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How Right-Wing Extremism Went Global Whilst We Looked The Other Way

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Humanosity says…The far-right terrorist attack in Christchurch, in which 50 people were killed, was the deadliest mass murder in NZ’s history. Yet it was inspired by right-wing extremism that has gone global. Across the world, it seems that right-wing extremism is increasing an international affair.

In an excellent blog post by Jonathan Stevenson, Managing Editor of Survival and IISS Senior Fellow for US Defence lays out in detail how right-wing groups have managed to turn themselves into international organisations.

Although many analysts have been predicting this for some time, the speed and depth of this change have caught nations and states unaware. The tools that the internet and social media companies have provided have allowed once disparate groups to find each other and pool their expertise as well as their goals.

Stevenson states that “Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the perpetrator of the Christchurch attack, reportedly drew inspiration from the American far-right and, like American right-wing terrorists Robert Bowers and Cesar Sayoc, he was part of an international online network of extremists, having posted a racist manifesto. He was savvy enough about online propaganda and information technology to film the attack with a helmet camera and disseminate the video in real-time via social media

How Did We Get Here?

Stevenson believes that the rising number of incidents in the 90s were beginning to alert security officials in countries like the US to the dangers posed but that 9/11 stopped this in its tracks. The preoccupation with Islamic extremism was such that security official thought that events like the Oklahoma bombing were one-offs and that they had contained the problem.

However stats from the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism show that despite the focus on Islamic extremism the danger posed by right-wing extremists was growing. “far-right or white-supremacist movements were responsible for 387 extremist-related fatalities, or 71%, in the US between 2008 and 2017, compared with 100 fatalities, or 26%, for Islamist extremists.

The election of Barack Obama although hailed by many as a sign of progress had a much darker effect. Stevenson writes that “right after Obama was elected in 2008, one in 100 Google searches for ‘Obama’ also included the initials ‘KKK’ or the word ‘nigger’. Stormfront.org, America’s most popular online hate site for white nationalists, founded in 1995 by a former Ku Klux Klan leader, saw by far its largest single increase in membership on 5 November 2008 – the day after Obama was elected”.

Becoming Transnational

Europe is no stranger to right-wing extremism and the ideology that gave rise to the fascists and the Nazis still swirls in the undercurrents of the continent’s politics. Stevenson points out that political violence that gripped Italy from 1969 to the early 1980s “began not with an attack by the Red Brigades, the dominant player of the period, but rather with the Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan executed by Ordine Nuovo, a neo-fascist group, which killed 17 people and injured 88. An offshoot of the group perpetrated the era’s most lethal attack, the 1980 bombing at the Bologna railroad station, in which 85 people died and 200 were hurt.”

In the UK many loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland have become more openly right-wing and have turned the anger on immigrants. A number of former members of the BNP have been jailed for terror offences as have several from the group calling itself National Action. The murder of MP Jo Cox was committed by someone who sympathised with them. Members of the English Defence League have taken their anti-muslim ideology to the streets.

In Germany, the far-right has become an electoral force. At the same time “the xenophobic National Socialist Underground operated in Germany from 2000 to at least 2007, killing ten. In 2014, a 30-member racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim group known as the ‘Oldschool Society’ arose in Munich, accumulating weapons and planning to attack a refugee shelter before the group’s leaders were arrested in 2017 and the operation aborted. There has been right-wing terrorist activity in France and Sweden as well, and its precursors are arising in Poland.”

If you add the brutal attack committed by Norwegian Anders Breivik in which he killed 77 people and injured more than 300 Stevenson’s argument seems very sound. Scarily the Breivik attack shows just how dangerous a committed individual can be. His manifesto and statements aptly demonstrate what unites these seemingly disparate groups and events. Stevenson argues that “his militantly anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant agenda appeared to underline a right-wing, neo-fascist disposition that would become an influential political trend in Europe, due partly to the accelerating influx of mainly Muslim refugees ”

The Response

I tend to agree with Stevenson when he examines what the response to the growing threat is likely to be. Across Europe and in the US, despite Trump, the authorities seem to be waking up to the threat that these groups pose.

In order to combat the threat from groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, multi-national coalitions came together to fight them on the ground militarily and to coordinate the intelligence war against them. Now that states are becoming increasingly aware of the growing threat of far-right extremism Stevenson believes that we are moving into a world where there will now be two major terrorist groupings to fight. One will continue to be the evolution of the jihadist threat, whilst far-right extremists – either lone wolves or organised groups will enter the battlefield.

“There are no major institutional, bureaucratic or operational reasons that transatlantic partnerships and modes of cooperation, painstakingly developed since 9/11 to deal with jihadist terrorism, could not be readily applied to structurally comparable right-wing terrorism”.

However, this will require political will and then he sees a danger in that the likes of President Trump. If the unashamedly racist rhetoric and policies that he and politicians like Victor Orban of Hungary, become normalised then the political will to put together the kind of transnational approach needed to tackle right-wing extremism may prove elusive.

Read Stevenson’s orginal blog here

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