DAYTON, Ohio — The University of Dayton Human Rights Center received more than $350,000 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop a regional network focused on preventing domestic extremism-related violence in southwest Ohio and beyond.

What You Need To Know

  • The University of Dayton Human Rights Center received more than $350,000 U.S. Department of Homeland Security

  • UD will use the funds to put together a coalition of partners to prevent domestic extremism-related violence in southwest Ohio

  • Much of the work will focus on things like community engagement and education campaigns focused on thinking critically about information seen in the media and online

  • UD Human Rights Center is one of 43 agencies awarded funds to address domestic violent extremists 

The Preventing Radicalization to Extremist Violence through Education, Network-Building and Training in Southwest Ohio (PREVENTS-OH) aims to raise awareness about what leads to radicalization and violence. 

As part of the group’s work, the UD Human Rights Center and its partners will create an education campaign for students about thinking critically about information seen in the media and online. The team will develop a civic engagement strategy to discuss sensitive topics related to domestic violent extremism with members of the community.

Another goal of PREVENTS-OH is to generate lessons learned and best practices to inform ongoing and future prevention of domestic violent extremism efforts, both in Southwest Ohio and in other regions of the state or country.

Shelley Inglis, executive director of the UD Human Rights Center, said the first steps in the process need to center on learning how people think about these tough issues. 

“People are the solution to preventing domestic violent extremism,” said Inglis who’s been with the UD Human Rights Center since 2018. She brought with her 15 years of United Nations’ human rights experience working on topics ranging from peacebuilding to democratic governance, rule of law, and human rights.

Since its founding in 2013, the center has worked on a variety of initiatives related to preventing violence and promoting peace and dignity. The center hosts Abolition Ohio, one of the state’s leading anti-human trafficking coalitions. The center’s biennial conference, the Social Practice of Human Rights, has tackled issues related to domestic violent extremism.

Inglis feels the grant enables the center to take a step forward in its mission by partnering with Ohioans throughout the Miami Valley across all political and social affiliations and sectors of the community. 

Domestic violent extremism, hate and white supremacist movements pose a serious threat to the realization of human rights, which lies at the core of the center’s vision,” Inglis said.

The Dayton project’s total award is $352,109. Most of those will go toward designing the community engagement and awareness programs, Inglis said. But she envisions hiring a project coordinator to organize the resources, capacities, events and activities of the project, plus manage the project website and social media channels.  

The team also will bring in a part-time specialist to monitor progress toward benchmarks and goals, research the project’s impact, and help the project’s partners share best practices. 

Besides regional partners, UD faculty in sociology, philosophy and history who research extremism and radicalization will use their expertise to collaborate on the work. A partial list of some UD staff involved is at the end of this article.

“We truly believe people want to see the divisions stop, the threat of violence disappear, and the people of Ohio working together,” Inglis said. “With a historical connection to striving for peace and human dignity, we think southwest Ohio can be at the forefront of prevention efforts for the whole state.”

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, terrorist threats to the United States have “evolved and diversified but remain dynamic and volatile,” according to the Department of Homeland Security website. The federal agency described “lone offenders and small groups of individuals who commit acts of violence” — also known as domestic violent extremists, or DVEs — as the “most persistent terrorism-related threat facing the country.”

“Among DVEs, racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, including white supremacists, likely will remain the most lethal DVE threats” in the country, according to the agency. But since 2020, the agency noted having seen a “significant increase” in anti-government and anti-authority violent extremism, particularly from militia violent extremists, which typically target law enforcement, elected officials and government personnel and facilities.

The UD Human Rights Center is one of 43 agencies from across the country to receive some of the allocated $20 million in grant funds to help combat the threat. Organizations include state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, nonprofits and institutions of higher education. UD is the only organization to receive a grant this year.

Recipients of the awards had to develop projects focused on at least one of eight project types:

  1. Raising societal awareness

  2. Media literacy and online critical thinking initiatives

  3. Civic engagement

  4. Youth resilience programs

  5. Threat assessment and management teams

  6. Bystander training

  7. Referral services

  8. Recidivism reduction and reintegration

UD’s application focuses on raising societal awareness, media literacy and online critical thinking initiatives and civic engagement. 

“Working in partnership with one another is how we best prevent acts of terrorism and targeted violence,” said Sec. of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. 

Launched in 2020, the Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention program is the only federal grant solely dedicated to helping local communities improve and strengthen their capabilities in this area.

This year, 11 recipients work directly with underserved populations that are often the targets of attacks, including two Historically Black Colleges and Universities and two organizations serving the LGBTQ+ community. Other grantees focus on expanding the reach of this program into small and mid-sized communities. 

“Through the grant awards we are… equipping local communities and organizations — including those historically underserved — with needed resources so they can become more effective partners, strengthen our security, and help the American people feel safe and secure in our daily lives,” Mayorkas added.

UD staff participating in the project 

  • Dr. Arthur Jipson: A qualitative sociologist with 27 years of experience researching white racial extremism and domestic extremism. He has taught courses in extremism, social deviance and the ‘Sociology of The Enemy’ since 1994.

  • Dr. Patrick Ahern: A political philosopher with expertise in democratic theory and the development of critical solidarity. His research analyzes the role of prejudice and conspiratorial thinking in populist political movements.

  • Dr. Paul Becker: A sociologist who researches right-wing extremism, with a focus on U.S. white supremacy and anti-government movements from the 1970s to today. Inglis noted Beck will provide expert input into the formulation of resources and teaching modules of this project related to imagery and media literacy.

  • Dr. William Trollinger: A member of UD’s departments of history and religious studies who researches and writes on Christian fundamentalism, the Christian Right and the Ku Klux Klan. “He will be providing input on the formulation of resources and materials for this project that respond to the historical and political context in Southwest Ohio,” Inglis said.

  • Dr. Paul Morrow: A moral and political philosopher at the Human Rights Center whose work focuses on the role of legal and social norms in processes of radicalization and perpetration of targeted violence. Morrow teaches on mass atrocity and transitional justice, which will be a part of this project. At the Human Rights Center, he has trained and conducted dialogues as part of students’ experiential learning and will support community dialogue facilitation as a part of this project. 

  • Human Rights Center Advocacy Director Tony Talbott: A social scientist with expertise in human trafficking, political identity and coalition building. His advocacy activities include countering social media disinformation about human trafficking, community engagement, public education and awareness raising. With his status as a veteran, he will support awareness raising and coalition building on preventing domestic violent extremism as a part of this project.

  • HRC Outreach, Partnerships and Engagement Coordinator Megan Garrison: A licensed preventionist who helps lead Montgomery County’s Power-Based Violence Prevention Committee. She has experience leading trainings on domestic and sexual violence, substance abuse, mental health, and other risk factors for radicalization to violence. Inglis said Garrison will support project activities related to the development of a local prevention framework.