EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Terrorist Manifestos of the Far-Right
DATE: 1pm-2pm, 9 May 2019
VENUE: Grimond Room, Portcullis House
SPEAKER: Dr Rakib Ehsan, Dr Paul Scott, Andrew Staniforth, Jacob Davey
EVENT CHAIR: Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: I serve on the intelligence security committee. Let me just say a few words before we start. In some respects, I would suggest that our world is scarier than ever. And part of that fear lies beneath the surface of our everyday lives in the fear of some unknown enemy. Interestingly, terrorism is probably more in our thoughts than ever before and from the different quarters that may come from. But in many respects terrorism today in the UK is responsible for far fewer deaths than at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland. Yet in some ways it is more frightening because we do not feel we know the terrorists. We live on the assumption that Islamist terrorism is inspired or organised by Al Qaeda or its allied organisations. And for many the new fear is that someone who is inspired or radicalised online may never have set foot near a training camp. Now this seminar is particularly timely because we are only just waking up to the real threat of those inspired or organised by far right groups and ideology. My colleague Jo Cox, an MP for just a year, met her death at the hands of a loner who was also a Nazi sympathiser. Rosie Cooper MP may only have had her life saved from a murder attempt because of undercover anti-Nazis who had infiltrated a far right group and her would-be assassin was just 23 years old.
So today we are going to explore what is the nature of this new dimension to terrorism, what sets them apart from the likes of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bombing. For one, far right terrorists have a growing desire to give voice to their prejudices in political tracks and manifestos. I think often with these individuals it’s talked about as some lone individual, but actually what we are seeing, and what my colleagues here are going to explore further, is just how that is being developed in a more coherent way in their view in the form of a manifesto. They may or may not have mental health problems but their actions are not just random, they are not simply anti-authority or pro-gun as McVeigh was, they have developed these political ideologies however extreme or in some cases we may find ridiculous, they are dangerous because they represent only the visible part of the iceberg, because they do, I’m afraid to say, speak to attitudes that are more widely held.
The threat is real. There were 340 crimes against MPs reported last year. We may be living in an age of intolerance where freedom of expression, loss of deference and social media echo chambers amplifies an assists those on the extremes who migrate towards violence. 18 terror plots were foiled by our police and security services in the past two years, four of them were from the far right. So, let’s get onto the discussion and our speakers. May I first welcome Dr Paul Scott from the Henry Jackson Society to look at the history of far right terrorism and its ideological evolution. Paul, thank you.
Dr. Paul Stott: Thank you, good afternoon everyone. I’m going to go back a few years to an earlier, pre-internet example of a manifesto. This is the white wolves’ documents. This was a 14-page statement written in late 1993 or 1994 mailed around anonymously on the far right which received some media coverage in 94. Attention to it resurfaced in 1999 at the time of the mail bomb attacks carried out by David Copland, a member of a small far right group called the national socialist movement. Three days before his Brixton bomb a white wolves’ communiqué was posted out in central London, one of five such communiques to appear. His attacks on successive weekends were aimed at different minority groups, the black community in Brixton, Bangladeshis in Brick Lane, and the gay community in Soho. That final bombing switched to a Friday after two previous Saturday attacks killed three, and among those claiming responsibility for that Brixton bombing were the white wolves. As well as the documents, there was a two-sided leaflet and a statement calling on non-whites to leave Britain by the 31st September 1999. Action would begin at that time when the clock struck midnight. Now I argue the white wolves’ documents is important in particular for what it tells us about the far right. Some of the themes and techniques within it are persistent. The idea and the need for imminent action of being at the 11th hour and of what the authors see as the power of the Jews.
Anti-Semitism is the central aspect of this worldview. Interestingly, when viewed through the lens of 2019, is also what is absent from the white wolves document. For example, Islam and Muslims are mentioned only once. Authorship of the white wolves document was never fully established, at least not publicly. And that should serve as a reminder to us all to treat with some caution some of the statements, some of the reports which may appear after terrorist attacks; it come literally from anyone.
What we do know is whoever wrote this document had a strong interest in history and a knowledge and details of the British far right. It opens with a poem by Kipling, that most English of English writers, and perhaps to the modern ear one of the more problematic…if there is any Kipling fans, the poem is ‘The Beginnings’ which has the famous lines ‘back when the English began to hate’.
In terms of violence, violence is viewed through history and the lessons of history. The little man riots in 1919, when some early non-white communities were attacked in 9 different coastal cities in England and Wales is regarded as a success, as forcing people out of the country. Reference to the Notting Hill race riots in 1958 is also made, but that is seen as a mistake that the far right didn’t continue. Equally, the author is also able to dig out a 1973 spearhead article by John Tindal, of the national front, and later leader of the British National Party. So this is clearly somebody with some interest in history and knowledge of the far right.
What’s the theory within the document? Well, it’s very much rooted in anti-Semitism and the need for violence to bring about social change. The Jews are seen as having the power in society and there is a liberal/Jewish conspiracy to destroy the white race. And some of those themes you’ll hear cropping up with our later speakers. This is a call to arms, but interestingly, despite this very strong anti-Semitic rhetoric, the authors refer to themselves as nationalists. Even in the document that is dedicated to an American neo-Nazi, Robert Jay Matthews of the order group, they don’t refer to themselves as Nazis or fascists, so there is a sort of shyness. Political change can only come through violence, “the race war is not about to happen, we must start it ourselves”, they say on page 2. “We don’t believe we alone can win the race war; we can start it.” There is also a sense of finality. “This really is our last chance, only a blood sacrifice can now save our nation”. Now some of these are terrorist staples, not just far right staples, but the type of attitude you hear in terrorist literature per se. The idea people are living in a defining era and we must act. The idea of the need for blood, for example, is in Mohammed Sadiqi Khan’s suicide video after the 7/7 bombings. The aim of this action is to provoke the black community into indiscriminate violence so as to force white communities, as they see it, off the fence. From there, they aim for segregation in the style of communities in Northern Ireland. From there, the establishments and the government will be forced to act and repatriation will occur.
