happens as follows:


  • A person becomes very interested in violent extremist beliefs and starts doing a lot of reading and research, often online.


  • The recruit starts to understand and accept the radical ideology. He or she may become increasingly isolated during this time.


  • The individual fully identifies with the violent extremist ideology and is now ready for action. The recruit may be tested during training or given a chance to prove his or her commitment by helping with violent extremist activities.


  • The new extremist actively plans and carries out a violent attack.

Don’t Be a Puppet

Violent extremists want you to accept their beliefs, change who you are, and then commit violent acts. Don’t be a puppet. Learn to recognize when someone is trying to lead you in a destructive direction.


Violent extremists may invite you to a meeting, a music concert, or even paramilitary training to start the recruitment process. This contact could come at work, at school, at home, at community centers, or at a church or other place of worship.

Free Speech vs. Violent Extremism

The right to free speech—as set forth in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—is one of the foundations of our nation’s democracy. Except in certain limited cases, people living in America are allowed to speak their minds on political and social issues, even when their points of view are unusual, unpopular, hateful, or anti-American. The crime occurs when someone takes talk to another level and either uses, seriously plans to use, or strongly advocates that others use force or violence to affect change. 

Free Speech or Not?

You are walking through a public park and see a white supremacist rally out in the open. You hear the three statements below, one after the other.

Instructions: Read each statement below in quotations and decide if you think it’s free speech or not. 

“Our race is superior to other races.”
This statement is hateful and offensive, but it is free speech protected by law.

“We need to take a stand for our race and destroy those who stand in our way.”
The law allows for exaggeration and strong speech. The word “destroy” could suggest violence will be used, but it also could refer to political or social action. Without knowing more about the group’s plans, the speech is protected.

“Those opposing our race, like those people over there, are the enemy and must be attacked now!”
The situation is important to understand. Do members of the group appear ready and willing to take violent action right away? If so, the speech may be illegally inciting or encouraging violence or the threat of violence.

Warning Signs

There are signs you can watch out for if you think you’re being contacted or recruited by members of a violent extremist organization.

The Warning Signs

Violent extremists are not all alike and say many different things. Based on what you’ve learned so far, beware of those who:

  • Are convinced their cause justifies the use of violence;
  • Use hateful words against a certain race, religion, gender, ethnic group, etc.;
  • Try to isolate you and encourage you to leave your home—and even go overseas—without saying anything to your family;
  • Promise you a better life with more money and even a husband or wife;
  • Say that anyone with a different opinion is evil or is trying to trick you; and/or
  • Pick out religious passages to justify hatred and violence.

How to Resist Recruitment Efforts

  • Don’t trust everything you read or hear as fact, even if several people say it. Ask hard questions, and think about and research what you hear.
  • Keep lines of communication with friends and family open.
  • Stay balanced. Hang out with people with a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints.
  • On social media sites or apps, change your privacy settings to only share information with people you trust.

Don’t Be a Puppet

Some people want to do more than talk; they want to use violence to achieve their goals. Don’t be a puppet. America is a free country where we are able to state our opinions openly, practice our different religious beliefs, and live side-by-side peacefully with people from all walks of life. Don’t trade these freedoms for the hatred and cruelty of violent extremists.

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