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From Naivety to Insurgency: Joining an Armed Group in Northern Ireland

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From Naivety to Insurgency: Joining an Armed Group in Northern Ireland. Neil Ferguson. Why do People Join Insurgent Groups?. Are they psychologically abnormal?. In Reality. Naive. I was young me, daft as a brush. Thought I knew everything, knew nothing.

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why do people join insurgent groups
Why do People Join Insurgent Groups?

Are they psychologically abnormal?


I was young me, daft as a brush. Thought I knew everything, knew nothing.

But actually up until I was 30, I felt very immature in my outlook. Very simplistic out look and thought Paisley was god, I thought whatever he said was true because he wore a collar and everything like that.

I was born in 1951, which was just thirty years after Northern Ireland had come into existence, but in my mindset Northern Ireland had been there from Biblical times you know, you just had no notion.

antecedent factors
Antecedent factors
  • Perceived injustice
  • Age and gender
  • Past family involvement
  • Community support
  • Coerced or conscripted
  • Incremental process of involvement
  • Vengeance, or a need to right wrongs
  • Identify with the armed group
  • Trauma and dissociation
  • Opportunity to join insurgent group
socialization experiences
Socialization Experiences
  • The idols among our community shot up because they stood for something that the working class people couldn’t verbalize. As soon as your parents, and the priest at the altar, and your teacher are saying, “These men are good men. They are fighting a just thing here”, it filters down quickly that these people are important and whatever they say must be right. So, all of a sudden, you are bordering on supporting something that is against the government. (Participant A)
critical incidents
Critical Incidents
  • It [membership in paramilitary groups] was an explosion waiting to happen, and it happened when I was 14, and by the time I was 19, I had made a conscious decision to join the UVF. Not before that.
  • And I thought, “That’s my fence-sitting days over”, and I joined the UVF. And there’s so many stories like that, where you talk to Republicans and Loyalists and you find out there was a moment. There was a moment when they crossed the Rubicon.
  • (Both Participant B)
a period of s elf reflection
APeriod of Self-reflection

So, quite honestly, within, within maybe an hour I’d been sat there on my own on me hunkers, and I said, “Right, that’s it. Ah, the gloves are off as far as I’m concerned”. So, I went in and I seen other people and to cut a very, very, long story short, I got stuck into the Brits every time I got a chance. (Participant D)

personal factors social histories
Personal Factors & Social Histories
  • Bloody Sunday was a very important issue, because young fellas joined the IRA. If I had been 17, I would have joined the IRA because young fellas that age just want to get a crack back [at the State]. (Participant F)
support for the importance of critical incidents
Support for the Importance of Critical Incidents
  • Boundary Situations (Jaspers 1970).
  • Epiphany (Denzin, 1989).
  • Turning point moments (Goodey, 2000).
  • Critical Moments (Brett and Specht, 2004).
  • Turning Points (Talari, 2007).
elevated collective efficacy
Elevated Collective Efficacy
  • I felt, as many others at that particular time, at least if you were up and being active and trying to do something, you were doing just that, trying to do something. I was not prepared any longer to sit back in my chair, like my parents had to do, and their parents. Yes, I was prepared to stand up and say, “Ok, you can knock me down, but I’m not going to go away”. I’m going to be there and I’m going to try and do my best to achieve what I set out to achieve. (Participant G).
the effectiveness of violence
The Effectiveness of Violence

[The Agreement] is a direct result of a lot of the violent action as well as the more peaceful action. As far as the London government was concerned, I am damn sure it was the violence, particularly the violence in London, that made them sit up and say, “hey, we better do something about this.” (Participant H)

personal costs and sense of self
Personal Costs and Sense of Self
  • Military power gives you a certain amount of awareness of where you are in your life…if you take your life in your hands, if you go out on an operation to attack an Army patrol. Well, an Army patrol’s at least as well armed, if not better armed, than you are. So, in the law of averages, on a 50-50 basis, you may not be coming back from it, you know? So, you realize your life is forfeit. If you survive that day, you mightn’t survive the next day or the day after that. So you have a realization of life and death more than most people, because you actually live it. (Participant I).
perpetration induced traumatic stress
Perpetration-induced Traumatic Stress

