In June of 2013, Meridian International Center hosted six Swedish law enforcement officials seeking to curb the effects of violent extremism in their respective municipalities. These officers represented all geographic and cultural corners of Sweden– small towns, large suburbs and bustling cities. They came to Washington, DC with a large appetite for knowledge of our law enforcement tactics and strategies to employ in their hometowns. Our group was inquisitive, intelligent and intellectually curious.
Sweden is part of a global initiative led by the U.S. Department of State to counter violent extremism. The visit was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm to support the efforts of community police offers on this topic.
The inherent problem facing our participants is the fact there has been a recent sweeping demographic transformation in Sweden. In the past decade, Sweden has fallen vulnerable to violent extremism due to its rapid influx of refugees. These émigrés from war-torn nations like Syria, Iraq and Libya have established influential pockets of extremist groups that promote and condone organized violence. Sweden’s liberal immigration policy allows for easy access to its large social welfare programs that afford refugees suitable income. Of increasing alarm is the ability of these groups to radicalize youth members through social media.
In response to the first ever suicide attack within its borders in December 2010, Sweden carried out an Action Plan to prevent violent extremism. Initiated in December 2011, the agenda contains six overarching aims and identifies fifteen measures that will be executed through 2014. Special emphasis will be given to enhancing cooperation on the local level and community policing efforts in socioeconomically disadvantaged localities. Our participant’s education through our programming will not only benefit their current initiatives, but also the sweeping restructuring of the Swedish police force set to begin in 2015.
The program Meridian International Center put together sought to address these issues in a holistic, all-encompassing manner. Our site visits were equal parts enlightening and collaborative. Highlights included:
- A visit to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism where our guests learned about social media messages the bureau utilizes to combat youth radicalization. It became very apparent Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets are becoming increasingly exploited as couriers for extremist messages.
- A tour of the National Mall that explained the symbolic significance, historical context and quirky facts of every monument and memorial.
- Discussion with Peter Montgomery of People for the American Way or “Right-Wing Watch.” This was an especially pertinent lecture and discussion given the emergence of right-wing militia groups in Swedish locales in opposition to the government’s left-wing policies.
- A meeting at the Department of Justice that involved a group simulation portraying the potential fallout of a violent hate crime. The simulation focuses on how various stakeholders react to different situations and how best to smooth tensions between different groups.
- A meeting with the Emergence Group that provided a lengthy lecture and discussion on how to best organize law enforcement efforts and jurisdictions at the local, state and federal levels. This meeting was especially conducive to conversation because many of the representatives of the Emergence Group had previously served as police officers.
After their time in Washington, DC, our guests travelled to Columbus, Ohio for three additional days of visits. Meridian partnered with the International Visitors Council of Columbus, who delivered an excellent program. Columbus was an especially important city for our program due to its heavy presence of Somali immigrants, much like in Sweden. Participants enjoyed meetings with the Community Refugee & Immigration Services, the Somali Community Association of Ohio, and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. In addition, our guests enjoyed a ride along in a local police officer’s car through a segregated area of Columbus.
Without question, there was no lack of dialogue between the speakers and the collective group and our group left with several theoretical and practical strategies and tactics to combat their emerging extremist population. Our participants benefitted from not only the site visits, but also learning about how law enforcement fits into the larger framework of our judicial system. While visiting the program sites and conversing with the speakers it became abundantly clear the problems facing Swedish and American law enforcement are very similar. Both face shifting demographics, emerging extremist groups with a propensity for organized violence, and the constant threat of larger, globalized terror attacks. Our group left with a wealth of knowledge on how to combat the ever-evolving face of organized violence with anticipatory strategies that promotes swift justice in adherence to the law.