Countering the Radical Right in the UK: Personal and Professional Experiences of Radical Right Extremism

Police confront far-right protesters in Parliament Square, central London, last weekend. Photograph: Luke Dray/Getty Images

Following the arrest of one of its UK based followers last year, an organisation described by the Home Secretary as a “vile white supremacist group” that targeted young and vulnerable people online, became the most recent organisation to be proscribed under UK laws. Led by a 13-year-old based in Northern Europe, the organisation advocated the use of violence and mass murder, in seeking an “apocalyptic race war”. Data from the Home Office has revealed that the number of radical right prisoners convicted for terror offences in Great Britain climbed by a third last year to their highest recorded level, and with 44 ‘extreme right-wing’ prisoners in custody for terror offences across the country, it is no wonder that for those of us working in the field of counter terrorism and counter radicalisation, the rise of the radical right in the UK and further afield, is a growing concern. But this should also cause unease for society as a whole, making it essential that we understand where, how, and why this transformation has occurred.

I recently spoke on a CARR/Hedayah webinar about this topic and disclosed some of my very personal and professional exposures to what we sometimes interchangeably refer to as the radical right, far-right, Nazis, and Fascists. It is, however, important for us to be explicit in saying that our concerns lie with those radical right extremists who fall within a particular spectrum. On one hand, there are those who are vehemently anti-Islam and fundamentally believe the religion and its adherents are incompatible with (in the UK case) British values. Whilst on the other end, we have white supremacists who focus on racial identity and espouse both antisemitic and white genocide conspiracy theories, claiming anyone who is white and supports multi-culturalism to be a so-called ‘race traitor’. This was particularly evident in the weeks and months before, during and after the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markel who regrettably found themselves on the receiving end of racist fury within the online arenas and even putative radical right terror plots. The most apt description I came across was a recent Europol report that described right wing extremist ideology as “not uniform but feeds from different sub-currents, united in their rejection of diversity and minority rights”.

I’ve written previously about my personal experiences in the 1970’s with the National Front, an organisation that sadly still exists today. However, the world has moved on since those days and radical right movements have changed dramatically along with their modus operandi. The recruitment of individuals that had previously been happening on street corners, in tight knit communities and pubs has certainly changed and developed itself with the changing world, embracing the 21st century and adopting technology to recruit and widely share their divisive ideology. Some moved into the ’legitimate political arena’, evidenced from the election of BNP councillors up and down the country in the early 2000. They became successful when they rebranded themselves, by shedding the ‘thug-like’ image of skinheads wearing Doc Martins and bomber jackets and becoming smart men in suits and women serving teas and coffees in care homes for the elderly. They became ‘socially active’ and began supporting local communities by cleaning up people’s gardens, legitimising their cause by giving communities someone who was ‘on their side’ but at the same time providing them with someone to blame for the lack of jobs and lack of housing, namely the Muslims and the Polish. They became the voice of the angry and frustrated and rebranded themselves as the new politics people wanted to see.

Sadly, the landscape has moved on even further and society today is deeply polarised, global neo-Nazis are targeting young people and in the UK they are recruiting children as young as 14. What has changed from the meetings in pubs and community centres, is the spaces these new and developing movements now occupy; the online space, social media platforms and the dark web have created this vacuum, this echo chamber where this colossal spectrum of ideas extends from radical right to extreme white supremacy. We now have cultural nationalists, white nationalists and white supremacists. The likes of Darren Osborne who committed the terrorist atrocity in Finsbury Park in June 2017 evidence that there is a propensity to violence in the UK amongst those who hold a particular world view that is anti-Muslim, anti-immigration and champion a cultural identity that subscribes to the great replacement conspiracy theory. These are the groups and individuals that have weaponised genuine societal concerns around immigration and child sexual exploitation Unfortunately, a number of white nationalist groups, who have a footprint internationally, now also have a foothold in Britain as well, who, whilst holding a very similar ideology to cultural nationalists, emphasise the ‘white race’, advocating for a white homeland. And, if that means forced repatriation, then so be it.

Unfortunately groups like the now banned National Action, NS131, Scottish Dawn, Feuerkrieg Division, System Resistance Network, and Sonnenkrieg Division have provided us with our own home grown white supremacists who, as demonstrated by the murder of Jo Cox and the planned murder of Rosie Cooper, are prepared to commit terrorist atrocities to achieve their goal of white supremacy. A report published recently by Europol reported that the UK had the highest number of radical right terror plots in Europe last year with one attack in Stanwell and 3 attacks foiled. For a British Pakistani woman who’s been in the UK for 55 years and has British-born children and grandchildren, this is a very scary prospect indeed.

Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal MBE is a Further and Higher Education Regional Prevent Coordinator for the Department of Education in the West Midlands.

© Hifsa Haroon-Iqbal. 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).