The tactics in here are familiar to anyone who has read both far right and Al Qaeda and Islamic State literature in recent years. The use of simple everyday weapons; knives, grits, petrol, etc etc. They also set out a recruitment process in gradually escalating actions involving no more than 5 people. To avoid suspicion, these should be independent cells that people shouldn’t leave any existing organisations in order to join the white wolves.
I’m going to finish with some conclusions, both on the white wolves’ documents and more generally on terrorist manifestos. And the first again is just to stress that there is no conclusive evidence, despite the widespread distribution of this document, that the white wolves as an organisation ever existed. In some ways, the document itself is an admission of failure. These are marginal figures responding to decades of political failure. They haven’t been able to reserve the changes which were occurring. Indeed, somewhat ironically, when the document gets 15 minutes of fame in 1999, the British far right was actually entering into its period of greatest economic success as Nick Griffin began to take the British National Party towards the mainstream, albeit from a very weak base. Some of the tactics set out, the tactics of small groups of no more than five racist attackers, is also very different to what we have seen in practice. In New Zealand, in Norway, Finsbury Park in the killing of Jo Cox, the Ukrainian fascist Pavlo Lapshyn who carried out attacks in the West Midlands, all were ostensibly lone actors.
And I deliberately use the term lone actor rather than lone wolf, because although they appear to have acted alone in their attacks, these are people who have come through a particular process with others, where they’ve been part of a broader extreme environment. What the white wolves document does do, however, is I think presage the era, which I think we are in, of a number of small attacks, small actors on the far right, politically isolated and I would argue politically feted broadly, turning to violence.
To finish with these manifestos in context, it is important to stress they are propaganda. They seek to influence and direct opinion, and they must always be approached on that basis. The aftermath of terrorist attacks is, I believe, very much contested territory. The terrorist manifesto now takes its place alongside the suicide video, the claim of responsibility, or the final words of the attacker. All staples of terrorist attacks over many years. This is territory that governments seek to control, that political activists and religious groups are also increasingly contesting, and where all of these actors will seek to argue that the events prove the validity either of their pre-existing positions or justifies the new position they’re adopting. Governments and lobbyists are increasingly seeking to control the material that emerges after terrorist attacks, we’re seeing the ban on the Christchurch manifesto in New Zealand, we’ve seen arguments about how terrorist attacks are reported. And I think this is very much an area where need to have a broader political debate. Can it be done? Can we control what is being said? And indeed, is it desirable? Because this document, this can be given away because this is pre-internet, you will struggle to find this on the internet, but documents like the Brenton Tarrant manifesto are everywhere if you look. Thank you.
…Thank you very much Paul. Our next contributor is Dr Rakib Ehsan of the Henry Jackson Society. So Rakib is going to discuss the far right manifestos of Dylann Roof, Brenton Tarrant and the statements of John Earnest who, as people know, a few weeks ago entered a Synagogue in Poway, California killing one and injuring three. Rakib’s focus is going to take us to how anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiments are tied with the theories of white genocide replacement. Thank you Rakib, thank you. In 10 minutes?
Dr. Rakib Ehsan: I’ll try my best.
So firstly, let me begin with Brenton Tarrant’s manifesto, the sole perpetrator behind the far right Christchurch terrorist attacks. The pre-attack document, which was originally published on the extremist messaging board (inaudible), while containing a litany of jokes, lots of nonsense posting, when you actually look at it very closely it does not provide a very telling, but also very disturbing insight into the ideological underpinnings of modern far right extremism. The document, titled ‘The Great Replacement Towards a New Society’, features neo-Nazi imagery right on the front of it in the form of the Sun Wheel, and one of the central concepts, which is articulated within this quasi-manifesto is this ‘brother of nations’, countries which have a shared white European ancestry and Tarrant actually uses this statement to justify his own status as an immigrant being an Australian living in New Zealand. With Tarrant’s document it’s very clear that it’s focus is on Muslim immigrant groups living in Western countries, and he talks about how they are implicated in what he views to be ethnic, racial and cultural displacement. So as well as making clear his anti-Islamic motivations behind the attack, he himself says that he is anti-immigration, anti-ethnic replacement, and anti-cultural replacement. What is interesting about the document is that the very targets, the target groups, of his devastating terrorist attack at times within the document he speaks…(inaudible) of the complementary terms. He talks about Muslim immigrant groups having great pride in their robust traditions, their cohesiveness, their strong bonds of social trust, and cultural appreciation of architecture.
And this is where it ties in, when he talks about the brother of nations, he talks about the moral degeneracy in the brother of nations. So you can almost see that there is almost an overwhelming sense of resentment; that envy or jealously there that comes through with Brenton Tarrant’s so-called manifesto. He complains about the worshipping of feckless, degenerate drug-taking celebrity icons across the Western world across the Western world, celebrity icons. And he laments that the bonds of social trust have been eroded in his, what he calls, brother of nations by the aggressive promotion of this individualistic and materialistic values which underpin Western market capitalism. So his anti-globalist position is very well-articulated throughout the document. He does talk about the family-oriented traditional cohesive nature of Muslim immigrant communities in those countries. So what’s very clear to me is that there is an inherent fear of countries to his brother of nations where the indigenous population has lower fertility rates than some of the groups that he discusses and talks about how they’re being overrun by groups which are inherently more trusting than one another, they’re more cohesive, they have a greater sense of cultural appreciation. And he also does this by obviously completely criticising this trashy celebrity culture which he says are in these Western countries.
So moving on from Tarrant’s document, John Earnest, who was behind the Poway synagogue terrorist attacks. He also mentions these themes, but there is an added layer to these issues in that he attributes these social, cultural and political frustrations, or what he calls an international jury. A global Jewish collective. So his so-called manifesto, which is shorter, he talks about Jewish people and this is a direct quote: “they act as a unit, and every Jew plays his part to enslave the other races around him, whether consciously or sub-consciously.”
And when we talk about the themes that I was referring to, Earnest talks about, in regards to white replacements, he sees Jewish people as being directly complicit in that as they ban political parties and organisations who use mass immigration to displace the white European race, as well as actively promoting multiculturalism and race mixing. He also talks about how Jewish people fund and push degenerate propaganda in the form of entertainment. And he talks about how Jewish-led efforts in terms of persecuting Christians whether it is in, what he calls, the white nations, quite similar to Brenton Tarrant’s concept of brother of nations, who are under cultural and demographic threats which are led, which are fundamentally Jewish-led efforts in his view, in his conspiratorial worldview.
