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Far-right dogma runs deep, says study

A study of young rightwing extremists in Switzerland has found that many former members never shed their ideological beliefs.

In an interview with swissinfo, one of the authors, Wassilis Kassis, says society needs to do more to help these people leave the past – and their convictions – behind them.

"They take off their bovver boots and their bomber jackets but they rarely throw them away," said the Basel University researcher.

The study, which took three years and involved 40 members of far-right groups, was carried out as part of a wider investigation into rightwing extremism by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Researchers wanted to find out what attracted members in the first place and what made them leave.

swissinfo: What drives a young person away from a far-right group?

Wassilis Kassis: My colleagues have identified six factors that can play a part. But only one of them assumes a change of heart. The other five are related to being fed-up, tired or even burnt out by strictness, monotony and the relative ineffectiveness of far-right groups.

swissinfo: So young people generally walk away without really changing their way of thinking?

W.K.: Most of them, yes. It is really quite striking – even frightening – to hear them saying that they have felt no pressure [to do so].

Society demands that they renounce violence and that they abandon their bomber jackets. But it doesn't seem to bother anyone if they still think the same way. Not their school, their neighbours or even those closest to them.

swissinfo: In what way do they continue to express their ideas?

W.K.: They make racist, ethnocentric remarks. They brag about the supposed superiority of Switzerland while at the same time espousing the idea of violence against asylum seekers. They are also extremely sexist.

swissinfo: So a far-right extremist only really changes their "look"?

W.K.: That was one of our main discoveries: the classic image of a rightwing extremist, with the bomber jacket, bovver boots and skinhead, is far from being the only one.

swissinfo: Your study was on rightwing extremists aged 14-34. Don't "old" extremists exist anymore?

W.K.: Yes, of course. But our mandate was to interview young people. Age and maturity have nothing to do with when you leave a far-right group.

To do this, one needs help on the outside. You can't do it on your own. You need outside pressure, inner will and the support of those close to you to get you through the process.

swissinfo: And if there's no pressure? Won't someone with racist views face problems at work, for example?

W.K.: On the contrary, it's alarming how easy it is to lead a normal life while holding these views.

As long as the bomber jacket and shaved head have gone, these views are not a barrier to a career or normal life.

swissinfo-interview: Ariane Gigon Bormann in Basel

In brief

According to the most recent domestic security report, there are 1,800 far-right members in Switzerland.

The Basel University researchers interviewed 40 young people aged 14-34, of which five were women. They were spoken to five times over a three-year period.

Of the 25 who claimed to have left far-right groups, only ten said they had abandoned their beliefs.

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