Officers who quickly recognize that the person with whom they are dealing may
be a member of an extremist group or movement can take safety precautions near
the outset of an encounter. Often, however, law enforcement officers may not
realize the nature of the situation until it has already escalated to some
Because of their beliefs, extremists have the potential to transform a minor
situation into a major one. They may react out of fear, mistrust, or simply
anger. They may act in ways that would appear to be self-destructive or
self-defeating. Their beliefs may provoke them into confrontations that under
ordinary circumstances would never occur. Officers are often at risk when this
There are some strategies that may lessen risks to officers and help insure
that no one is hurt or injured in a confrontation. Most of these involve defusing
techniques. Defusing techniques are methods commonly used to manage anger in
a variety of circumstances. Typically they are designed to help halt increases
in anger and to allow angered individuals an opportunity to vent some of their
rage relatively harmlessly. Some of them can work well when used with extremists
in high tension situations.
The two key defusing techniques are ventilation and active listening.
Ventilation essentially involves letting the other person speak, giving him or
her a chance to "ventilate" and discharge their anger. When engaging
in ventilation, one should not argue with the individual, offer advice, or
defend oneself; the purpose is to let the other person "blow off
steam," thus decreasing their anger because they have been given a chance
to express it.
Active listening can occur after ventilation. Once the other person has
calmed down somewhat, it is possible to use active listening techniques to
further disarm the person. Active listening techniques include validation,
whereby the listener lets the speaker know that he or she understands the
speaker is upset or distressed; verification, by which the listener
indicates to the speaker that he or she understands what the speaker is saying
and how the speaker is feeling; and reflective questioning, whereby the
listener asks the speaker questions about what he or she has just said, in order
to draw the speaker out and get the speaker to slow down and consider what he or
she is talking about.
For law enforcement officers, the goal in using defusing techniques is
usually to slow the pace of an encounter down and keep the situation under
control. Often this can be accomplished simply by giving extremists an
opportunity to vent their anger and suspicion rather than have it build up
Officers can usually develop a variety of such techniques to be used in these
circumstances and in other circumstances involving stressed individuals.
In addition, there are other safety techniques that can help insure an
officerís safety during an unexpected encounter with a person with extreme
Call for backup. If an officer realizes that he or she is in a
potentially dangerous situation involving an extremist, one of the first things
to do is to call for backup. There is no point in proceeding with an encounter
when the officer may clearly be at a disadvantage vis-ŗ-vis the extremist.
Moreover, once an officer has made the decision to call for backup, that officer
should wait until that backup arrives before proceeding. Several violent
encounters have occurred where officers called for backup during a traffic stop
involving an extremist, but did not wait for the backup to arrive before
confronting the extremist.
Donít get confrontational/Donít argue their beliefs. When an
extremist spouts outlandish theories or makes outrageous statements, it is
entirely natural to try to argue against those views. However, this is almost
invariably counterproductive, as there is little chance that the extremist will
change his or her mind, and a much greater chance of raising the agitation level
of that person. Similarly, even though extremists may well act very
disrespectfully towards law enforcement officers, becoming confrontational in
turn is counterproductive and may worsen the situation.
Act dumb. This is a specialized defusing technique. Rather than argue
with extremists, officers can simply hear them out or respond with noncommittal
answers such as "I never thought of it that way before" or "thatís
a little too complex for me right now." Officers should always accept
literature offered to them by extremists.
Distract their attention/change the subject. Sometimes an officer may
spot an opportunity to distract an extremist or derail their train of thought.
If an extremist hands literature to an officer, the officer can start asking
questions about the literature and the group or movement that promotes it. An
officer can ask a person where he or she learned his or her beliefs or theories.
Anything that can cause an extremist to explain rather than argue
will probably help lower the confrontation level to some degree.
Humanizing. Because extremists often view law enforcement officers more
as symbols of authority or oppression, officers may have some success in
lowering confrontation levels by "humanizing" himself or herself. If
the extremist can come to see the officer as an individual, perhaps just a
person "doing his/her job," rather than simply as a symbol of
oppressive or tyrannical government, then the individual may be less
Get them to postpone oppositional tactics. One of the key strategies in
confrontation avoidance is to convince the extremist to decide not to pursue
confrontation at that time and place. If an officer, for instance, can convince
an extremist that the real place to argue his or her theories is in the
courtroom, not on the side of the road, then the officer may have eliminated the
chances for confrontation at that moment.
Back off. In the final analysis, if a situation looks too risky for the
law enforcement officer to proceed, then the officer should simply decide to
pursue the matter at another time. An officer gains nothing by needlessly
placing himself or herself at risk; whenever possible, it should be the officer
who chooses the time and place for a confrontational situation, not the