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How Can We Prevent and Counter Violent Extremism in the Military?

ICSVE Panel Discussion featuring

Todd Helmus, RAND Corporation

TM Garret, ICSVE

Molly Ellenberg, ICSVE

Anne Speckhard, Director ICSVE

December 1, 2021  

This event was held live via Zoom

In February of 2021, Secretary of Defense Austin announced an increased focus on preventing and eliminating extremism from within the ranks. The announcement came amongst findings that the rioters at Capitol Hill on January 6th included veterans, Guardsmen, and even some active-duty members of the U.S. military. The Program on Extremism at George Washington University found that 37 percent of those with military experience were associated with violent extremist groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, making them four times more likely to be part of a such a group than rioters without military experience. Clearly, the problem of extremism in the military, which is not a new phenomenon, goes beyond a few bad apples like Army doctor Nidal Hassan and Bronze Star recipient Timothy McVeigh, and it poses a threat to our national security.

To adequately address the challenge of violent extremism in the military, several questions need to be answered: Why do violent extremists seek out current and former military members for radicalization and recruitment? Why are current and former military members susceptible to violent extremist radicalization and recruitment? What are the risks and benefits to various options for dealing with violent extremism in the military, ranging from immediate dishonorable discharge to psychosocial treatment?

On December 1, 2021, a group of researchers who have been studying these exact questions talked about these issues on a panel. Dr. Todd Helmus, senior behavioral research scientist at the RAND Corporation, recently published a report entitled, Countering Violent Extremism in the U.S. Military. Dr. Anne Speckhard, Molly Ellenberg, and TM Garret, all of ICSVE, recently published a report entitled, The Challenge of Extremism in the Military Is Not Going Away Without a New Perspective. The panelists will discuss the dynamics of extremism in the military, in the United States and elsewhere, and what should be done to prevent and counter the problem at both the individual and institutional levels.

Todd C. Helmus is a senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation and a member of the Pardee RAND Graduate School faculty. He specializes in strategic communications, terrorism and disinformation. Helmus’ research focuses on radicalization to violent extremism and he has studied pathways into and out of extremism in the United States; examined ways the U.S. military can better counter violent extremism in its midst; and assessed the impact of overseas counter violent extremism campaigns.  He has also studied Russian disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe. Helmus has served as a deployed advisor to U.S. commanders in Iraq (2008) and Afghanistan (2010-2011) and led studies on U.S. efforts to train Afghan special operations forces. He received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Wayne State University.

TM Garret Schmid (born Achim Schmid) and publicly known as TM Garret is an Extremism Researcher and Analyst at ICSVE. He is a German-American Public Speaker, Human Rights Activist, Consultant, Author, Extremism Researcher, Interfaith Activist and founder of C.H.A.N.G.E, a non-profit organization which engages in anti-racism and anti-violence campaigns, food drives, inter-faith work as well as an EXIT program which helps individuals leave extremist groups and ERASING THE HATE, a nationwide tattoo campaign and movement that covers up racist and hate tattoos for free. He is also the organizer of the Memphis Peace Conference in 2018 and founder of “Share a Meal Pledge.” Before he started engaging in Civil Rights work, TM Garret was a White Supremacist in leading roles in Europe and the USA. He left this lifestyle and ideology for good in 2003. Garret works closely with the Jewish as well as the Black Community. He is a campus speaker against antisemitism for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and a member of the NAACP. He is also a US ambassador for EXIT Germany and an honorary board member of “We Are Many-United Against Hate.” TM Garret has lectured at Harvard, Cornell, Dartmouth, Boston Law School, Vanderbilt, Hotchkiss, Pomona and many other schools and universities. In 2019 he spoke at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on behalf of the Simon Wiesenthal Center as well as the City Hall in New York City. He was featured on ABC, NBC, CNN, Fox, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, VICE and VOX as well as the New York Magazine, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post and many other international major TV stations and outlets. He is a radio personality and currently hosts ERASING THE HATE, a talk show on WKRA 92.7 FM The Change in Holly Springs, MS together with Pastor Ray Johnson. The show is syndicated on iHeart Radio, iTunes, Spotify, PlayerFM and many other platforms. For more information, please visit or his Wikipedia page:

