Experts warn of the Emergence of New Neo-Nazi Terrorist Groups
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Monday August 10 2020
Experts have warned that new neo-Nazi terror groups will continue to emerge as online communities, which further serves to compound existing concerns surrounding the lack of adequate legislation to deal with online far-right activity and social media offences.
Last month, Feuerkrieg Division (FKD), a neo-Nazi terror group became the sixth far-right network to be banned in the UK, despite the group claiming to have been ‘officially dissolved’ since February. However, like other emerging neo-Nazi groups, FKD members communicated primarily online in encrypted chats, using pseudonyms to share terror manuals and plot attacks, as well as propagate their ideology, joining other online far-right groups in the process. Thus, while it is commendable that the Government took action to ban FKD, the move has further highlighted the difficulty of keeping up with online far-right activities. Patrik Hermansson, a researcher at Hope Not Hate, observed that: “We will see new names, new groups. FKD have been shut down for months, and it’s done very little to stop them”.
Back in September 2019, the Met Police pledged to thwart the rise of the far-right, which they announced was the fastest-growing threat of terrorism in the UK. Consequently, by the end of 2019, the Met Police, in collaboration with MI5, stated that there were around 80 active 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, through social media platforms such as Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter, allowing individuals to connect with far-right devotees across the world anonymously. The content on these social media platforms often serves as a gateway for users to be drawn to sites such as 8chan, which host increasingly extreme narratives.
Adam Hadley of Tech Against Terrorism acknowledged the use of mainstream social media sites as gateways into platforms which host more extreme narratives, saying: “The extremist and violent far-right rapidly adapts its tactics to suit new technology as the response of big tech improves. Facebook is a window through which billions view the online world. But smaller social media platforms are the internet’s back door”. The large audiences boasted by many mainstream social media platforms act as recruiting grounds for far-right groups, who use these forums to groom fellow users while being unhindered by domestic legislation. To combat this strategy, the Government must prioritise the implementation of primary legislation to deal with social media offences and online hate speech, including the removal of extreme content. Further funding is also required to promote research into mapping out the trajectories of far-right sympathisers across cyberspace to understand better how far-right groups are utilising cross-platform strategies.
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. Indeed, 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, 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. 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 the popularisation of xenophobic and ethno-nationalist agendas that must be urgently tackled.
Moreover, 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. More recently, Police in Norwich launched an arson investigation after a man, who was caught on CCTV, set fire onto a former pub that is in the process of being converted into a mosque. 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.
Ultimately, 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 plans to tackle far-right politically motivated violence in the UK.
- Outline its strategy to implement primary legislation to deal with social media offences and hate speech online, including the removal of extreme content.
- Develop an efficient strategy to tackle hate speech online in consultation with Muslim grassroots organisations.
- Confirm its commitment to financing mosque security in a manner that is proportional to risk, in line with what is already correctly provided to Jewish religious institutions.