EVENT TRANSCRIPT: THE SECURITY CHALLENGES POSED BY FAR RIGHT TERRORISM
DATE: 1.00PM-2.00PM, 4th JULY 2019
VENUE: COMMITTEE ROOM 12, HOUSE OF COMMONS, WESTMINSTER, SW1A 0AA
SPEAKERS: DR. PAUL STOTT, DR. CRAIG MCCANN
EVENT CHAIR: DR. RAKIB EHSAN
RAKIB EHSAN: Ok ladies and gentlemen we’d like to start with the event. Firstly, I’d like to issue a couple of apologies. Neil Coyle who was scheduled to chair this event, unfortunately he suffered a family emergency. So unfortunately, he is unable to chair the event. One of our panelists, Andrew Staniforth, also had an emergency this morning, so he won’t be able to attend the even either. My sincerest apologies. My name is Dr. Rakhib Ehsan as you can see I am not Neil Coyle MP. I am a research fellow with Henry Jackson Society’s Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism. So, first, I’d like to thank you all for joining us for this event on the security challenges posed by far right terrorism. Now looking at our country in particular, our country has suffered at the hands of far right terrorism in recent times. This includes the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox back in 2016 and the Finsbury Park Mosque Attack perpetrated by Darren Osborne, which resulted in the death of Makram Ali. Across these two particular types, neither of the sole perpetrators were known to the British authorities, and this follows a broader trend of far-right terrorist attacks going under the radar of relevant authorities, including Christchurch terrorist Brenton Tarrant and Poway terrorist John Earnest. For this event I’d like to introduce Dr. Paul Stott, my work colleague at the Henry Jackson Society. He joined the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism in January 2019. An experienced academic, he received an MSc in Terrorism Studies from the University of East London in 2007, and his PhD in 2015 from the University of East Anglia for the research “British Jihadism: The Detail and the Denial”. He is a frequent commentator in both the British and international media on terrorism, security and the political fringe. For today, our external speaker is Dr. Craig McCann. Dr. McCann is an independent specialist adviser and researcher focusing on preventative counter terrorism tactics. As the Director of S.P.E.C.T.R.U.M., which stands for (Strategic Preventative Expertise to Counter Terrorism Risks using Upstream Measures—quite a mouth full—he provides consultative services for international development programmes with an emphasis on preventative counter terrorism strategy and delivery. He also writes, advises and lectures on the U.K. Prevent strategy, de-radicalisation/disengagement programming, online approaches to counter terrorism and responses to right wing extremism. So firstly, I’d like to introduce Dr. Paul Stott.
PAUL STOTT: Thank you. Good afternoon everyone. My talk focuses two distinct aspects. Firstly, those organisations on the far-right who have supported terrorism, first with its imagery or rhetoric, or provide an ideological setting through which individuals may pass who go on to commit terrorist attacks. The second aspect is the counterintuitive challenge that the far right now poses. Whilst often styling themselves patriotic defenders of the nation, of the flag. In practice, they adhere to a racially-based white separatism that is increasingly internationalist and, I argue, super-national. It needs to be recognised as such in any response.
Now, overlooking the small grouper school, in my lifetime, there’s arguably been about half a dozen fascist organisations whose literature clearly rejected any democratic engagements and who advocating openly for violence and conflict. I’ll say a little bit about each in order to craft an overview about the challenge—the threat—from these organisations.
First, arguably, was Column 88 in the 70’s, a group which organised various para-military training camps and may or may not have been a sort of honeypot for the security services. Second would be the British Movement, openly neo-Nazi, but since its hay day in the late 1970’s – early 1980’s, arguably its main achievement has been its endurance.
The most significant trend that we’ve seen, one that’s been replicated internationally, is the Combat 18 group. They called for a race war in the early 1990’s. The only person they managed to kill in 1997 was one of their own members, Chris Castle, in an internal dispute—the Sergeant Faction vs. the Browning Faction. We perhaps know less than we ought to about C18 dalliance into terrorism. The Letter Bombs posted from Scandinavia to the UK in 1996, which were known to anti-fascist at the time as “Danish pastries.” The person they put forward to comment on these devices to the media, whether by accident or by design, was Darren Wells, who was working with the security services and the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight at the time.
Next we have the National Socialist Movement, a splinter group from C18, which the 1999 nail bomber David Copeland, who killed there people in the Admiral Dunchin bombing in Soho, was a member. Copeland had joined the National Socialist Movement having left the British National Party. The NSM, a group on no more than 20 people, dissolved upon his arrest.
Also, Blood & Honour, less of a political party and more of an international structure for promoting far-right bands and musicians. Interestingly, this year Canada and France have proscribed Blood & Honour and Combat 18.
