Back To Top


Why Can We Expect Jihadis and Extremists To Keep Killing Our People In Public Settings?

Image for Why Can We Expect Jihadis and Extremists To Keep Killing Our People In Public Settings?

August 18, 2017

Why Do Radical Jihadis Kill and Damage People in Settings All Over the World?

And why can we expect individuals and small groups with those basic beliefs to continue to kill people both in those countries and in the United States?

We can expect the killings to continue in all of those settings because those killers are exhibiting purely instinctive behaviors at a highly activated level, and our basic sets of instincts have massive impacts on our thoughts, emotions, values, beliefs, and behaviors when they are fully activated.

“Us/Them” instincts are directly involved in those killings.

We instinctively divide the world into “Us” and “Them” — and we react very differently at a very basic level to “Us” and “Them.” Jihadis believe they are killing “Them,” and that belief justifies those behaviors in their minds.

Patterns of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that happen when those instincts are activated are universal and very consistent. When we instinctively perceive people to be “Them” in any setting, we can act in a wide range of damaging ways, and we feel entirely justified and reinforced by our instincts for our behaviors.

Those instincts can be an influence for both good and evil behaviors. They can cause us to be both saints and sinners. Those basic “Us/Them” instincts cause us to protect, defend, support, nurture, forgive, respect, honor, and accept people who we both define and perceive to be “Us” — and those same instincts cause us to distrust, dislike, avoid, fear, hate, and even very intentionally and enthusiastically, too often do damage to and even destroy people who we define and perceive to be “Them.”

People studying the jihadi murders that happen in multiple settings today often try to explain those killings in political, ideological, religious, economic, historical, situational, and even sociological ways — and each of those factors are, in fact, involved in some of the killings — but the truth is that those levels of negative and damaging behaviors, and those personal and specific negative values, are only activated when the situation and the relevant interactions trigger our very primal “Us/Them” instincts — and those instincts then give us both the emotional and ethical justification for the negative things we do to the people we instinctively feel are “Them.”

We Can Very Quickly Move To Anger

Any time people perceive others as “Them” in a situation or setting, those basic instincts can be triggered, activated, and then situationally both self-reinforced and interactionally exacerbated on a powerful and impactful level that actually changes peoples thoughts and behaviors in dangerous and destructive ways.

Minimally, that perception of “Them” in too many situations tends to create a negative set of responses — ranging from discomfort to anxiety, to fear, and often when actual negative intergroup or negative interpersonal encounters occur — to anger and even rage.

We move very quickly to anger when those instincts are creating the context for our thinking.

Anger is easily triggered when people think they are threatened or damaged — either personally or as a group — by a clearly perceived “Them.” Anger is a very powerful and highly motivating emotion.

Behaviors and thought processes change when people are angry. We know very powerful levels of those instincts can become both relevant and motivational, and it is clear that when people are threatened, they sometimes feel morally justified in resisting, attacking, and very intentionally, directly, and deliberately damaging their perceived “Them.”

We generally are not intellectually aware that those particular instincts have been activated because we tend to not think in explicit ways about our instincts and their impact on our lives. We simply take our instinctive reactions in those situations for granted as being our normal and natural reactions to a situation. Our instincts have great power to shape both our emotions and our thought processes relative to other people, but we generally are neither conscious nor aware that those instincts are activated and influencing our thoughts and behaviors.

The interaction patterns that we see, however, are that when those instincts are fully activated, we sometimes hate, fear, dislike, disrespect, and, want to damage whomever we perceive to be “Them,” and those destructive behaviors and negative feelings will feel entirely appropriate and right.

We tend to feel joy and relief whenever the relevant “Them” in a situation is resisted, countered, deterred, diverted, deflected, and explicitly defended against and defeated. We can feel both relief and joy when a relevant “Them” in any setting is either damaged or somehow rendered less threatening to us, and to whomever we define to be “Us.” We tend to feel relief and a sense of increased safety when any threatening “Them” is responded to in ways that remove them in some way from their interactions with us, or reduce the level and extent of those interactions.

