Rise in far-right referrals follow better awareness and training
Recent reports that there has been a worrying rise in the number of far-right referrals to the government’s counter-radicalisation programme, Prevent, have been given a grim postscript this week by the conviction of neo-Nazi terrorist, Thomas Mair.
Sentenced to serve a full-life term in prison on Wednesday, Mair’s brutal killing of the Labour MP Jo Cox in Birstall, West Yorkshire, last June serves as a reminder that any efforts to identify potential terrorists must focus on all forms of extremism if they are to be successful.
While concern about Islamist extremism is still the most common referral reason nationwide, with 2,810 cases making up 70 per cent of those flagged, figures released by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) show the number of far-right Prevent referrals has increased by 74 per cent in the last year.
In Yorkshire, where Mair’s extremist views were developed and incubated, the police suggest far-right extremism concerns makes up half of all cases reported to Prevent. Following Cox’s murder, it was reported that ‘an extreme right-wing element has established a disturbing foothold’ in West Yorkshire.
It is undeniable that there has been a rise in the visible manifestation of far-right extremism in the UK even as the strength of the British National Party has waned, with the assassination of Jo Cox just one example. In September 2015, a neo-Nazi called Zach Davies was sentenced to a minimum of 14 years in prison after a racially-motivated machete attack.
Davies has been linked to National Action, a neo-Nazi group which regularly shares Nazi imagery and Holocaust denial online. The group’s racist propaganda is backed by violent rhetoric, with the call ‘Gas the kikes, race war now!’ heard at its 2015 conference. Members are also reported to carry weapons and have visited camps to train in martial arts and knife use.
The group has targeted universities in 2016, appearing on-campus at the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham. Over the summer, the group also vandalised signs at the University of West Scotland with ‘White Power’ stickers.
In June, the University of Leicester saw a banner promoting an Eid festival painted with the words ‘F*** Islam’. Meanwhile, both Durham and Goldsmiths Universities saw swastikas and other racist graffiti painted on university buildings.
In March 2013, James Brokenshire, then Security Minister, gave a speech emphasising the importance of ‘firm and clear opposition by central and local government, and effective policing’ to challenge the fact that the ‘far-right appeals to people who share many of the same vulnerabilities as those exploited by Al-Qaeda inspired extremism’.
Since then, contrary to inflammatory claims Prevent only focuses on Muslims, there has been a concerted effort by practitioners to ensure counter-radicalisation work takes the threat posed by far-right extremism seriously.
In fact, the rise in far-right-related Prevent referrals likely has some connection to increased awareness of the issue and accompanying safeguarding structures following the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act in 2015.
This gave a number of public bodies including schools, universities and NHS Trusts a legal duty to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. As a result, many staff in these sectors have received training on the dangers posed by radicalisation and the paths available to them if they have concerns.
While it has been suggested the figures released by the NPCC show the failures of Prevent to rein in the far-right, they can perhaps instead be seen as stemming in part from a more equal and effective implementation of counter-radicalisation efforts.
Providing training and advice on identifying those who may be at risk of radicalisation by far-right extremists can give people a new awareness of the issue which will make the UK’s diverse communities more resilient to all forms of extremism.
Jo Cox’s death was a tragic reminder of the challenge the UK faces from extremists who seek to achieve their aims through hatred and violence.
Ensuring those who are best-placed to identify at-risk individuals before they harm others have a wider understanding of all forms of extremism will be vital if we are prevent such terrible incidents in future.
Rupert Sutton is a fellow at the Henry Jackson SocietySign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.