Molly Ellenberg is a research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism [ICSVE]. Molly is a doctoral student in social psychology at the University of Maryland. She holds an M.A. in Forensic Psychology from The George Washington University and a B.S. in Psychology with a Specialization in Clinical Psychology from UC San Diego. At ICSVE, she is working on coding and analyzing the data from ICSVE’s qualitative research interviews of ISIS and al Shabaab terrorists, running Facebook campaigns to disrupt ISIS’s and al Shabaab’s online and face-to-face recruitment, and developing and giving trainings for use with the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project videos. Molly has presented original research at the International Summit on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma, the GCTC International Counter Terrorism Conference, UC San Diego Research Conferences, and for security professionals in the European Union. She is also an inaugural member of the UNAOC’s first youth consultation for preventing violent extremism through sport. Her research has also been published in Psychological InquiryFrontiers in Psychology, Global Security: Health, Science and PolicyAJOB NeuroscienceBehavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political AggressionJournal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, the Journal of Strategic SecurityWomen & Criminal Justice, HORN Bulletin, the Journal of Human SecurityBidhaan: An International Journal of Somali Studies, and the International Studies Journal. Her previous research experiences include positions at Stanford University, UC San Diego, and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

Dr. Anne Speckhard is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 700 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past five years years, she has in-depth psychologically interviewed over 250 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners  as well as 16 al Shabaab cadres (and also interviewed their family members as well as ideologues) studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS (and al Shabaab), as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews which includes over 250 short counter narrative videos of terrorists denouncing their groups as un-Islamic, corrupt and brutal which have been used in over 150 Facebook and Instagram campaigns globally.  Since 2020 she has also launched the ICSVE Escape Hate Counter Narrative Project interviewing 25 white supremacists and members of hate groups developing counternarratives from their interviews as well. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals, both locally and internationally, on the psychology of terrorism, the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS.  Dr. Speckhard has given consultations and police trainings to U.S., German, UK, Dutch, Austrian, Swiss, Belgian, Danish, Iraqi, Jordanian and Thai national police and security officials, among others, as well as trainings to elite hostage negotiation teams. She also consults to foreign governments on issues of terrorist prevention and interventions and repatriation and rehabilitation of ISIS foreign fighters, wives and children. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism expert and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, the EU Commission and EU Parliament, European and other foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA, and FBI and appeared on CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, CBC and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times, Voice of America, and many other publications. She regularly writes a column for Homeland Security Today and speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to TerroristsBride of ISISUndercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her research has also been published in Global Security: Health, Science and PolicyBehavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political AggressionJournal of African Security, Journal of Strategic Security, the Journal of Human SecurityBidhaan: An International Journal of Somali StudiesJournal for Deradicalization, Perspectives on Terrorismand the International Studies Journal to name a few.  Her academic publications are found here: and on the ICSVE website Follow @AnneSpeckhard

This is the twenty-second discussion in this series of panels discussing ISIS Foreign Fighters and terrorist rehabilitation. The previous panels can be found at the following links:

Issues of ISIS Prisoners & Repatriations in a Time of COVID

Can an ISIS Terrorist be Rehabilitated and Reintegrated into Society?

Can We Repatriate the ISIS Children?

Terrorist Rehabilitation in the Dutch Prison System

Into and Back Out of ISIS: An ISIS Defector Speaks Out

Fighting ISIS Online: An Introduction to Breaking the ISIS Brand

Talking Terrorist Propaganda with a Pro

Terrorism Prevention, Intervention, and Rehabilitation with Juveniles

Community-Focused Interventions Against Terrorism

Are We Losing a Valuable Feminist Project in the Middle East?

Rescue Me: A Conversation with the Yamout Sisters re Prison Rehabilitation

ICSVE and Parallel Networks Team Up to Fight Violent Extremism

The Journey Back – Turning Away from Extremism and the Road to Hope and Healing

Asking Incels: An Insiders Account of the Involuntary Celibate Community

Understanding Q-Anon

Professor Arie Kruglanski and the Three Pillars of Radicalization

Childhood Abuse, Military Service, and White Supremacism

Interventions for White Supremacists

White Supremacists Speak: ICSVE’s Latest Research Report

ISIS Repatriations in North Macedonia

Repatriating the ISIS Children with Ambassador Galbraith

PDF – ICSVE Slides – How Can We Prevent and Counter Violent Extremism in the Military
PDF – RAND Slides – Extremism in the Military T. Helmus
ICSVE Report 11/11/2021 – The Challenge of Extremism in the Military Is Not Going Away Without a New Perspective

Chat log:

10:56:43 From Rogelio Castro to Everyone : Good morning everyone

11:02:44 From ICSVE – Molly Ellenberg to Everyone : You can watch our past events here:

11:03:03 From ICSVE – Molly Ellenberg to Everyone : You can watch all of the counter narrative videos here:

11:07:49 From Joe Plenzler to Everyone : Good morning, everyone.

11:13:54 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : Hello and welcome to everyone, glad you could join us today!