Jihadis Embody “Us/Them” Instinctive Thinking And Behaviors

Jihadis tend to be extreme examples of the power of those instincts influencing lives and thought processes when they are in full gear. Jihadis have their “Us/Them” instincts fully activated. Oftentimes we can easily see the trigger points that have made those instincts relevant.

People in our country who have committed bombings and mass shootings tend to feel isolated and separated from the community around them. People with jihadi perceptions in gear in our country have consistently, clearly, and obviously felt like outsiders in key and clear ways from the people they perceive to be “Them” in their community.

Jihadis in America tend to be minority-group members in their local communities with a strong, consistently uncomfortable, and generally unpleasant sense of their own racial, ethnic, and religious minority status relative to their communities.

We now know that those kinds and sets of instinctive perceptions are actually easily activated by any minority status. We humans all have strong instincts that make us aware of any situation giving us minority status, and that can tee up those instincts fairly quickly and easily.

If we are the only white person in a room full of black people, the only black person in a room full of white people, the only woman in a room full of men — or even the only kid in a room full of strange adults — we have very well-developed instinctive alarm bells that go off in our heads giving us discomfort, stress, and even levels of anxiety or fear when we perceive everyone around us at an instinct-triggering level to be some kind of “Them.”

Those instincts causing us to feel anxiety when we are surrounded by “Them” exist for us now because they helped our ancestors survive for many generations. People who felt those levels of instinctive anxiety, and who acted in various protective ways as a result of those feelings, were more likely to survive.

Even today, there are thousands of settings in the world where people die simply because they have somehow crossed into territory controlled by “Them.” That is not an historic, theoretical, situationally unique, or functionally irrelevant problem. It is very relevant for people today.

Sudan, Syria, Sarajevo, and some parts of Chicago have settings today where simply being a “Them” will get you killed.

We all have those instincts today because they are relevant to us all. They can make us safer today when we pay attention to them whenever they are situationally activated in our lives.

That particular set of instinctive reactions from being surrounded by “Them” needs to be understood, because those reactions, thought processes, and emotions can easily have a major — and not clearly understood — impact on what we feel and how we think in many situations and settings. We can have more control over both our thoughts and our feelings when we know those instincts and recognize when they are activated.

As one example, the instincts that trigger anxiety, discomfort, and stress that we all feel when we perceive ourselves as the minority can often make it difficult and stressful for some to integrate schools and work sites — especially when the integrating minority for each setting perceives themselves as a potential “Them” for that particular setting. The stress levels involved in integrating a setting can be very high, and when we don’t understand that those stress levels and feelings of both situational anxiety and individual discomfort actually have very direct and deep instinctive roots, we tend to interpret our negative reactions in those settings to have other, equally situational, but less resolvable, causality.

The InterGroup books all describe those feelings, perceptions, emotions, and behaviors in some detail. Primal Pathways explains how those instincts — as well as the related instincts triggering territorialism and cultural loyalty — create a wide range of issues and problems in a wide range of intergroup settings.

Primal Pathways is a book about our basic packages of instinctive thought processes and behaviors, and it can be read chapter-by-chapter, free of charge.

Jihadis Feel The Stress of Being “Them” With No Sense of The Instincts Involved

Jihadis in our country are fully engaged with those sets of instincts. Radical jihadis see the world in the context of their situationally activated “Us/Them” instincts, and they blame the local “Them” for the way they feel, and have a sense that the local “Them” deserves to be punished or damaged in some ways, because the jihadis feel so much basic and focused stress, anger, and deep division relative to the other people in their area.

The challenge we see for jihadi killers in America is that they often find some people threatening to them as individuals, to others in their own community, and to everyone the jihadis perceive to be “Us.” People with those perceptions and triggered instincts — activated by their local minority status and directly influenced through the Internet or in person by particular people directly and skillfully promoting jihadi beliefs — too often seek harm or vengeance on people they find threatening and damaging to their “Us.”

That pattern of wanting to damage “Them” in a jihadi context is very directly affecting behaviors in many settings all over the world. We all know about the widely publicized group attacks and murders in Paris, London, Brussels, and Berlin. In each of those settings, the killers had their ”Us/Them” instincts in full gear, perceiving their own murderous and damaging behavior to be justified, entirely legitimate, and even ennobled in the cause of protecting their own “Us,” while meeting the expectations of their own group.

