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Radicalization Expert Discusses Recruitment, Prevention During Virtual Lecture

by Janelle Hill Apr 5, 2021

From 2007 to 2012, Dr. Alexandra Stein served as a visiting lecturer at Westminster University in central London. Only later did she discover that Mohammed Emwazi, the ISIS member infamously known as Jihadi John, had studied there during that time.

“As they say, I was shocked but not surprised,” Stein said. “When I was there, I saw a ton of recruiting going on.” 

Stein, a well-known expert on radicalization and cult studies, recounted the story to DeSales students during a special virtual presentation hosted by the Center for Homeland Security. 

She discussed her book, “Terror, Love and Brainwashing: Attachment in cults and totalitarian systems,” and the ways in which these groups successfully recruit and control their followers. Stein said it all starts with the leadership, which must be both charismatic and authoritarian. 

“Charisma alone can be benign and good, but you need to have that bullying, controlling element,” she said. “The leader has all the control. People inside the group are isolated from those outside. You also become isolated from your own internal dialogue that might wonder and have doubts and think about what’s going on.”  

Stein stressed the importance of early prevention and developing a public health approach to prevention education so that people can spot a recruitment attempt when it happens.