Selling Violent Extremism

59 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2022 Last revised: 21 May 2024

See all articles by Danny Klinenberg

Danny Klinenberg

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)

Date Written: October 5, 2022


Domestic violent extremist organizations have become a significant threat to Western democracies, with some groups attracting tens of thousands of members. Understanding how these groups recruit sheds light on the latent demand for violent extremism. Surprisingly, I find that extremist groups grow their membership by employing tactics that firms might use to increase sales. I study how demand for membership in the Oath Keepers, America’s largest paramilitary organization, is affected when the group’s leadership employs three tactics: publicity generated by armed standoffs with the federal government, membership discounts, and sports sponsorships. Using a variant of the synthetic control method, I find that standoffs increase new memberships by 150\%, discounts increase new memberships by over 60\%, and sports sponsorships decrease new memberships. Demand for membership is less responsive to these tactics in counties with higher income inequality, but more so in very politically conservative counties.

Keywords: Extremism, Applied microeconomics

JEL Classification: A10

Suggested Citation

Klinenberg, Danny, Selling Violent Extremism (October 5, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Danny Klinenberg (Contact Author)

University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) ( email )

United States

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