That brings me up to the issue of National Action, proscribed by Home Secretary Amber Rudd in 2016, following social media comments supporting the murder of Jo Cox MP. We’ve also seen, since then, one of their members–Jack Renshaw—convicted of planning to murder the Labour MP Rosie Cooper. As with Combat 18, the group appears to be infiltrated successfully. There has also been a series of trials associated with National Action, largely for membership of a proscribed organisation. There’s a few other little groups that I can perhaps mention: the Sonnigkreig Division, which is a runoff from National Action, but overall, what characterises these group or how we might sum them up is there’s probably little evidence that any could match, in the social medium term, their rhetoric. I don’t think they could maintain themselves organisationally and run a substantive terrorist campaign over a period of time in this country. So, it’s arguably unlikely that we will see a far-right terrorist current emerge in the style of the Northern Ireland groupings or the far-left guerillas of the 1970’s or 1980’s, or indeed, the international jihadist organisation.
This takes us really into the question of: Why not? I think the reason, arguably, the threat is more the people who have passed through the organisations than the organisations themselves, is that these are often much smaller organisations than they sometimes appear. More likely to be counted in terms of membership in the dozens or hundreds than the thousands, like C18 and Blood & Honour (inaudible). Chairman Mao in discussing guerilla warfare referred to guerilla fighters as “fish who swim in the see of the people.” They’ve also been groups under pressure from the police, the security services and anti-fascists. If we look at National Action, far from being a sort of 21st Century recreation of the Black Shirts, one their final actions before proscription was hiding in left luggage facility in the Liverpool Station besieged by counter-demonstrators. Whilst far-right terrorism is a threat, I’d argue it’s much more likely to come from individuals who have perhaps been through these organisations, dipping a toe in the water, but who may not be acting out of any formal affiliation or directed group policy. That’s arguable what we saw with David Copeland and indeed Thomas Mair, the killer of Jo Cox MP, who had been in touch with a pro-apartheid group in the UK and been in contact with the National Alliance group in the United States, but sort of stepped back from formal political activity, therefore being pretty much unknown to the authorities at the time of his attack.
There are two wild cards, though, which complicate the picture that I’ve painted. The first centres on the things we can learn from the Finsbury Park Mosque Attack in 2017. The second centres on the attacks carried out in 2013 in the West Midlands by Ukrainian fascist, Pavlo Lapshyn. In Darren Osborne, we saw someone without any significant engagements in the very far right, expect for recent dipping into social media. A large part of his enmity towards Muslims reportedly came from watching a BBC drama about the grooming scandals of recent years. This sets Darren Osborne against the backdrop of the groups that I’ve mentioned and we can perhaps see why far-right terrorism is so challenging. In the latter, we have a comparatively small pool of extremists–members, supporters, contacts– of neo-fascist movements, people such as Copeland or Mair. And simultaneously, we have a potentially enormous group of people who are disaffected or angered by issues they see involving some British Muslims, but who may never have formally joined any political organisation. Now, the case of Pavlo Lapshyn in 2013 is, I would argue, equally significant. He murdered the elderly Muhammed Salim as he walked home from a Birmingham Mosque following prayers. Lapshyn also planted two bombs outside mosques which failed to explode. At the time of the murder of Mr. Salim, Lapshyn had been in the country less than a week. How do the authorities counter that? We see again here, the difficulty of the challenge. We also what I will finish on talking about and that’s the international aspect, now, of far-right terrorism.
Those who research jihadist terrorism will be familiar with the idea that the global jihad of al-Qaeda and Islamist State is a sort of underbelly of globalization, the downside or another aspect of (inaudible). Just as globalization and new technology made the world smaller for Islamist groups, so the world is now shrunk on the far-right. Here we a see a shared white-identity that transcends national borders, enjoys ready online communication, and utilizes the rise of English as the world second language. This makes connections far easier than a generation ago and ensures concerns that are increasingly international in outlook. If you look at the rise of some of the groups on the far-right, some of the focus in the 1990’s – early 2000’s often on racial divides in small English towns. Consider Brenton Tarran, an Australian awaiting trial for the New Zealand terrorist attacks. In his manifesto he writes of the death of Swedish child in the 2017 Stockholm terrorist attack that was carried out by an Islamist from Uzbekistan. He writes, “My inability to stop it broke through my own jaded cynicism like a sledgehammer.” If you think to how some of the Britons who travel to, for example, Bosnia in the mid-1900’s and fought for the mujahedeen in the Bosnia Civil War, talked about the sufferings that they saw there in very personalised terms. It was incumbent upon them to stop it. At the same time actually, I think quite a similar process here.
