Those who make a career out of studying extremist groups like speculate endlessly about the participant’s reasons for joining. A less studied, but just as relevant topic, is why people choose to leave. This is a good article on how and why a Klan leader from north Arkansas decided to give up his racist beliefs and begin preaching a gospel of tolerance. The conclusion one draws from the article is the same one I came to after several years of research: Most (though not all) people who join political fringe groups do so not out of a true commitment to the ideology, but for the purpose of social contact. Once social relationships outside of the extremist group appear more promising than those within, the person will quit. This realization was probably the most important thing I’ve learned about extremists since I began studying them. It’s greatly changed the way I look at them on a personal level. While I still find most of their ideologies to be repugnant, I have some sympathy for them as individuals. And I know that it is likely that they will one day leave the political movement that now must seem to them to be the center of their existence.