Leon was becoming radicalized – then his mother took action

As a teenager, Leon Solve Mossing Knudsen (24) had low self-esteem, felt different and struggled at times with his psyche.

He spent a lot of time in the boys’ room and made new friends on online forums such as 4chan. This led to a radicalization process that he opened up about VG last year.

– I put myself in a victim position where I thought that women in particular were the cause of my problems, he says.

Conversations with his mother saved him when he was on his way into a radicalization process.

A recently released report from the Center for Extremism Research at the University of Oslo shows that young people do not know what to do if they are worried that a friend is starting to have thoughts of hatred and violence.

RADICALIZATION: Online forums such as 4chan became important platforms when Leon was entering a radicalization process.  Photo: Marie Grensbråten Lorvik

RADICALIZATION: Online forums such as 4chan became important platforms when Leon was entering a radicalization process. Photo: Marie Grensbråten Lorvik

Worried about a friend? Further down in the case, you will find more tips on what you can do.

Will break contact

Håvard Haugstvedt is one of the researchers behind the report on young people and extremism. He says that approximately 85 per cent do not know or are unsure where to turn if they are worried about a friend.

But many are willing to do a lot to address this.

CONCERNED: Håvard Haugstvedt is concerned that young people are willing to break contact with someone who is radicalised.  Photo: UiO

CONCERNED: Håvard Haugstvedt is concerned that young people are willing to break contact with someone who is radicalised. Photo: UiO

– Perhaps the most striking thing is that many are willing to talk to family and friends. And that really means that when we become uncertain or worried, we need to talk to someone we trust, he says.

Haugstvedt is more concerned that around half are willing to break contact with the person they believe is being radicalised.

– Then you lose an important influence against radicalisation, and if you are on your way out of society, you may just end up further out.

Felt women should “catch up”

Leon himself refers to it as starting to play around with the idea of ​​conspiracies where, for example, abuse statistics were falsified in order to hit men unfairly. He felt that women should “catch up”.

He lived away from home to go to school, but at weekends he was usually at his parents’ home in Rjukan.

There, it was the mother who grabbed what she describes as “viscous mud” on top of her son.

Her patience was crucial, says Leon.

– She asked me what my sources were, listened and was never judgmental. She always had plenty of time.

DON'T LET GO: Leon also encourages not to let go of a friend even if you think they have bad or scary opinions.  Photo: Marie Grensbråten Lorvik

DON’T LET GO: Leon also encourages not to let go of a friend even if you think they have bad or scary opinions. Photo: Marie Grensbråten Lorvik

The conversations with his mother made him realize that what he believed in didn’t quite add up. In the first autumn of high school, he broke down. There was a lot of pain behind his thoughts, and it hurt to admit that he had been wrong.

Extremism to relieve pain

Elisabeth Harnes is a subject expert on radicalization and violent extremism at RVTS (regional resource centers on violence, traumatic stress and suicide prevention) West.

She says that radicalization processes are often about serious outsiderness, lack of belonging, lack of coping and unprocessed traumatic experiences.

Read more: These are the signs

Elisabeth Harnes says that radicalization processes can be about experiencing violations, violence and abuse, bullying, racism and a lack of support in demanding life transitions.

This can make you more vulnerable to adverse influences.

– Joining extreme ideologies and extremist networks works for many as a way to relieve pain and treat a feeling of powerlessness, says Harnes.

The people around the person who is being radicalized like to see that they change their interests, environment and way of being and/or socially isolate themselves from their surroundings into a virtual world.

This can happen quickly, but is often a gradual process, she says.

If someone close to you in the family is radicalised, it can lead to shame and deep sorrow, says Harnes. At the same time, many experience being met with resistance and rejection when trying to help.

EMPATHIC: Elisabeth Harnes recommends entering into conversations with someone who is being radicalized with empathic curiosity.  Photo: Private

EMPATHIC: Elisabeth Harnes recommends entering into conversations with someone who is being radicalized with empathic curiosity. Photo: Private

– Extreme statements can be difficult to handle. It is not unusual for friends to react with fear and disgust, and pull away, says Harnes.