We are behind the curve in understanding white racial separatism, and certainly its international aspects. Those looking to things like Brexit to explain it are arguably looking in the wrong direction. There has been a lot of research done into Brexit and racism, but in parts of the UK you see somebody wearing a far-right t-shirt or the logo of a Blood & Armour band, that person is as likely to be originally from Eastern Europe as the UK. One of the challenges with National Action was their relations with groups in Ukraine and the potential of people going off to receive para-military training there. Craig McCann’s organisation, we’ll hear from Craig very shortly, the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right is one of the few to look at the rise of the Polish far-right in Britain. I think that’s internalization of an extremism on the far-right. The contacts between the United States, Eastern Europe, Russia and the UK is where many future security challenges may lie. Thank you for listening.
RAKIB EHSAN: Thank you Paul.
CRAIG MCCANN: A quick word worth pointing out before I begin–the language that I’ll use will be around “risk” and “management.” I’m formerly a counter-terrorism police office, serving fourteen years. I left a couple years back. My last half of service was really working in the preventative police of counter-terrorism. I ended up as the Head (inaudible) within national CT headquarters. So I’m here to talk about the channel program and some of the work that was done around Prevent, post-2011. I looked at the impact of the Prevent Review of 2011 on how local practitioners really manage right-wing threats. You know, 2011 was the big year for Prevent. The Coalition government decided to review it and to expand it take in all forms of extremism. So, I really looked at so what does that look like for local practitioners managing risk and threat? How has this been applied to right-wing extremism? So, I would say that in August of last year our outgoing Head of (inaudible) Sir Mark Rowley, if you remember at the time, he really called on people to wake up around the threat posed by right-wing extremism in the UK. He called for politicians, the media, and the public to not underestimate the threat posed by these groups. He highlighted a step change in organization and sophistication, one word he didn’t use was the ambition that comes from groups like National Action, Paul has mentioned them already. National Action did represent a big step change in CT policing around the right-wing. You’ve got to infiltration of the British Army. You’ve got a number of those trials ongoing. You’ve got access to capabilities that weren’t really heard of previously in this space. And then, you’ve the plot to murder Rosie Cooper MP. You’ve got a step change there in the level of ambition that emanated from those groupings that were traditionally seen as being indicative of those inter-communal tensions within communities. These were guys that were going out onto the streets and protesting. This was a real scene change.
(Inaudible) going to make a comparison here. I’m going to say that the same level of threat emanates from the right-wing extremists element as it does the Islamist threat, the overriding threat that is posed to the UK and its interests abroad. I know that the last year out of 14 plots stopped, ten were Islamist and 4 were right-wing. So there’s no pretense that it’s exactly the same order of magnitude, but it is very significant, it’s growing. Over the last couple of years (inaudible) and people in this era of corporations felt that there’s a lack of recognition of that.
When you think about the UK’s Prevent Strategy in 2011 and the expansion of its remix, my research demonstrated that other, more significant increases in referrals to the deradicalisation channel program–I think now we’re hovering over a quarter and a third of the cases– that have actually been managed in channel that are right-wing extremist persuasion. When you think about Prevent, Prevent is centered on three “I’s”: ideology, institution sectors, and individuals. Now, Channel really covers the individuals because that’s the one-to-one tailored intervention work that is being done. But, what is being done around right-wing extremist threats from an ideological challenge perspective and support for institutions and sectors post-2011? Actually, the impact has been very minimal.
On an individual level, when you consider the vulnerability that is associated with right-wing extremism, they are not actually that different from those associated with the Islamist form of extremism. Within the channel program we use the vulnerability assessment framework of 22 factors. It is based upon work that was done within prisons, interviews with hundreds of convicted CT offenders by Professor Monica Lloyd years ago–ten years plus. Now they identified 22 factors and that is part of the Extremism Risk Guidance, the ERG. I’d say in terms of, within the right-wing space, things like feelings of anger and injustice, feelings of threat and insecurity, poor mental health condition — these were things really traversed the forms of extremism that we were dealing with. I wouldn’t say that there was anything there that was particularly unique to the right-wing that we didn’t see in the Islamist side. These were typically vulnerable people working around within these very extremists ecosystems, if you like, moving around groups and then (inaudible). However, when you consider the policy response, the kind of sider society response, to these issues, in my book which is based upon PhD research, I present the view based on four years of field work, interviewing frontline practitioners up and down across policing and local authorities, that the impact of the decision to explicitly include right-wing extremism within Prevent didn’t really manifest itself in terms of the challenge — the ideology, the understanding. How the threat posed by right-wing extremism is separate and not contingent upon the threat posed by Islamist extremism. There was a lot of thinking a few years back around the reciprocal radicalisation phenomenon, this kind of black and white thinking, around this very transaction almost, around Al-Muhajiroun that were hitting the streets in a big way and then the EDL, in particular. But actually, things have moved on, Al-Muhajiroun did not enjoy the footprint they used to on the streets, through a lot of proactive policing activity. They’re not there anymore. So, why are the EDL, or manifestations of the EDL, still coming on to the streets? Al-Muhajiroun and Islamist extremism space brought the EDL onto the streets, but perceptions of a militant left-wing extremism are what kept them there. They are the opponents now. So things have moved on.
None of the respondents in my case study areas could point to specific counter-narratives around right-wing extremism. There was a general feeling that this was exacerbated by a genuine lack of understanding of and communication with white working class communities. That was used as a kind of a catch-all term really because this goes beyond class, but they really did feel, and there was a lot of practitioners who acknowledged, that efforts of statuary services have been focused very much on engaging with minority groups, particularly in the CT space post 9/11, but actually that has been the detriment or neglect of prioritized engagement with non-minorities white working class communities. And, we get the phenomenon of the left behind. You hear things like “the Lost Tribe.” These are a lot of grievances — social marginalization, inequality — all of this is going on in these groups and they feel, very much that they have been left behind, and no one will listen to them. That is the perfect fertile environment for radicalizing influences to come in and say, “The reason this is happening is because you’re white. The reason this is happening is because the phenomenon of white genocide is real. Look at these demographic changes across our communities.” So, there’s a lot going on here that goes beyond transactional relationships between Islamist extremists and right-wing extremists. Practitioners don’t even know where to find those that they want to engage with. Pre-, during, and post-event planning for EDL demonstrations is focused on managing the impact on ethnic minority communities, particularly Muslim communities, not better understanding the nature of the problem. Why did the EDL come to town? What does the local constituency of EDL support look like? What are the most resonate messages? What are we as a local authority saying on the things that matter to these people? This is not where the emphasis is. It’s a short-term transactional way of dealing with the issue, pre-, during, and post-event planning, and then we wait for the EDL to come to town again. There’s not long-term thinking around how we bridge the gap between the government and the local government. So, although its ability to galvanize large numbers of people to turn out to protest, it’s been waning with 2013, but his sentiment from which the EDL and groups like it gain its legitimacy through strength has not. We saw this as evidenced by the 15,000-strong ‘Free Tommy Robinson’ Movement protested in June of 2018. This is constituency of protestors is still there. We didn’t do anything about this. There was no policy implemented. Policing didn’t do anything that precipitated a change. The only thing that happened in this space is that Tommy Robinson left the movement and they’ve been lost ever since. They have a similarly charismatic leader-type individual came along and galvanized their support base. We would very likely, in this post-Brexit vote environment, see a lot more protest movements coming out and seeing a lot more protests on the streets. So, the EDL is understood by actors as a threat to public order and, ironically, not necessarily, in and of itself the public order threat manifested, not so much by the EDL turning up with their 200-300 supporters, it’s actually the very violent large counter-demonstration that made up of national elements rather than local elements that actually contributes to the huge number of people we see on the streets. These are big, big demonstrations to manage. EDL attendance is considered in times of stress. They magnify the otherwise dormant grievances and draw national attention to an area which is seen as damaging to local engagement efforts. However, rather than local authorities seeing this as an opportunity to engage with the issues and draw support away from the EDL, they actually contribute to the very polarization of the views due the short-term way its problematized. Now this is a demonstration for a day, we’ll move on to the next one. How indicative of this is actual grievances that are going on in our communities? Instead of seeing the EDL as an event to latent community engagement issues that may be bottling beneath the surface it is instead seen as a threat for the time period of the demonstration and that is it.
Now there’s a lack of willingness to truly understand the drivers of the movement’s activities. Many local authorities adopted a (inaudible) engagement with EDL, but actually the problem is wider than that. They didn’t just not engage with the organisation of EDL, they failed to engage with the topics that underpin support for the EDL. Practitioners also recognised the expansive use of the term ‘right-wing extremism’. We see this today on twitter. The most used word that we see on Twitter is ‘fascist’. There’s really not a lot of understanding of what this actually means. It’s hijacked in many ways. Everyone who stands to the right of you is more a fascist. There’ll be some, but not everyone.
