The Radicalization Process

Radicalization to violence is defined by Public Safety Canada as “the process of taking radical views and putting them into action.”[1] In other words, radicalization to violence occurs when someone acts on their radical beliefs through violence.

When looking to understand radicalization, it is important to note that having radical beliefs and views is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, those involved in the U.S. Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s were considered radicals for their outspoken views against racial discrimination. Yet the actions of individuals like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led to tremendous positive societal change. Part of living in a democracy with freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression[2] is the tolerance of ‘radical’ views. However, violence inspired by radical beliefs is not an acceptable form of expression, and needs to be addressed and prevented.

Radicalization to violence is neither sudden nor abrupt. As noted by Public Safety, it is a complex and highly individual process. The diagram[3] below depicts this process, beginning from pre-exposure to radical literature and ending with engagement in violence. Again, it should be emphasized that exposure to radical materials does not inevitably lead to engagement in violence, in fact, it happens very rarely. However, the model is useful when designing a PVE program, as different strategies can be crafted depending on the stage at which someone is in the radicalization process. This model designed by Ducol et al. as part of their work with the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS) is especially useful because it includes the role of the Internet (‘online exposure mechanisms’) in the process of radicalization.


The PVE Project is primarily aimed at those individuals in the pre-exposure or initial exposure stage of the radicalization process. At this stage, people are generally engaged with mainstream social media sources, and thus receptive to messaging on sites such as Facebook.[4] In contrast, those in the later stages of the model are likely less receptive to the messaging of the type used in our 60 Days of PVE campaign. For those considering acts of violence as an expression of their radical beliefs, more physical intervention is generally necessary.

If you or someone you know is struggling with issues of radicalization and violence, consult our page on resources available in your area.

[1] Public Safety Canada. “What is Violent Extremism” (2015).

[2] Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, Section 2.

[3] Model taken from Ducol et al. “Assessment of the state of knowledge: Connections between research on the social psychology of the Internet and violent extremism.” Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS) 5, no. 16 (May 2016): 17.

[4] Part of the radicalization process is often the isolation of the individual from mainstream influences, including social media or news sources. For a more detailed discussion of the isolation process, see J. M. Berger, “Making CVE Work: A Focused Approach Based on Process Disruption.” The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague 7, no. 5 (May 2016): 30-31.