Addicted to Hate: Role Residual among Former White Supremacists

The process of leaving deeply meaningful and embodied social roles can be experienced as a struggle against addiction, with continuing emotional, cognitive and physiological responses that are involuntary, impulsive, and triggered by environmental factors.

Using data derived from a unique set of in-depth life history interviews with 89 former US white supremacists and theories of symbolic interactionism and the social body, we examine how previous role-related beliefs and behavior can persist despite a desire to change.

We trace this residual to the formation of a “hate habitus” whereby current white supremacism entails an intricate and intensive set of daily practices and ritual organized, in part, to affirm a sense of racial superiority.

Hate group involvement demands a high degree of commitment and dramatically shapes an individual’s personal, social, and collective identity. Disengagement from this type of all-encompassing lifestyle is characterized by substantial lingering effects subjects describe as addiction.

We conclude with a discussion of the implications of role residual for understanding how people leave and for theories of the self.


Dr. Pete Simi is an Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology in Chapman University, California, USA.


Published Jan. 4, 2017 9:27 AM - Last modified Jan. 19, 2017 9:38 AM