Executive summary

On September 22, 2017, Core Connectivity organized a symposium on countering violent extremism among youth held at the Sacramento City Police Community Center in South Sacramento. Below are some the insights I gleaned from the event:

  • Violent extremist groups (such as gangs, neo-Nazis and ISIS) are proficient producers of propaganda videos and social media outreach that radicalizes youth who have legitimate desires to make the world a better place.
  • Youth are exposed to traumas in the form of witnessing and experiencing rejection, isolation and violence, on and off-line, which can make them vulnerable to radicalization. And by the same token, traumatic experiences and adversity also yield opportunities to build resilience and break cycles of violence.
  • Tech-savvy youth are conditioned for authority as a relational experience, not as a matter of title or formal position. With this understanding, it is possible to strengthen relationships, regulate the use of technology at home, and overcome adversity and violent experiences.
  • Without quality relationships in the home and in the community social media can shape our perceptions of one another in negative ways.
  • Community events wherein youth and law enforcement officers assigned to patrol the streets can “just hang out” and get to know one another are important to counter the negative perceptions hyped in social media.

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The impact of unregulated use of technology on individuals, families and communities was examined at the Core Connectivity symposium on countering violent extremism (CVE) among youth on September 22, 2017 at the Sacramento City Police Community Center in South Sacramento.  The keynote feature about social-media-powered propaganda used to recruit youth into violent ideologies was delivered by Mikenzie Howard. She is a counter terrorism expert who recently completed a community coordinator contract with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Community Partnerships.

Mikenzie Howard, Counter Terrorism Expert

Her assignment was to raise awareness about how groups with violent ideologies recruit youth and encourage communities to invoke prevention and intervention strategies that educate parents and protect youth and families. “Radicalization is constitutionally protected,” she said. “Law enforcement gets involved when radicalization is put into action – such as traveling to join a jihadist group.”

Howard explains that there is no ethnographic or religious profile for those who engage in violent extremism, and the extremist groups are very skilled at using social media platforms and videos to identify and recruit youth. “Youth from all communities are potential targets for the violent ideologies,” she said, “And violent extremism includes domestic and foreign groups who are skilled at identifying vulnerabilities of youth on-line.” Examples of domestic groups are neo-Nazi affiliations and gangs; ISIS is an example of a foreign group.

The FBI defines violent extremists as “driven by twisted beliefs and values—or ideologies—that are tied to political, religious, economic, or social goals.” Some examples include:

  • Many violent extremist ideologies are based on the hatred of another race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or country/government.
  • Violent extremists often think that their beliefs or ways of life are under attack and that extreme violence is the only solution to their frustrations and problems.
  • Despite what they sometimes say, violent extremists often do not believe in fundamental American values like democracy, human rights, tolerance, and inclusion.
  • Violent extremists sometimes twist religious teachings and other beliefs to support their own goals.

(Source: cve.fbi.gov)

Tech-savvy youth, who are on-line searching for answers and sharing their inner most thoughts and feelings about the injustices they are experiencing or witnessing in their cyber-social realms, are especially vulnerable to the recruitment efforts of groups promoting violent extremism. She featured a number of youth from various social and ethnic backgrounds who became caught up in violent causes.

One couple were American college students who had formed a belief that the government was doing nothing to stop the deaths of children in Syria, so they made plans to travel to Syria to join ISIS. Their plans were discovered and they were arrested and sentenced. “This couple really needed counseling on how to respond to the injustices of the world,” she said.

Howard encouraged parents to engage their youth in conversations about what is happening in their world. “A few weeks ago I met with a group of 125 parents, and when I asked how many had had a conversation with their child about what is happening in their own lives and in the world, only 2 people raised their hands,” she said.

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Yvette Madkins, founder of Great Is Thy Faithfulness and Outside The Walls ministries in Sacramento.

Gangs are another example of violent extremism and their influence of terror can seem impossible to overcome in the communities where they reside. One of our featured speakers is Yvette Madkins, Founder and CEO of Great Is Thy Faithfulness/Outside the Walls ministries in South Sacramento dedicated to strengthening families and communities dealing with spiritual and financial hardship. She encouraged attendees to consider what is missing in communities experiencing chronic and persistence cycles of gang violence and incarceration. “When we look at generations of youth caught up in violence and prison, what is missing?” she asks. Hearing no reply, she then answers, “Love. The love of a parent. The [secure connection to the] parent is missing.”

Unchecked, social media can intensify the sense of separation from belonging to a loving family and community. Madkins is concerned that when our collective response to youth in trouble is to let the system be the parent, then we are not fulfilling the genuine imperative for family unity. “Juvenile hall offers better accommodations than their home environment,” Madkins said. “Wouldn’t it be a good thing if we helped those youth caught up in the criminal justice system to reconnect with parents so that when they return home it is ‘the place to be’?”