Leaders of the international radical jihadi movement want highly visible and clearly damaging events in those settings to enhance their own power and credibility, and to improve their leverage and impact in their home settings by encouraging believers to damage people from other groups and belief systems.

Many settings today have “Us/Them” divisional anger levels and core instincts in gear on a level where people are badly damaged. Suicide bombers are a clear consequence of those fully activated instincts. As horrible and hard to imagine as those bombings are, they are remarkably common. Currently, at least one individual each day, in some intergroup settings, straps a bomb onto his or her own body, and infiltrates targeted settings with hopes of killing “Them.” Jihadi leaders carefully choreograph most of those events, and they are clearly willing to command their own followers to die for their jihadi group.

The Bombers Never Kill Their Own Family

“Us/Them” instincts are involved in each of those bombings. The bombers never kill their own family. They almost never kill their own tribe. They always cross into areas where there are numbers of people from whatever group they perceive to be “Them” — and the bombers are willing to commit suicide in order to destroy their hated “Them.”

We instinctually want to be aligned with our own group and with our own culture — and we have strong instincts to protect whomever we perceive to be “Us.” Our culture related instincts tend to have significant power over our lives. We have strong instincts to create cultures in every setting — and we have strong instincts to use those cultures to steer and guide our lives. The InterGroup books explain both how those cultures are created, and how they influence our emotions, thought processes, values, and behaviors.

We all instinctually feel we should act in accord with the values and explicitly expected behaviors of our culture.

An amazing number of people who feel activated instincts of hate toward another group as an emotional trigger are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to damage “Them” when an aligned expectation is to commit suicide in the interest of culture — in effect saving, protecting, and defending their own group, and ultimately meeting the explicit expectations of jihadi culture.

We know beyond all doubt, from thousands of examples in a wide range of settings, that people with those particular sets of instincts in gear will die for their “Us,” and we know from statements made by many suicide bombers, that they actually felt they had done a noble, protective, and entirely appropriate deed for their own group.

Protective instincts leading us to defend our “Us” against “Them,” and instincts leading us to obey, support, and follow behavioral expectations of our group culture are so powerful, and feel so right to people, that suicide bombings are literally occurring somewhere in the world every single day.

There are relatively fewer of those intergroup bombings in the U.S. compared to multiple other parts of the world, but there are, very obviously and understandably, people in a number of our communities today who feel like a “Them,” with those instincts activated. There have been several intergroup bombings — and we can expect more of those terrorist-choreographed events, because there are a number of people living in a number of our communities today heating the core ingredients for those outcomes.

We can expect people with those sets of personally activated instincts in the U.S. to feel morally justified when shooting, bombing, stabbing, or ramming vehicles into groups perceived to be “Them.”

We all need to understand our situation. We need to know and understand our risks as a people and as a nation. We all need to understand that our instincts leading us to deal with “Us” and “Them” differently can be very dangerous and powerful, and they are relevant to many people in our country today. We need to recognize how evil people can be when those instincts are shaping their thoughts, values, emotions, and behaviors. Evil is very real.

Radical jihadi leaders are channeling that evil against us. People who want to do evil things to Americans are incenting and inciting people who feel like “Them” in various settings, to go down those pathways and tap into those behaviors.

These Are Not New Instincts As a Motivator For Behavior In America

This is not a new set of instinctive intergroup interactions for America. Those levels of “Us” and “Them” instincts are clearly not just activated in a Jihadist context. Those basic, crude, unenlightened, and deeply primal “Us/Them” instincts have actually shaped much of our most shameful history as a country. We have done horrible things as a country under the influence of those packages of intergroup instincts.

Slavery is a very clear example of how evil those sets of instincts can be when groups of people perceive other groups to be “Them.”

One group defined another to be “Them” at a fundamental instinct fed level for centuries in the U.S., and the people in power in several of our states enslaved the people they defined to be “Them” for generations with no sense of shame, remorse, concern, or guilt. The horror and shame of that behavior permeates our history. We clearly allowed our instincts at their most evil level to define too much of this country for far too long.