Now tying in what Paul discussed earlier about that conspiratorial framework which was developed in the, or articulated rather, in the white wolves’ document, these aggressive anti-Semitic conspiracies on the far right where there is a global, all-powerful Jewish collective who is held responsible by far-right actors for this wide-array of social, cultural and political frustrations that they hold. Interestingly, Earnest also makes the claims that Jews are using African-Americans anti-Hispanic put to destroy the white European population in the United States. And this is very interesting because this anti-Semitic, white-replacement theory has also been advanced by far-right actors for both the migrant caravan and also the European refugee crisis.
The third and final manifesto that I will discuss was written by Dylann Roof, who was behind the June 2015 shootings, the terrorist attacks on an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, which sadly killed 9 people. While there is a degree of overlap across these manifestos, there is a very strong feeling of white grievance in Dylann Roof’s pre-attack document. There is a profound sense of anger of how he views a superior white race. Its institutionally encouraged to feel guilty about the exaggerated oppression of what he calls a “stupid and violent black race”. And throughout the document he tries to downplay slavery.
Ruth, however, is similar to Tarrant. He refers to numerous violent incidents which are taken place in predominantly white European countries by non-white minority groups. So in Tarrant’s document he talked about large-scale exploitation in places such as Rotherham and Rochdale. Ruth also talks of these crimes which are taking place in Europe, and he says that because of the nature of these crimes which is non-white on white they do not receive the mainstream media attention that they deserve. This is what he says in his pre-attack document. He also discusses how Jewish people and African Americans are very similar in the sense that they interpret all of their life events including negative ones on the grounds of their minority identity. He says that African-Americans see everything through a black lens, while Jewish people see everything through a Jewish lens. So whilst these theories of white replacement and displacement are discussed with regard to Tarrant and Earnest’s pre-attack documents, it is important to note that Ruth actually articulates in his document that he chose Charleston because of its high level of African-American density. So you have three far right terrorists, people who targeted three different groups. In Christchurch it was Muslim worshippers, in Poway it was Jewish worshippers who were taking part in Passover celebrations, and then in Charleston it was African-American Christian worshippers. But you can see that with modern far right terrorism, and the narratives that are pedalled by far right extremists, these theories of white replacement and displacement, which Jacob will be going into more detail in his segment, it features very prominently in those narratives, and Jacob will obviously discuss that in more depth. Thank you.
…Thank you very much Rakib, so turn to Jacob; Jacob Davey from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. And I think you’re going to take a bit further what Rakib has already touched upon, which is this great replacement theory, so over to you Jacob.
Jacob Davey: Absolutely, thank you. So I mean, as Rakib very clearly showed us, what do these attacks have in common? They have a so-called manifesto document out there which explains perhaps in some way the motivations for these attacks. But if we look into the theories which underpin both Christchurch and Poway, we’ll see that there are nods, essentially, to two very distinct but very closely interlinked ideological threads which have been pushed by the extreme right for many years, but increasingly in a concerted fashion. These are the idea and the concept of white genocide, which influenced the Poway attack, and then that of the great replacement which was nodded to throughout the Christchurch attack. So both of these essentially focus on grievances, concerns, that white Europeans are being displaced, both at an ethnic and a cultural level. And what I’m going to do today is go into the background of these ideologies, looking at where they’re growing, and where they came from. Looking at the mechanisms which are allowing them to spread and the sort of inherent danger within these; why there is a sense of urgency, why these are inspiring terrorist attacks. Now if you think back to white supremacist, extreme right wing ideology, these tropes aren’t new, they’re old. They have links back to eugenicist thinking in the early 20th century. They have links back to anti-Semitic tropes which have been promoted and spread since medieval Europe. They’re not new ideas, these are concerns which have repeatedly cropped up throughout history, albeit in different ways, albeit in different manifestations.
So let’s sort of dive into them a little bit and try and get eventually to the so-what, to the what’s new here. If we look at white genocide first and foremost, this was the ideology which was referenced throughout the – I hesitate to use the term manifesto, throughout the document, throughout the letter that was posted immediately before Poway. Now this phrase has its trajectory back to neo-Nazi documents, circulated in America in the 1970s, but was particularly popularised by David Lane, who was a notorious neo-Nazi in the 1990s through a book called the white genocide manifesto. It specifically focuses on a concerted plot against white people, to wipe them out through miscegenation, through mixed race couples, through mass immigration, through racial integration, cultural integration, low fertility rates, abortion, government lead land confiscation, and organised violence. Now specifically what this argument does, and what this point does, is link this concertedly to a Jewish plot, to an anti-Semitic narrative that this is a concerted, secretive, conspiratorial effort to displace and to, ultimately, wipe out the white race. But it’s conflated with a range of other issue areas and a range of other conspiracy theories. And I think this is important to take into account when you think of the way conspiracy theories are put together, they stack, they’re almost like Lego bricks you can lend to different theories to build out an ideology, so actually we see proponents of this conflating issue areas not only with other anti-Semitic tropes, but also with other conspiracy theories at large. If you really want to go down the rabbit hole it’s inherently linked to the idea that this country is ruled by reptiles for example.
But where is this going, and how is it spreading now? Because it is spreading. We see this as a central trope of the alt-right ideology. Figure heads like Lauren Southern in Canada, and close to home people like Anne-Marie Waters and even Katie Hopkins nod to this. What are the tactics which are being used to drive this theory? What we’ve seen throughout our work at the institute is a concerted and savvy effort to campaign on social media and to gain the media to promote these talking points. One case study which I want to look in here is this, essentially, a troll operation called ‘It’s ok to be white’. Now this was in response to black pride and to identity movements and minorities. They thought ‘what can we do if we essentially spread out flyers saying it’s ok to be white?’. It’s a fairly innocuous phrase, but if you see where it is coming from it is inherently loaded. So there was this trolling operation to disseminate this content throughout universities. It gained traction, but then eventually it got picked up in the Australian parliament. They were able to petition someone called Pauline Hanson from the One Nation party to put a motion towards parliament saying ‘it’s ok to be white’. So what you can see here is actually very effective gaming by fringe groups of media dynamics and social media dynamics to infiltrate into mainstream the hateful ideology in the political space or at large.
