Roots of violent radicalisation - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 182-209)

Q182 Chair: This is the fourth session of the Committee's inquiry into the roots of radicalism. Could I refer all those present to the Register of Members' Interests so the interests of all members of this Committee are noted.

Good morning, Mr Whine and Dr Goodwin. Can I start with a question to both of you about the extent of far right extremism. Do you think it is on the increase?

Dr Goodwin: Thank you, Mr Chairman, thank you to the Committee for inviting me along. I think when we talk about far right extremism we need to acknowledge that there are quite different types. At broad level we can identify three types. We can talk about the organised far right political parties, for example the British National party. They contest elections; they are registered with the Electoral Commission. We can talk about a second type of non­electoral forms of mobilisation such as the English Defence League, which does not contest elections. Then we can talk about the ultra far right, which is more prone to violence; groups, for example, like the Aryan Strike Force that do not contest elections, have very small memberships and pursue direct action tactics.

When you look collectively at this movement, then we have seen a growth in membership particularly over the last 10 years—parties like the BNP recruiting approximately 12,000 to 14,000 members, the second and third types having markedly smaller memberships. So we have certainly seen a growth in membership. We have also seen a growth in terms of public support at elections, so when seen as a whole I think this movement is becoming far more significant in British politics, but it is also becoming far more diversified. Ten years ago the majority of far right groups focused explicitly on elections. Today we now have a varied far right with groups actively avoiding elections and pursuing more confrontational and provocative tactics. I think that is something as well to be noted.

Q183 Chair: Do you think that there is an organised threat from the far right or are these individuals acting alone?

Mike Whine: Can I just add a comment to what Dr Goodwin said, which is that there is a shift away from formally constituted organisations like the National Front or the BNP to social networks—those that use cyberspace to organise. So that is another aspect to be considered. There is certainly a shift towards violence that is only coming from a small number of people, but it is a very severe threat and it is not just in the UK. It is Europe-wide and European police forces and their security services are reporting on this on an annual basis. So the threat is coming from organisations and also from individuals, who may not be connected to organisations in a formal sense.

Q184 Chair: Is this a terrorist threat?

Mike Whine: Yes, there is indeed a terrorist threat. As you may have read in the latest Prevent report, Britain currently holds 17 far right activists in prison for terrorist offences, and in some of those cases, the plots—of course they were all foiled—were very serious. In one case the chap was preparing a ricin bomb, which is advanced technology. In another case, the chap who was convicted had access to an enormous, in fact one of the largest, collections of firearms and explosives ever found. One should not belittle the far right's capacity to engage in really serious terrorism and, if you look within Europe generally, then there have been even more serious cases. You may want to talk about Breivik later on.

Chair: Yes, we will be coming on to that.

Mike Whine: In 2005 there was a plot to blow up the Swedish Parliament and kill Swedish youth, which was foiled by the police. Another plot in Munich would have decapitated the German Government.

Q185 Michael Ellis: Good morning, Mr Whine and Dr Goodwin. Further to those answers, do you feel that far right extremism should be treated as a terrorist matter or do you feel that it could be treated as a criminal matter—a public order type situation—and do you think that distinction makes any difference when one is discussing preventative strategies?

Dr Goodwin: I think I would go back to my first point that within this very broad, diverse movement there are very different types. Terrorist activity is terrorist activity, and we could not consider an organisation like the British National party or an organisation like the English Defence League necessarily terrorist organisations, even though individuals who have been associated with both of those movements have been imprisoned and associated with violence. So I think we need to take account of the varied nature of this movement, but also the fact that these different types of far right extremism that we now have in Britain are pursuing very different strategies.

The EDL at the moment is primarily seen as a public order issue, primarily because of its march and grow strategy. What is less studied at the moment, I think, is the political challenge that the English Defence League is attempting to mobilise; that it is mobilising support on anti­Islam, anti­Muslim platforms. By simply branding, in this case the EDL, as a public order issue, it might be that we are missing the political dynamic to this. At the moment I don't feel that we are getting to grips with the grievances on which the EDL explicitly are mobilising. The BNP, on the other hand, is a formal political party that contests elections and is losing support, both in elections and among its own members, and can really only be treated as an elected party.

Q186 Michael Ellis: So do you think the scale of the threat is sufficient from far right extremism to justify a special radicalisation strategy, a specific strategy?

Mike Whine: The issues that they are complaining about are not necessarily the same as those that concern other extremist groups, so they have to be treated each as a separate case, I think. The EDL is a public order issue at the moment. Electoral support for the BNP and the National Front has declined enormously in the last couple of years. But the threat of terrorism is something that has to be treated as a terrorist threat and therefore policing has to be proportionate and focused on those different types of threat. So to characterise it all as a terror threat or a public order threat I think is not necessarily accurate.

Dr Goodwin: If I could just quickly come in there. The issue, particularly over the last 10 years, is that we have focused greatly on Al-Qaeda or AQ-inspired terrorism and the Prevent agenda, and attempts to counter radicalisation have focused mainly on Muslim communities and this openly violent form of extremism. I think that has left a noticeable gap and something that needs to be addressed far more sufficiently than it is at present, the simple reason being that we have seen, not only in Norway but also in the cases that Mike has just mentioned, the potential for violence within the far right. I think even though far right parties and movements like the EDL are not overtly violent in their ambitions to the same extent that AQ-inspired groups are, I would make a case that this movement contains the potential for violence. It gives its followers a specific set of narratives that under certain conditions validate the use of violence.

Mike Whine: If I can just add, I think you could see the far right as, if you like, a recruitment pool from which terrorism might emerge in much the same way that extremist Islamist groups provide that reservoir and provide the conveyor belt process that may lead to terrorism if somebody is not diverted in one way or another.

Q187 Steve McCabe: Dr Goodwin, you have described supporters of the far right as being largely less educated, working class men living in the north and Midlands towns. Do far right extremists share the same characteristics as those people you have described as supporters of far right political groups?

Dr Goodwin: What we have done over the last five years at the universities of Manchester and Nottingham is run a series of surveys of far right voters, for example, people who vote for the British National party or the National Front. You have picked up on some of the key findings, which include the ageing base of support for these traditional far right parties. The base of support for the BNP, for example, is much older than the base of support for the National Front in the 1970s. However those traditional parties are quite different from what we might loosely term the new far right movement, with the English Defence League. We now know that that is drawing on a very young, predominantly working class demographic, which would suggest that it has more potential over the longer term than the British National party, which is struggling to recruit support.

However, when you look across those supporters, they are united through a heavy preoccupation with immigration, profound levels of concern over the effects of immigration on British society, high levels of dissatisfaction with all of the mainstream parties and anxiety over the role of Islam and British Muslims in wider society. So there are a set of motivations that unite those supporters even if their demographics are quite different.

In terms of far right extremists—the guys on the real ultra end of the spectrum—not enough systematic, longitudinal research has been done to paint an accurate picture of who they are, how they come to be radicalised, to what extent those pathways compare to radicalisation into AQ-inspired groups, and to what extent their social profile is similar to those who become recruited into AQ groups. There simply is not enough research in that area, either in Britain or elsewhere in Europe.

Q188 Steve McCabe: Would that be the same in terms of trying to understand what motivates these people? Is there insufficient research to know the motivation? Some of the interests are the same, as you have said, but the motivations of extremist groups may be different from far right, quasi political groups. Is that fair?

Dr Goodwin: Yes. I would warn against attempting to create a model or explanation that encompasses both AQ-inspired terrorism and far right extremism. I would warn against that for the simple reason that comparing members of two very different organisations who seem to have recruited quite different types of supporters, in terms of their demographics and attitudes, would lead us up an unproductive path.

Q189 Alun Michael: You referred a moment ago to unaddressed grievances in the radicalisation programme. That is something that has been referred to in relation to Islam-related terrorism and you referred to it in terms of right-wing radicalisation. Could you explain that a little further?

Dr Goodwin: In terms of the unresolved grievances?

Alun Michael: Yes.