Once you see how those instincts work and steer thoughts, emotions, values, and behaviors, it is absolutely clear that “Us/Them” instincts have created a powerful context for much of our history. Jim Crow laws were clearly and effectively intended to do direct intergroup damage, and there have also very clearly been an array of laws and practices discriminating explicitly against every minority group in this country that were perceived by the White majority group to be a “Them.”

Massive ethnic cleansing drove Native Americans from ownership of our entire continent into living in a small number of confined spaces — appropriately and sadly labeled “Reservations.”

Christopher Columbus could not have been more clearly defined, structured, and guided by the evil side of those instincts leading him to see his group as “Us,” and to see and perceive every one else as “Them.” Columbus enslaved many of the people he captured, and we now know that he and his men wiped out entire tribes on some islands.

Columbus Euro-centrically and highly chauvinistically celebrated “discovering America for humanity” — not recognizing or acknowledging the obvious fact that tens-of-millions of humans already lived here, and that the discovery process for humans in this hemisphere had happened long before the European invasion of these shores.

The InterGroup books very directly and explicitly explain that history and those behaviors. The book Cusp of Chaos explains how many unresolved and damaging intergroup instinctive behaviors we still have activated in our country today.

The photo on the cover of Cusp of Chaos looks like a tank battle in Syria or Iraq, but it is actually a police tank in Ferguson, Missouri, photographed during the recent protests there. We could have used a similar photo for the cover of that book from the Charlottesville riots that happened last week. People with those sets of “US/Them” instincts fully activated were doing very intentional damage to other people in that city just last week.

Those behaviors and the historical underpinnings we have as a country are all described in the InterGroup books. You can read each of the four core InterGroup books free by chapter on the Instititute for InterGroup Understanding website.

That website is set up to make each of the core books easily available and to explain both why we need intergroup Peace, and what we can do to help create it at this absolutely crucial time when we have so much to gain and so much to lose.

The website helps explain why we are far better as a nation at a wide range of those intergroup behaviors than we used to be. We have come a very long way as a country relative to intergroup issues. We still, however, have some deep and instinct fueled intergroup anger and division — and we all need to deal very directly with those issues at this point in our history if we want to achieve a successful and safe America for us all.

We still have obvious and troubling patterns of discrimination, prejudice, and intergroup distrust. Some of those issues that tie to the delivery of health care are pointed out in the book — Ending Racial, Ethnic, and Cultural Discrimination in American Health Care — which is not one of the core Institute books.

We need to all realize that we each have the packages of instincts that divide the world into “Us” and “Them” — and the fact that we are an increasingly diverse nation means we will need to deal with those instincts openly and directly, or they will shape our emotions and behaviors in what can be very damaging, dangerous, and destructive ways. We saw that thought process and set of values in the recent killing by a White Supremacist that was celebrated by too many people who clearly had those very primal instincts activated in an evil, ugly, and dangerous way.

The truth is that we have now made all of the worst kinds of personal and group discrimination illegal in every state in this country, and those laws against those levels of discrimination have been extremely beneficial to minorities of all groups in this country, but those laws do not bring us to where we need to be to achieve intergroup Peace in America.

Jihadis will be part of our problem. The potential jihadis in this country will continue to be a problem for reasons that are clear and easy to understand.

Making intergroup discrimination illegal for most kinds of interactions will not prevent or keep a Somali youth in Minneapolis who feels highly isolated — and who feels clearly different in important ways from the people around them — from finding a personal alignment with easily available and highly seductive people on the Internet who preach radical jihadism and who very skillfully trigger, exacerbate, and inflame intergroup hatred in the name of an “Us” that feels right to that alienated youth.

There are sets of young people with potential jihadi links living in the U.S. who feel alienated from their local communities. They are highly vulnerable to being drawn to a sense of community and alignment with the most seductive and well-sold jihadi causes.

The attraction to that jihadi agenda needs to be understood as having very powerful, seductive, persuasive, and clearly instinctive triggers for the people it attracts.