Now moving onto the great replacement theory which is inherently interlinked to this. Great replacement theory which was nodded to in Christchurch doesn’t have an inherently anti-Semitic piece to it. It’s not racialist, it focuses more on cultural and ethnic displacement through migration and through birth rates. So it loses some of the conspiratorial elements. But it’s nevertheless hugely important and quite risky. This theory was popularised by the French author Renaud Camus in his 2012 book ‘Le Grand Replacement’, The Great Replacement. And we have seen this again grow and be pushed out by fringe groups. So across Europe it has been picked up by ‘generation identity’, a nativist far right group which has grown in recent years to have branches in Austria, Germany, France, and also in the UK, but they’re not doing so well here. And again, this group has been using savvy campaigning to push this ideology and to push this talking point into the political mainstream. And we’ve now got to the stage where this has been actively engaged with by politicians in the AFD and the FBO. So again just to bring back to the risk here, what we’re seeing is extremist groups using social media, using publicity stunts to advance this.
So to finish off, I want to finish on what’s changed, so what? These are old arguments, these aren’t new, these are inherently linked to racist mind-sets and to racialist mind-set. But I think there are a few key points which link in to broader trends in the extreme right which have enabled this ideology to be spread more cohesively. In part, this is to do with the internationalisation of extreme right movements. Social media has enabled groups which are traditionally inwards looking to connect across borders in ways we haven’t seen before. Not only this, but it has actually lowered the barrier to entry to these movements. You don’t have to go a book shop, you don’t have to go to a rally, you can be active and engaged from your home. This sort of hyper-charged and hyper-connectivity has allowed extreme right groups to create a culture which directly engages with this and creates a cohesive ideology. We saw this in these manifestos. They were both steeped in irony, they were both steeped in meta-irony, steeped in internet culture, in meme culture, in gaming culture, and that’s in part due to the audiences to which they were posted to. But as we can see here, what we are essentially seeing is a narrative and a cultural blending whereby the grievances of people in South Africa, the grievances of people in America, the grievances of people in Europe are being able to melded into this sort of ideological nexus which connects white identity, white nativist, white supremacist groups, counter-jihad groups, the world over and gives them some sort of cohesive ideology which can then inspire their activity and inspire their action. Not only this, but we have also seen social media provide them with the tools to mainstream this, to broadcast this ideology to audiences. It’s packaged up in memes, its packaged up with references to statistics. If you look at some of the content which is promoting this, it’s not on the surface egregious, and that’s a very very sort of strategic and tactical decision made by them to broadcast this to a wide range of audience as possible. But then finally, and the point I kind of picked up on with case studies of both of those is that they’re using these trajectories and these campaigns to infiltrate the political mainstream through fringe populist parties. They’re able to have figure heads stand up in parliament and actually engage with, and dog whistle, and nod to, and reference their ideology. And I think that I’ll end there, but hopefully you will see that these are old ideas, but that they’re being pushed out in a new way.
…Thank you very much Jacob. Our final speaker is Andrew Staniforth, a security specialist from CENTRIC, the centre of excellence in terrorism, resilience, intelligence, and organised crime at Sheffield Hallam University, not far from where I live. And he’s going to draw upon his experience as a special branch officer looking at how analysis of how the manifests of the far right actually helped to recruit and radicalise individuals at that local level in our northern English communities. Andrew.
Andrew Staniforth: Hi everyone. Anybody deeply depressed at this moment in time, I will try and shed some light. I normally go round the country delivering doom and gloom to everybody, so I’m glad to bring some light. I was born in Sheffield, went to study at University in Leeds and, like many students that went to study at University, stayed there. That’s important for some practical examples that I’m going to share with you today that really reinforce what the panellists have said, and how these manifestos are really important to those individuals for developing extremist right wing ideologies. So I’ve mentioned I’m from the North, I don’t know if anybody has ventured North. For any Game of Thrones fans it’s basically somewhere between Winterfell and Black Castle where I’m from. And it’s very nice to be invited South, but the reason why I mentioned the North is because very recently, following the Christchurch attacks, Martin Snowdon who’s the chief superintendent and head of the counterterrorism policing in the North added a statement to information from results from the prevent strategy from last year that mentioned that referrals for far right for terrorism had grown. But, joking aside, this is, as you have heard, a real threat and a real issue. I know I don’t look like it, but when I left university from 1994 in Leeds I’d spent a lot of time in that local community over a four-year period. I thought I knew that community very well. It is very different within the space of overnight you become police constable Staniforth, you’re working with the local community police officer. You’re getting to know other elements of that community, and you’re getting to know the layers of that community, and I’d just take you back to one very dark night in winter of 1995. I was a young officer, 12 months through my probation. I was working with a more experienced colleague. It was the early hours of the morning in the area of Headingly, it was a typical night where everybody after the nightclubs and student parties had gone to bed, and we’d been very very busy. It was about 4/5am in the morning. One of those nights where the heaters are on full blast but the windows are down, to keep you warm but also to keep you awake. Now when you have been working nights and you’re very tired, your eyes can play tricks on you in the night. We’re about 200 yards away from this junction with a library and a ginnel, and we both thought we saw a masked man carrying an axe down the ginnel. We both looked at each other and we thought, ‘well, did we actually see that, or was it just a bin bag floating away in the winter night?’. Well, my colleague and I thought well, we’ve got to check it out, so he put his foot on the gas, approached the junction and turned right because we knew that ginnel led onto a row of terrace houses at the back of the library. And, as we go down this street to the back of the library, this hooded balaclava-figured, robust male with jeans, black leather jacket, carrying a large axe came across our headlights. So we gave pursuit and just like something out of Line of Duty my colleague mounted the pavement, opened the car door, kicked the car door into his backside and he fell over. That was only after he’d thrown the axe at our patrol car. We arrested the individual and took him back to the local police station. It was a white male, 24, we found that he only lived 400 yards away from where we’d arrested him. He’d got no traces on any sort of police databases at all. So we got authority to search his premises at the early hours of the morning at his house. He lived with his mum, we went into the bedroom, there was a huge flag of the cross of St. George above his bed, there’s knuckle dusters, there’s knives, my colleague is picking all this up because he is thinking it is the last of my seven nights until duty, we’re going to be handing this over to the criminal investigation department, those detectives that are coming on early in the morning, we’ve potentially caught an armed robber. The theory was that there was an Asian gentleman who owned a newsagent in Headingly, where we’d caught this individual 50 yards away, that he’d be opening up his shop with all the cash and takings from the weekend, and we thought well, he was obviously going to rob this poor gentleman and newsagent and go off with the money. But actually, as I wandered around the room, on his bedside table were some literature that had swastikas on it, and that didn’t sit comfortably with me. I’d had no training about extreme right wing terrorism or ideologies of the far right back then, but I thought, well I’ll pick these up, put them in an evidence bag and hand them over to CID and let them deal with it. The case was handed over to CID and when I came onto duty that following day I’d got a note from a special branch officer that just said ‘oh, many thanks for picking up that literature, very useful.’ Because contained within that literature were meeting notes, were other like-minded individuals, were some of these manifestos, and that was what really lead me into special branch work. But looking at the individual in that individual in that community, there he was developing those views in plain sight of an area that I’d been a part of that community with, that I didn’t know anything about at all.