Dr Goodwin: In terms of the supporters that we have looked at, at least, they are primarily concerned about immigration, rising ethnic and cultural diversity in British society and in particular the role of Islam and the presence of Muslims in British society. Clearly, a lot of legislative action has been taken on those issues and a lot of work has been done in Westminster on those issues. I think the problem is that the vast majority of far right supporters are so dissatisfied with mainstream parties, and so distrustful of the political system generally that they either refuse to believe anything is being done or they simply take the view that what is being done is insufficient.

The reason why that is potentially significant over the longer term is that, when we look through the accounts of individuals like Anders Breivik, for example, or when we interview far-right extremists, having done so over the course of about five years, you get a sense from a lot of these supporters that when they perceive that mainstream parties are not doing enough on these specific issues they start to search for alternative actions and strategies. In Breivik's case it was a sense that the radical right wing Norwegian Progress party was not making sufficient progress on immigration and the presence of Islam in Norwegian society. Also in the British case we can similarly see very high levels of dissatisfaction among far right supporters. So it is not the case that these grievances are unresolved. It is also a sense that they just don't have enough faith in extreme politicians and parties.

Q190 Alun Michael: I am sorry, perhaps I was not clear enough. I thought you were referring to grievances. There are three separate things, aren't there? There are grievances that may relate to something genuine—poverty, social exclusion, for instance. There is what I would describe as opinion not shared, if the majority view in the country does not share the opinion. The third thing is ideology. Could you separate out the extent to which each of those is important in the categories that you refer to?

Dr Goodwin: Sure, yes. Mike wants to come in as well. It is very difficult because I would also add into that mix perceived grievances, that the supporters of the far right may not necessarily—

Alun Michael: I thought that came into the second category, an opinion that is not shared.

Dr Goodwin: Right. It is not a typology that is familiar to me. It is not something that I would like to try and pigeonhole some of my research into, but the thing I would focus on is that, for supporters of the far right, it is not only direct grievances that are motivating their commitment to this movement, it is also perceived grievances. They might not be shared by sections of the mainstream, if we want to call it the mainstream, but these perceived grievances, particularly around the perceived threat from immigration and the perceived threat from Islam, are consistently emerging as the most powerful predictors of who supports this movement.

Q191 Alun Michael: Yes, I am sorry, but what I am trying to get at is that, if somebody is poor or unemployed or whatever there are specific measurements that can indicate whether there is a problem. If there is a perception of things, which might not be shared by wider—it is not pigeonholing, it is trying to get to some sort of definition of what you are saying. Those are both different things to ideology, aren't they?

Mike Whine: They are, but I am not sure that the factors you mentioned such as poverty are really important within these two sets—far right extremism and—

Q192 Alun Michael: If I may, I was picking up the word "grievance" that was used by both of you and trying to ask what was behind that.

Mike Whine: Well, certainly both sets promote a grievance strand very strongly and, as you have heard, the grievance within the far right, and particularly among these populist, extremist parties like the EDL, is that Government is failing by allowing mass immigration and so on. That is a different sort of grievance from that promoted by Islamists and by Jihadi terrorists, which is that Muslims are oppressed, that the West or Christians or Jews are out to defeat Islam. In this way they oblige and legitimise violence, but the grievance strand is really quite strong there and possibly even stronger. I would suggest, although it is just a feeling rather than having direct evidence, that it is possibly even a stronger element within their radicalisation than it is within the far right.

Q193 Nicola Blackwood: You mentioned, Dr Goodwin, that there has not been sufficient research to identify exactly who is being radicalised within the far right. Mr Whine, you recognise that perhaps there is a move towards social media as a location for recruitment. In our evidence so far there has been a suggestion that the prime fora for Islamist recruitment are the internet and prisons, with perhaps universities also being a location. So I wonder if you have found any specific fora that are locations for radicalisation in the far right.

Mike Whine: Facebook is one, but there are any number of far right sites that tend to be trans­European rather than just UK, associated with Blood & Honour and groups like that, through which events are organised and people exchange ideas. So, yes, there are specific ones pertaining to the far right just as there are to Jihadi terrorists.

