This article examines the consequences of soft repression on social movement activists. By drawing on activists’ perceptions, we develop a multilayered analytical framework that captures the experienced effects of soft repression at the individual, organizational, and movement levels. Our results show that soft repression—in particular, labeling, and stigmatization—primarily affect the individual level by triggering self-policing and self-control. By introducing a model that incorporates several radical social movement organizations, we also show how labeling and stigmatization affect different radical groups in different ways. These measures sometimes fail to demobilize the primary targets of the repressive actions, the most militant and clandestine groups. Instead, the demobilizing effects seem most evident in organizations that mobilize openly and inclusively. Our analysis is based on in-depth interviews with activists from the radical left-libertarian movement (RLLM) in Sweden, most of which have been active in organizations labeled as “violence-affirming extremists” by the Swedish government.

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Author notes

*The study was supported by funds from The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency to the project “Radicalization and De-radicalization”, 2016–2019 (project no. 2016-489). Parts of the protest event data set were constructed during the research project “Anarchists in Eastern and Western Europe: A Comparative Study,” funded by the Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies, 2012–2016 (project no. A068-2011). The authors would like to thank all researchers involved in these projects, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback and suggestions, which contributed greatly to improve our article.

†Jan Jämte (ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0491-6588) is an associate professor in the School of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences at Örebro University, Sweden. Rune Ellefsen (ORCID iD: 0000-0002-2420-9365) is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law at the University of Oslo, Norway. Please direct all correspondence to: