Britain First Leader Convicted of Terror Offences
Categories: Latest News
Wednesday June 03 2020
In May of this year, the leader of the far-right group Britain First was convicted of a terror offence. Paul Golding refused to hand counter-terrorism police officers the passwords to his phone and laptop hard drive after being stopped at Heathrow Airport in October 2019 upon his return from Russia under controversial Schedule 7 powers.
In September 2019, a month before Golding was detained, the Met Police pledged to thwart the rise of the far-right, which they announced was the fastest-growing terrorist threat of terrorism in the UK. Home Office data indicates that the majority of terror-related suspects arrested last year (47%) were of white ethnicity, the highest proportion since March 2004 for a second consecutive year.
Meanwhile, the number of people imprisoned in relation to far-right activity increased by nearly five times in the two years following the murder of Jo Cox by far-right extremist Thomas Mair in 2016. Furthermore, despite the inherent flaws within the current PREVENT strategy, the number of far-right referrals has increased by 36% between the year 2016-17 and 2017-18. Meanwhile, attacks globally such as the Hanau shootings in Germany and the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand are symptomatic of this surge in far-right extremism. Indeed the Global Terrorism Index 2019 documented a 320% increase of far-right incidents over the past five years worldwide, highlighting that these are not isolated events but part of a broader far-right phenomenon of espousing a xenophobic and ethno-nationalist agenda that must be urgently tackled.
By the end of 2019, the Met Police, in collaboration with the MI5, stated that they were carrying out around 80 investigations into terror-related plots fuelled by white supremacist and far-right ideologies. They noted that the process of radicalisation and planning of attacks mainly occurs online via social media platforms such as Facebook, 8chan and Twitter, allowing individuals to connect with far-right devotees throughout the world anonymously. Investigators also found far-right material on mainstream social media platforms, such as YouTube. The content on these platforms often serves as a gateway for users to be drawn to other sites that host increasingly extreme narratives. With the large audiences that these mainstream platforms attract, the policies and procedures in place must be sufficient to address hate speech and extremist content. As such, it is essential that the Government prioritise the implementation of primary legislation to deal with social media offences and online hate speech, including the removal of extreme content.
Recently, COVID-19 has been increasingly used as a tool by far-right groups to propagate hatred against Muslim communities. While international conspiracies connecting Muslims to the spread of the coronavirus continue to abound, groups in the UK have given these conspiracies particular momentum on social media, with counter-terrorism police recently investigating far-right groups accused of “trying to use the coronavirus crisis to stoke anti-Muslim sentiment”.
Several fake stories and images circulated online depicting Muslims as flouting social distancing measures by attending mosques for congregational prayers. One picture, taken outside a Leeds mosque showed Muslims breaking the rules of lockdown by gathering in large groups. However, the photo in question was taken two weeks before the official lockdown even began. Such misinformation has led to police being inundated with false complaints by duped members of the public, with some posting messages online calling for the demolition of all mosques to “cure” COVID-19.
The dangers of far-right violence directed at minority communities cannot be underestimated. This month will see the anniversaries of the murder of Jo Cox by Thomas Mair in 2016 and the murder of Makram Ali by Darren Osborne in the Finsbury Park attack in 2017, while next month bears the anniversary of the terrorist attack in Norway carried out by Anders Breivik in 2011. These serve as tragic reminders of the need to radically recalibrate how far-right violence is understood and tackled within security discourse and strategies. Indeed, any government response to the COVID-19 pandemic should be mindful of the potential for misdirected frustration regarding the inevitable socio-economic repercussions of the crisis to be targeted at minority communities as lockdown restrictions are increasingly eased.
More so, religious institutions and buildings, such as mosques, synagogues, and gurdwaras, are often a visible symbol of the religio-cultural identities that they represent. Consequently, it is not uncommon for them to be targeted with violence, of which last year’s examples in Christchurch and Halle are perhaps the most extreme. At present, the Government commendably provides funds of £14million per year for synagogues and Jewish institutions. However, with no regular funding for mosques, the last ‘Places of Worship Security Fund’ launched in 2016 provided only £2.4 million to be distributed across mosques, churches, temples, gurdwaras, and other institutions. While the Government announced plans to increase the funding available to religious institutions for security last year, comprehensive risk analysis to develop effective strategies and devise funding plans that are sufficient to address the threats is still urgently required. As such, MEND encourages communities to submit evidence to protecting places of worship to enable the Government to adequately address mosque security in line with the specific needs of communities. Read our consultation here.
Meanwhile, the rise of far-right extremism necessitates comprehensive strategies to protect vulnerable communities against far-right abuse and violence. MEND, therefore, calls upon the Government to:
- Clearly and urgently outline its plan to tackle far-right politically motivated violence in the UK.
- Commit to financing mosque security in a manner that is proportional to risk, in line with what is already correctly provided to religious institutions.
Moreover, within its strategy to tackle online harms, the Government has proposed regulation by an independent regulator, as opposed to primary legislation enforced by law. However, MEND urges the Government implement primary legislation to deal with social media offences and hate speech online and commit to working with social media companies to protect free speech while developing an efficient strategy to tackle hate speech online in consultation with Muslim grassroots organisations.