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.
Measuring the extent and nature of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) among former white supremacists