Talk is silver and silence is gold? Assessing the impact of public disengagement from the extreme right on deradicalization


  • Christer Mattsson The Segerstedt Institute, University of Gothenburg
  • Thomas Johansson The Segerstedt Institute, University of Gothenburg


Neo-Nazis, Identity, Stigmatization, Self-Reflexive, Confession, Deradicalization, Disengagement


This article explores the relationship between disengagement and deradicalization processes among 15 individuals who have left the neo-Nazi movement. The participants in this study were initially interviewed in 2015, and the interview process is still ongoing. In this particular study, the differences between individuals who disengaged publicly, that is, those who did not or could not conceal their engagement with the movement, and individuals who were able to and/or wanted to keep their past a secret, are studied. The analysis of the interviews has focused on the outcomes of revealed or concealed stigmatization, in particular in relation to how disengagement was or was not followed by deradicalization. The findings suggest that those who disengaged publicly followed a clear path from disengagement to deradicalization, whereas those who tried to conceal their former involvement in the neo-Nazi movement showed a more complex pattern. Among the latter are individuals who are not yet deradicalized. However, they want to live “ordinary” lives and to have a family, free from fear that neighbours or people at work will stigmatize them and dissociate themselves from them. It is also clear that these participants were to a greater extent less satisfied with life in general. The findings also stress the ethical problems involved in using former neo-Nazis as public examples, as this traps them into a former neo-Nazi identity, thus creating new trauma.


Adams, B. (1990) Time and Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Aho, J.A. (1994) This thing of darkness. A sociology of the enemy. Seattle: Washington University Press.

Altier, M.B., Thoroughgood, C.N., Horgan, J.G. (2014). Turning away from terrorism: lessons from psychology, sociology, and criminology. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 51(5):647-661.

Altier, M.B., Boyle, E.L., Horgan, J.G. (2020) Terrorist Transformations: The Link between Terrorist Roles and Terrorist Disengagement. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Online 21 January, 2020.

Arnett, J. (2014) Emerging adulthood: The winding road from the late teens through the twenties. New York: Oxford Press.

Barrelle, K. (2015). Pro-integration: disengagement from and life after extremism. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, Vol. 7(2): 129-142.

Bazemore, G. (1998). Restorative Justice and Earned Redemption: Communities, Victims, and Offender Reintegration. American Behavioral Scientist, 41(6)

Besley, A.C. (2005) Self-denial or self-mastery? Foucault’s genealogy of the confessional self. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, Vol. 33(3): 365-382.

Bjørgo, T. (1997a). Racist and right-wing violence in Scandinavia: Patterns, perpetrators and responses. Tano Aschehoug.

Bjørgo, Tore (1997b) Entry, Bridge-Burning and Exit Options: What Happens to Young People Who Join Racist Groups – and Want to Leave? Chapter 6 in Tore Bjørgo: Racist and Right-Wing Violence in Scandinavia: Patterns, Perpetrators and Responses. Oslo: Tano Aschehoug.

Bjørgo, T. (1998) Entry, Bridge-burning and Exit Options: What happens to young people who join racist groups – and want to leave? In Kaplan, J & T. Bjørgo (eds.): Nation and Race: The Developing Euro-American Racist Subculture. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998).

Bjørgo, T. (2009). Processes of disengagement from violent groups of the extreme right. In Bjørgo, T & Horgan, J. (eds.) Leaving terrorism behind. Individual and collective disengagement. London: Routledge.

Bjørgo, T., & Horgan, J. (2009) Leaving Terrorism Behind: Individual and Collective Disengagement. London/New York: Routledge.

Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative research in psychology. 3 (2). S 77-101.

Bubolz, B.F & Simi, P. (2015). Leaving the world of hate; Life-course transitions and self-change. American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 59(12):1588-1608.

Clubb, G. (2014) “From Terrorists to Peacekeepers”: The IRA’s Disengagement and the Role of Community Networks. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Vol. 37(10):842-861.

Ebaugh, H.R (1988) Becoming an Ex. The Process of Role Exit. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Foucault, M. (1979) The History of Sexuality, Vol I. An Introduction. London: Penguin Books.

Gadd, D. (2006). The role of recognition in the desistance process: A case analysis of a former far-right activist. Theoretical Criminology, Vol.10(2), 179-202.

Gaudette, T., Scrivens, R., & Venkatesh, V. (2020). The Role of the Internet in Facilitating Violent Extremism: Insights from Former Right-Wing Extremists. Terrorism and Political Violence, 1-18.

Giddens, A. (1984) The Constitution of Society. Outline of the Theory of Structuration. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity & Self-Identity. Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Gielen, A-J, (2018). Exit programmes for female jihadists: A proposal for conducting realistic evaluation of the Dutch approach. International Sociology, Vol. 33(4):454-472.

Harris, K., Gringart, E., & Drake, D. (2018). Leaving ideological groups behind: A model of disengagement. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 1-19.

