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Former extremist discusses attraction to, defection from white power movement

Former extremist discusses attraction to, defection from white power movement

Robert Orell speaks about past experiences and currrent work with Exit Sweden

July 2, 2014Scott Jones

On July 2, former white power extremist Robert Orell offered a talk at START Headquarters about his personal experiences in the movement as well as his professional experiences helping others to leave the movement.

He currently works with Exit Sweden, a support group for those trying to leave white power groups.

Orell said there were a number of influences that led him to join the white power movement as a young teen, including trouble in school and feeling like he didn’t fit in with his peers.

“Failing in school is hard on your self-esteem,” Orell said. “I grew fairly fast in fifth grade so I was a head taller than the others. And I was a bit different, at least that was my feeling. I started looking for alternative environments for building identity. I went into heavy metal and death metal. I went into the football hooligan environment, being interested in team colors and having a belonging. A very clear ‘us’ and ‘them,’ with us always a bit superior to them. And in this environment I also connected with the racist environment in Sweden.”

Orell said the movement came with messages saying, “Robert you’re not a failure; it’s not your fault. You’re part of a greater cause. You have something important to do and your role will be very special.”

When he first joined the group, Orell was much more focused on this message than any ideology, he said. He and his fellow members engaged in activities such as partying, drinking, fighting, going out on the town and generally being overly aggressive.

As Orell read more about the group’s ideology, he realized he and his fellow members were not engaging in the “elite” behavior the movement called for. This led to a change in the way Orell practiced white power, and he began living a more “pure” lifestyle, avoiding many of his previous activities while training and eating healthy instead. His friends were not interested in living this lifestyle, and this created somewhat of a separation between them and Orell.

The second development that separated Orell from the white power community was his response to military service. When called upon to join the military, he was very excited, as he believed the experience would make him a more valuable and skilled member of the movement. However, the experience put him on a path that would ultimately separate from the white power movement.

“As a soldier, I felt a sense of competence which led to self-esteem, which led to an opening of my thinking – rethinking my engagement with the movement,” Orell said. “In military service I felt like I was home in a way I hadn’t felt within the movement.”

It was also around this time that Orell first got in contact with Exit Sweden, which provided him with support for leaving his group.

“That support was having somebody to talk to that could understand and not judge,” he said. “They could validate a lot of things I went through in mind about my defecting.”

When he returned from service, Orell left the movement and after a few months, began working with Exit Sweden. He said that one of the strengths of the organization is its staff’s mixed competencies.

“We have professionally trained therapists and social workers but we also have another type of competence: people with their own experience from this environment. People who left the movement and are able use their experience as a tool and are also able to cope with other people’s experiences,” Orell said.

Although Exit Sweden is an autonomous organization, it is also part of a larger youth center called Fryshuset. Orell has worked with Exit Sweden for more than 10 years and in 2010 helped found Passus Sweden, an organization for individuals trying to leave organized crime groups.