New paper: Trauma and Openness to Legal and Illegal Activism Among Somali Refugees

With my colleagues at the Boston Children's Hospital, we have written a paper soon to be published in the journal Terrorism and Political Violence. The paper presents some of the first evidence to emerge from our collaborative projects (more on those here) on risk factors for sympathy and support for violent extremism among Somali refugee communities resettled in the United States. The paper represents a careful empirical identification and analysis of what we believe to be necessary to understand if we are to realistically control the extent of radicalization and violent extremism.

The article is only available to subscribers to the journal, but I have pasted the article's Abstract below:

This article examines key setting events and personal factors that are associated with support for either non-violent activism or violent activism among Somali refugee young adults in the United States. Specifically, this article examines the associations of trauma, stress, symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), posttraumatic growth (PTG), strength of social bonds, and attitudes towards legal and non-violent vs. illegal and violent activism. Structured interviews were conducted with a sample of Somali refugee males ages 18–25 living in the northeastern United States (N = 79). Data were analyzed using multiple linear regressions and path analysis. Greater exposure to personal trauma was associated with greater openness to illegal and violent activism. PTSD symptoms mediated this association. Strong social bonds to both community and society moderated this association, with trauma being more strongly associated with openness to illegal and violent activism among those who reported weaker social bonds. Greater exposure to trauma, PTG, and stronger social bonds were all associated with greater openness to legal non-violent activism.

The authors: B. Heidi Ellis, Saida M. Abdi, John Horgan, Alisa B. Miller, Glenn N. Saxe, and Emily Blood.

Author notes

  • B. Heidi Ellis is the Director of the Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center at Boston Children's Hospital.
  • Saida M. Abdi is the Associate Director for Community Relations at the Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center at Boston Children's Hospital.

  • John Horgan is a Professor in the School of Criminology and Justice Studies at University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he is also Director of the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies.

  • Alisa B. Miller is a Research Associate at the Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center at Boston Children's Hospital.

  • Glenn N. Saxe is the Arnold Simon Professor and Chair of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Director of the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center.

  • Emily Blood is affiliated with the Clinical Research Program, Boston Children's Hospital.


For more information on the research projects, see here