They recognised this term was being used to encompass a vast array of issues from citizens expressing concerns due to perceived poor social integration into communities and some that disassociated with that through to hardcore neo-Nazi ideology, things like White Shift and White Genocide. These are playing out. The conflation of these issue has contributed to formation of the movement such as the EDL. To clear evidence, local officials have surrendered the narrative on contentious issues, such as integration to surrogate representatives in the form of the EDL and likeminded groups. Dissent and detachment from statuary services is important. How much of a factor in the creation of the EDL was the perceived inaction of the police service in response to the Royal Anglican Homecoming March on the 10th of March 2009 in Luton, where troops returning from Iraq marched through Luton Town Center effaced in a (inaudible) demonstration led by Al-Muhajiroun, the proscribed organisation of Islamist extremists? Officials in our police service seemed to be (inaudible) by political correctness. An establishment unwilling to be honest about some of the social problems locally. This all feeds into the narrative of the Extreme Right. You are a second-class citizen. That’s where they felt on this.
Local officials have actually contributed to tensions between communities. Their lack of willingness to engage in these topics which has led to the further polarization of these issues that should remain in the centre ground. There is significant lessons to be learned in relation to the representation, which creates a permissive environment for engagement, debate and change, in order to prevent individuals from being pushed into the very extremism we are seeking to avoid, rather than actually accelerate the process through neglecting engagement on these same issues.
So, what do we do? We do two things. One is an operational response. This starts with local government really engaging with their communities to create the spaces to have the difficult, challenging, sometimes controversial, conversations that need to be had and to productively challenge myths. Talking about social issues that form the raw material that extremist narratives depend on. You’re not legitimizing extremism by talking about this stuff, you’re staking out the center ground and you’re preventing people from being pushed to extremist. You’ve got to get a lot more confident in talking about these issues locally. If they are willing to talk about these topics, that due underpin the narratives of the Extreme Right, those who are interested in talking about the impact of controlled-immigration on local communities or the fact that we have many instances of communities living apart, you know I think about Louise Casey’s report from 2016 on opportunity integration that has sat on a shelf somewhere in (inaudible) and never been really realised. There’s really good learning coming from that, contentious, but needs to be talked about. Then what we’ll do — what we’ll have — is individuals that find they can’t talk about these subjects, they’ll look elsewhere. And, they’ll find people very willing to talk about these subjects, and they are the people we don’t want them taking to. We’ve given them a platform. We’ve surrendered a narrative to them. This has actually been done before. The Connecting Communities Initiative that was released in 2009 by John Denham MP. At the time he was serving as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Very low amounts of money involved, 12 million, but actually this was about housing frontline practitioners across local authorities to have those difficult conversations, backed up by data. This was lost, you know from 10 years ago. It hit (inaudible) floor in 2010. This is not brand new thinking, this has been done before and it’s actually had a lot of traction and success within local communities.
Number two, the policy response, the biggest policy deficit we have in this country is concerning the way we integrate our communities. In 2011, in my book I call it ‘The Year of the Great Divorce’, Prevent separated from community engagement in a big way. But, unfortunately when you take away community engagement from Prevent, the ball is thrown to the Department for Communities and Local Government, and there’s no one to catch it. Because, at the same time this happened, by (inaudible) austerity measure were brought to bear within local authorities. So, the very people that were going to be doing this integration work suffered 40% of cuts. So there is this strange conflation of issues going on and actually, when you talk about community cohesion being the necessary building block on which all the policy areas are to sit, that’s the biggest deficit we have.
So, I recommend the holistic review of that policy area, in conjunction with and understood in the context of the other policies in this area, such as Hate Crime Action Plan, the Prevent Strategy, and the New Extremism Strategy. These strategies have been developed I silos, and there’s no synergy between them, in terms of risk-escalation. No one of those policies talks to one another. Individuals that are being managed by local frontline practitioners, don’t really know how they interrelate. There are gaps; there are overlaps. The whole thing is being literally (inaudible). There’s a Prevent Review going right on. How much of that will talk to the integration strategy of the Hate Crime Action Plan? So in the absence of coherent resource integration strategy, there are dangers of only engaging with communities through the lenses of hate crime, extremism, Prevent, which are focused on escalating levels of risk. In the absence of a foundation of integration, this can actually lead to further securitization that should shift general policies.
If policy makers persist in this failure to recognise some of the mainstream discourse on issues, that underpin support for and have become synonymous with groups like the EDL. The (inaudible) of extreme right-wing. And, bestow legitimacy on individuals presenting themselves as the spokespeople of those who have been left behind by political representative who no longer represent them. For this form of extremism, the answer lies further upstream of Prevent in building integrated communities with effective representation and confluence of local actors to deal with local issue in ways that draw people together, instead of pushing them farther apart. It’s in these spaces that the lone actors — the most significant threat emanating from the right-wing — are actually moving. We do not, thankfully, have an organised right-wing, that exist in other member-states on the continent. We don’t have that. What we have is individuals moving within groups that actually fit our risk profile around poor mental, lack of social standing, and they are actually vulnerable to being radicalised. There are instances, I’ve heard through my study, just in closing, where Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carrol, as leaders of the EDL, would be running a protest from a local pub. Some of these guys would turn up to these events and it would actually be too far-right for the EDL and get kicked out of the protest. At the time, they wanted to distance the farther-right from the EDL. Where did they go? Where did the individuals go when the EDL and groups like them are not far enough right for them? Where’s the coverage around some of this? Where’s that work and engagement with these individuals in these groups that we have to contact to police to tell the police about? It’s just not there. I think I’ll leave it there. Thank you.
