Neo-Nazi Jailed Amid the Rise of Far-Right Activity
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Friday November 20 2020
A teenage neo-Nazi who was said to be “obsessed” with mass shootings has been jailed for five-and-a-half years for preparing acts of terrorism. Paul Dunleavy, who is 17, used online platforms to research how to convert a blank-firing gun into a live weapon and provided “advice and encouragement” to other far-right individuals. Consequently, amid a time when far-right activity, particularly online, is on the rise, it becomes essential for the Government to deal with far-right activity effectively.
The effectivity and the pace at which the Government have been keeping up with far-right activity online has been concerning. In July of this year, Feuerkrieg Division (FKD), a neo-Nazi terror group became the sixth far-right network to be officially banned in the UK. This is despite the group claiming to have been ‘dissolved’ since February of this year. In light of this, despite the Government’s commendable measure to ban the group, the action was shown to be somewhat delayed. Moreover, much like other emerging neo-Nazi groups, members of FKD continued communicating primarily online, sharing their ideology, propaganda, terror manuals, and attack plots under pseudonyms in encrypted chats. 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”. Indeed, it appears that there has been a difficulty on the Government’s part in keeping up with far-right activity online, and, as such, new groups continue to arise.
Meanwhile, the general activity of the far-right has been on the ascent over the last few years. The Global Terrorism Index 2019 documented a 320% increase of far-right incidents over the past five years worldwide. Furthermore, despite the inherent flaws within the current PREVENT strategy, the number of far-right referrals increased by 36% between the year 2016-17 and 2017-18. In addition, Home Office data indicates that the majority of terror-related suspects arrested last year (47%) were of white ethnicity, the majority of whom were connected with the fa-right. This was the highest proportion since March 2004 for a second consecutive year. Such statistics highlight 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. In light of the above, religious institutions and buildings, such as mosques, synagogues, and gurdwaras, are often a visible symbol of the religio-cultural identities that they represent and can be susceptible to being targeted. Last year’s examples in Christchurch and Halle are perhaps the most extreme. Consequently, 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.
Concerningly, amid this rise of the far-right in general, online spaces have been a crucial place for far-right operations and activities. By the end of 2019, the counter-terrorism police officers from 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, 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 8kun, formerly known as 8chan, which host increasingly extreme narratives. Indeed, the Christchurch, El Paso, and Halle terror attacks were organised by users of 8kun. To combat such activity online, 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 posted on not only mainstream social media sites but encrypted forums. 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.
Consequently, the rise of far-right extremism, in general, necessitates comprehensive strategies to protect vulnerable communities against far-right abuse and violence. Ultimately, the Government must:
- 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.