Dr Goodwin: I would also add that the internet is absolutely key but not the complete story. Referring back to those different types of far right extremism, I would, again, warn against trying to describe this movement as a movement. It is very varied, but parties like the BNP would focus heavily around physical meetings. Groups like the English Defence League would focus heavily around demonstrations and rallies and also online activity, in particular where you have their supporters going only to a small number of websites for their news and information, so-called narrow casting, and not having any other sources of news and information to dilute that. But then with the ultra extreme right wing and the smaller groups that I mentioned, you might put more emphasis on, for example, music concerts, across Europe with the pan­European skinhead music scene. So, different fora across different movements.

Q194 Nicola Blackwood: Are you of the view that attempts to control online radicalisation would be realistic, given the nature of the networks that are available?

  Mike Whine: No, it is totally unrealistic. The internet is just too big. What you can do, of course, is monitor it and issue takedown notices if material is broadcast that contravenes legislation or incites hatred, and that happens and it happens regularly. It can be monitored and there are Government agencies and police units that deal with this so that they can use it for intelligence gathering. But to control it, no, the internet is just too big to control.

Q195 Nicola Blackwood: What about specific institutions? You have mentioned the music scene, but with our evidence on Islamism we have had specific comments about universities, mosques and prisons being particular locations for recruitment. Are there equivalent institutions for the far right?

  Dr Goodwin: Again, there is not really enough research that has been done in Britain or elsewhere in Europe. Having done the vast majority of research on individual recruitment to the far right myself, I am painfully aware of the inadequacy of that literature and that evidence base.

  It is also quite difficult to compare these two types of movements. On the university campus, for example, Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism among some sections, a small section of a particular population within a university, may be seen as more legitimate than far right extremism that, on the whole, particularly in its white supremacist forms, is heavily stigmatised in wider society and is not really seen as something that is necessarily latched on to a legitimate grievance.

  I would warn against trying to find a location where radicalisation takes place on the far right. What I would focus on is the extent to which, unlike in previous years, far right organisations are more actively attempting to connect with citizens, whether online or offline. Compared to in the 1990s and 1980s, they are now far more active. They have a far more developed internet presence than many mainstream political parties. So that supply side is something that deserves greater attention.

  Mike Whine: If I could add, there is lots of evidence that Schengen, which has allowed free movement within Europe, and the internet combined have facilitated co-operation and liaison across Europe by far right small extremist groups. They meet continuously and some of the rock concerts are a venue for them to meet and plan, and there are reports by European Security Services that talk very specifically about these venues being used to exchange ideas and to plan activity. So you have seen events organised by small far right groups in Europe that have transferred from one country to another because of that facility.

  In terms of Islamist recruitment, then certainly the internet is very important, and universities are important. Prisons, well, certainly there is evidence of radicalisation in prisons, but when you move on to terrorism you have to have human intervention. There is perhaps one case, that of Roshanara Choudhry, someone who was completely radicalised on the internet, and there doesn't appear to have been human intervention. In all other cases, somebody intervened to say, "You've been radicalised, now let's take you on and this is how you make a bomb" or "This is your target". Normally you need human intervention as well.

Q196 Nicola Blackwood: You are not aware of far right radicalisation within prisons specifically.

  Mike Whine: I'm not aware of it, no.

  Dr Goodwin: I wouldn't be surprised if it takes place but I wouldn't identify it as a major arena of radicalisation.

Q197 Nicola Blackwood: Is it just that we haven't been looking into it?

  Dr Goodwin: Possibly.


Q198 Chair: Your league table would be No. 1, the internet; No. 2, events, rock concerts; No. 3—

  Dr Goodwin: For the far right, yes.

  Chair: Yes. No. 3 would be universities. Is that No. 3?

  Dr Goodwin: Not the universities for the far right, no.

Mike Whine: It's meetings, international meetings.

Q199 Chair: If we were to go on to try and find some of these websites, what key words would you type in to find them?

  Dr Goodwin: If I was doing some research on exploring links and things I would be looking at—would you like specific websites?