RAKIB EHSAN: Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll now be opening the discussion to the floor. We’ll be taking questions in blocks of three. I kindly ask before you ask your question that you state your name and your formal affiliation. And, if you could keep the questions as short as possible that would be greatly appreciated. The gentleman in the dark grey, yes.
EUAN GRANT, FORMER INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: My question is related to some of the comments you made towards the end, Dr. McCann, how to spot people, and follow up. You said poor mental health to extreme anger — are these people typically employed and therefore is this a role for their employers? I suspect that they’re not often employed. And also, what was picked up or wasn’t or should’ve been? Thank you.
RAKIB EHSAN: Thank you for your question Mr. Grant. Lady here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: I’m just interested to know if there’s any research behind the ways in which men and women engage differently apart of terrorism. Do they (inaudible)?
RAKIB EHSAN: Excellent thank you. In the back.
HANNAH DICKSON, HJS INTERN: I wanted to ask your opinion on what you think the role of tech companies should be in this response. You talked about the policy and operational responses, but tech companies have quite a bit of power and are already creating their own response to regulating extremist content. They are kind of conflating the ideas of extremism and hate speech and becoming their own actors.
RAKIB EHSAN: So, Craig if you could address the first point of what are the problems we are really facing in terms of identification when it comes to far-right extremism, specifically in the British context.
CRAIG MCCANN: Yeah, so we’ve done a huge amount of work around trying to educate members of the public, schools, local authorities, and health practices around the kind of things to look for that could be indicative of risk. They are very much based upon the extensive framework of the 22 factors. Now, really since about 2006-7 onwards we had a Prevent Strategy in various different iterations. So when the extremism task force was assembled by David Cameron in the wake of Lee Rigby’s murder, the polices were asked the question: “What can we do more of?” What additional laws do you need; what tools do you need to start focusing and help your fight against some of these issues.” I know there was a lot of criticism at the time of the fact that the police were seen to lead in this area. The police were leading Prevent and (inaudible). I remember (inaudible) back in 2010. You know, just what were local authorities doing. This led to, from the Extremism Task Force, the Statute Duty that was imposed in 2015. That’s why we have the Prevent Statute Duty. It was all the learning coming from that task force. That actually, the police want to step back from this work. We are one of (inaudible) so forgive me it’s difficult, two years outside the job now, that the police are a member of the Statute Duty partnership. They are not the leading member. So, therefore, they are just running a group of experts around the table. So the duty, really, for the first time proscriptively set out for health and educations partners — what their role is in having due regard of this issue of people being drawn into terrorism. So, when you talk about the role of education and things like this, 15-20 years ago we didn’t have these strategies. Now, you’re much more likely to have teachers that are aware, certainly have a basic awareness, of what to do should people turn up to class and say certain things that cause some concern. There was a huge backlash against this within the education sector in particular. You know, we are not seeing police services, we are educators. This is not part of our role. We’re making an argument for the young people who turn up to school with bruises on their arms. And trying to fish food out of the bin is indicative of the safeguard issue in the same way that a young man turning up to school saying, “My daddy wants me to be a suicide bomber,” which happened. Having school teachers have an awareness of what to do then, with that information, is surely where we need to be. This isn’t necessarily about school teachers being the eyes and era of the CT police and infrastructure. We’ve seen very much this journey within Prevent that the application of Prevent seem very much more as a safeguarding issue now. So I think in terms of tripwire coverage and understanding what’s out there with people, to make referrals, et cetera. Referrals coming in through Channel, for instance, are very, very low for members of the community. They are increasing around health and education partners. They’ve always been quite high from police. Around 50% of the Channel referrals came from police, originally, because these are frontline practitioners interfacing with members of communities day in and day out. They are more likely to see some of the instigators.
