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A Comparative Study of Initial Involvement in Gangs and Political Extremism

NCJ Number
Terrorism and Political Violence Dated: 2020
Michael H. Becker; Scott H. Decker; Gary LaFree; David C. Pyrooz; Kyle Ernest; Patrick A. James
Date Published
10 pages

This study provides a unique comparison of entry into gangs and domestic extremist groups by drawing on four broad empirically derived mechanisms of group entry, using 45 in-person interviews of U.S. gang members and 38 life-history narratives of individuals who radicalized in the United States.


There is a paucity of research that compares gang members and domestic extremists, and extant studies find few explicit linkages. Despite this, there remains a great deal of interest in possible similarities between these criminal groups. Driving this interest is the possibility of adapting policies and practices aimed at preventing entry into criminal groups. A critical first step to determining compatibility is to examine the circumstances of the individuals who enter these organizations and better describe the entry processes. The findings of the current study indicate that each of the four conceptual categories appeared to influence initial involvement; however, no single mechanism described involvement in criminal groups or differentiated involvement across the gangs and extremist groups. (publisher abstract modified)