11:15:34 From Aaron Fuller to Everyone : Will these slides be available to us to download?

11:15:37 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : Good Morning everybody. – TM Garret

11:17:38 From Joe Plenzler to Everyone : Thank you so much for the important work you are doing. I am hosting an event with the Brookings Institution this Friday (Dec.3 ) on Mis/DisInformation efforts targeting veterans. Details here: Please join us at 1000 ET.

11:18:16 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : Joe that sounds amazing, I keep wondering what effect Michael Flynn has on veterans and military members, and q-anon spread

11:19:52 From Joe Plenzler to Everyone : The people I know who served with him said he was a capable commander but now they believe he has become detached from reality.

11:20:55 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : yes our slides will be posted with the video and comments later today hopefully and we’ll send you the link

11:21:02 From Aaron Fuller to Everyone : Thank you!

11:23:12 From Oluwasogo Dairo to Everyone : Good evening from Lagos Nigeria

Thank you for the privilege of attending a meeting on this platform again

11:23:43 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : welcome Oluwasogo! thank you for attending from so far away!

11:24:24 From Oluwasogo Dairo to Everyone : You are welcome Ma’am.

11:25:24 From alinory KWENA to Everyone : Hello everyone,

11:28:01 From alinory KWENA to Everyone : Thank you for this great opportunity to enable sharing and learning in particular on Terrorism which is a one of the leading global security threats.  From Nairobi,  Kenya, I’m alinory KWENA,  a Law Enforcement Officer with special interests on Scientific Criminal Investigations, Community Policing and Law. Thank you

11:28:09 From Joe Plenzler to Everyone : Superb documentary

11:28:29 From Joe Plenzler to Everyone : Deeyah Khan’s

11:28:48 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : thank you this one is made by TM Garret!

11:29:16 From helmus to Everyone : Wow, Deeyah Khan changed a lot folks mind through filming the documentary

11:30:01 From Kathi (she/her/hers) to Everyone : FABULOUS!

11:31:30 From Lizet Harbers to Everyone : What was the title of this documentary again?

11:32:16 From Katherine Howard to Everyone : I believe they said the Deeyah Khan documentary was called White Right.

11:32:40 From Lizet Harbers to Everyone : Thank you!

11:32:52 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : “White Right – Meeting the Enemy” by Deeyah Khan. – TM Garret

11:32:58 From Aaron Fuller to Everyone : I wonder if it is also a coping strategy for moral injury

11:35:28 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : good point Aaron

11:45:21 From Aaron Fuller to Everyone : This reminds me of the movie, American History X that came out in the late 1990s.

11:45:28 From Joe Plenzler to Everyone : Yep

11:45:45 From Dr. Charles M. Russo, IFPC to Everyone : Romper Stomper as well.

11:50:32 From Joe Plenzler to Everyone : Also: do a better job on the front end of screening out recruits with DVE connections before enlisting them

11:50:54 From CLAUDIA J. CARRIZALES to Everyone : Ann, are you seeing FEMALES in the military following this path or is primarily males?

11:51:13 From Dr. Charles M. Russo, IFPC to Everyone : @Claudia, great question.

11:51:45 From Aaron Fuller to Everyone : Ethics education throughout the career lifecycle is also severely lacking.  Many enlisted don’t receive any ethics training (Robinson, 2008).

11:53:02 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : Hi dear Claudia, so good to “see” you here.  Extremists in general from all ilks tend to be many more men than women.  We did have one female in our  group that was very violent and tried to join the US military, she ended up as a contractor with a security clearance, recommended by her male friends who did make it into the military.

11:53:03 From ICSVE – TM Garret to Everyone : I agree with continuous ethics training. – 

11:53:42 From Aaron Fuller to Everyone : In the US military, ethics training is essentially legal compliance training.  It needs to go deeper into examining personal ideologies/beliefs.

11:53:51 From CLAUDIA J. CARRIZALES to Everyone : Interesting , I just retired with 32 yrs in the Army and I only had experience with male soldiers falling prey

11:54:13 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : all training and assessments need to be continuous as people change over time with their experiences and exposures to other radicalized individuals so they can join without any links and get sucked in later.

11:58:03 From Adil Rasheed to Everyone : This is Adil from India. Excellent presentations. Militaries are naturally prone to promote hardline nationalist outlook and are less liberal in orientation. This is a fundamental problem. The view is that hate and anger make good fighters.

12:00:31 From Aaron Fuller to Everyone : Adil, in your context, what is the socio-economic demographic of your military?  In the US, our recruiting base tends to be low income white, who grow up in environment where beliefs make them vulnerable to extremism.

