Terribly and terrifyingly normal
nicola quaedvlieg & alette smeulers

About the series

The attacks on 9/11, the invasion in Ukraine, the rise of the Islamic State, the genocides in
Srebrenica, Rwanda, Cambodia and Nazi Germany are all incredible acts of human cruelty.
They make us wonder: who are the perpetrators of these crimes and what drives them?
These questions will be discussed with Nicola Quaedvlieg (as host), Alette Smeulers (as fixed guest) and other well-knownscholars within the field. The series so far as 2 seasons with 19 episodes in total, but there is more to come) 

Episodes: see: //open.spotify.com/show/2Bt5Wg5nbekeSo8UBDI5MY

Season 1:

(1) Perpetrators of evil
Who are the perpetrators of mass atrocities? Are they pure evil sadists who are mentally
disturbed or rather ordinary people who are terribly and terrifyingly normal as Hannah Arendt
suggested when seeing the trial of Adolf Eichmann? In this episode Alette Smeulers will discuss
her research and findings on perpetrators of mass atrocities and will focus on all the different kindof people who get involved in genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and terrorism.

(2) The men pulling the strings
Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, Slobodan Milosevic and Vladimir Putin: they are the leaders at
the top of authoritarian, dictatorial and violent states. Who are they and what is their role in the
perpetration of mass atrocities? In this session we discuss these questions with Dr. Maartje
Weerdesteijn from VU University who studied the role of dictators in the perpetration of mass
atrocities and the manner in which the international community can potentially mitigate these
crimes. The episode starts with a discussion highlighting that democratically chosen leaders are
not necessarily less dangerous than dictatorial ones

(3) Violent ideologies
Terrorist groups like the Islamic State and regimes like Nazi Germany often justify their crimes
through their ideology. Did they really believe they did the right thing or was ideology used as an
excuse to commit evil? In this episode, we discuss the role of ideology in mass atrocities together
with Dr. Pieter Nanninga from the University of Groningen. He is an expert on terrorism and
studied, among other things, short films that suicide terrorists made prior to their attacks

(4) Obedience, Conformity, and Groups
What is the role of obedience in mass atrocities? Do people just blindly follow orders? How
important are groups and what about conformity? In this session we discuss what we can learn
from social-psychology when studying the perpetrators of mass atrocities. We do so together with
Maria Ioannou who is a social-psychologist of the University College in Groningen.

(5) Adolf Eichmann and the devoted warrior
Adolf Eichmann was one of the main executioners of the genocide during the Second World War.
He is the personification of the banality of evil, the famous phrase Hannah Arendt used to
describe him. In today's session, we discuss Eichman and others like Duch, the director of the
Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Pen in Cambodia during the genocidal reign of the Khmer Rouge
together with Dr. Thijs Bouwknegt from the NIOD

(6) A Booming Business
Trading weapons, selling hostages and privatizing armies: war is a booming business. But how
big is the role of money in mass atrocities? Together with Annika van Baar, who is an assistant
professor at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, we discuss this question. We’ll try to find out the
profitability of human rights violations and analyze situations ranging from those involving Nazi
Germany and the Wagner group to companies like Facebook and Shell

(7) Victims as perpetrators
The distinction between perpetrators and victims of mass atrocities may seem clear. However, in
reality, some people are both victims and perpetrators at the same time. In this episode, we
discuss two such examples, namely that of Dominic Ongwen and Ans van Dijk. What is their
story? Can they be blamed for their crimes? And how should criminal law account for such
cases? We do so together with Professor of Law Mark Drumbl

(8) The morals of a psychopath
Not all perpetrators are normal. Some are narcissists or psychopaths. In today’s epsiode, we
mostly focus on this latter group, specifically in relation to their conscience. Do psychopaths have
one? How does it affect their actions? Are people born as a psychopath or are psychopaths
products of their environments? Marijana Vujosevic is a university lecturer of moral and political
philosophy at the Institute for Philosophy and helps us find the answers

