The Life and Message of a Former Violent Extremist: Why You Can Walk Away From Violent Extremism

Matthew was once a violent extremist; now he has proved it is possible for others to turn their backs on this lifestyle and start a new life. He is now working with groups such as PaVE to prevent others from heading down the same path. His story and his message can serve as an example and a warning to others looking to tread down the path of Violent Extremism.  

Matthew grew up in a rough neighbourhood in Western Sydney, with hatred and extremist surrounding him.  His family and surroundings were significant contributors to Matthew’s extremist future. His father was a supporter of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and both of his grandfathers were Prisoners of War captured by the Japanese in WWII. He therefore had a background in extremism and a basis for hatred of Asian people even though he had no actual negative contact with them.  This hatred and extremism in his family was compounded by the rough experiences he had at school.

Matthew felt that there was a great injustice in the world; he was being bullied at school and felt that life was unfair. However Matthew began to channel his hate towards Asians rather than the people who had bullied him. This was because of the influence of his family, and this group was harshly singled out by society and the media. This led Matthew to form his violent extremist group. Matthew surrounded himself with friends who had similar upbringings from broken homes and they directed their hate towards Asian people. Matthew used his position as a youth leader at a local church to find and recruit followers. Called the Savage Warriors, the group was founded on the basis of White Supremacy looking to establish white dominance over Asians and to gain revenge for injustices such as WWII.

Matthew built this group based on the foundational values shared by many extremist groups, such as brotherhood, loyalty and respect. However, according to Matthew, these were just tools used by the leader to brainwash his followers. He had admittedly not only brainwashed himself, but used techniques to brainwash others. Matthews’s followers were looking for a brotherhood, and a leader to support and lead them. This foundation of lies is used to manipulate many young people into joining violent extremist groups.

Matthew used his leadership within the group to plan their activities and to keep his followers in line. Some of his followers tried to leave, however, Matthew used guilt and forceful persuasion to convince them to stay. This was all part of the brainwashing procedure and is employed by many leaders of violent extremist groups. He, as the leader, also hid behind his followers by getting them to do all of his dirty work and to carry out attacks while he stood behind them issuing orders.

The Savage Warriors used their superiority in numbers to terrorise Asian individuals. Cowardly attacks occurred but only when the odds where in their favour. Matthew vividly presented this as a damning indictment on the cowardice of violent extremist groups as this is conclusive with many groups today. Matthew decided to leave the group because he was attacked by a group of white people and was saved by an Asian man. He began to realise that not all Asians were the same and that people should not be defined by race. He realised that these extremist views and actions were not a very effective method of airing grievances within society, and that they caused more harm than good.  

In having an interview with PaVE, Matthew wished to express a message of peace and non-violent methods of cooperation in order to convince other disgruntled youths that violent extremism is not the way. He wants to expose the lies promoted by many leaders of violent extremist groups around the world. They “use their followers for their own interests and purpose” and use them to carry out their plans because they are cowards.

Matthew’s most important message to others like him is this; “the pen is mightier than the sword.” He strongly believes now that there are other ways to air grievances and work through anger rather than resorting to violence.

“You need to think things through more, to talk to people you trust, as everyone knows deep down, we are all humans.”

For parents worried that their children may be influenced by extremist views, he says they must listen to them, to understand what they are doing or saying and to provide a good example. Don’t provide a bad example through your words and talk about violent acts that your children will possibly emulate, even though you may not carry them out yourself.

According to Matthew, extremist groups do nothing but promote false promises of revenge and destroy lives. Their lies about protecting your culture, race or religion through violence are hypocritical as they actually do more harm. Rather than reacting to other cultures with suspicion and aggression; understanding, camaraderie and discovery are key for people of different races, religions and cultures to live together peacefully.

Matthew believes his life has drastically improved following his exit from the group. He is using his experiences with the group to help others who are looking to distance themselves from Violent Extremism. The best way to convince people is to show the double standards of the group and to expose its lies, and the cowardice and shallowness of their leaders.  Matthew believes PaVE and other NGOS are vital in order to reach out to the youth and moving people away from Violent Extremism. He believes that they must work together with governments, schools and parents to seek out and help youths being influenced by violent extremist views.

Living with less ignorance, using words instead of violence, the importance of a good upbringing and school environment and the importance of the work of NGO’s, governments and schools to tackle violent extremism. These are the key points which Matthew believes are critical in attempts to prevent youths from following the path of Violent Extremism. 


Link to to the full interview with Matthew: