Radicalism is of a nature that rejects incremental changes in society, the economy or in politics. The tendency is to confuse reformers and progressive with radicals, especially when they are calling for an incremental change that draws great attention and controversy. Examples of reform initiatives were "Welfare to Work" programs. Examples of progressive initiatives are calls for more environmentally sound behaviors, products and operations.
Radicalism represents the extreme, major and rapid social change that results in great controversy, opposition, and often violent or total overthrow and replacement of governments or the complete reversal of major progressive or reformist programs. Radicals may want to kill all who do not practice their religion. Radicals may want a return to segregation, elitist or non democratic rule, or even slavery. Radicals may want no government at all through anarchy, or they may want a complete and immediate change to socialism, democracy or theocracy.
The term "Radical Reform" applies to the wholescale and rapid return of major social programs to a previous form or to a greatly different form. Eliminating the dole or welfare programs; shutting down government health care or retirement programs; imposing religious standards on secular affairs are examples of reform that goes beyond that which the majority of the public favors.
The ultimate goal of radical social movements is confused with a desire to be incorporated into and recognized by the dominant culture. In other words, they actually wish to gain power and to get results that satisfy their needs or requirements through that recognition and power in order to restructure the dominant culture, not simply to fit in.
Radical social movements have particular organization elements, ideologies, structures, ways of communicating, measures of success and tactics that vary from the more moderate reformist or progressive movements. A radical social movement might advocate violent and unlawful tactics that range from relatively benign slogans, web campaigns and public assemblies to well organized and funded risky or violent action.
Today's technical advancements in transportation, communication, and even weapons environment is a major factor in the operation, communication, command and control of radical social movements and organizations. People and words travel fast. Violent radical organizations can use alternative methods of gaining funding, such as revenue from opium production in Afghanistan, or cocaine revenue in prison gangs.
Access to high tech command, control and communication systems has changed the capabilities of radical social movements. There is also access to sophisticated weaponry, paramilitary training, explosives, tools for vandalism, organizing flash mobs, conducting ecological terrorism, and other disruptive tactics that are available to the extreme ends of the radical scale.
Radical organizations might operate outside of society as non hierarchical, cellular and adaptable organizations, or they might be well established political parties and factions. Funding can come from sources that include criminal and drug enterprises, wealthy individuals, celebrities who take up the cause, and even from anonymous individual donors in the general population.
Radical organizations or social movements are identified as terrorist, right or left "wing", anarchist, revolutionary, feminist, and a variety of ethnic empowerment, and special cause movements. The term "fundamentalist" brings up religious connotations with forms of radicalism where the fundamental religious ideologies are at the core of movements toward gaining power and influence over the dominant culture to impose religious ideology into the secular matters of society and government.
The overwhelming abundance of charismatic leadership that can move moderate reform and progressive social movements toward radicalism is also a major feature of radical social movements. In some cases, battles for leadership occur between competing charismatics, resulting in schisms and offshoot organizations that can move into more aggressive action.
Charismatic leadership may be the path from progressivism or reformism to radicalism in social thought, organizations and in social movements.
As a result, there are a multitude of organizations that are deemed as radical offshoots, radical "cells" and radical wings of established political parties, religions and social organizations. Many are considered to be radical organizations from their inception. It is difficult to identify or classify all of them correctly or comprehensively as such social movements are fluid, sometimes secretive, are volatile and are highly reactive to internal and external forces.