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Unpacking Political Extremism

AP Photo/John Minchillo, File

U.S. Capital law enforcement is on high alert in case of more violent actions against the government.  Part of the problem is the easy spread of  conspiracy theories. They’re becoming more prevalent and potentially, -- calls to action.  Researchers at Virginia Tech have been working on ways to debunk untrue theories and stop the spread of the kind of disinformation that threatens the Republic.

With Capitol Police on high alert after recent attacks and new extremists’ threats, people are finding it difficult to deal with the divide of disinformation and increasing extremism, that separates so many in the political arena today.

“When we're thinking about it is how do we deal with what appears to be a new norm?”

Virginia Tech sociologist Ashley Reichelmann focuses on the topic of white nationalism.

“First, we need to understand how widespread these beliefs are. And we need to understand how deeply penetrated they are in people's lives. When these beliefs, that are then accompanied by a violent behavior to carry them out, that's when it becomes problematic.” 

The hard part is, all people are entitled to their beliefs, but it’s facts, figures and proof that normally win the argument. And when those are fairly and fully presented, it can have a real impact.

"Like during President Obama's tenure, we had a number of programs that worked with de radicalizing domestic

“But now we're seeing some moves by our federal government to move back into, not necessarily thinking of de-radicalizing, which is a band aid, but a necessary band-aid.  It's about prevention of people being radicalized in the first place."

Reichelmenn says other countries are doing something about that.

“A number of countries have actually tried to institute a kind of social media critical literacy program. Because the issue that we have right now, is the majority of us are getting our information on the internet.”

And there's two things about the internet, she reminds us, that are important to know: Anyone can share information on the internet and even if it can’t be verified, it can continue to confuse the situation exponentially.


Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.