The Relationship of Conspiracy Beliefs and Violent ExtremismPresenters: Bettina Rottweiler and Paul Gill

A series of recent right-wing terrorist attacks have occurred across the U.S., Germany and New Zealand. What all of these attacks had in common was that each perpetrator referenced conspiracy theories such as the great replacement theory or white genocide in their manifestos. Additionally, the fringe conspiracy theory QAnon has been identified as a playing crucial role for domestic security, which has the potential to lead to domestic acts of terrorism. These incidents suggest a functional role of conspiracy theories within violent extremism.

What are the psychological motives for believing in conspiracy theories?
Based on our newest research findings from the U.K. we examine the psychological mechanisms linking conspiracy beliefs and violent extremism and we aim to explain why certain people engage in conspiracy thinking and how this can lead to violent extremist intentions. Research shows that extremism and belief in conspiracy theories share underlying psychological mechanisms, which arise due to certain social, existential as well as epistemic needs. However, if these psychological needs are not met, individuals might engage in coping mechanisms to restore those. As such, believe in conspiracy theories may act as a coping mechanism, which aims to satisfy important social psychological motives when these needs are threatened and thereby may increase extremist intentions.

What are the contingent effects of conspiracy beliefs on violent extremist intentions?
We examine the conditional effects of conspiracy beliefs on violent extremist intentions. More specifically, we investigate whether the relationship between conspiracy beliefs and violent extremism depends upon individual characteristics such as varying levels of self-efficacy, self-control, and law-relevant morality. Variable interactions examine where conspiracy beliefs exert strong effects on violent extremist intentions. The analysis is based on a German nationally representative survey (N = 1502). Our results confirm that a stronger conspiracy mentality leads to increased violent extremist intentions. However, this relationship is contingent on several individual differences. The effects are much stronger for individuals exhibiting lower self-control, holding a weaker law-relevant morality, and scoring higher in self-efficacy. Conversely, when stronger conspiracy beliefs are held in combination with high self-control and a strong law-relevant morality, violent extremist intentions are lower. Such individual features thus constitute interactive protective factors for violent extremism. These results have important implications for practice in the area of violent extremism risk assessment and management. Conceptually, the results demonstrate the need to further elaborate the conditional effects of certain risk as well as protective factors for violent extremism.

Link to the paper: https://doi.org/10.1080/09546553.2020.1803288

Webinar details

Tuesday 30th March 2021

Time: 14:00 – 15:30 (CEST)
Duration: 90 minutes
Platform: Zoom
Fee: 50 Euro for non-members
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About the speakers

Bettina Rottweiler [UK]
Bettina Rottweiler is a PhD student at University College London’s Department of Security and Crime Science. Her research focuses on identifying psychological and cognitive mechanisms of radicalisation. Her analyses examine the interactional and mediating nature of risk and protective factors for violent extremism in order to understand the complex relationships underlying these processes. She works as a research assistant on the ERC-funded Grievance project. 

Paul Gill [UK]
Paul Gill is a Professor at University College London’s Department of Security and Crime Science. He has conducted research funded by the Office for Naval Research, the Department of Homeland Security, Public Safety Canada, DSTL, the National Institute of Justice, CREST and MINERVA. These projects focused upon various aspects of terrorist behaviour including IED development, risk assessment, terrorist network structures, and lone-actor terrorism. He currently leads the ERC-funded Grievance project https://www.grievance-erc.com

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