Holstein, J.A. & Gubrium, J.F. (2004). Animating interview narratives. In D. Silverman (Ed). (pp. 131-148) Qualitative research 3rd Edition. London: Sage.

Horgan, J. (2008). From Profiles to Pathways and Roots to Routes: Perspectives from Psychology on Radicalization into Terrorism. AAPSS, Vol. 618(1): 80-94.

Horgan, J. (2011). Interviewing the terrorists: reflections on fieldwork and implications for psychological research. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression. Published on-line September 2012

Horgan, J., Altier, M.B, Shortland, N., & Taylor, M. (2017). Walking away: The disengagement and de-radicalization of a violent right-wing extremist. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, Vol. 9(2):63-77.

Jones, E. E. & Harries, V. A. (1967) The attribution of attitudes. Journal of experimental social psychology. 3 (1) p 1-24.

Kimmel, M. (2007) Racism as adolescent male rite of passage. Ex-Nazis in Scandinavia. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Vol. 36(2): 202-218.

Kimmel, M. (2018). Healing from Hate. How Young Men Get Into – and Out of – Violent Extremism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Koehler, D. (2016). Understanding Deradicalization. Methods, Tools and Programs for Countering Violent Extremism. Oxon/New York: Routledge.

Koehler, D. (2020). Involvement of Formers in Countering Violent Extremism: A Critical Perspective on Commonly Held Assumptions. In Walsh, M. & Gansewig, A. (Ed.) Frühere Extremisten in der schulischen Präventionsarbeit: Perspektiven aus Wissenschaft und Praxis. Bonn: Nationales Zentrum kriminalprävention.

Maruna, S., Lebel, T. P., Mitchell, N., & Naples, M. (2006). Pygmalion in the reintegration process: Desistance from crime through the looking glass. Psychology, Crime and Law, 10(3), 271-281.

Mattsson, C. & Johansson, T. (2018) Becoming, belonging and leaving – Exit processes among young neo-Nazis in Sweden. Journal for Deradicalization, summer 2018, No. 15.

Mattsson, C. & Johansson, T. (2020) Life Trajectories into and out of Contemporary Neo-Nazism. Becoming and Unbecoming the Hateful Other. London: Routledge.

McCauley, C. & Moskalenko, S. (2011). Friction: How radicalization happens to them and us. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Moghaddam, G. (2005). The staircase to terrorism. A psychological exploration. American Psychologist, Vol. 60 (2): 161-169.

Neumann, P. (2013.) The trouble with radicalization. International affairs 89:4, 873-893.

Rae, J. (2012). Will it ever be possible to profile terrorists? Journal of Terrorism Research. Vol. 3(2):64-74.

Roy, O. (2007). Islamic terrorist radicalisation in Europe. In Allen, C., Amghar, S., Amiraux, V., Boubekeur, A., Choudhury, T., Emerson, M., Godard, B., Karich, I., Rigoni, I., Roy, O., & Silvestri, S. (eds.), European Islam: Challenges for Society and Public Policy (pp. 52-60). Brussels: Center for European Policy Studies.

Sageman, M. (2004). Understanding Terror Networks. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Scrivens, R., Venkatesh, V., Bérubé, M., & Gaudette, T. (2019). Combating Violent Extremism: Voices of Former Right-Wing Extremists. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism.

Sieckelinck, S., Sikkens, E., van San, M., Kotnis, S., Winter, M.D. (2019) Transitional Journeys Into and Out of Extremism. A Biographical Approach. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Vol. 42(7):662-682.

Sikkens, E., van San, M., Sieckelinck, S., de Winter, M. (2017) Parental Influence on Radicalization and De-radicalization according to the Lived Experience of Former Extremists and their Families. Journal of Deradicalization, no 12: 192-226.

Simi, P., Blee, K., DeMichele, M., Windisch, S. (2017) Addicted to hate: Identity residual among former white supremacists. American Sociological Review, Vol 82(6):1167-1187.

Simi, P. & Windisch, S. (2020) Why Radicalization Fails: Barriers to Mass Casualty. Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 32(4): 831-850.

Swedish Research Council, (2017) God forskningssed. Stockholm: Swedish Research Council.

Walters, G.D. (2018) College as a Turning Point: Crime Deceleration as a Function of College Attendance and Improved Cognitive Control. Emerging Adulthood, Vol.6(5): 336-346.

Windisch, S., Simi, P., Ligon, G.S & McNeel, H. (2017). Disengagement from Ideologically-Based and Violent Organisations: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Journal for Deradicalization. Winter 2016/17, No.9.

Windisch, S., Ligon, G.S., Simi, P. (2019) Organizational (Dis)trust: Comparing Disengagement Among Former Left-Wing and Right-Wing Violent Extremists. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Vol.42(6):559-580.

Wood, D., Crapnell, T., Lau, L., Bennett, A., Lotstein, D, Ferris, M., Kuo, A. (2018) Emerging Adulthood as a Critical Stage in the Life Course. In Halfon, N. (eds) Handbook of Life Course Health Development. Cham: Springer.