Why far right extremism is a growing threat to our society

Two things happened last week that show why far-right extremism has become a major concern in recent years.  

Figures from the Home Office showed white people were more likely to be arrested for terror offences in the UK, while authorities in Germany had to act in order to foil a far-right terror plot to overthrow the government.

These cases show why security forces are increasingly worried about the threat of the far-right, not just in Europe but across the world.  

The Home Office figures showed 190 arrests for terrorism-related activity in the year ending 30 September 2022, the same as the previous 12-month period.

But those of white ethnic appearance accounted for 45% of those arrests (86 out of 190), while 37% were Asian and 7% black.

Three-quarters of the 190 suspects considered themselves to be British or dual citizens, with the proportion dramatically increasing from a third in 2002.

Online threat

Last month, the head of MI5 warned about the rising number of far-right extremists radicalised online in their bedrooms and attempting to buy “firearms in particular, whether illegally obtained, homemade or 3D-printed” to carry out attacks.

Ken McCallum said: “From the comfort of their bedrooms, individuals are easily able to access Right-wing extremist spaces, network with each other and move towards a radical mindset. Often weapons are sought for their own sake, well in advance of any specific targeting intent developing — making for difficult risk management judgements and forcing early intervention.”

It shows how the far-right threat is evolving, with suspects no longer aligning themselves with organised groups but becoming more nebulous and influencing each other online.

Social media platforms have made it easier for like-minded individuals to reach large audiences and mobilise support for their causes. This has allowed far-right extremism to grow and gain visibility in a way that would not have been possible in the past.

It is on those platforms that terrorists from Christchurch to Charlottesville are feted, their manifestos are shared, and conspiracy theories are disseminated.  

The coup plot in Germany, as well as the storming of the US Capitol in 2021, shows how dangerous online conspiracy theories become when allowed to incubate and grow without pushback.

Focusing on the far right  

In Australia, they seem to have heeded the warning, with the government suggesting that laws could be overhauled to better target the threat of right-wing extremism and neo-nazism.  

But in the UK, politicians seem to be downplaying the far-right threat.  

Leaked extracts from the government’s long-awaited Prevent review raised concerns that the counter-radicalisation programme will underplay rightwing extremism and instead continue to target Muslims.

In Jonathan Freedland’s recent Guardian opinion piece, he cites Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles, who says this is due to an “ideological backlash” in the Home Office and in Michael Gove’s levelling-up department, “actively pushing for a change in strategy away from the far right”.

“You can see why some are more comfortable chasing Muslim extremists than extreme haters of Muslims (and of every other minority), perhaps fearing a definition that might encompass anti-Muslim rhetoric found on the mainstream right,” says Freedland in the piece.

“But ideology cannot be allowed to intrude here, not when the danger is so grave,” he adds.

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