Photo: Sky News
By Josh Rutland – Regular Contributor
The threat of terrorism is arguably one of the most defining issues shaping modern life. The urban landscape has become scarred with imposing security barriers and armed police officers seemingly stood in waiting for the next incident.
Yet when we envisage the danger of terrorism, many have an automatic diversion to Islamic fundamentalism which has dominated recent attacks. But with over a year of COVID-related isolation and with the evolving complexity of extremism, should we be more worried about the emergence of right-wing extremism?
The past year has been labelled a “perfect storm” for radicalisation. Millions locked inside with little contact with anything other than the internet. Vulnerable, impressionable and often young people are being fed an ideology of immense toxicity which inflicts a sense of hatred and anger while the authorities attempt to suppress this cancer on our society.
The head of counter-terrorism in the UK, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police, said that hateful online content had set many young people on a path towards violent extremism.
He revealed that 17 children had been arrested on terrorism charges in the 18 months up to November 2020 with a further 1,500 referred to the national PREVENT programme illustrating the appalling situation.
But Mr Basu went on to describe the rapid proliferation of right-wing extremism as “a relatively new and worrying trend in the UK because just a few years ago we were not seeing anyone that young amongst our casework.”
He claimed that 10 out of 12 under 18s who were arrested for terrorism last year were linked to extreme right wing ideology, implying it is the next big issue for UK security as the younger generation gain their independence.
When questioned upon why right-wing extremism has risen, he indicated that the isolation of many young people during the COVID-19 pandemic has turned them towards the internet as a form of connection with the wider world.
This has enabled harmful online websites and social media pages to befriend them and engulf their lives with hate-fuelled conspiracies; this abhorrent form of grooming is fostering insecurity and division at a time when we need safety and unity.
The most recent case study encompassing the problem came just two months ago when the UKs youngest terror offender was convicted. A 16-year old boy from Cornwall admitted 12 offences relating to the possession and distribution of neo-Nazi terrorist material. The Old Bailey heard how at 13 he first downloaded a bombmaking manual from the internet and soon after joined an online forum named ‘Fascist Forge’.
The boy expressed racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic views on online platforms including orchestrating the killing of Jewish people and homosexuals. It appears incredibly sad, not to mention alarming, that a boy so young as 13 had access to such material online.
However right-wing extremism is often framed in the context of younger people, given the serious safeguarding issues connected with that. Yet that appears just one fragment of the problem with adults from all sections of society also participating in deplorable acts of terror.
The harrowing Finsbury Park mosque attack in 2017 saw Darren Osborne drive a van into a busy mosque killing one worshipper and injuring nine others. Prosecutors said they were “clear throughout that this was a terrorist attack” – a resultant tragedy of right-wing radicalisation.
Even the institutions we entrust to protect us have been permeated by right-wing extremists. Just last month the Metropolitan Police came under fire after one of their officers, PC Ben Hannam, was convicted of being part of the banned neo-Nazi group National Action.
Hannam was later found to have posed in neo-Nazi propaganda video and detectives found terrorist material at his home. Is there any section of society which right-wing extremism has not infiltrated?
Despite this, the newly-appointed Head of MI5 claimed last year that while far-right extremism is growing it is by no means on “the same scale as Islamist extremist terrorism”. Ken McCallum told reporters that far-right conspiracies account for just 30% of major terror plots, inferring that Islamic fundamentalism remains the most worrying.
He continued by stating how Islamic fundamentalism is much more coherent, operating across the globe with international links. Organisations such as al Qaeda or ISIS act as a “unifying purpose” by pooling together combined ambitions to spread fear.
Conversely, far-right extremism is seemingly a disorganised phenomenon where lone individuals or very small groups seek to spread hate. The revelations of Mr McCallum do not cast doubt on the dangers of far-right radicalisation but imply UK security is more likely to be compromised by existing threats.
But as our internet use increases and the number of suspects (especially those in their adolescent years) implicated by far-right extremism rise, we must show greater concern for the consequent risks on our society.
The long-term ramifications of more and more people being corrupted with harmful material remains unknown, but there is no doubt that right-wing extremism has the potential to be the next big threat facing the United Kingdom.