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O Florida, Florida!

[ by Charles Cameron — with application to paras from JM Berger & WIll McCants ]

Two from Florida, both yesterday!



The kid who converts from Neo-Nazi to Islam and then kills his disrespectful roomies makes for a brilliant & provocative case study, becaause it so confounds our usual expectations.

Consider. We are used to the idea of otherwise unexceptional people joining extremist groups, religious or political — we term the process “radicalization”. And under the banner of “countering violent extremism” we encourage people to leave violent extremist groups and fade back into the normal fabric of society — some become anti-extremist messengers, Kerry Noble and Maajid Nawaz being well known examples. And both coming and going, there’s the little matter of messaging — messaging for radicaliziation, messaging for deradicalization.

But converting from a far-right political ideology to militant Islam? What kind of process us that, and what kind of messaging is involved, or called for?

I want to focus in on this poor dumb kid Devon Arthurs because he offers an almost too-good-to-be-true instance of two significant ideas from two of our finest analysts.


Let’s take Will McCants first.

McCants’ point is that every jihadist (and every extremist, by extension) is subject to a wide mix of drives, some more potent than others, but none of which should be viewed as the exclusive “explanation” for radicalization. As he writes in a gobbit that is now pinned to the top of his twitter-feed:

The disappoint stems from the desire to attribute the jihadist phenomenon to a single cause rather than to several causes that work in tandem to produce it. To my mind, the most salient are these: a religious heritage that lauds fighting abroad to establish states and to protect one’s fellow Muslims; ultraconservative religious ideas and networks exploited by militant recruiters; peer pressure (if you know someone involved, you’re more likely to get involved); fear of religious persecution; poor governance (not type of government); youth unemployment or underemployment in large cities; and civil war. All of these factors are more at play in the Arab world now than at any other time in recent memory, which is fueling a jihadist resurgence around the world.

If anyone elevates one of those factors above the others to diagnose the problem, you can be certain the resulting prescription will not work. It may even backfire, leading to more jihadist recruitment, not less.

That’s the general case: but you could hardly have a better instance of how sui generis the process is than our case of the young Neo-Nazi turned Muslim.


Things get even more interesting, however, when we see how this case fits with a point JM Berger has been at pains to meke recently. In Extremist Construction of Identity: How Escalating Demands for Legitimacy Shape and Define In-Group and Out-Group Dynamics, JM expresses his growing sense that extremism should be studied as a category unto itself — that we should not limit our studies to such brands as “Islamic extremism” or “Right Wing extremism”. He writes:

More broadly, this paper is a first step in developing and testing the hypothesis that extremist group radicalisation represents an identifiable process that can be understood as distinct from the contents of a movement’s ideology. That is not to say that the content of an ideology is meaningless or unimportant. Rather, this research seeks to explore whether universal processes of radicalisation provide a more useful window into why identity-based extremist movements form in the first place and how they evolve toward violence.

In the case of Devon Arthurs we have someone who doesn’t only espouse one extremism, but two, in rapid succession. And thus it is plausible to say that it is not Nazism, nor violent extremist Islam, that attracts him, but extremism as such.

Thinking through our ideas about narratives in radicalization and derad with Arthurs as our instance, raises all sorts of questions: what messaging if any do the Neo-Nazis and Jihadists have in common? What message allows someone to slip from one camp in to the other? And what messaging would be an effectove counterbalance not to one ideology or the other, but to the general propensity for extremism?

All in all, this kid makes for a fabulous case study in the ease with which our assumptions can deceive us.



  • CBS News, Cops: Florida man kills neo-Nazi roommates over Islam disrespect
  • RawStory, FBI busts ‘Atomwaffen’ Neo-Nazi in Florida for making explosives
  • 8 Responses to “O Florida, Florida!”

    1. Zen Says:

      In late Weimar Germany, it was not uncommon for young toughs of working class and LMC background to drift back and forth between membership in the Nazi SA and the Communist Rote Frontkaempferbund fighting leagues. Ernst Rohm, the SA Chief of Staff and Nazi radical, said that the ex-communists made the best storm troopers. What they never joined were social democratic or liberal organizations. Too civilized.
      They were extremists of temperament and psyche but not of philosophy per se. Fascism or Marxism were just as good so long as they got to crack skulls and drink beer. Eric Hoffer called them “men of action” while Konrad Heiden termed them “armed bohemians” to distinguish them from the extremists of ideas – the “armed intellectuals”.
      Perhaps jihadism breaks down the same way between fanatics and freebooters?