– Don’t let go

Harnes recommends entering into conversations with the person in question with empathic curiosity and openness.

– Don’t let go too soon. We know that confrontation and condemnation can easily stop dialogue and limit our ability to help.

– You can be an important link to the outside world, says Harnes.

That is why she believes it is important to try to see the person behind the extreme attitudes. It can be a positive counter force to the extreme.

VIRTUAL WORLD: The people around the person who is being radicalized like to see that they change their interests, environment and way of being and/or socially isolate themselves from their surroundings into a virtual world, says Elisabeth Harnes.  Photo: Marie Grensbråten Lorvik

VIRTUAL WORLD: The people around the person who is being radicalized like to see that they change their interests, environment and way of being and/or socially isolate themselves from their surroundings into a virtual world, says Elisabeth Harnes. Photo: Marie Grensbråten Lorvik

If not, there may be a risk of the person ending up even further into an echo chamber where there is little nuance and fact-based knowledge, and which therefore reinforces radicalisation.

At the same time, it can be difficult to stand in such conversations, and no young person should have to stand alone in such a process, Harnes believes.

– You have to think about what you yourself and the relationship between you can tolerate, she says.

Read more: When should you call the police?

Harnes says that the handling of this type of case depends on the case’s content and degree of radicalisation. She recommends talking to someone you trust and discussing the matter anonymously with resources on radicalization and violent extremism at the municipality or at RVTS.

If you have a subjective opinion that violent, extreme acts and terror are imminent, it is important to take the matter to the police or PST, she believes.

– In any case, you are not responsible for what happens.

– Feel free to have the discussion

Leon also encourages not to let go of a friend even if you think they have bad or scary opinions.

– Take the time to have the discussion with them, and show love and care while being clear that you disagree, he encourages.

The breakthrough with his mother made Leon let go of the radical mindset. He later became deputy leader of Unge Høyre and now works in communications.

It is also important for him to point out that the only person he could end up hurting was himself.

– Can strengthen belief in the conspiracy

Martin Bernsen is a communications advisor in the Police Security Service (PST). Among other things, they work to stop and prevent terrorism.

An important part of this work is to collect information about people and groups who may be a threat.

Bernsen says that they want to get tips if you are worried that someone is being radicalised, but understand that it may be a high threshold for many.

TIP: Martin Bernsen in PST says they want tips from those who are worried about whether a friend is being radicalised.  Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB

TIP: Martin Bernsen in PST says they want tips from those who are worried about whether a friend is being radicalised. Photo: Gorm Kallestad/NTB

– Therefore, you can also contact an adult at school or others, or just ordinary police.

PST has a separate page for tips on its website.

PST encourages you to report to them early if you are worried about someone around you.

Leon sees it a little differently.

– I am a little afraid that if you are suddenly contacted by the police when you are in that phase, it could reinforce the belief that you are being exposed to a conspiracy, he says.

But adds that he has confidence that the police have good routines for this.

Could have been stopped

Bernsen says that there is no conclusion as to how concerned one should be before one should contact someone. They have seen examples of terrorists who could have been stopped if someone had given notice, but it is difficult to know in advance.

– If you see that someone changes, is more willing to use violence or incite violence to achieve goals, then it may be a sign that something is about to happen. It is better to inform an adult once too much than once too little.

– What if you feel guilty about reporting, or are afraid that there will be serious consequences for the person you report?

– Then it might be easier to make contact with another adult than PST. It is not just PST that is the answer if you are afraid that a friend is on a radicalization track.

Bernsen also explains that if you tip PST, no one else will know about it.

Radicalization expert Harnes says that in some cases she has experienced that people experience the situation as worse when they have been contacted by PST or the police, but in most cases she feels that people are relieved to be discovered or caught.

– “Finally someone sees me”.

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