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Leaving Hate Behind – Neo-Nazis, Significant Others and Disengagement

Journal article
Authors Christer Mattsson
Thomas Johansson
Published in Journal for deradicalization
Volume 18
Issue Spring
Pages 185-216
ISSN 2363-9849
Publication year 2019
Published at Segerstedt Institute
Pages 185-216
Language en
Keywords Disengagement Processes; Significant Others; Social Psychology; Fateful Moments
Subject categories Social Psychology, Pedagogical Work


The purpose of this study is to contribute to the oral history of disengagement processes of former neo-Nazis in Sweden. The main aim is to take a holistic approach to their narratives. This means that these narratives need to be placed in relation to significant others – such as teachers, parents, and siblings – in order to contextualize the individual stories and pathways and also analyze push and pull factors in a broader context. Although there is ample evidence for the importance pro-social relationship for disengagement, most studies have focused exclusively on the individual stories. This one-sided focus could contribute to the construction of a highly individualized narrative of disengagement processes. Research has shown that disengagement from extremist movements is often preceded by individuals’ disillusionment with the movement, but there is also a need for the individual to reconnect with others outside the movement in order to share his or her doubts. There is, however, scarce research on how this process of interaction with significant outsiders who are present during both the radicalization and disengagement process can be understood. The empirical material of this study consists of two case studies. Each case story contains a condensed narrative of the person’s own perception of push and pull factors leading into the neo-Nazi movement in Sweden and starting a disengagement process. In one case, disengagement was successful, in the other it was not. In addition to these individual narratives, a number of voices of significant others are added and analyzed to contextualize each pathway. The results show that disengagement can be understood as a combination of fateful moments and “interventions” by significant others. The non-judgmental attitudes among these significant others are rooted in their lived experiences of handling individuals grievances.

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