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Who Is More Violent in Extremist Groups? A Comparison of Leaders and Followers


Few prior studies have examined the extent to which the behavior and characteristics of political extremists are related to their position within radical groups. In this paper we concentrate on one of the most fundamental distinctions in groups: That between leaders and followers. Our main goal is to investigate the comparative propensity of leaders and followers to engage in political violence. In a sample of individuals who have committed ideologically motivated political crimes in the United States (N = 1,331). we found that even though leaders were more ideologically committed to the group's goals and ideologies, they were at the same time less likely to engage in violent acts. Moreover, we found that leaders in radical criminal organizations shared many characteristics with leaders in noncriminal organizations. Specifically, in comparison to followers, they were more often male, older, and they were more likely to belong to an ethnic majority. We consider implications for future research and policy of the fundamental conclusion that compared to leaders, followers in terrorist organizations are more likely to engage in violent acts.

Publication Information

Full Citation:

Jasko, Katarzyna and Gary LaFree. 2019. "Who Is More Violent in Extremist Groups? A Comparison of Leaders and Followers." Aggressive Behavior (September). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ab.21865

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