Since the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, many Americans have felt that the country is vulnerable to limitless terrorist attacks and that these attacks will most likely come from abroad. Following the attacks, the U.S. government implemented increased security measures on all fronts, including addressing vulnerabilities in the visa process, transportation security, and intelligence sharing. However, despite these efforts, the terrorist attacks have continued, albeit on a smaller scale, and these threats are not coming from abroad but from our own homeland. Indeed, Americans are facing terrorism from embittered young people, dissatisfied with authority and easily susceptible to radicalization. In a recent study by New America Foundation, U.S. terrorism-related cases have increased from 2 individuals charged with engaging in terrorism or related activities in the United States to as many as 80 individuals charged in 2015.1 An overwhelming 85 percent of those charged have been American citizens or legal residents. In 2014, the U.S. government announced a new antiterrorism initiative called Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) in response to these threats.2 This task force was commissioned with developing strategies and programs to counter the efforts by extremists to recruit, radicalize, and mobilize followers to violence.3 To this end, the CVE task force has worked to identify conditions that contribute to the recruitment and radicalization by violent extremists and to implement programs at the local, state, and federal levels where possible to reduce these risk factors.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began looking into prevention programming that would counter the recruiting efforts of violent extremist groups and discovered the G.R.E.A.T. Program. G.R.E.A.T., which stands for Gang Resistance Education And Training, is an effective, evidence-based gang and violence prevention program intended as an immunization against delinquency, youth violence, and gang membership for children in the years immediately before the prime ages for introduction into gangs and delinquent behavior. The curricula for the Program are school-based and law enforcement officer-instructed. Students learn life skills such as decision making, goal setting, and conflict resolution, which provide them with the abilities and attitudes needed to avoid criminal behavior and gang membership. The Program consists of four components: a 13-lesson middle school curriculum, a 6-lesson elementary school curriculum, a summer component, and a families component.
Rather than trying to develop a new program from scratch, DHS tasked the G.R.E.A.T. Program with revising the G.R.E.A.T. Middle School Curriculum to directly address the CVE’s concerns. With approval from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, a small focus group worked with G.R.E.A.T.’s instructional designers to incorporate revisions for a pilot. The initial pilot of the G.R.E.A.T./CVE course was conducted in the spring of 2017 in two classrooms of one middle school in Denver and taught by a veteran G.R.E.A.T. instructor. The second pilot was conducted in the spring of 2018 in an entirely different demographic. Both pilots were observed by a representative from DHS, and the initial reactions from that representative, the middle school teachers, and the students who received the curriculum were positive. Preparation is under way for conducting future pilots in multiple locations and demographics to determine whether the revised curriculum will be effective.
1 Bergen, P., et al. (2016). In Depth: Terrorism in America After 9/11. New America. [https://www.newamerica.org/in-depth/terrorism-in-america/].
2 Brennan Center for Justice (2017). Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): A Resource Page. [https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/cve-programs-resource-page].
3 U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Countering Violent Extremism Task Force. What is CVE? [https://www.dhs.gov/cve/what-is-cve].