Narratives of Childhood Adversity and Adolescent Misconduct as Precursors to Violent Extremism: A Life-Course Criminological Approach

Pete Simi, Karyn Sporer, Bryan F. Bubolz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

29 Scopus citations


Objective: We examined how nonideological factors such as childhood risk factors and adolescent conduct problems precede participation in violent extremism (VE). Methods: We conducted in-depth life-history interviews with former members of violent White supremacist groups (N = 44) to examine their childhood and adolescent experiences, and how they explain the factors that led to the onset of VE. Results: Based on self-reports, we found substantial presence of childhood risk factors and adolescent conduct problems as precursors to participation in violent extremist groups. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that pathways to VE are more complex than previously identified in the literature and that violent extremists are a heterogeneous population of offenders whose life histories resemble members of conventional street gangs and generic criminal offenders. We conclude our article with implications related to criminological theory, directions for future research, and limitations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)536-563
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Research in Crime and Delinquency
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015



  • antisocial behavior
  • criminological theory
  • developmental theories
  • life-course theory
  • qualitative research
  • research methods
  • terrorism
  • violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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