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Far-right groups across Europe 'using Islamist techniques' to recruit followers, report says

Exclusive: Counter Extremism Group says outward rejection of violence is 'increasing the potential for radicalisation'

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Saturday 08 December 2018 23:51 GMT
White supremacist group Generation Identity targets under-30s with a slick social media campaign
White supremacist group Generation Identity targets under-30s with a slick social media campaign (Twitter)

Far-right extremists across Europe are successfully integrating themselves into the political mainstream by shunning street violence and adopting the same recruitment techniques used by jihadis, according to a new report.

The research, carried out by the Counter Extremism Project, was revealed exclusively to The Independent ahead of a major march in London organised by Ukip and English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson.

Ukip, which has won millions of votes in previous British elections, has been hit by a string of high-profile resignations in protest at the direction taken by leader Gerard Batten, who recently appointed Robinson as an adviser.

Campaigners warn that although Robinson and other anti-Islam figures publicly eschew violence, their ability to shift into the political mainstream and hijack topical issues broadens their public appeal.

David Ibsen, executive director of the Counter Extremism Project, said: “Portraying themselves in this way is definitely a tactic to increase the reach of their message and, as such, increase the potential of radicalisation.”

He said anti-Islam figures and white nationalists were using online channels to “build communities” around specific issues, in a way that has previously been seen with jihadis who capitalise on topics like the Iraq War and airstrikes.

“The real worrying issue is that, with the power of social media, these claims create an ecosystem where people looking for legitimate mainstream movements access extremist culture,” Mr Ibsen added.

“What we cannot ignore is how these groups will affect pluralism, peace and tolerance.”

Defectors from Ukip have told The Independent they fear the party is morphing into a successor to the racist British National Party and condemned Mr Batten’s “obsession” with Robinson and Islam.

Robinson called the exodus “brilliant” and claimed Ukip would become “a populist, revolutionist political party”.

Mr Batten, a Ukip MEP for London, has repeatedly branded Islam a “death cult” and the party’s latest manifesto included proposals to create Muslim-only prisons and repeal hate crime laws.

Nigel Farage quits UKIP over links to Tommy Robinson

Ukip claims it has gained 8,000 new members since Mr Batten took charge in February, and the leader said Robinson’s appointment has given the party “access to a million Facebook followers”.

While the EDL founder has denied inciting violence, his posts formed part of the inspiration for the Finsbury Park terror attack, which saw a man plough a van into Muslims during Ramadan.

British security services have been increasing their focus on the far-right since the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by a white supremacist in 2016.

The number of right-wing extremists arrested and jailed for terror offences has been increasing, and MI5 has recently taken the lead on intelligence operations from counterterror police.

The Independent understands that discussions are ongoing over where to set the bar for far-right terror investigations, with much of the material inspiring extremists online falling short of a criminal threshold.

The Counter Extremism Project’s report said that while some groups openly espouse violent white supremacy, others are propagating radical stances under the guise of populism.

Researchers said far-right political parties and groups across Europe were hijacking legitimate concerns over Islamist terrorism, while scapegoating Muslim immigrants for economic hardship faced by young Europeans.

“More than 70 years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, ethno-nationalist and white supremacist movements in Europe continue to thrive,” the report said.

“Populist groups claim that they are striving to protect average hardworking Europeans by preserving their livelihoods and heritages from economic and cultural threats posed by immigrants and ethnic minorities.

“Though not all of these groups directly link their ideologies to Nazism, their propaganda portrays immigrants and ethnic minorities in a similar manner to how Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews, blaming them for national economic troubles and depicting them as a serious threat to the broader national identity.”

Researchers noted the success of parties like Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland and Italy’s Lega Nord, who have “been able to generate substantial popular support by promising to defend their respective countries against the cultural attacks of immigrants and foreign influence”.

While Britain’s electoral system limits the ability of fringe groups to gain parliamentary seats, organisations using the same tactics appear to be attracting growing memberships.

The pan-European white nationalist group Generation Identity, which originated in France, declared its presence in Britain last year and has since launched waves of protests, publicity stunts and stickering drives to attract more members.

The group has openly discussed how it looks to “engage with the student demographic” and targets 18 to 30-year-olds with a slick social media presence in multiple languages.

Generation Identity’s central ideology claims that white people are being “replaced” by ethnic minorities in Europe and calls for non-whites to be “relocated” from the continent.

Austrian leader Martin Sellner has been prevented from entering the UK and the group has been marred by infighting, but recruitment continues.

The Counter Extremism Project said Generation Identity has “renounced violence in favour of utilising social media and public demonstrations to portray themselves as a legitimate, mainstream movement protecting European culture.”

Researchers warned that similar groups have been able to gain support by attacking minorities, rather than openly promoting white supremacy.

Meanwhile, neo-Nazi groups such as Combat 18 and the Nordic Resistance Movement are still able to recruit for overtly violent aims.

The British government banned the neo-Nazi organisation National Action in 2016 but its members split into rebranded regional factions, including some that are still in operation.

National Action supporters include a British soldier who was recruiting fellow troops for a race war, a man who plotted to murder a Labour MP and another who tried to behead a Sikh man.

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The group has characterised its ideology as “white jihad” and police investigations have exposed the existence of gory propaganda material.

“Not only do these violent white supremacist groups employ similar strategies to some of the most prominent Islamist terror groups, but they are also motivated to pursue the radical end goal of an ethnically or culturally homogenous state due to similar concerns that their identity and way of life are under threat,” the Counter Extremism Project said.

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