To learn more about Great is Thy Faithfulness/Outside the Walls ministries and make a donation, go to: GITF/OTW

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In this cyber-powered world, it is easy to believe that the role of the parent has been reduced to the housekeeper and the person who pays the bills. When youth can easily perceive that they can simply google everything they think they need to know, who needs a parent, a coach, a teacher, a faith leader or a Benevolent Deity to impart wisdom? Indeed we need to embrace a new mindset for parenting in every socio-economic setting and for all creeds, including atheists. A mindset that embraces the whole person; spirit, soul and body, who is your child.

To that end, below is a slide I shared to explain how youth are conditioned for authority as a relational experience.

The memory, intellect and will are equal faculties of the soul that transcend generations, genders, and people of all creeds and social and ethnic backgrounds. Think of memory as the brain acting like a video recorder taking in everything the child witnesses and experiences as true; the intellect as the executive capacity to reason and learn the truth about our being, and how to relate to others and respond to experiences in the world; and the will as the capacity to choose what to believe, say and do in response to what is happening and has happened.

These powers are the authority in you, in me and in our children. This is the God-given equality referenced in the founding of the United States. This is the capacity to choose your own thoughts and actions in all circumstances yielding freedom that comes with great responsibility. Therefore, whomever has the device and access to social media needs to learn how to think like the quarterback.

Below is a slide that features how youth can believe things that are not true and act on them, inspiring a sense of separation from family that is very isolating.

So we cannot know how youth are being influenced unless they choose to share their inner most thoughts with us. Then parents and other caring adults can impart wisdom.

To learn more about creating a family culture that engages this relational model of authority to encourage youth to a) share what is happening in their lives, b) regulate the use of technology, and c) engage in open dialogue about the issues your teen or young adult is dealing with, go to Fresh Start, or contact Joanna.

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To better understand the human capacity to break cycles of violence and the influence of violent ideologies on youth, we examined the relationship between trauma and resilience.

Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn, trauma-growth instructor at California State University Sacramento, and Founder of Metahab.com

Dr. Joyce Mikal-Flynn teaches trauma-growth at Sacramento State University and is the founder of Metahab, devoted to advancing an enhanced rehabilitation model to build new strengths from adversity, addiction and trauma. She survived a near death-experience when her heart gave out in a swimming race. Her recovery from this near death experience involved numerous attempts to restart her heart and required her to learn how to do everything over again.

According to Mikal-Flynn, this resilience bounce in response to trauma is explained through brain science and her own personal experience. Her presentation referred to various examples of neuroplasticity – the inherent capacity of the brain to develop neurons and reorganize itself throughout life, and in response to injuries. Behavior, environmental stimuli, thoughts and emotions also impact neuroplasticity changes in the brain which has significant implications for recovery. “Well being is a skill,” she said. “As we solve problems, our brains become stronger.”

And to that end, the mindset you bring to adversity and trauma matters. Mikal-Flynn shared how her rehabilitation counselors tried to dissuade her from desires to run again after her brain injury. “I had to tell the people caring for me to stop telling me what I could not do, and help me accomplish the things that I want to do.” Today she is running again and she has a stronger zest for life than before.

To learn more about the Metahab program that walks you through the stages of post-trauma growth, go to Metahab

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At the end of the day, youth, faith leaders and law enforcement formed panels for discussion about strengthening relationships with youth.

Faith leaders included Pastor Clay Rojas at Parkside Church in Auburn and Founder of Prison Families Aftercare, Yvette Madkins, Founder and CEO of Outside The Walls and Pasto Scot Scorenson of St. Johns Program for Real Change. Some of the concerns expressed include:

  • Youth are generally not feeling welcome in the community so it will be important to work with local agencies and faith organizations to create a more hospitable environment.
  • Older generations and authorities need to refrain from judging behavior; look past the behavior to see the person.
  • Trauma-informed relationships and programs are important to break cycles of violence.

Law enforcement representatives included Roseville Police Department, Bridgette Dean and Officer Gary Smith, and Sergeant Christopher Mouzis of the Sacramento police department; Senior Deputy Probation Officer, Ray Lozada with the Sacramento County Probation Department; and Supervisory Special Agent, Dennis Guertin with the FBI. Representatives from youth included these young men: Eddie Bazarra, musician and student at Full Sail University; Reggie Hola, formerly incarcerated and today works as a community activist; Austin Mullen, a musician dedicated to improving lives of youth; and C.J. Soloman who found hope for positive change in Christ Jesus and today shares that hope with youth.  Below were some of the insights shared:

  • Second chances are important.
  • Dysfunctional homes can make it easy for youth to believe and act on the wrong things so that criminal behavior is normalized.
  • Faith-based community events and programs can help youth develop a sense of purpose.
  • Youth need adults who will listen and witness their pain without judging it.
  • Mistrust between youth and police is based upon the narratives of abuse and violence featured on social media.
  • The negative social media influence can only be overcome by getting to know one another before an incident happens.
  • It was agreed that it is important for the officers who patrol the streets to have a chance to get to know the youth in the community.

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About:  We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).

Joanna Jullien, Founder & CEO of Core Connectivity
Photo by: Victoria Hatch

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.