And I think that’s a very important lesson for us to learn now in the internet age, where communications are so quick and so vast. There’s a number of things I’ve learned along the way, dealing with a number of extreme right-wing terrorists, and that is they have a very pick and mix approach to some of the manifestos that you’ve heard. If anybody remembers the old Woolworths stores, the pick and mix selections there, they will pick and choose what they want, but I’ve generally found that the common denominator is, and there won’t be any surprises here, that they do not believe in equality or diversity, they believe that multiculturalism is a myth, but also their own ideologies and their own pick and mix manifesto is very personal to their own experiences. So upon reflection, looking at that first experience that I’d had, he was a white male, 24, he was a real sort of gym-goer, didn’t do particularly well at school, he didn’t seem to have a very close social circle of friends, didn’t appear to be successful in his own life. And I look back now and I think, well actually, was his intention to rob the Asian newsagents? Or was his intention actually to kill that Asian newsagent? And make it look like it was a robbery? I don’t know, I suppose I won’t know. But that stood me in good stead for when I did join special branch, and I was very fortunate to work with a colleague who had spent 20 years or more just looking at extreme right wing activities in that particular locality. And he said to me, whilst serving here in special branch in Yorkshire, your bread and butter will always be extreme right wing terrorism.
Of course, we have the events of 7/7, and maybe somewhere along the line that form of terrorism has been prioritised. Have we ignored to some extent the current rise of the right? Maybe. Have there been sufficient resources? Is there a lack of understanding of the current threats from extreme right wing? Maybe. But I suppose now, we are where we are. But there are some real opportunities for us moving forward. But I think the fact that we are gathered here today and the Henry Jackson Society have decided to put on a discussion around these issues is the real starting point.
But just really to conclude from me that, as the Chair opened with, the threat from the extreme right wing is a real and present danger. I’ve faced many uncomfortable policing situations in my policing career. Interviewing murderers of their spouses and violent domestic abuse cases, interviewing paedophiles, murderers and other terrorists. But I can say with all honesty that there is one particular moment that they made me really uncomfortable. And that was sat in a room with a white supremacist racist. I found that really profoundly uncomfortable. When you’re sat in a room with somebody who literally wants to rip the oxygen from your throat is quite compelling. So, this is a real threat, and for me it is here to stay for some considerable time. But there is hope, and I suggest one of the major areas of work that we must continue to do is that the manifestos that have been mentioned today must be challenged. By all of authority. Because they give credence and legitimacy to all of those that want to commit hate crimes and violence within our communities. And that’s where I’ll finish it there.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Thank you very much Andrew, and thank you to all our speakers for keeping to time. What I’m going to suggest is that I take groups of three and, we don’t have to take every one of them, but we’ll try and get through as many as possible in the time we have. And if you could say your name, and if you’re representing an organisation who that is.
Sam: Thanks, that was very informative, I’m Sam (inaudible) from the Tony Blair institute, and we’re doing some work at the moment on analysing far right narratives to try and build a database, but particularly for prevent practitioners to be able to spot far right narratives in the field and to give more informed and (inaudible). I’m really interested in your point Jacob on the far right tactic, one of their tactics being volume, and putting out loads of jokes and irony and how, as practitioners, do we filter the irony of the legitimate threat and do we cast the wide net and err on the side of the caution, what’s the strategy for tackling it?
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Thank you very much.
(Inaudible): Um I was just wondering, all these people like the Oklahoma bomber and all that, what do you learn from them? Do they ever have remorse? Or, I mean they’ve thrown away their lives from stupid acts. What is to be learned from them? Or what have we learned from them?
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Thank you.
Frank Gardner: Frank Gardner, BBC Security Correspondent. My question is primarily to Andrew actually. Um, how do you see their tactics and techniques differing from Jihadists? From Al Qaeda, the ISIS inspired Jihadists?
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Thank you, right, who would like to go first with Sam’s point about how do we separate irony from legitimate threats?