12:01:02 From ICSVE – Anne Speckhard to Everyone : Great comment and perspective Adil!

12:03:23 From Adil Rasheed to Everyone : Indian military is quite secular surprisingly since the time of the British Raj! However, soldiers from the minority communities has been falling in recent years.

12:12:33 From Victoria Gurevich to Everyone : Hi Todd, thank you for that very informative presentation. I was wondering if you could comment on the conditions of the ‘Patriot Wing’ where QAnon insurrectionists are being held in prison. Do you know if any deradicalization programs been discussed for them?

12:12:50 From Kenneth to Everyone : Adil’s comment on India is so valuable. In the US, our past administration overtly supported White Supremacist groups. This could happen again, under a future administration,  unless institutions are strengthened.

12:13:16 From Myles Caggins III to Everyone : Question: In your research about military veterans who participated in the Jan 6 insurrection, did all of them admit to being racist (anti-black, brown, Asian, etc)? Or are these insurrectionists mostly mad at the non-Trump Federal government/politicians?

From Anne Speckhard after the event: As noted in the presentation, we had only one in the sample who took part in the Capitol Hill riots, but it does seem more were angry at the government than racists.

12:14:49 From Joe Plenzler to Everyone : 1) Have any of your studies identified what DOD can do to more effectively screen out DVE members prior to joining? 2) Am wondering what DOD will do to help prevent the thousands of service members who fell prey to COVID vaccine disinformation and will be separated because they won’t follow a direct and lawful order from joining DVE or other right wing groups… We’ll soon be putting thousands of military members on the unemployment line.

12:15:07 From Oluwasogo Dairo to Everyone : In Nigeria, it is evident that we have extremists among our armed forces especially Islamic Jihadists. 

Some of the weapons against extremism is focusing more on teachers in schools and lecturers in universities

Also religious leaders and proper information distribution

Exposing extremists, and forgiveness or reconciliation when needed. 

A solid and sane foundation in the immediate family is also part of it

12:18:10 From Bonnie Kustra to Everyone : Great point, Joe.

12:19:08 From Karen Reed to Everyone : * Comment for consideration.

12:19:29 From Karen Reed to Everyone : Trauma Informed Care … and integration of trauma informed care with leadership development and mentorship programs within the military is a great idea to help with care/cohesiveness and work towards getting a handle on how to get in front of extremism at the smaller unit level.

12:22:25 From Alex to Everyone : What is the estimated percentage of VE in the military?

12:23:19 From Bonnie Kustra to Everyone : Aaron, I would caution you about binning the US recruitment base as being low income white.  Although, most Services are over represented by white males the majority of the enlistees is disproportionately from the middle class and not low income or high income.  A little dated but good info in this CFR document:

12:25:48 From Chiran to Everyone : I have noticed a research gap where victims and survivors of extremists in the military are not widely included in the research. Are there any reputed resources that you can point to where victims and survivors in the military are included?

12:26:05 From Maji Peterx to Everyone : There is a contextual difference I guess as it does not resonate with me

12:26:31 From Joe Plenzler to Everyone : Thank you all. This is such important work.

12:26:49 From helmus to Everyone : Alex,  to answer your question, we do not know. I’ve seen no study that addressed prevalence.

12:27:23 From Dr. Charles M. Russo, IFPC to Everyone : Thank you for great presentations.

12:27:51 From Katherine Howard to Everyone : Thank you for the informative presentation! Where will the recording of this be posted later?

12:28:08 From ICSVE – Molly Ellenberg to Everyone : You will all be sent a link to the recording and to the chat later this evening!

12:28:21 From Aaron Fuller to Everyone : Understand Bonnie.  That comment was influenced by a recent Marine Corps recruitment metrics brief I attended.  You are right, the generalization is not completely accurate.

12:29:09 From Alex to Everyone : Thank you Todd

12:29:19 From Joe Plenzler to Everyone : For more on this topic, please join us Dec. 3 at Brookings. Speakers include: Dr. Miller Idriss of American U’s PERIL, Bill Braniff of U of MD START, Scott Cooper of the VCI, and Shawn Turner of Dept of Veteran Affairs.

12:29:20 From Joe Plenzler to Everyone :

12:29:25 From Aaron Fuller to Everyone : Also, I am curious, are there any other military chaplains in attendance?

12:30:33 From Joe Plenzler to Everyone : Superb panel today

12:30:44 From helmus to Everyone :

12:30:45 From Bonnie Kustra to Everyone : Thank you

12:30:50 From Deborah Phares to Everyone : Thank you all

12:31:02 From Oluwasogo Dairo to Everyone : Thank you all

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