While progress has been made to understand mid-life correlates associated with extremist participation, much less research focuses on adolescent risk factors.
The purpose of the current study is to expand upon the focus on individual-level correlates by assessing the extent and nature of childhood adversity among a sample of former white supremacists. The current study relies on in-depth life-history interviews with ninety-one North America-based former white supremacists and the Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire. Overall, the current sample contained elevated rates of childhood risk factors with 63% of participants having experienced four or more adverse experiences during the first eighteen years of their lives (as compared to 55% of a comparison “high risk” sample and 16% of the U.S. general population sample).
Furthermore, participants discussed a variety of maladaptive coping strategies associated with adversity that generated vulnerabilities to adolescent misconduct and extremism early in the life-course.
Our findings indicate that extremist onset does not begin with a single life event but rather is generated, and further exacerbated by the cumulative impact of multiple adverse experiences during childhood.