Since few prior studies have examined the extent to which the behavior and characteristics of political extremists are related to their position within radical groups, the current study focused on one of the most fundamental distinctions in groups, i.e., between leaders and followers.
The main goal of the study was to investigate the comparative propensity of leaders and followers to engage in political violence. In a sample of individuals who have committed ideologically motivated political crimes in the United States (N = 1,331). The study found that even though leaders were more ideologically committed to the group's goals and ideologies, they were at the same time less likely to engage in violent acts. Moreover, leaders in radical criminal organizations were found to share many characteristics with leaders in noncriminal organizations. Specifically, compared to followers, they were more often male, older, and were more likely to belong to an ethnic majority. The study discusses implications for future research and policy regarding the fundamental conclusion that compared to leaders, followers in terrorist organizations are more likely to engage in violent acts. (publisher abstract modified)