Jacob Davey: Right, I think I could take that. I mean, I think there’s a few practical steps which I would take. The way in which I’ve approached this research is quite depressing really, but sitting on these forums day in day out for several years. And ultimately then you need to build the lingo, you learn the lingo. It’s essentially an ethnographic exercise to understand, and I think that actually having researchers trained in recognising that, first and foremost is an essential skill, but actually going into this at a tactical level I think it is important to recognise essentially the meta-ironic strategy which these groups are employing and in place. And not shining a light on the content itself, but the narratives underpinning that content. It’s always going to be very difficult to say whether or not people are having a joke. It’s, you know, one of the key defence mechanisms these people have, but you have to say if they are joking about this content in these forums and in these places, how much of a defence is that? However, I would really strongly hesitate against actually giving much light or much credence to the memes or the content themselves because you end up in this ridiculous game of cat and mouse, and back and forth, where ultimately the only winners are the extreme right. We saw this with the OK hand symbol which the terrorists in Christchurch deployed in Church, oh no in court sorry. And essentially, that was a joke. That was people thinking ‘how can we bait the media into thinking that the OK hand symbol is a white supremacist sign?’. So they posted about it, it got picked up. There were some sensationalist headlines, some quite bad journalism. OK hand symbol now the white supremacist symbol of the day. And what started as a joke became reality. We saw that with people drinking milk. It’s the most ridiculous idea ever. They said ‘let’s try and trick people into thinking that drinking milk is a white supremacist symbol. How ridiculous, that’ll be a laugh.’ The media publicises it. You now have neo-Nazis standing around and drinking milk before they have their meetings. And it’s this constant game of back and forth. It’s recognising that it is ridiculous but also recognising that it is a very serious strategy to confuse and to weigh lay the media, and also confuse and weigh lay policymakers into making perhaps quite rushed decisions. So I’d say separate it. Don’t necessarily focus on the content, focus on the ideology itself, and focus on the tactics used to disseminate this ideology.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Thank you very much. Um, remorse?
Dr. Rakib Ehsan: Well, I think, looking at the documents that I evaluated, with Brenton Tarrant, he comes up with this concept of Brother of Nations. John Earnest talks about this collective of white nations. The thing that’s clear here is that with the far right you have actors who are trying to create these cross-country alliances based on race, based on a common white European ancestry. So I think, in terms of political leadership, you have to think how do they confront that? How do they challenge those narratives, do we need to be talking more about national cohesion for example? Because, Brenton Tarrant, the sort of language he uses, the point he makes is very much, you know, say a white European Austrian will naturally, or should have more loyalty to a white European German for example, than someone who might be a different race but also an Austrian citizen. So, I think that for our political leadership, looking at the construction, and the development of anti-extremist counter-narratives to these far right narratives, I think that should be a very important part of the debate going forward.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: OK, and Andrew I think was a direct question to about…
Andrew Staniforth: Yes, yes, first of all just in relation to the issue of remorse. Anybody that I have dealt with from the extreme right wing have never apologised for any of their actions, have never apologised for their particular position, their thoughts, their beliefs, their actions. Obviously they’re just disappointed that they’ve been caught and in custody, and ultimately that they’re going to prison. But no, no remorse whatsoever. In terms of Frank’s question. A very good one and an interesting one. Terrorists do learn from each other, and they do follow each other. And what might be successful for one particular group might be tried and tested in another area for another. So I’m not going to sit and say that there is nothing that Al Qaeda or IS-inspired terrorist groups sell in the UK would not be of active interest to an extreme right wing individual group. Obviously the suicidal component might be missing, but specifically the move towards more rudimentary attacks with knives because of the lack of availability and openness around semi-automatic firearms in this country, those sorts of attacks I think will gain lots of credence. I think we have seen a real shift; I think we’ve gone a 25 year shift here from what my colleagues on the panel were talking about. I think we’ve gone from individuals with white supremacist views talking in pubs in the North and elsewhere to, actually, some of those now really, seriously, wanting to take action upon their beliefs, and that is the very dangerous component where we currently are.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Thank you, let’s take another grouping. Gentleman there, and the gentlemen next door to each other.
Mike: Yes, Mike (inaudible). I’m an independent strategic thinker, there you go, how about that. Um, all the indications are that there will always be a few sort of (inaudible). You mentioned, one of the speakers, that these theories have been going for hundreds of years. You mentioned, you talk about (inaudible). All the indications are being that what we are doing here is that we’re changing all the sort of good (inaudible), to suit the sort of bad ones. Um, I came in here via a train, I got to the station, there was a tannoy about how there will be a bomb there. I got on the train, there was another tannoy, you know, we’re ruining people’s lives here. Everyone is sort of paranoid that there will be a bomb at any moment. Could the panel please tell me, what are the chances of a bomb going off in a railway station in this country now? Is it 75% chance that this will happen, or is it 00000.1%? Because we are destroying good people’s lives by the way we are going about it.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Thank you Mike. Yes. What’s your name?
Daniel Cameron: The accepted risk, then, looking at the immediate reaction, is that these right wing manifestos should be denied the option of publicity. There was that whole fuss of the Christchurch manifesto. How long did it take to get that off the internet? Is that the right approach? Instead, should we be trying to meet these manifestos head on and deny them detail by detail to just show how bonkers they are. What is the right approach to that?
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Thanks very much Daniel. And next to you. And your name is?
Ross Paton: My own question is actually quite similar to that. My name is Ross Paton and I work in the government’s contact strategy. Um, in an age where sort of inflammatory headlines are increasing, that the newspapers are trying to make money from this, in an increasingly difficult financial environment for them. How can we keep responsible reporting on this issue without constraining freedom of speech?
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Thank you very much, I’m going to start with Paul this time.
Dr. Paul Stott: Ok, I think when responding to these manifestos it’s a sort of yes but answer. I think there’s a need to look at them in quite a sophisticated way. Sadly, the earlier question really, I’d give an answer that applies to yourself. If you look at the (inaudible) manifesto, he mentioned a whole series of people in that who provided good information, or potentially inspiring him. And a lot of those people got an enormous amount of stick. So, Melanie Phillips, the journalist, was one for example. If you fast forward a few years to the Christchurch manifesto, he praises Candice Owens, who is a black American conservative. He’s obviously doing that because he wants people to criticise her so she’s put under pressure, yeah. So, you know, there’s a cleverness, a tactical awareness that he has there. I think from looking at conspiracy theories more generally, there is a danger that once you start getting into a narrative with people about responding to each particular conspiracy theory, you’ll never stop. So I think you have to have an overall approach rather than, you know, tackling every little dot and every little dot and comma, because these guys have a lot more time than we have; these guys on the internet, believe me.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Who else would like to come in on that round of questions?
Andrew Staniforth: Yeah, they need to be challenged in my view, no doubt, they need to be exposed for what they are.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: How do we go about doing that, in weighing up the balance in responding to everything, you can’t respond to everything individually. What would you suggest that the government, or someone else, should be doing to do it on a broader level that is up on who has said all these different things that have been said out there, that have all these different common threads.
