Pathway to extremism: what neo-Nazis and jihadis have in common

The case of Devon Arthurs, a former neo-Nazi who allegedly killed his friends for disrespecting Islam, sheds light on the roots of extremism

By Lois Beckett and Jason Burke | The Guardian | Saturday 27 May 2017 05.00 EDT

When 18-year-old Devon Arthurs burst into a Florida smoke shop with a pistol and took customers and an employee hostage, he told them that he was upset about America bombing Muslim countries.

After Tampa police officers talked him into releasing his hostages and got him in handcuffs, Arthurs made references to “Allah Mohammed” and told the officers: “This wouldn’t have had to happen if your country didn’t bomb my country.”

He said he had already killed several people.

Arthurs directed police to an apartment, where two men he described as his friends were found dead, both of them shot multiple times in the head and upper body. A third friend, Brandon Russell, was standing outside the apartment in army camouflage, weeping, according to court documents.

The path to radicalisation Arthurs described to the police after his arrest last Friday was an unexpected one. Originally, he said, he and his three friends had all been neo-Nazis.

But at some stage, Arthurs had converted to Islam. According to police and court documents, he told officers that he killed his friends for disrespecting his new religion.

His behavior had a dual motivation, Arthurs explained, according to an affidavit from Tampa police: to raise awareness about anti-Muslim sentiment and “to take some of the neo-Nazis with him”.

Terrorists motivated by far-right extremism and by Islamist extremism share similar tactics, a similar brutality, and a similar desire to remake the global democratic order.

But they are usually considered enemies at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Far right terror attacks in Europe have been motivated by opposition to Muslim immigration.

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 But Arthur’s switch in allegiance raises a key question for analysts looking at the process of radicalisation: to what extent the factors that attract people to extremism are specific to a particular ideology at all.

At least two neo-Nazi sites denounced the murders, mourned the victims, and described Arthurs as a former commenter who had eventually been banned for his comments about Islam and