English Defence League protest in Newcastle (Photo: Creative Commons)
How much more evidence is needed for the growing threat of right-wing terrorism than the conviction of Thomas Mair for the brutal murder of Labour MP Jo Cox? During the EU referendum campaign, the Nazi obsessed extremist shouted “This is for Britain”, “keep Britain independent”, and “Britain first” as he shot the mother of two twice in the head and once in the chest with a sawn-off hunting rifle before stabbing her 15 times. The judge described him as being an admirer of ‘anti-democratic white supremacist creeds.’
Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, called the killing a “shocking and senseless” attack on the values of democracy and tolerance and said she was determined to “challenge extremism in all its forms including the evil of far-right extremism and the terrible damage it can cause to individuals, families, and communities.” The Crown Prosecution Service also categorised the murder as terrorism but under Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 which declares that a murder may still be considered an act of terror even if it was “not designed to influence the government or the public, as long as a firearm or explosives are involved and the act was politically, ideologically, religiously, or racially motivated.”
Yet compared for instance to the reaction to the killing of Lee Rigby, the difference is startling. There was no holding back in sections of the media which warned about the dangers of so-called Islamist extremism after the British soldier was murdered. The papers were filled with alarmist headlines, while the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, even sought to chair an emergency Cobra meeting and the Government announced a new taskforce. There has been nothing similar done to combat far-right extremism.
Back in January 2016, an extensive survey by four research institutes in Europe warned that the threat from far-right terrorists is being neglected by governments and law enforcement agencies across the continent. While “Islamist” plotters are given full attention, the authors of the 98-page report found that in comparison, individuals and small groups of rightwing extremists in the mould of Norway’s Anders Breivik are in fact more lethal, almost as numerous, and much harder to detect by security services. Britain was also listed as more dangerous than other European countries for the sheer number of attacks or plots over the past 15 years that have been planned by individuals or self-starting cells.
The joint report was produced by experts from Royal United Services Institute, Chatham House, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. Apart from Rigby’s killers, other high profile perpetrators included Pavlo Lapshyn, a white supremacist terrorist who stabbed a Muslim grandfather to death and bombed mosques in an effort to trigger a racial war. Out of the 124 perpetrators in the database used, 38% were religiously inspired compared with 33% which were branded as right-wing extremists.
Melanie Smith, one of the co-authors of the report, said that the researchers were surprised at the high proportion of far-right, lone-actor terrorists recorded across Europe, “given the intense public focus on religiously inspired terrorism.” Even a large majority of religious targets were Muslims. The most frequent targets were civilians, in particular, ethnic and religious minorities, asylum seekers and immigrants.
The report highlighted that no far-right organisations were currently listed as terror groups but warned that the research suggested a need for increased coordination among EU member states, in particular when it comes to far-right movements operating across national.