Andrew Staniforth: Um, I suppose I’ll look at research institutes and academia. I remember, going back sort of 15 years ago, the amount of terrorism courses and security courses that were available were probably half a dozen universities. Now, of course, every single university has some terrorism, insurgency type course that is available. Most of them are engaging in active research, particularly around psychology, radicalisation, but actually, if you were to do a study of the percentage of those, they would be a fraction of the percentage based on this issue that we’re talking about today. A lot of it is around the more international approach to violent Jihadists, this type of terrorism, and those radicalisation processes. I think we can learn a lot from that study, relate it to extreme right wing ideologies, and that will be a very good place to start. Because a lot of the work actually has already been done. There are two fantastic European projects currently ongoing at the moment. Both looking at retrieval of online terrorist content. Red alert and (inaudible). They are fantastic because both of them involve law enforcement agencies. One is coordinated by the police services in Northern Ireland and includes West Yorkshire police. The other one has SO15 counter-terrorism involved actively co-designing, co-delivering active research with sensitive government departments, agencies sharing their information with academics would be a real help. Our law enforcement agencies in this country, data rich, analysis poor, hand it over to the researchers and academics that can actually make some real sense of it and provide a unique perspective, that is where I would start.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: I’m trying to paraphrase what Mike said. It’s a bit overblown? fears of these things happening.
Mike: I don’t know.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Yes, that’s what I’m saying. That’s the sort of challenges.
Andrew Staniforth: Without passing on doom and destruction from the North, um, no, terrorist threat is real and attack is highly likely. Read into that what you will but, actually, I would rather my government be open eyed so I can take my own personal security operational decisions, I can conduct my own personal risk assessment with whether I want to travel on public transport, I would rather know.
Mike: So is that you saying that there is a 100% chance that wherever you are, at any time, in the UK, there’s a 100% that a bomb will go off?
Andrew Staniforth: If I was a gambling man I wouldn’t be sat here because I would’ve won the lottery last Saturday putting those numbers on. It really is, it’s not an exact science, it’s a bit like waiting for a train in Leeds.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Right ok, thank you Mike. I’m sure there’ll be a round for a catch up at the end. So let’s have another round. The lady at the back there, the lady here, the gentleman there and I’ll take that gentleman as well. Ok.
Victoria Ball: Victoria Ball, I’m an independent security analyst. Obviously we know that Islamist organisations such as Daesh have really mastered the use of communications. I was just wondering if you could speak a little, you mentioned Jacob memes and the campaign around milk, I was just wondering if you could talk a little about recruitment material and general use of strategic communication.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Ok, thank you very much.
(inaudible): I was just wondering if there any statistics on where in the world right wing extremists are most powerful or why has it spread?
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Ok thank you very much, the gentleman here.
Larry O’Hara: Larry O’Hara, the Notes From the Borderland. I’m just wondering, the panel seemed to go form sort of two extremes to the other. On the one hand, talking about specific manifestos justifying acts of violence, and then when we got to Jacob there, he was basically saying these people are putting forward ideas that are even getting into the mainstream. And it seems to me that rather than approaching from the, just from the strictly security angles, we should be looking at it from the point of view of seeking to occupy the political space that these groups could feed into. In particular, a disillusionment with the political protest. And one thing that worries me greatly is that if this building behind us, as we expect, seeks to prevent Brexit happening, that might unfortunately lead to an increase in support for the far right. On which I’d also ask the question; is the far right threat, real as it is, actually being overhyped? If you actually look at the numbers of people who have actually been killed in incidences and people who have been captured with serious (inaudible), I think they are far eclipsed by, even by, Irish republican groups, never mind Islamists. And in fact, national action, I mean as awful as that plot was to kill the MP that was foiled, national action do seem to be, we seem to have a circular situation, where they have been banned when other groups haven’t been banned. And then, the arrests of people and the imprisonment for being mentioned in a banned organisation is almost used to imply that the ‘terrorist threat’ is equivalent to other ends of the spectrum, and I’m not sure that it is.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Thank you, sorry Larry. Sorry to cut you off there.
Lawrence: Lawrence (inaudible). I’m a private individual and also on the local prevent action group for my local authority. And the question I’ve got really is; how should we police social media as there is a very fine line between freedom of speech and protection of society as there’s a lot of very dangerous and violent stuff out there?
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Ok, thank you very much. Now because of time, sorry, that’s the last round of questions. If you could answer those questions but maybe address, some ideas, maybe from each of you one idea about how we can move forward. I mean, I’m of the age when, for example the far right was very much involved going to football matches and the football hooliganism was very much a part of your basic trip to a football match. That has changed enormously and part of me sort of feels like that helped to shut down a certain element within that form of violence going on. So some ideas going forward would be very helpful as well as addressing the points made in that last round. Thank you. So Jacob, would you like to start?
Jacob Davey: Yeah I can start and I’d sort of speak more generally to, which will hopefully touch on your questions, around recruitment strategy but also the cultural shift and the cultural space. So, we see a few distinct communications and recruitment strategies which are being employed by the extreme right. And I think It’s fair to say that on an ongoing basis there are a lot of parallels with Daesh communication strategies. But to hone in on a few different things because there are several different discrete communities engaging in this. On the one hand you have those occupying sort of fringe alt-tech spaces, what you would associate with the alt-right with internet culture, with meme culture. These groups coordinate activity in a way which is actually hyper-gamified. They come together, it’s become something which is fun to do as a community, they then create, co-create material which they go out and which they raid social media strategy on. There’s an interest underlying dynamic there whereby they actively try and bring people out of mainstream social media platforms into fringe and closed chat channels where you see active radicalisation occurring. So you see this dynamic where people get dragged from Facebook and Twitter into platforms such as (inaudible), fringe social media platforms sort of essentially co-opted and created for the alt-right and then dragged into encrypted channels such as telegram and WhatsApp where radicalisation takes place. And that trajectory is an important one, from mainstream into fringe, but it’s also two-way because then it goes out, goes out again. I think it’s also important to recognise that this is a cultural movement, as well as having groups actively seeking to recruit and radicalise, it’s more to do with the cultural space and the cultural domains within which individuals occupy. If you think about this on internet culture and internet culture at large, there are a range of different communities which contain young men who might be vulnerable to radicalisation, gaming, meme culture, places like this. Not everyone in there is going to be extremist, but there is an active effort within those communities to sort of grow and ferment this ideology. If we get onto the strategies and ways of looking forward, sort of touching on your points. What the far right are very adept at doing, in this country in particular, is hopping on wedge issues. On taking ownership on discussion around things that people will have grievances with, things that people will legitimately have grievances with, such as child exploitation, soldier’s welfare, which we have seen and then making themselves champions of those topics. And I think to some degree that represents a failing of political mainstream to effectively and credibly take ownership of issues which I think everyone in their right mind has the right to have grievances about, and using those as a way to bring people into the sphere of influence of far right movements. So I think quite a sort of practical recommendation there is don’t let these grievances, and don’t let these issues, be owned by the far right and be owned by the extreme right. There’s space to take them out. I also have some suggestions around social media policy, but I’m conscious of time so I will hand over and then come and grab me afterwards if you want to talk about that.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Great. Andrew?
