Arie W. Kruglanski is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Maryland. He is a social psychologist and his research has centered on how people form judgements, beliefs, impressions, and attitudes. His latest publication is The Radical’s Journey: How German Neo-Nazis Voyaged to the Edge and Back (2019).
Given Dr. Kruglanski’s extensive expertise and the diversity of his research, European Eye on Radicalization discussed with him various topics.
Q) Your last volume, The Radical’s Journey: How German Neo-Nazis Voyaged to the Edge and Back, examines right-wing extremism through empirical analysis. What are the main characteristics that we can find in the radicalization paths of right-wing extremists?
A) The most interesting thing about radicalization of right-wing extremists is that in its fundamental characteristics it is similar to Islamic terrorists and others. As we document in the book, such radicalization processes are propelled by a convergence of three factors: individuals’ Needs (for significance and mattering), exposure to a Narrative that tells how the need can be satisfied, namely by fighting an enemy of some sort (e.g. the Muslim immigrants, Jews, homosexuals), and support and validation through a Network (e.g. a group of comrades, friends or family members) who validate the narrative and dispense rewards for those who act on the narrative, i.e. inflict violence on the alleged enemy.
The specific circumstances of right wing extremists differ from those of other violent extremists. For example, they may have been bullied at school or abused at home, which would have activated their need for significance. The venue where they encounter the narrative may also be unique, for example, at punk music concerts, or mixed martial arts dojos. Their specific nemesis also differs from the alleged enemies of Islamist terrorists (e.g. immigrants, refugees, Jews). Also, the fundamental dynamics encapsulated in our three N model (Needs, Narratives and Networks) holds across different types of violent extremism. (See our previous book ‘The Three Pillars of Radicalization: Needs, Narratives and Networks’ published also by Oxford University Press, 2019.
Q) Are you planning to continue your research on this specific form of extremism?
A) Yes, I will continue my research on this and other types of extremism.
Q) European Eye on Radicalization pays special attention to the similarities and differences between the existing forms of extremism. In particular, we research the analogies between jihadism and far-right extremism. What is your opinion about this?
A) Excellent question. I answered it above (Question 1).
Q) You carried out research on what you term “psychology of prepossession”. Could you tell us more about this?
A) Yes, I am excited to tell you about that. My theoretical model holds that the same core dynamic is involved in all different types of extremism. Not only Neo Nazi and Islamist violent extremisms but other types of extremism such as extreme sports, extreme diets, extreme infatuation (leading to stalking), a variety of behavioral addictions such as being a workaholic or being addicted to drugs, internet, video games or even shopping.
The psychological core dynamic in all kinds of extremisms is that a given need is so dominant that it suppresses other needs, and frees behavior from the constraints that they impose. As a result, anything that satisfies the dominant need is permitted. This is the psychology of prepossession in which a person pursues satisfaction of their dominant need, and that leads to the sacrifice of other concerns as you see in addicts as well as in violent extremists.
Q) As one of the most distinguished experts in the field, what is your view of the current status of terrorism studies and what should be improved?
A) In my opinion, the field is too fragmented and the research is too localized and piecemeal. We need general conceptions that work. Our three N model is an attempt to provide such organizing framework that would not only explain numerous seemingly unrelated instances of violent extremism but also contain guidelines for prevention and reversal of extremism where its consequences appear to be perilous and pernicious. The next challenge is to translate the three N model into specific programs of counter and de-radicalization and outline a set of best practices based on the model’s premises.
Q) What is your outlook concerning right-wing radicalization in Europe in the short, medium, and long term?
A) In the short and medium terms, I see right-wing radicalization increasing. We do not have a good conceptual framework for dealing with the massive immigration and refugee problem caused by violent conflicts in various parts of the world which are likely to be exacerbated by impending natural disasters fostered by climate change.
Our thinking about refugees is based on the humanitarian model that assumed their quick repatriation. This model was applicable after World War II, but is largely irrelevant to the current reality of refugees. Their precarious and semi-permanent status without work permits and housed in temporary camps without jobs and status in society is likely to render them vulnerable to radical narratives.
I hope that in the long term we will be able to rethink the problems of immigration and displacement and find ways of providing masses of displaced people with avenues of restoring their sense of self and significance, in addition to providing them with basic safety and shelter.