Becoming an Extremist: Lifestyles, Scenes and Right-Wing Radicalization in Germany

Wednesday, June 26, 2013
C2.17 (Oudemanhuispoort)
Daniel Koehler , EXIT Germany
Cynthia Miller-Idriss , Humanities and Social Sciences, New York University
Cynthia Miller-Idriss and Daniel Koehler examine the role that culture plays in extremist radicalization and de-radicalization, using a unique set of interviews with former right-wing extremist group members to focus in particular on “lifestyle elements” like music, tattoos, commercial products, and symbols. Subcultural youth scenes have long been understood as critical components of social movements, but most academic attention has been directed toward left-wing movements, with little attention to right-wing youth scenes.  Although youth who exhibit extremist symbols in the form of tattoos and clothing and who attend right-wing rock concerts are generally understood and referred to by police, educators and other experts as “right-wing,” there have been no empirical studies to date which examine whether and how the consumption and performance of lifestyle elements affects youth in terms of their initial engagement with the scene or their later radicalization within it.  We also know little about whether and how lifestyle elements are used by movement leaders to recruit and radicalize members. 

Interview data analyzed in this paper suggests that lifestyle elements enable identity to be consumed, performed, and expressed not only through the organized rituals of political meetings, activities, and extremist protest marches, but also through everyday interactions and quotidian routines at home, with peers, in social settings, and in schools and workplaces.  The consumption and performance of everyday lifestyle elements, the authors suggest, has two consequences:  on the one hand, they facilitate recruitment, identity-building, and staged radicalization for youth, while on the other hand, they provide avenues for strategic deployment by movement leaders.