Andrew Staniforth: Yeah, just quickly from me. To the issue around communications I think you brought up. From my personal experience the far right groups and individuals have always been very very good at actually communicating, whether that’s going back to old traditional, more trade craft physical meetings or online. It was interesting that you brought the violent football hooliganism because, yes there were the connections in the past and there obviously still are connections, but if you look at the way that hooligan groups and service crews of our football teams actually operate, how they meet clandestinely to have fights with their opposition, and then after a fight go drinking in a pub and have a glass of champagne with each other is a very bizarre set up, but actually they are very very good at communicating on the ground in public order incident events when things go live. Issue around the local prevent issues. I think my main bit of guidance and advice is that actually amongst these individuals there will be local issues, very very local issues, that these extreme right wing individuals will pick up on, and your role in prevent identifying those, working as closely as you possibly can with your local community police officers that work in those local areas, and actually sharing your knowledge and expertise and telling them time and time and time again what they need to be looking for in terms of right wing literature and symbols, and to convince them that it’s real and it’s out there, which is the reason I came up with that case study in the first place; that if I hadn’t thought ‘oh that’s unusual I’ll pick that up’ it would never have been detected, and actually we know that our police officers and staff are really pressurised at this moment in time, but actually gathering that local information and that local intelligence because, I know we’ve said it before, that communities will defeat terrorism and that communities need to be together on that and police officers are very much ambassadors in their communities for fighting crime and terrorism. Just finally, about the issue, the gentleman in relation to the contest strategy, section 20 of the new counter-terrorism security act obviously was enacted on the 12th February, as stipulated that a review of prevent will take place within six months and closer to 18 months, so somewhere between August and June next year there will be a further review of prevent, which provides an ideal opportunity to give that prevent strategy some more extreme right wing focus, which I think it needs. The appointment of an independent review of a terrorism legislation will be very much welcome because we haven’t one since September. That will be interesting. And of course going back to prevent those local issues and harmful content on the internet, some of the big social media companies can do far more as far as I’m concerned. I know they’ve done something, but they can do more. They can send me an email trying to sell me a lawn mower because that’s what I need, I’m sure they can actually work out the fact that there is harmful content that should be removed, so they can and should do more. But obviously this is a role maybe for the new commission for extremism, new move on government for this new commission. It’s just finding its feet; I’m hoping that it will find some teeth very shortly.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Thank you very much Andrew, Rakib.
Dr. Rakib Ehsan: To address Larry’s points in regards to the threat of far right terrorism. The Henry Jackson Society produced research that showed in 2016/17 there was a four-fold increase in terrorist attacks across the Western world. In 2018 in the UK there was a 36% spike in far-right referrals to the government’s terrorist prevention programme. In regards to the threat of far right terrorism being overhyped, I think the families of those who were affected in Christchurch, Pittsburgh, Poway and Charleston might take on a different view. In regards to the points that Jacob made looking at how some of these narratives are now being integrated and the political messaging of Alternative für Deutschland, which is the largest opposition party in the German Bundestag, (inaudible), which I believe actually serves in the Austrian Coalition Government, I think this is a time where, in looking at the political manifestos, we do need political leadership in terms of exposing the conspiratorial nonsense which is contained in these documents. But also containing anti-extremist counter-narratives and not to be too afraid of talking about things such as national sense of belonging, which I think would be a productive approach.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Thank you. Paul?
Dr. Paul Stott: Yeah, just to reply to the question over here, the US is the world leader, really, in terms of far-right terrorism, in part because of the gun culture. In part because of a much deeper problem and a more polarised society. I’m going to be slightly different from the key perhaps in making the point that we do need to remember that the far right have killed three people in Britain this century. So that’s fewer than the Islamists killed at London Bridge, about the London Bridge inquest at the moment. I mean there’s been four far right groups in our history that have really flirted with terrorist rhetoric or have tried to become terrorist groups. Column 88, which may or not have been a honey trap, Column 18, national socialist movement and national action. None of those groups have been able to sustain a terrorist campaign, or really to sustain themselves. So the threat is much more from small groups of either individuals, or groups of 2, 3, 4, 5 potentially. And equally, a much bigger ideological base which we’ve talked about before, and which really mutates as some of the panellists have said. So that’s perhaps more of an area to watch on than the idea we have of organised group in the style of an IRA or Al Qaeda, or what have you.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Ok thank you very much. Can I thank all the speakers, could I just ask one of you to maybe just finish off by saying where is Henry Jackson Society going to take this work, what’s coming next?
Dr. Paul Stott: What’s coming next is a significant volume of research into the far right, which I think, both Rakib and I are comparatively new to the organisation so we’ve got a lot of ideas on this. But we do think the idea of these manifestos needs a much more substantial intervention. So we may be reaching out to some of the other panellists and some of the others in this room in terms of how we take that forward because there’s going to be more published and more research and work done on that going forward.
Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP: Well can I thank all our speakers; can I thank all of you for coming along this afternoon. It’s opened up so many sort of lines of discussion that we can’t really fulfil it in the time we’ve got available, but I think it is important that this discussion is started, and also sustained, and helps inform government, but also our agencies about how they deal with this, thank you very much everybody.