  Chair: Yes.

  Dr Goodwin: I would be looking at forums like Stormfront. I would be looking, if I was interested in the European scene, at Gates of Vienna. I might be looking at the Brussels Journal. These were both visited by Anders Breivik, for example. I might be looking at Four Freedoms.

  Mike Whine: There was, a few weeks ago, an international far right rock concert to which people were going from all over Europe and that had a website. It was passed on to the police because it was thought that people from Britain might be going to that. Whether they did or not, I don't know, that is not my area. But certainly that was a website that advertised those and I can pass it on to the Committee in due course. I have not brought it with me.

Q200 Chair: Yes, that would be very helpful. But this sounds a little esoteric. You need to know somebody who knows that these websites exist, but if I was typing in a keyword and I had just started to get involved in this area, what would the words be?

  Mike Whine: No, I think you wouldn't get very far. Some of these are passworded sites as well. So just googling rock concert would not get you very far.

  Chair: Is not enough.

  Mike Whine: As you heard, Stormfront and similar far right internet websites might provide an introduction, but often this goes on a much narrower basis, one-to-one or one-to-several passage of information.


Q201 Lorraine Fullbrook: Can I ask, have you done any research into the gang culture in the far right recruitment process and how much that plays a part in it?

  Mike Whine: Something that is common to both types of extremism and terrorism is what the American academic, Marc Sageman, called the "bunch of guys" paradigm, which is the socialisation process within a small group that can produce terrorism. In other words, a small group of people sort of egg each other on and it is not really gang culture, it is social interaction within a small arena.

  Dr Goodwin: But those arenas can be incredibly varied. I can remember interviewing some of the most active supporters of the far right who were heavily involved in their residents' association. This is by no means something that is anchored in youth gangs; perhaps more so maybe in the United States, where that is more of an issue, and particularly among sections of the militia right, where that perhaps is more at play. But in Britain of all the people I have interviewed over the years I have not met one who was open about being a member of a gang or made a reference to being a gang member.


Q202 Mr Winnick: Mass murders were carried out in Norway. There have been reports that far right extremists in Britain had links with the mass murderer. Can you give us any information whether such links existed?

  Mike Whine: The links seem to have been mostly in Breivik's head rather than in any other way. He was a Facebook friend of EDL, it is believed. He said he had come to Britain to an EDL demonstration, but there is no hard evidence.

  Mr Winnick: He had come to Britain?

  Mike Whine: Yes, but there is no hard evidence he actually did. Others may have it but I have not seen it. Breivik was shunned by Norwegian and Swedish far right groups because they thought the things he was saying were going too far. He was very much a one-off, a lone wolf, if you like.

Q203 Mr Winnick: Do you consider that there could be in other European countries, including our own, almost a repeat of extreme right wing elements like him?

  Mike Whine: Absolutely, much more so. I mentioned earlier that Breivik's case was a copycat of a plot in Sweden, where a small group of Nazis planned to bomb the Swedish Parliament and kill young people. Their plot was foiled by the Swedish police. A German plot to blow up the re-opening of the Munich synagogue, which was attended by Johannes Rau, the Federal President, and half the German Cabinet, would have decapitated the German Government. The European Security Services' annual reports and the Europol annual report, which looks at terrorism, report all of these on an annual basis. There are any number of plots that are far more serious than we have seen in this country.

Q204 Mr Winnick: You have already referred to the 17 people in prison for far right activities, who clearly were a great danger to the country.

Q205   Dr Goodwin: If I could add just two quick points. Prior to Norway, both the London Metropolitan Police and also the Department for Homeland Security had warned of an increasingly violent turn within their respective far right cultures. If we go back to the Copeland bombings in London or if we think about Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma, the far right has consistently demonstrated an ability to enact mass violence. But one point I would like to add is the need to take more seriously the potential for a spiral of violence between different forms of extremism. What I mean by that is something that we have not seen since Northern Ireland, which is the potential for far right extremisms to enact violence or confrontation against, for example, an AQ-inspired group, to bomb a mosque or something of that nature and then for that action to be retaliated. It wouldn't really take too long for a spiral of violence to emerge.

