New ISD Report: Interventions Initiatives & the Radical Right

The extreme right has posed a consistent threat for years – ADL statistics show that between 2009 and 2018 in the US, the extreme right accounted for 73% of extremism or terrorism related deaths. However, there is also evidence that this threat is escalating. The Global Terrorism Index has recently reported that far-right terrorism has increased 320% in the past five years alone, whilst in the UK statistics from the Prevent programme show that referrals of individuals on the far-right increased 36% in between 2017 and 2018.

Movement to recognise this threat has been relatively slow. In particular, there has been a large gap between the scale of the threat and response to it in the US, with the Trump administration essentially hobbling programmes designed to counter the extreme right through funding cuts. However, momentum is now building. The Department for Homeland Security followed similar calls in countries such as the UK and Germany to respond proportionally to this threat, recently publishing the Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence, which explicitly states the need for more initiatives to counter this threat.

The question is, what should programmes which counter the extreme right look like? Whilst there is a growing body of research into the de-radicalisation of Islamist extremists, there is a dearth of intervention programmes and for the extreme right, and limited evaluation of their effectiveness.

To better understand what needs to be done a team at ISD have recently completed an evaluation of 19 interventions initiatives globally. This work initially sought to evaluate interventions programmes targeting both left and right wing extremism. However, we found that those tackling the former are largely lacking, which is perhaps proportionally given the threat posed by the extreme right, and accordingly this report largely looked at interventions tackling the extreme right and white supremacy.

Out of the programmes which we examined offline interventions tended to draw on counselling and mentorship to support radicalised and radicalising individuals exit movements and ‘deradicalise’. Online initiatives meanwhile utilise a range of different approaches including one to many messaging campaigns, crowd-sourced ‘counter-speech’ to drown out and counter extremist mobilisation and rhetoric, and one-to-one conversations to help facilitate change of mind in a radicalised individual. However, despite commonality in approaches, we found a number of crucial knowledge and skills gaps internationally, as well as some stark discrepancies between programming internationally.

Whilst European initiatives tended to be more mature, and were usually better integrated into key institutions including schools and prisons, US based initiatives were decentralised, and often relied on the good will of a number of passionate, but severely under-supported individuals, often operating on a shoestring budget. Crucially, ties to key institutions – such as law enforcement and social care – were usually ad-hoc, relying on the personal connections an individual practitioner had managed to make. Furthermore, access to other forms of support including mental health support – and indeed advice on how to keep oneself safe online – are not widely available for intervention providers delivering crucial frontline work. Beyond these discrepancies between countries with regards to support for programmes, we also identified a number of key knowledge gaps internationally. There are few frameworks for measuring the impact of an intervention, or indeed assessing the risk of a candidate. Furthermore, we found a critical lack of independent evaluation of initiatives working both online and offline. This raises the possibility that a number of programmes running might even be counterproductive.

However, beyond these crucial gaps, we did find some interesting avenues for future work. Increasingly, we found, individual practitioners are bringing their work online, finding that outreach through social media allows them to cast their net wider when delivering interventions, and carry out their work at a pace and scale which wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Intervention providers also noted that online outreach lowers the barrier to entry for an intervention, and makes it possible to engage and start an intervention with radicalised individuals who would be unlikely to enter into such a programme offline. In a space where expert practitioners are few, investing in online infrastructure to facilitate interventions seems to be a very promising avenue for maximising their capacity to deliver this essential work.

In short, interventions initiatives are still far from perfect. But they still represent one of the best opportunities to actively push back against the rising tide of extreme right radicalisation and violence. Given the increased political will to address this threat, it is essential that policy makers support such initiatives. However, there is still work to be done, and there is great need for practitioners and academics to find ways to support interventions – through building tools to support the interventions process as well as evaluate the impact of these programmes.

Mr Jacob Davey is a Policy and Practitioner Fellow at CARR and a Research Manager at Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). His profile can be found here.

© Jacob Davey. 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).