(9) The rules of the Israel-Hamas war
Attacking a music festival, killing civilians, and bombing hospitals. They are all horendous
happenings in the war between Hamas and Israel. Are all of them clear violations of international
law or is the truth more complicated than that? In this episode, we discuss the war with professor
Marcel Brus from the University of Groningen. We discuss the polarization of both sides, what is
needed to stop the war, and the rules that have to be followed during the

(10) Putin, Russia, and the ICC
The international criminal court has ordered an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir
Putin, but for what exactly? And how likely is it that he will actually face charges? In today’s
episode, we discuss these and related questions with Sergey Vasiliev. He is an expert on
international law from the University of Amsterdam. He argues that it is unlikely that Putin will be
prosecuted by the ICC soon, but that the court still plays an important role in the war in Ukraine.

(11) Jessica Stern on interviewing perpetrators

Jessica Stern is a renowned expert on terrorism from Boston University. During her career, she has interviewed dozens of perpetrators including Radovan Karadžić. She wrote a book about the interviews with him, which received a lot of criticism. Most strikingly, she has received allegations of genocide denial. In this episode, Jessica explains she does not deny the genocide but wishes she had done some things differently in her book. She also talks about the insights she gained from other interviews with terrorists.

(12) The threat of genocide in the US

Genocides are amongst the most unimaginable crimes in existence but they might not be a thing of the past. Alex Hinton is an anthropologist and genocide expert from Rutgers University and argues that even in the United States political violence, including genocides, could take place. Together with him, we identify the risk factors present in the United States, discuss the role of Donald Trump in creating a possibly dangerous environment, and outline the possible solutions to guard against genocide.

(13) Alette Smeulers on her new book

In her new book on perpetrators of mass atrocities, professor Alette Smeulers provides a typology of perpetrators. In this episode, she argues that this typology helps with creating a nuanced view of perpetrators and she explains why that is so important. We further discuss her motivation in doing research and shortly look back on the first season of our podcast.

Season 2:

(1) Paramilitary groups

Paramilitary groups have played a huge role in the war in former Yugoslavia and are even currently active in the war between Russia and Ukraine. In fact, they will become increasingly more important and present in the future, according to Iva Vukušić, who is an assistant professor at the University of Utrecht specializing in paramilitaries. Together with her, we kick off the second season of Terribly and Terrifyingly Normal? and we discuss what paramilitaries are, provide examples of them, and share why they are so problematic.

(2) Populism

Populism is on the rise worldwide and this carries some dangers. But which exactly and can they be extreme enough to incite mass atrocities? We discuss these questions with assistant professor Léonie de Jonge. She outlines the negatives of populism but also advocates for a nuanced view on the topic. She even argues that populism is a force for good in some situations.

(3) Good women and evil men

Males commit more mass atrocities than females. How come? Is this mostly down to biological factors or do social influences play a bigger role? And is the binary of good women and evil men justified? We discuss these types of questions with assistant professor Sanne Weber. She argues that we need to understand gender better when trying to prevent mass atrocities. Also, according to both her and Alette, females can be just as violent as males.

(4) Ervin Staub

Ervin Staub is one of the most important scholars in genocide and altruism studies throughout the past decades. Now that he is 85 years old, he looks back on his most important work and shares how the field has changed throughout his career. Also, he gives advice to aspiring scholars and talks about how his dangerous childhood during the Second World War has inspired his work.

(5) The crime of crimes

Genocide is often referred to as the crime of crimes, but what is its legal definition? And how will the recent genocide cases against Israel and Russia at the International Court of Justice impact the conflicts that the countries are involved in? We discuss these and more questions with genocide scholar Professor Caroline Fournet. She outlines the limitations of the genocide definition, possible differences in how the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court use the term genocide, and why the ruling of these courts can be useful, even when it’s not visible right away.

(6) Perpetrator trauma

Perpetrators of mass atrocities can be victims of trauma. What does this tell us about perpetrators specifically and human nature more generally? How does such trauma develop? And should we even be concerned about perpetrator trauma? In the final episode of season two of Terribly and Terrifyingly Normal?, we discuss the concept of perpetrator trauma and the associated moral dilemmas together with Bart Nauta. He is currently doing his Ph.D. on the topic.