Internet predators very explicitly and aggressively recruiting for jihadi causes who want to persuade the alienated youth in those American settings with a sense of belonging to an “Us” know exactly what to say, and they know how to communicate with that youth to exacerbate those feelings of alienation and deep levels of current intergroup anger and division, to entice new recruits to their cause.

We All Want To Be An “Us”

That recruiting process can feel like “coming home” for the first time to the youth being recruited. It can feel very good to “come home” — particularly when the person had no positive sense of that comforting, reinforcing, and defining alignment before feeling it in a jihadi situation or setting.

We all share the same basic emotions, needs, and aspirations to feel aligning behaviors.

We all very much want to be part of an “Us.” We each feel a clear emotional need to be part of an “Us.” That need to be part of an “Us” can be exploited in both positive and damaging ways. Gangs often help people who feel isolated from their communities have a sense of “Us.”

Cult leaders almost always create a sense of “Us” as a key tool for building membership.

Wanting to be an “Us” is a perfectly good, legitimate, and reasonable emotion. We need to recognize how important it is for us as a country to give everyone an avenue for feeling that alignment in ways that create support for us as a nation and as local American communities, rather than creating a reality where too many of our people will only feel that alignment if they build it with a dangerous and separatist jihadi group “Us.”

Jihadis play very skillfully on that deeply embedded and entirely instinctive sense of wanting to be an “Us.” We have seen the jihadi recruiters take people who feel isolated and divided from the community around them in important ways that make people feel alone, vulnerable and angry — and they channel the anger and eliminate the sense of vulnerability for their recruits by giving each recruit an “Us” to be part of.

We all need to understand how that important process works and the impact it can and will have on people in this country who do not share a sense of being “Us” today.

The jihadi “Us” alignment and identity can feel morally right for someone who does not feel part of the community “Us” in this country, and who feels all of the constant stress and periodic anger of being surrounded by “Them.” The fact that a significant number of people in our country today have those feelings is exactly why we can expect to have more jihadi killings in this country.

Those instincts are so powerful and so seductive that we can expect some numbers of angry people to listen to the siren song of violent expectations, and damage the rest of us in this country in various ways. We need to recognize the fact that those damaging behaviors will feel morally justified to those people in our country when their worst sets of instincts are in gear, and when they are guided by their radical jihadi thought leaders to defend their new “Us” and then attack their local, now clearly defined “Them” — using bombs, trucks, knives, guns and whatever weapons might be available for those purposes.

We can also expect that some people from other countries who hate us as a country for what they perceive we have done to their aligned “Us” group will hate us so much that some people will be willing to come here in various ways to damage us. Intergroup hatred can be highly motivating and people can make major life choices under its influence.

One of the San Bernardino killers clearly followed that pattern of instinctive behaviors. She immigrated to this country as a wife who was even willing to abandon her own very small child in order to kill “Them” in that small California town. Hatred at intergroup levels can create significant levels of motivations on levels we should not underestimate.

So we can expect more jihadi killings in our country. Not a huge number — but a very real number that we should do everything we can to prevent by understanding who is at risk, and by reducing those levels of risk.

The Europeans Are Not Building A Good Sense of “Us”

We can also expect to see killings in much larger numbers in countries like France and England where there are large and growing numbers of angry, isolated, minority youth who want to feel the power, identity enforcement, and situational energy generation of belonging to an “Us” – and who want to somehow damage the local “Them.” Many young people have travelled to jihadi-dominated parts of the world and returned to their former European settings with a significant possibility of acting in negative and damaging ways in those settings.

Europe has done a terrible job of creating a new sense of “Us” in their large urban areas. The highly tribal wars in Iraq and Syria have their own core “Us/Them” sets of instinctive behaviors in play — and those wars have created major streams of deeply unhappy, alienated, and increasingly angry refugees. That flood of people — coupled with major migration from some North African countries — has created major communities and neighborhoods in Europe where those sets of “Us/Them” instincts are highly activated and where the local loyalty of the people is not at any significant level to the traditional culture and historic tribal group in each setting.