RAKIB EHSAN: Okay so let’s move on to the next point regarding female engagement involvement with far-right extremism. Paul would you like to give any points maybe in terms of personality traits…
PAUL STOTT: I mean these have been predominantly male organisations. I think that’s been the case if you look at the leadership of the far-right, but also the foot soldiers — who is turning up at the demonstrations? You go through some of the videos and pictures, for example, of National Action demonstrations and you struggle, you might find the odd female. I think we’ve seen one female prosecuted for membership of National Action. In Germany we have a German far-right terrorist, female, who was involved in the National Socialist Underground, who is the only surviving member who is serving a life sentence. But, by and large they are very much underrepresented. The main researcher in the field, historically, was a guy called Martin Durham, on women and the Far Right of Wolverhampton University. I would encourage you to look at his work. But, there’s a gap in market of the research, so perhaps you’ll be the person to further it going forward. We know less than we should.
RAKIB EHSAN: Thank you Paul. Craig, anything to add on that?
CRAIG MCCANN: Just to add, the very interesting debate we’ve had on gender, in particular, in Prevent circles, we had a lone actor, terrorist, female, in the form of Roshonara Choudhry who tried to kill Stephen Timms MP. This was something that — she went from spark to flame very quickly, in terms of the radicalisation process. She is not, obviously, a right-wing extremist, but it did get a lot of people thinking around. Although the cases that we are dealing with are typically male, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to better understand this phenomenon from a kind of gendered perspective as well. You know I’ve done a lot of international work now and there’s a lot more focus on this. It’s interesting in terms of the — when you think about the Shamima Begum scenarios, and when three girls travelled from Tower Hamlets they were seen very much as vulnerable. Now, the kind of removal of agency from young women and seeing them as vulnerable or groomed wasn’t afforded to men that travelled to Syria because they were seen as hardened fighters, ideologically engaged. There’s nothing we can do for them except leave them there. Actually, the framing of the three young women that went and the facts that you had the sitting Commissioner of Police, at the time, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, saying, “If they come back, we’ll just welcome them back and they won’t be prosecuted,” was seen as a really different way of thinking about this. So, there’s been a lot of research done. I wouldn’t say so much focused on the right-wing extremist element, but certainly from an Islamist perspective of foreign fighter female, and agency, and how evolved were they with fighting. Did they go over there to be good housewives and raise kids, or were they actually involved in the fighting? I think you can probably look at the synergies with some of that work.
RAKIB EHSAN: Okay. Lovely. Thank you. We’ll move to the final point on tech companies. So, Paul in your view what role could tech companies play in terms of creating a more sophisticated and effective counter-extremism approach, in the area of the Far Right?
PAUL STOTT: I think some of this if going to come down to definitions as to what you define the Far Right to be and what is seen as problematic, what is not. Also, in taking action, what the outcome is going to be. So, I think it was clearly a concerted decision across a whole range of tech companies within the past year or so to take down Tommy Robinson, to take down every platform he used. They did. He’s a Rock star. It hasn’t worked.
CRAIG MCCANN: I think you’re right. I think if you take Tommy Robinson down, but what are you going to replace him with? Because if you don’t replace him with anything then the vacuum remains and someone else fills it or they look elsewhere. There’s a lot of people that are thinking about certain characters on the Extreme Right as being quite tech savvy and moving into more encrypted forms of communication like WhatsApp, et cetera. But, it’s only because they’ve been forced to do it. These are creatures of necessity. They didn’t kind of get ahead of the game and think about how I behave in a more kind of tradecraft way to avoid the authorities. They got thrown off of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, but then they had to make do. So there’s this kind of strategic level of thinking that is sometimes attributed to some to these individuals and groups that is frankly not there through necessity. I am quite critical of the tech companies that don’t do nearly enough around this. Since leaving the police, I have worked a couple of years at a tech start-up (inaudible) doing a lot of work in the space around Google and the redirect method, for instance. There is a lot more they should be doing when you google a particular term to ensure that the first search results you research are actually not anything to do with extremism, that you’ve got some alternatives, counter-narratives in there. They should be industrialising this stuff. The proof of concept there is that it’s being trialed across the world, in the UK, across the States. This actually has some impact. When you think about (inaudible) in the States and he was radicalised, he said famously during his trial that he googled one day. He googled ‘white genocide’. The material he found led him down a rabbit hole from which he never returned. It was so simple for him to find all these very hardcore extremist chatrooms and thinkers in this space. There is so much more that these tech companies should be doing to try and monitor that. Unfortunately, algorithms work against it in many ways because the whole user experience on Google is around relevancy. If you google something, the higher relevance, the higher it will come up on your search results. They have to do more in terms of understanding their public duties around this. I met with them a few times and Jigsaw is their kind of internal think tank. If you were landlord of your pub and you had drug dealers coming into your pub, that’s a crime taking place within your premise. You are responsible for that. It is exactly the same in your virtual backyard where you’ve got people grooming young people for terrorist purposes, for child sex tape exploitation, for human trafficking. This is happening in your backyard, so your awareness of this and your public responsibilities have not yet been realised.
