Synthesis Report: Young People's Trajectories Through Anti-
Islam(ist) and Extreme Right Milieus
This report brings new insight to our understanding of extreme-right radicalisation across Europe by exploring key themes emerging from the meta-ethnographic synthesis of findings from the study of young people’s trajectories through nine milieus in France, Germany, Greece, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia and the UK.
Starting from a critical approach to the concept of ‘radicalisation’ and a concern with understanding the everyday contexts of young people’s engagements with radical(ising) messages, the focus on milieus provides a new way to understand how individual trajectories towards radical or extremist positions are situated in social environments (offline and online) that sustain them. The milieus studied are diverse but each constitutes a space (physical or virtual) where radical/extreme rightwing messages are encountered, for example via the presence of recruiters, people of high receptivity to radical messages and/or people who have participated in radical or extreme right-wing activities.
The close-up study of these milieus also reveals each of them to be internally differentiated and complex and thus as potentially inhibiting and constraining extremism and violence as well as inciting or escalating it. The data set drawn on includes interviews with just under 200 research participants, most aged between 15 and 30 years, and over 150 ethnographic observations.
The analysis addresses five research questions concerning milieu actors’: 1) understandings of ‘radicalism’, ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’; 2) encounters with radical(ising) messages; 3) understandings of (in)equality and its role in radicalisation; 4) narratives of their trajectories towards and away from extremism; 5) visions of a better society and how they envisage achieving change. The study finds that milieu actors recognise the problem of extremism, including right-wing extremism, but dissociate themselves from it. They ground this in their understanding of extremism as characterised by the willingness to engage in violence; something the vast majority of them do not support and in which they do not engage. They maintain that ‘right-wing extremist’ is applied indiscriminately across the spectrum of right-wing activism. This renders the term meaningless in theory whilst in practice it has stigmatising effects that become a grievance in itself. The study confirms that online spaces are a significant source of encounters with radical(ising) messages, which are often given credence by milieu actors who see information accessed online as more ‘trustworthy’ than sources of mainstream media. However, offline relationships – with family, friends and other milieu actors – remain important and are a factor not only in encouraging radical views or actions but in constraining radicalisation. The balance between online and offline encounters with radical messages varies significantly between the different milieus studied. The study reveals that subjective rather than objective and socio-political rather than socio-economic inequality dominate concerns of milieu actors. The primary site of inequality discussed in the milieus is the gap between societal elites and ‘the people’. Although research participants feel alienated by the ‘elites’ they identify, they do not challenge their power through a discourse of equality. Equality is not seen as an ideal and, for many, on the contrary, inequality is accepted and considered natural. The rejection of political agendas of equality in favour of ‘natural’ difference are expressed also in relation to questions of gender and sexuality. The study finds that deeply held ‘grievances’ are crucial in milieu actors’ narratives of how they become, and remain, active. The most prominent of these relates to the influx of difference, in the shape of immigrants and refugees, who are held to represent attitudes, beliefs and cultural practices that are alien and threatening to the values and ways of living in the countries to which they immigrate. Islam and Muslims are accorded a particular threat status. Milieu actors see society as being in profound crisis and express a sense of collective existential insecurity through visions of the physical ‘replacement’ of white European populations (as a result of immigration and demographic change) and the subsequent loss of unique national and regional
The national reports on which this Synthesis Report is based are available below:
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 725349