What are the causes of extremism?

People are not born violent extremists. Neither do they become an extremist overnight. Nor does their faith, ethnicity, age, sex, background or where they live play a part in them becoming one.

But there are a number of factors that can increase the risk of someone becoming vulnerable to extremist views. These can include:-

Being bullied

Anger at being bullied or feeling unfairly treated by different sections of society, people or groups, can lead to feelings of social isolation or exclusion.

Peer pressure

The desire to fit in or go along with the status quo can sometimes lead people to be drawn into extremism.

Low level criminality or behavioural issues

Disruptive behaviour, association with gangs, drug taking.

Struggling to fit in

Sometimes people experience issues concerning their identity or where they feel they fit or belong. This can make them feel very distant from friends and family and can lead them to seek out new groups or people who they feel ‘get them’ more. Radicalisers are well trained to exploit these feelings of confusion and low self-esteem.

Major life change

Some people can find it harder to navigate life traumas for example someone close to them dying, losing a job, or the breakdown of a significant relationship. If they already feel alone this can lead them to seek new solutions or behaviours to try and cope. Radicalisers pick up on signals that people in this position might display and will seek to exploit their vulnerability.

Mental health issues

The vast majority of people suffering from mental health issues will not be drawn down an extremist path. But for some people it can increase the vulnerability to influence by extremists who wish to prey on their mental health issues and exploit any instability.

Vulnerable to exploitation

People who are vulnerable to becoming radicalised usually have an underlying issue and are seeking to find an answer to their problems. Radicalisers and extremist groups are very good at identifying themselves, or what they represent as the solution.


"I have supported people as young as 14 years old, as well as those in their 50's. They can be extreme right wing, Islamist or have no ideology. The majority are radicalised online through social media."

W.Joseph Specialist Mentor

Why younger people can be more vulnerable to exploitation by extremists

The transition from teen to adult is not always an easy path to navigate. It can be even harder if they have other issues they are struggling with, such as low self-esteem, bullying, or feelings of not belonging and exclusion.

A lot of the time these kind of issues are just a difficult but fairly normal part of growing up and their behaviour reflects this. But for some young people these underlying issues can also make them vulnerable to manipulation or lead them to seek out ways they think could solve how they are feeling. It could mean they are drawn into gangs or drug taking and in some cases it means they become involved in extremism.

Teenagers can be curious and challenging, push boundaries, protest, become more secretive and want to put right perceived wrongs and injustices. And that’s OK. In most cases it’s totally normal teenager behaviour.

Behaviours to watch out for

Are they speaking and acting in ways you do not recognise and that are completely out of character?
Do their views reflect those of the family or are you worried where they have come across some of these views?
Are their views becoming more and more extreme?
Are they showing an extreme level of anger or hatred towards specific groups of people?
Are they increasingly secretive about people they are meeting with online or off?
Trust your instincts and if you’re worried act early and seek advice.

Who are they connecting with online?

What’s made the transition from dependence to independence more challenging for both teenagers and parents is the internet. Extremists and radicalisers package up ideas and present them in ways to appeal to the more impressionable younger person and if that person is vulnerable to being groomed, they can then draw them in.


"They make it really hard for you to leave as they give you that sense of belonging. They keep hooking you back in, even when you might see things that you are against."

Abdul, Specialist Mentor

Frequently asked questions

Why can some people be drawn into extremism?

For someone struggling with a sense of belonging or identity, especially if they are having difficulty overcoming other challenges in their life association, with an extremist group can offer:-

  • A sense of purpose.
  • A feeling of community and belonging.
  • Identity.
  • Feeling special and cool as they are being invited / have been selected to join a closed group or event.


Grooming is a huge part of the radicalisation process with all the extremist groups. They press the right emotions and buttons because if they can trigger an emotional response the person will not think rationally about what they are doing or saying.

Nick, Specialist Mentor

Up Next

How do extremists target people online?