When Healing Turns to Activism: Formers and Family Members’ Motivation to Engage in P/CVE.



Former Extremists, Relatives of Extremists, P/CVE, Individual Motivations


The involvement of former extremists or family members of terrorists in measures aimed at preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) has recently gained more attention in research and practice. However, little is yet known about the motivations of these individuals as to why they chose to engage in P/CVE activities. Understanding what drives such engagement could provide a better appreciation of the potential impact of such deployment, whether beneficial or detrimental to both the individuals involved and their respective P/CVE-target audience – and contribute to the evolving discourse regarding the effectiveness and potential risks of such P/CVE interventions. This article draws on eight biographical-narrative interviews with four former right-wing extremists and with four relatives of jihadist foreign fighters, all of whom are currently engaged in P/CVE work. Through qualitative reconstructive methods, a combination of narrative and thematic approaches was used to reconstruct the action-relevant orientations for the interviewees' activism. Results indicate that family members are motivated by coping mechanisms for traumatic stress, by social relatedness derived from a ‘positive marginality’, and in response to situational demands. Motivations of former extremists include finding their way back into society, having their new identity mirrored back to them, or maintaining a sense of self-continuity through ‘role residuals’. The results show that, in the case of family members, motivation is affected by exposure to traumatic stress. They also suggest that a locus of control among former extremists can signify different stages of deradicalisation in some forms of exit pathways and thus help to identify different risks depending on a former’s P/CVE role.


This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 725349. This publication reflects only the views of the author(s); the European Commission and Research Executive Agency are not responsible for any information it contains.

Since the second author of this article (Daniel Koehler) is also the Editor in Chief of the Journal for Deradicalization, a guest editor (Prof. Hilary Pilkington, Manchester University) facilitated the peer review process to prevent any conflict of interests and protect the integrity of the peer review process.


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