Extremists push dangerous ideology that can inspire terrorism
Dealing effectively with the threat posed by groups that encourage and promote hatred without being seen to suppress freedom of expression is one of the great challenges facing democracies as they attempt to challenge extremists.
However, when such groups can be shown to have promoted or glorified terrorism, it is vital society has the power to challenge their actions.
The first far-right group to be banned in this way, from the end of the week it will likely be a criminal offence to belong to or invite support for National Action, and will also be illegal to arrange meetings that further its activities.
Founded in 2012 by young activists disillusioned with the fractious nature of the UK’s far-right movement, National Action is an unashamedly racist organisation.
Billing itself as an organisation which would pioneer ‘an aggressive form of campaigning’, in a now-deleted strategy document the group’s leaders focused on inspiring ‘a thrown away generation’ of youth activists by returning to openly fascist positions, explaining that ‘the race issue and the Jew’ must be the focus.
At the same time, it published material quoting Adolf Hitler, stated that ‘weakness on the Jewish question is simply unforgivable…the Jew has a name and it glares you in the face when discussing any world problems’, and claimed ‘the entire civil service is in the hands of the Zionists and their liberal accomplices’.
Since then, the group’s rhetoric has become increasingly violent, something Hope not Hate has attributed to ‘an influx of recruits from other far-right groups’ including the British National Party (BNP).
At its conference in 2015, a speaker shouted ‘Gas the kikes, race war now’, while the group’s spokesman Jack Renshaw (a former BNP youth member) is under investigation for calling for the eradication of Jews at a rally in March 2016.
Members have also been reported to carry weapons, and one former activist called Zach Davies was sentenced to a minimum of 14 years in prison in September 2015 after a racially motivated machete attack earlier that year.
Following the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in June, National Action also posted supportive tweets, including one saying, ‘#VoteLeave, don’t let this man’s sacrifice go in vain’.
It is this activity which has particular significance, as the Terrorism Act 2000 specifically mentions groups which engage in the unlawful glorification of terrorism as potentially subject to proscription.
Using the banning powers provided by law in response to the promotion of terrorism in this way is an important tool in the efforts to disrupt the activities of groups like National Action.
It makes it harder for activists to meet, plan and spread their ideas, as well as more difficult for them to flood the internet with their hatred.
Symbolically, it also shows that the government is taking the threat posed by far-right extremists seriously.
While many far-right terrorists such Pavlo Lapshyn, sentenced to life in prison in 2013 for murdering Mohammed Saleem, and Thomas Mair, jailed in November for murdering Jo Cox, act alone, they have often imbibed white supremacist propaganda promoted by groups similar to National Action and killed for that cause.
Where groups such as National Action openly promote and lionise the acts of those who murder and maim in the name of such a cause, the full force of the law should be used against them as it would any violent extremist, regardless of their ideology or whether their leaders once looked stupid and bumbling on camera.
From Friday, a hardcore of National Action’s members will no doubt work hard to continue their activism – though a substantial number will likely be put off by the prospect of prosecution.
How the government deals with this activity, including the probable use of alternative names for the organisation, (as with Anjem Choudhary’s group al-Muhajiroun), will show how serious this proscription is. Only time will tell how successful it will be.
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.