  Before Norway I think that would have been dismissed as alarmist and speculative, but having seen a noticeable shift in far right blogs over the last five years, a shift towards more confrontation, more provocation and the cases that Mike mentioned of individuals who have been arrested planning acts of terrorism, I think these all point towards the conclusion that the far right is becoming far more confrontational and willing to engage in violence.

Q206 Mr Winnick: Mr Whine, I wonder if I could ask you this question in light of your involvement over many years, including at present, with the Jewish community. When one passes synagogues and Jewish schools and the rest, it is quite obvious that security measures are taken—there are guards and the rest—which I wouldn't have thought would have occurred from, say, 1945 to the 1960s or the early 1970s, though I could be wrong. Do you believe there is a particular danger to the Jewish community and from where?

  Mike Whine: It is not me, it is Governments who know that there is a particular danger to Jewish communities and their institutions. I published a book recently on terrorism against Jewish communities around the world and we were able to find 427 cases of terrorist plots against Jewish communities, many of which had been foiled, but a lot of which had not been. The threat comes from different directions and—

  Mr Winnick: That is what I mean, not just from one.

  Mike Whine: It is not just from one. Probably the greatest threat is from the global Jihad movement, that is AQ and its followers and affiliates, and a number of plots have been foiled in Europe in the last 12 months by Al-Qaeda against synagogues, and also in America. That is the biggest threat, and they have bombed synagogues in Tunisia and in Morocco and carried out any number of successful terrorist attacks around the world against Jewish institutions. That is the first area of threat.

  The second is from Iran and its surrogates, and again a number of successful terrorist attacks against synagogues and Jewish institutions by Hezbollah, several by Iran itself—by the Government, who have a history of carrying out acts of terrorism against their perceived enemies. The third is from the far right. In the 1960s and 1970s there were also attacks from the far left. One thinks of Action Directe in France and the fighting communist cells in Belgium. They attacked synagogues.


Q207 Steve McCabe: I wondered, if we go back to that for a second, in the case of attacks by Jihadists or Hezbollah, how much are those attacks really directed at the State of Israel and Jewish synagogues or whatever used as a proxy, whereas in the case of the far right it must be a different type of attack? Is that fair?

  Mike Whine: No, it is not. Let me explain. In the minds of certainly the Islamist groups and Iran, there is no difference between Israel and its institutions and Jews and their institutions. There are any number of quotes I could give, which are published in this book, from leading Al-Qaeda ideologues where they talk specifically about attacking Jewish institutions and Jews. It is not for them an attack against Israel, it is an attack against Jews and their institutions.

  The far right is much less subtle. It is against Jews or Muslims or, in the case of some recent cases of far right terrorism, it is against the State and the institutions of the State. But certainly the threat is very real from these different directions against Jewish communities and it is understood by Governments and that is why Governments encourage security against synagogues and indeed assist Jewish communities to organise that security.

Q208 Mr Clappison: The attacks can come out of the blue and they are indiscriminate against Jewish individuals, Jewish groups, Jewish communities.

  Mike Whine: Indeed, and in fact I would add something else, which is that when there is tension in the Middle East, either between Israel and its neighbours or tension generally, you see the overspill against Jewish communities, and that is measurable. When, for example, Israel went into Gaza a couple of years ago there was a spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK.

Q209 Mr Clappison: Yes, and there was an attack as well, a few years ago now, against a Jewish community centre in Argentina. Is that not right?

  Mike Whine: It was a devastating attack against the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, which killed 95 people. That came directly from the Iranian Government, but they used local surrogates.

  Chair: Dr Goodwin, Mr Whine, thank you very much for coming to give evidence to us. Obviously our inquiry is ongoing. We have a major conference in Leicester on 13 December.

  Mike Whine: We are aware, yes.

  Chair: If you are able to come along and join us that would be wonderful, but also if you have other information that is going to be helpful to the Committee that we haven't raised today with you, please do let us have it and your books would be gratefully received. Thank you very much.


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