Ali leads U-M teach-out that delves into past, present of extremism, with tips for engaging conspiracy theorists

April 7, 2021

Online radicalism, political polarization, conspiracy theories and disinformation, and the political response to growing extremism both internationally and domestic, plus how to talk with loved ones caught in a web of conspiracy theories, are among the topics in the University of Michigan’s Understanding and Addressing Extremism Teach-Out.

The teach-out, launched this week, features some of the world’s leading experts in domestic extremist groups, disinformation, public policy and communication from U-M and outside organizations. They talk about growing issues of radicalization and societal impacts, particularly as it relates to those who see family and friends becoming increasingly radicalized.

The free online teach-out and discussion available on Coursera and FutureLearn platforms via Michigan Online concludes April 30.

Focusing on the emerging threat of far-right extremism in light of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the teach-out traces the links of modern extremism back more than 20 years. Experts highlight the rise of right-wing domestic extremism from the Oklahoma City bombing, Ruby Ridge, the shift in federal resources to international terrorism and the role of the internet and social media in radicalization.

Experts featured include:

  • Javed Ali, Ford School Towsley Foundation Policymaker in Residence and a former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council with more than 20 years of professional experience in national security and intelligence issues, serving in the Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Homeland Security and FBI. He will examine international terrorism and the response after the Sept. 11 attacks, while highlighting a new wave of domestic terrorism.
  • Heidi Beirich, co-founder of Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and former director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, discusses the rise of right-wing extremism in the U.S.
  • Rachel Nielsen, former executive director of the Colorado Resilience Collaborative at the University of Denver, provides resources for people who want to learn about how to talk with their family, friends and colleagues about extremism and those who might be increasingly radicalized.
  • Cliff Lampe, professor at the U-M School of Information, discusses how social media fosters extremism and the difficulty in regulating social media, while U-M librarians Hailey Mooney and Jo Angela Oehrli explore the concepts of fake news and disinformation and how disinformation successfully spreads through the internet.