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Measuring the Extent and Nature of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) among Former White Supremacists.

NCJ Number
Terrorism and Political Violence Dated: 2020
Date Published

Although progress has been made in understanding mid-life correlates associated with extremist participation, much less research has focused on adolescent risk factors, so the current study sought to expand upon the focus on individual-level correlates by assessing the extent and nature of childhood adversity among a sample of former white supremacists. 


The study relied on in-depth life-history interviews with 91 North America-based former white supremacists and the Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire. Overall, the current sample contained elevated rates of childhood risk factors with 63 percent of participants having experienced four or more adverse experiences during the first 18 years of their lives (as compared to 55 percent of a comparison “high risk” sample and 16 percent of the U.S. general population sample). Furthermore, participants discussed a variety of maladaptive coping strategies associated with adversity that generated vulnerabilities to adolescent misconduct and extremism early in the life-course. The findings indicate that extremist onset does not begin with a single life event but rather is generated, and further exacerbated by the cumulative impact of multiple adverse experiences during childhood. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2020