    2. Charles Cameron Says:

      Lots of interesting details emerging, h/t Mark Pitcavage and JM Berger among others.
      It seems the Atomwaffen bust is related to the double homicide.
      There’s a guy calling himself “Odin” — Norse mythology / Odinism is a not uncommon connection in newo-Nazi circles.
      A couple of quotes from the Tampa Bay Times:

      On http://ironmarch.org, Arthurs went by the handle “theWeissewolfe” and listed his affiliation as “Salafist National Socialism.” [Roommates in Tampa Palms slaying case never outgrew Nazi sympathies, friend says]


      There are some documented cases of white supremacists and other right-wing extremists shifting to Islamic extremism, according to Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
      In several cases, the converts were “young people with seemingly fluid beliefs, and who may have had more of a desire either to belong to something or cause chaos rather than pure dedication to a particular cause,” Pitcavage said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. [Sharing extreme views, neo-Nazis sometimes convert to radical Islam]

    3. Charles Cameron Says:

    4. Charles Cameron Says:

    5. zen Says:

      Re: Odinism, National Socialism and Islam
      Going back to the Third Reich, this all has antecedents in the muddled state of Nazi policy toward Christianity, both Protestant and Catholic.
      The radical wing of the Nazi Party (and many early Nazi and volkisch adherents generally) led by Himmler, Streicher, Rohm, Hess, Bormann,Goebbels, Rosenberg and many of the gauleiters despised Christianity as “Jewish” and went in for an incoherent grab bag of secular alternatives. These ranged from a Nazi “Reich Church” of state controlled protestantism as an alternative to the traditional Lutheran Church of Prussia to neo-pagan “Odinist” mummery borrowed from Norse mythology explicitly promoted by Himmler in SS ceremonies to various occult and esoteric societies loosely patronized by Rudolf Hess. Mixed in with this was a general Nazi ideological hostility toward Catholicism as a “rival” of National Socialism.
      Hitler’s attitude toward all this ranged from indifference (Reich Church movement) to contempt (SS rituals) to overt hostility (occultism). He generally did not involve himself except to have occultists and astrologers rounded up by the Gestapo after Hess’ flight to England and to clamp down on Nazi excesses against Catholicism. Ever the politician, Hitler was attuned to German public opinion and the preference of ordinary Germans for their traditional religious practices. Occasionally in his table talk late at night with his entourage he would muse about replacing Christianity “after the war” but this came to nothing.
      Finally, in the Nazi hierarchy, Heinrich Himmler became an admirer of sorts of Islam, of which he was poorly informed. As Reichsfuhrer-SS he was the patron of the cause of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (incidentally Yasser Arafat’s uncle) because of his anti-semitic extrtemism and anti-British views. Himmler seemed to believe Islam was a “warrior religion” and bent his normally strict racial obsessions to permit the formation of a Waffen-SS unit of Balkan Muslims outfitted ironically with a Fez as headgear.
      Ties between Nazism, Islam and occult beliefs go way, way back

    6. Charles Cameron Says:

      Thanks, Zen. And the best reading on all this is? I imagine Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (Occult Roots of Nazism Secret Aryan Cults and Their Influence on Nazi Ideology I’ve seen, Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity not yet). He seems to be the first serious historian on the job. Anything else you’d recommend?

    7. Grurray Says:

      The Muslim Units of the Waffen SS:


      In 1943 the Grand Mufti went to Berlin to convince Himmler not to allow any Balkan Jews to migrate to Palestine but instead send them to concentration camps. In return the Grand Mufti agreed to help recruit the Hanjar troopers in Bosnia.
      Are there any Bosniaks in Tampa Bay?

    8. zen Says:

      Charles – the most recent scholarly bio on Himmler is by Peter Longerichhttps://www.amazon.com/Heinrich-Himmler-Peter-Longerich/dp/0199651744 but a drill down into Himmler’s beliefs into the occult and “racial science” mythologies was done by Roger Manvell https://www.amazon.com/Heinrich-Himmler-Sinister-Life-Gestapo/dp/1602391785/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=8QAPZAMPE11QDMKHRNJC
      Good general scholarly historians on the Third Reich and its policies include Richard Evans, Joachim Fest, Ian Kershaw, Michael Burleigh, Volker Ulrich
      Grurray – Not sure about Tampa Bosniaks

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