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What Drives Men To Violent Extremism


Reports of violence are never in short supply. And it comes in many different forms from genocide to mass shootings to individual attacks. But many seem to have one thing in common - angry men. Here in the U.S., the most outstanding threat may be domestic terrorism carried out by right-wing extremists.

Michael Kimmel, a leading expert on masculinity, suggests while xenophobia and a loss of socio-economic security may drive some into hate groups, his new book "Healing From Hate: How Young Men Get Into And Out Of Violent Extremism," suggests it's something far deeper than that. Welcome, Michael.

MICHAEL KIMMEL: Nice to be with you, Korva.

COLEMAN: Why do you single out gender, specifically masculinity?

KIMMEL: Well, for two reasons. The overwhelming majority of participants in these extremist movements are male. Korva, imagine if all of these violent extremists were white women instead of white men. We would be talking about virtually nothing else. But the fact that they're all men almost passes without any kind of recognition. The second thing is they feel emasculated. They feel something's been taken. And they want to get it back. So their motives are always restorative, nostalgic, retrieving manhood. And they talk about it quite openly.

COLEMAN: There's something you mention, Michael, in your book called aggrieved entitlement. And you focus on that a lot. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

KIMMEL: I think many white men in America grew up believing that the world that we would inherit would be the world of our fathers and grandfathers, that the country was somehow theirs. And this is what you hear constantly. Is this our country anymore? We have to take our country back. That notion - that's what aggrieved entitlement sounds like. It sounds like equality is actually a loss for white men.

COLEMAN: So it looks like youthfulness is a big thing here. Young men join in their middle teens. What is this that we need pay attention to about the age?

KIMMEL: There's two entry points for young men into the movement. One is in their teen years in high school when they feel lonely, isolated. School's not working for them. They get bullied and beaten up. They have no friends. And along come these sort of skinhead guys who say, hey, hang with us. And they feel that community and connection and validation of their masculinity. So I think it's right to point this out because there are so many alienated young guys who are just sitting there, waiting for somebody to sort of come along and go, hey, hang out with us.

COLEMAN: One of the cliches about masculinity is that men are encouraged to ignore their feelings. And expressing emotion is a feminine matter. Do you see this as an emotional issue?

KIMMEL: I do see this as an emotional issue. I think that's a great myth about men not wanting to express their feelings. I think we're dying to (laughter). But real men are not supposed to. But these guys, when they're partying together, when they're hanging out together, they are filled with love and affection and brotherhood. They spend a lot of time talking about their emotions. And then those emotions are morphed into rage and anger at the others who are taking away their capacity to be the kings that they want to be.

COLEMAN: When you're writing, you talk about paths out of extremism. Can you talk about the paths?

KIMMEL: Sure. There are many different paths out of extremism. One of them revolves around finding a relationship that grounds you outside of the brotherhood that you're experiencing in the movement. If your partner or girlfriend or wife says, hey, listen. This is enough. You know, I've had it with this. Listen. It's them or me.

Or one of the guys told me that it was really being with his 2-year-old and recognizing that participation in the movement was going to make him a terrible father, that he wasn't going to really be there for his kid. And these guys felt like they were being offered this existential choice that they had to make.

COLEMAN: Michael, overall, you're calling for a new look at gendered political psychology of extremism. What is that described? And how would it help keep young men from turning to violence to begin with?

KIMMEL: I think we forget that this is also a psychological experience, that what gets them in is less about the ideology than the validation of themselves as men. Thus, if we want to support them, if we want to help them get out, we have to help give them a place to land. We have to help enable them to feel like they're stakeholders in their own lives.

So in a sense, this is a book about guys who were, you know, neo-Nazi skinheads. And it's my most optimistic book because it basically shows that these guys can get out. There is a path out. And it's a path of great integrity. And it takes a lot of courage and a lot of support.

COLEMAN: Michael Kimmel - his new book is called "Healing From Hate: How Young Men Get Into And Out Of Violent Extremism." Michael, thank you for joining us.

KIMMEL: It's been my pleasure, Korva. Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "THROUGH YOUR EYES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.