I was after leaving the scene of an incident, where people were hurt, with a couple of friends. One of them is dead since, shot, uh, as we were going away it was night time and we were in a car and we had the lights out, but we knew where we were because we knew the area very well. And when we got a certain distance away from that incident – thank God, nobody was killed, but they were hurt – the fella that was driving the car switched on the lights, and this was in a country area. And a rabbit ran across the road, and what did the driver do? He braked and swerved to avoid the rabbit. But what did we leave behind us? That tells you a lot. (Participant C)

  • Social situations are certainly extremely important but traditional approaches underplay the capacity of the person:
    • To create options for action
    • To make decisions regarding which options to pursue
    • To take responsibility for eventual behavior
  • Military Intervention
    • Be aware that intervention may create a boundary situation that leads to more individuals reflecting on courses of action that lead to paramilitary activity.
    • Creating an "action-reaction syndrome” that serves to fuel further conflict (Crenshaw, 2003).
facilitating disengagement removal from the conflict
Facilitating Disengagement: Removal from the Conflict

I’m not saying I wouldn’t have reacted again to certain events, the violence associated with the Huger Strike and the Anglo-Irish Agreement, but I went to prison anyway in 1980 and if you’ve got any sort of grey matter in your head at all you have to start and analyse why you finished up in prison.

facilitating disengagement removal from the conflict1
Facilitating Disengagement: Removal from the Conflict

You know some people say that the likes of the Maze and places like that were the university of terrorism, they were terrorist training camps, but I actually believe that they were the university of peace, in terms of what we discussed in there, how we decided, how we came about in our discussions or how do we get out of this?

future generations
Future Generations

There’s not a lot positive for people like myself, who’ve come through the conflict. I look at my kids. I would dread them to have the upbringing, come through what I did. I don’t want it for them. I don’t want them to live in fear, always looking over their back, can’t go into certain areas and carrying the coffins of their friends, and relatives , so I do, and that’s what motivates us. It motivates a lot of us who have been there and done it.

new strategy but still the same goals
New Strategy but still the Same Goals

What they don’t realise is that there are people who like me, who gave their liberty in defence of their community, rightly or wrongly, and it would be very silly for me to spend 16 years in jail and to leave it at that, and not come out and want to try and give something back.

barriers to disengagement stigmatized
Barriers to Disengagement: Stigmatized

There was this stigma in your community…Unionist politicians didn’t want to know, so we had no support from outside.

No one can ever take away from me the contribution that I’ve made. There will be those who will say that you were a bomber, and a killer, and a maimer, and a hurtful person, so therefore we don’t respect you, our morality tells us we mustn’t respect you and if all you bad people had gone away what a wonderful place this would be.

internal organisational pressures
Internal Organisational Pressures
  • Now I know when I say that publicly, [fair treatment for Catholic minority] and I do say it publicly, it goes down like a lead balloon. I’m sort of too soft on the other side, or I’m a traitor and my death threats from the Loyalist unit here, are like confetti, they’re literally confetti.
relevant publications
Relevant Publications

Ferguson, N., Burgess, M., & Hollywood, I. (Under Review). Who are the victims? Victimhood experiences in Northern Ireland. Political Psychology.

Ferguson, N., Burgess, M., & Hollywood, I. (2008). Crossing the Rubion: Deciding to Become a Paramilitary in Northern Ireland. International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 2, 1, 130-137.

Ferguson, N., & Burgess, M. (2008). The Road to Insurgency: Drawing Ordinary Civilians into the Cycle of Military Intervention and Violent Resistance. In M. D. Ulusoy (Ed.), Political Violence, Organized Crime, Terrorism and Youth (pp. 63-71). Amsterdam: IOS.

Ferguson, N., & Burgess, M. (2008). The Road to Insurgency: Becoming a Paramilitary in Northern Ireland. In D. Canter (Ed.), Faces of Terrorism: Cross-Disciplinary Explorations. Chichester, England: Wiley.

Burgess, M., & Ferguson, N., & Hollywood, I. (2007). Rebels’ perspectives of past violence and of the potential for future violence in post-agreement Northern Ireland: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. Political Psychology, 28, 1, 69-88.

Burgess, M., Ferguson, N., & Hollywood, I. (2005). Violence begets violence: Drawing ordinary civilians into the cycle of military intervention and violent resistance. Australasian Journal of Human Security, 1, 1, 41-52.

Burgess, M., Ferguson, N., & Hollywood, I. (2005). A social psychology of defiance: From discontent to action. In M. Sönser-Breen (Ed.), Minding Evil: Explorations of Human Iniquity (pp. 19-38).Amsterdam/New York: Rodolpi.