There is deep anger in major portions of many European cities. The governments in each setting will need to understand how deeply instinctive those feelings and thoughts are, and then make changes to create a new sense of “Us” in those settings. Riots, bombings, intergroup anger, and hatred will define their future in too many settings if they do not recognize the instinct-guided thinking of all parties, and then take steps to define and create a next generation of peaceful internal alignment in those settings.

Simply hoping things will get better will not succeed as a strategy in any of those settings.

The book Cusp Of Chaos describes those intergroup situations in Europe, Africa, The Middle East, and Asia — and also discusses the current ethnic and tribal conflicts and divisions in Russia, China, and India — in some detail and explains how basic instinctive behaviors have channeled interactions and created both the history and the current dysfunctional realities in more than 200 currently conflicted settings.

The book, The Art of InterGroup Peace, outlines some of the things those countries should and could be doing to create alignment and promote intergroup Peace.

Our instincts clearly create these messes in each of those intergroup settings, and we will obviously need to use our instincts in enlightened and accountable ways if we want those messes to be resolved. Tools exist to do that work, but we need to know what those tools are and we need to make the explicit, intentional, and intellectually informed commitment to use them.

We need to use those same basic and intentional intergroup tools that can help create future Peace in Europe to help resolve some of our own intergroup problems in America. We have intergroup angers that will take us to very damaging places if we don’t understand exactly what is causing them, and persuade our leaders, from all groups, to help us build intergroup peace in America.

The Charlottesville protests and riots echo what we saw in Ferguson and several other communities about the fact that too many people from too many groups feel a strong need right now to defend their own “Us” in ways that do damage to other groups. We need to stand back from the incidents and study the patterns — and then we need to make some enlightened decisions about who we want and need to be as a country.

The InterGroup books were written to help inform those decisions and to functionally assist with the needed behaviors.

We Are All Creatures of Instincts and Need to Have Instincts Be Our Tools and Not Our Destiny

We are all creatures of instincts. Knowledge actually is power relative to our entire arrays of instinctive behaviors. We can have much more control over our lives when we recognize and understand the factors that have a major impact on our values, emotions, and behaviors.

If we want to rise to a higher level of accountable and enlightened behavior in our own country, and if we want to create inclusively and mutually beneficial intergroup Peace in America, we need to start with a clear desire and a shared commitment to be both enlightened and mutually supportive. We need to think of America as having the potential to turn our growing diversity into a massive asset giving us an advantage over the rest of the world. Both books Peace in Our Time and The Art of InterGroup Peace explain how that can be done.

We are at a crossroads on those issues in our own country.

Our diversity as a nation needs to be recognized, celebrated, appreciated, and utilized.

The basic diversity numbers are extremely clear — and we need to know what the key numbers are.

More than half of the births in America this year were to our minority groups — and that number will increase. We have hit an historical tipping point. More than half is an extremely important number. We all need to recognize how important our newborn diversity is for our future.

As a key response to that future, we clearly need to create the right start for all children in America, and we need to end the terrible learning gaps between groups that damage so many of our schools.

It quickly becomes clear for each child which path they are on. The first three years are stunningly important for both the intellectual and emotional underpinnings for each child.

We know which students are on the path to illiteracy with more than 80 percent accuracy by the time they reach age three. The book Three Key Years, which is part of the Institute for InterGroup Understanding tool kit explaining that process, describes what we need to do to help every child in those incredibly important first years of life. explains to parents how to teach their children to do well and succeed.

We need all children to succeed, and we need helping all children to be a core commitment if we really want to create Peace In Our Time.

We need to recognize our recent progress and begin building our future progress levels now.

Achieving InterGroup Peace can actually be done — but it will not happen on its own.

Jihadis will damage us — and we need to deal with those issues.

We also need to help resolve our intergroup conflicts at other levels — and we need to very directly help children from all groups succeed. We will be stronger, safer, and more prosperous as a country if we make the American Dream available to every group. We need to understand those opportunities — and we need to work on them now.

Is there any better use of our resources, time, energy, and our individual attention than saving kids and creating intergroup Peace for America?

We need a Peace movement for our country, and we need it now.

Welcome to the process and the goal.

Peace in Our Time. Let’s get it right this time.