chapter  5
25 Pages

Extreme right activists: recruitment and experiences


Between 1995 and 1999 we conducted life-history interviews with 157 activists of extreme right organizations in Flanders (Belgium), France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Based on these interviews I try to answer the following questions: How did these activists become involved in the extreme right and how did it change their lives?1 During the 1990s, when we conducted our interviews, the shape of right-wing extremism (RWE) in the five countries differed: it was marginal and dispersed in Germany and the Netherlands, and sizeable and united in Flanders, France, and Italy. Moreover, in Germany and the Netherlands RWE was associated with the dark era of National Socialism, while in France, Flanders, and Italy it was rooted in a ‘heroic’ nationalist past. As a consequence, affiliating with RWE meant different trajectories and had different consequences in these countries. This chapter begins with a comparison of RWE in the five countries at the time of our interviews. In the sections that follow I will compare patterns of recruitment into activism and the experience of activism, respectively. Recruitment patterns appear to differ contingent on the state of RWE in the various countries. The same held for the experience of being an active member of an extreme right organization, as demonstrated by a discussion of stigmatization.