Since the events of 9/11 in the USA and 7/7 in the UK, considerable public attention has been paid to issues relating to terrorism, radicalisation, and extremism. As the threats posed by Islamist terrorists have been visible and dramatic, counter-terrorism measures have tended to focus on Muslim communities. In the process of this almost single-minded emphasis, however, the increasing nature of threats from the radical right appears to have been missed or neglected.
In the UK, there has been no shortage of violent acts perpetrated by the radical right. For example, in 2015, Zack Davies was sentenced for life after he attacked Dr Sarandev Bhambra with a claw hammer and a 30cm-long machete. The attack according to Davies, was for “Lee Rigby” – the soldier murdered by Islamist extremists in 2013. Bhambra’s brother said in a statement: “Sarandev was singled out because of the colour of his skin.”
Similarly, Darren Osborne was jailed for life for trying to “kill, maim, injure and terrify” as many people as possible as he searched for a mosque in the Finsbury Park terror attack. Osborne showed no emotion while being sentenced, but as he was led away he stated: “God bless you all, thank you.”
Official statistics show an increase in referrals to the Government’s PREVENT agenda from a far-right background. In the year to March 2017, 968 such individuals were referred to Prevent, an increase of 28% from the previous year. The proportion of referrals for rightwing extremism rose in the year to 16% of all referrals, up from 10% in the previous period. Of the 968 referrals for rightwing extremism, 37% were referred to the Channel scheme, up from 26%.
Despite these statistics, why has it taken the controversial PREVENT agenda and security officials so long to recognise the threat posed by the radical right?
Far-Right Extremism Threats Missed
The UK Government identifies international terrorism – in particular, Al-Qaeda-led extremism – as a major cause for concern in the UK, but far-right extremism less so. The Prevent Agenda (HM Government 2011: 20) argues that, “[g]iven the small number of relevant cases (and the absence here of extreme right-wing terrorist organisations and formal groups) our understanding of how people become involved in extreme right-wing terrorism is inevitably less developed than it is for terrorism associated with Al Qa’ida”. However, the review of PREVENT did find that a vast majority (80%) of respondents in the consultation believed that PREVENT should address the wider problems of far–right extremism. Moreover, far-right extremism is much more organised today than it was in 2011. According to Mark Rowley, London’s Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, the threat posed by the far-right is “…a significant part of the terrorist threat. Right-wing terrorism wasn’t previously organised here”. It is worth noting that Islamists and the newly-empowered radical right share a number of organisational strategies for mobilising their groups and sowing seeds of division. In fact, it can be argued that the main difference between Islamists and radical right groups is their ideologies and motives.
PREVENT aims to promote integration, cohesion, and community safety. The policy, however, lacks the depth and substance necessary to tackle the threat from radical right extremist ideologies. In the absence of a developed and coherent policy, extremist groups on the right have been able to gain momentum and support relatively quickly and without too much notice as politicians, the media, and law enforcement agencies have focused on Islamist groups as the major threat to national security. Thriving in this state of affairs are anti-Islamist groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and (at least until it was deregistered as a political party and its leaders jailed) Britain First.
While the government has recognised the threat posed by Islamist terrorist groups and as such banned certain Islamist groups which promote violence, I would argue that a similar threat posed by radical right groups like the EDL has remained largely unaddressed. Since their emergence, the EDL and groups such as Britain First have staged a number of controversial demonstrations against Muslims which seek to ignite old and new racial stereotypes and exacerbate a conflict between Muslim and non-Muslim groups in Britain. These protests have intensified and increased in number following terror attacks, with slick PR campaigns aimed at capitalizing on these horrific incidents. Many of the protests have turned violent, leading to the arrest of EDL and opposition members for breach of the peace. Although similar protests have been staged by anti-capitalist groups, the EDL marches have targeted mainly Muslim communities with a view to changing the landscape of the immigration debate. Unsurprisingly, within this climate of protest, and Woolwich, the EDL and Britain First have been quick to focus these protests within Muslim communities as a means to stir public sentiment against immigration.
The international perspective should not be overlooked. The case of Mohammed Saleem, a Muslim grandfather from Birmingham (UK) who was murdered by a Ukrainian national staying in Britain in 2013, has raised concerns about the potential links between radical right extremist groups in Europe. The earlier case of Anders Breivik, the Norway bomber, highlights how radical right lone wolf extremists sometimes remain under the radar and why counter-extremism policies need to ensure they are modelled in a way that takes into account the serious threat they pose from an international perspective. In Breivik’s case, his manifesto A European Declaration of Independence (2011) explains how the Islamification of Europe and the dangers of Shariah Law and Jihad are a threat to civilisation. Using a variety of references to justify his claims, Breivik’s manifesto helps shed light on the radical right narrative that helped him gain self-perpetuated credence which subsequently led him to murder over 92 people.
It’s time we started to take the threat of far-right extremism more seriously.
Dr Imran Awan is a Senior Fellow at CARR, and an Associate Professor in Criminology at Birmingham City University. See his profile here:
© Imran Awan. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).