Radical change in countering far-right extremism will only be achieved when right-wing politicians take responsibility for their actions.
Prior to the turn of the century, the fight against terrorism in the UK was concerned with domestic affairs, specifically related to the actions of the Irish Republican Army.
The introduction of the Terrorism Act 2000 marked a shift in tackling extremism, with the possibility to ban organisations operating at national and international level.
This is done through proscription: when the Home Secretary proscribes an organisation, it becomes a criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or arrange a meeting in support of that specific group.
As might be expected, with the newly acquired powers the focus of proscription has long been on international terrorist groups.
Currently, there are 76 proscribed terrorist organisations under the Terrorism Act 2000, most of them related to Islamist extremism. The ban of these Islamist groups started a few months before the September 11 attacks in the U.S., and continued since then. Without a doubt, in the past 20 years terror attacks perpetrated by extremist Muslim groups and individuals proved to be a threat to public safety – and the 2020 Streatham stabbing is a reminder of that.
However, the threat of far-right terrorism – another major source of extremism in the UK – has been overlooked for years: until recently there was only one far-right organisation on the list of proscribed ones, despite other existing right-wing groups with the same radical values.
In this context, the 2019 police statement that the fastest-growing UK terrorist threat is from far right comes as no surprise.
Has much changed since then?
In what seems to be a countermove, two out of two organisations proscribed in 2020 – Sonnenkrieg Division and Feuerkrieg Division (FKD) – belong to the radical right (bringing the total number of proscribed far-right organisations to 3 out of 76).
At a first glance, this looks like an informed step forward.
However, a closer look uncovers the failure to link cause and effect: an analysis of the wording used to describe these organisations shows what seems like an attempt to separate far-right extremism from political stances of the right. Both groups are labelled as “white supremacist”, and no mention of the word “right” in its political sense appears in the Home Office document.
Similarly, the debate held in Parliament in occasion of the proscription of FKD was characterized by a lack of acknowledgement of the dangers posed by mainstream right-wing rhetoric. Although participating MPs would not spare criticism of the government approach to tackle extremism – concerns about existing far-right organisations not being banned were raised, for example – no comment was made on politicians fuelling hate against marginalised communities.
It goes without saying that this is not enough.
If the government is serious about tackling the threat coming from far-right terrorism, it must recognise the responsibility of the mainstream political right in incentivising extremism and division and hold its representatives to account.
With the rise in hate crime following the Brexit referendum and a conservative political class normalising Islamophobia we can no longer ignore the problem, nor can we confine it to the past.
This topic is dear to us at JAN Trust and to the communities we serve. As a charity we have been tackling extremism in all its forms: in 2010, we launched the Web Guardians™ programme, which was designed to build community resilience through education and empowerment of women and mothers to counter extremism and online radicalisation.
In 2018, through our Another Way Forward programme we have started supporting and educating young people on the threats posed by online radicalisation, including both Islamist and far-right extremism.
Our expertise in delivering counter-extremism projects has taught us one thing: there is no going forward without connecting the dots. It is time for the Government to do so.