British far-right extremists being funded by international networks, report reveals

Research warns authorities are ‘overlooking’ far-right funding networks because of focus on Islamist terrorism 

Lizzie Dearden
Security Correspondent
Friday 31 May 2019 00:15
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Tommy Robinson wins appeal: Far-right leader freed from prison on bail

Far-right extremists are building international funding networks allowing them to spread hatred while being “overlooked” by authorities, new research has warned.

Analysts at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) found that despite an increase in extreme right-wing attacks, efforts to disrupt terrorist financing was still focused on Islamists.

A report said a lack of work to find the source of money flows and stop them had allowed prolific extremists and groups to build huge platforms in the UK, US and Europe.

It cited Tommy Robinson, white nationalists Generation Identity and neo-Nazi terrorist group National Action among the British actors profiting from “international connectivity”.

“We may call this domestic extremism, but there are clearly international links and that’s where banks and others need to be aware that just being on the lookout for Islamist financing is not enough,” author Tom Keatinge told The Independent.

“As we see the rise in threat from the extreme right, the question is are we also thinking about where these groups and individuals get their money?”

Increasing international links were highlighted by the New Zealand terror attack, when it emerged the Australian man accused of massacring Muslims was inspired by pan-European group Generation Identity and donated money to its Austrian branch.

Mr Keatinge, who is the director of Rusi’s centre for financial crime and security studies, said the funds gathered allowed fringe groups to expand their reach with potentially deadly effect.

The Finsbury Park attacker was inspired by far-right posts online, as was a man who plotted to bomb a London mosque and another who drove a van at a curry house because he wanted to “kill a Muslim”.

“You don’t need much money to commit some of these attacks, but it facilitates the spreading of hate and raises the terror threat,” Mr Keatinge said.

“What funding enables is better organisation. People go from being an individual with extreme view to being able to organise and gain publicity.

“The more someone’s cause is promoted, the more opportunities they have to then ask for money – it’s a reinforcing circle.”

Researchers said Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, had profited from both significant support from foreign donors and crowdfunding from individual donors around the world.

Tommy Robinson could face up to two years in prison in fresh contempt of court proceedings

The Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank, said it had spent roughly $60,000 (£48,000) on “Free Tommy” demonstrations in London last year.

In a media interview during his failed campaign to be elected as a member of the European parliament, Robinson suggested the MEF had paid £78,000 in legal fees for his ongoing contempt of court case, but the think tank has not confirmed the sum.

Robinson was also a beneficiary of a “fellowship” from US tech billionaire Robert Shillman that bolstered his salary from Canadian website Rebel Media, where he worked from early 2017 until February last year.

Ezra Levant, founder of the Rebel, has been covering Robinson’s ongoing legal case and crowdfunding for activists to travel to Britain to counter “mainstream media” reporting.

Robinson has also sought funding from Israeli backers and visited the country.

In a leaked video where he boasted about scoring drugs, Robinson claimed to have spoken to Benjamin Netanyahu, adding: “I got my Zionist card out and said I am a Zionist and I bought us everything. Shalom motherf***er.”

Earlier this month, he posted a photo on his Telegram channel wearing a hat emblazoned with the Israeli flag with the caption: “I need your shekels.”

Robinson has continued to ask for donations from British supporters by claiming money was needed for causes including his MEP campaign, a bus, protests, security and legal claims.

He received almost £20,000 of donations in Bitcoin alone during his two-month imprisonment last year and in October revealed there was still “a pot in excess of a few hundred thousand pounds” left.

Robinson portrayed himself as a member of the working class during his attempt to become an MEP, but his family’s home is currently on the market for £915,000.

Situated in an affluent village, a listing said the home had “no expense spared” and featured underfloor heating, an annex and hot tub.

Researchers said that bans by private companies such as Paypal could dent fundraising efforts

Following his defeat in the European elections, Robinson said he would “come back harder … our movement needs to be politicised”.

Mr Keatinge, the director of Rusi’s centre for financial crime and security studies, said crowdfunding allows extremists to build international platforms that spread hate to wider audiences.

“Crowdfunding is a vulnerability in the system, it’s a way the internet presents funding opportunities that have not previously been conceived,” he added.

“The internet allows you to do things faster, cheaper and at greater scale than ever before.”

But researchers said that Paypal’s decision to close accounts used by Robinson, Generation Identity and other far-right figures could dent their fundraising.

Mr Keatinge said that while governments find politically difficult to clamp down on extremism that falls short of terrorist activity, private companies can “make decisions based on their reputation rather than the law”.

The report found that some groups were attempting to evade crackdowns by selling their own merchandise and ticketing events, including the neo-Nazi Blood and Honour music network.

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It said that National Action “has become reliant on more discrete peer-to-peer transactions”, while other groups turn to cryptocurrency after being banned by traditional payment processors.

Researchers warned that a “coordinated and harmonised approach” is needed across the public and private sector to stop extremists diverting to new funding channels.

“It is clear that the terrorist or extremist right-wing threat in the UK and other western countries is likely to grow in the years ahead,” the report concluded. “Developing a financial analysis and understanding of these groups, their activities and facilitators is imperative.”

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