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In May 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued an intelligence bulletin that included one of the first official acknowledgments of what they and other similar agencies in the West identified as an emerging violent extremist threat. It warned that “anti-government, identity based, and fringe political conspiracy theories” were playing an increasing role in motivating domestic extremists to commit criminal, sometimes violent, acts. Since then, officials have also noted the emergence of individuals acting based on “salad bar ideology” extremism, a term used in 2020 by FBI Director Christopher Wray to describe the nature of some of the recent violent extremist threats. Their ideologies, according to Director Wray, “are kind of a jumble…a mixture of ideologies that don’t fit together.” He went on to say that some extremists “take a mish mash of different kinds of ideologies often that don’t fit coherently together, and sometimes are even in tension with each other, and mix them with some kind of personal grievance,” to justify their attack. Director Wray concluded that “it’s more about the violence than it is about the ideology.”

In the years since the FBI’s warning, other Western countries have expressed similar concerns about this evolution of the terrorist threat. In the United Kingdom (U.K.), the government’s Channel project has seen a spike in referrals of individuals classified as having a “mixed, unstable or unclear ideology” since 2020. This category now represents the majority of referrals, and includes individuals who “show an interest in multiple extremist ideologies at the same time” or who “switch from one ideology to another over time.” New Zealand has also begun to identify this as a policy concern, noting in its 2021 counterterrorism strategy that “violent extremism is an evolving threat, driven by increasingly complex and convoluted ideologies.”


The Program on Extremism at The George Washington University provides analysis on issues related to violent and nonviolent extremism. The Program spearheads innovative and thoughtful academic inquiry, producing empirical work that strengthens extremism research as a distinct field of study. The Program aims to develop pragmatic policy solutions that resonate with policymakers, civic leaders, and the general public. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or The George Washington University. This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under Grant Award Number 20STTPC00001-01.