RAKIB EHSAN: Thank you Craig. Can we have our next set of three questions please? The lady here.
FLORENCE KEEN, RESEARCHER AT RUSI: I’m just wondering about how much research has been done looking at the effects of proscribing a group, National Action for example, in terms of their resources, membership, financing. Does it basically (inaudible)? These are the guys that want to join (inaudible) or do you simply (inaudible)?
RAKIB EHSAN: Thank you for your question. Any other questions? Yes, gentleman there.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: (inaudible) is there recruitment out there? What is the recruitment strategy? And, if it’s not in this country, are these groups across Europe (inaudible)?
RAKIB EHSAN: Sure. Are there any other questions? Okay let’s address those two questions for now. Paul — if you’d like to talk about the effects of proscription and how effective that has been in the area of far-right extremism.
PAUL STOTT: A book coming out by an academic, Lee Jarvis, from the University of East Anglia , which I was lucky to be the reviewer for on proscription. Not much in there about National Action, but more an overview of the proscription system that the government has. I think it’s very notable with National Action that proscription has either brought the group down or not far from it, which I would argue go back to the size of the organisation. We are seeing people prosecuted for illegal membership of a terrorist group. Not all the (inaudible) has been successful, but there’s been for trials in total. It’s notable that the same techniques weren’t used against Anjem Choudhry’s group, Al-Muhajiroun. What happened there was perhaps, what National Action wanted to happen, was people just shedding a skin and starting anew with a different group. Part of the issue, I think, there was they were allowed to do that. So, you go from Al-Muhajiroun to Muslims Against Crusades to Islam4UK, this whole series of groups. I think one of the researchers at King’s College found over 60 groups that seem to have the same people. On the night that one of those groups was banned, I think it was Islam4UK, Anjem Choudhry was interview on Newsnight. Very hard to imagine Chris Lythgoe of National Action being phoned up and asked to appear on Newsnight on the night his group got banned. So, there was some very odd decisions being taken somewhere in the process. What worries me a little bit about the decisions or the way that things are played out is, in terms of that sort of grievance-rhetoric, people on the Far Right will certainly notice that they are being taken down by the proscription legislations while some of the Islamists haven’t been.
RAKIB EHSAN: Thank you Paul. Craig, anything to add?
CRAIG MCCANN: Yeah, it’s that comparative response. You know if these guys were moving and changing their name on kind of a weekly basis, and yet they’re going to CT-police infrastructure wasn’t keeping up enough to actually arrest them. Then, very, very quickly, as soon as National Action were proscribed, everyone is arrested. That plays out into to this victim-narrative of the Far Right. It absolutely does. This didn’t happen to Muslims, but it’s happening to us. The way that we apply some of this legislation absolutely matters. What I would say is that this legislation was very new make in the days of Al-Muhajiroun. There’s a lot of experience and confidence now around policing networks. Whereas, if you had new group akin to Al-Muhajiroun hit the streets doing a demonstration, I think that would be proactively dealt with a lot better than they were pack in 2009. I think a lot of this is around comparative response.
RAKIB EHSAN: Thank you. So, moving on the gentleman’s point, looking at recruitment procedures, recruitment techniques. Paul, how would you say in recent times, specifically focusing on the British context, how would you describe the recruitment procedures and what shifts we’ve seen in recent times.
PAUL STOTT: Recruitment procedures on the Far Right itself? Very fluid. I think I would agree with Craig in terms of how National Action were a sea change in terms this very open, very aggressive neo-Nazism, which we haven’t really seen since Combat18. Even with C18, what they were very clever at doing was dipping into wider (inaudible): the Football Firms, the Anti-Irish Republican feeling. With national Action it seemed much more straightforward, in your face. One of the future areas that Rakhib and I want to go into researching is looking farther at some of the manifestos, in terms of what ideological consistency there is, what difference. Because, sometimes we see the anti-Muslim rhetoric very much, but when you’re looking at the guys in the US it’s the traditional anti-Semitism, the anti-black attitudes. So, when we’re talking about the Far Right there seems to be some differences, not just in who they’re targeting, but what appears to be motivating them. Again, it’s been under researched, we don’t know enough.
RAKIB EHSAN: Wonderful. Craig, anything to add on recruitment?
CRAIG MCCANN: They don’t need to recruit anyone nowadays. There are no card-carrying members of these groups anymore. One of the points I made in the book was that we live in an age of ‘Supermarket Extremism’. No one has to actually subscribe to the ideology of a group anymore. What you can do is that you can look online and you can find a little piece of the ideology coming from the AFD in Germany, a little bit of the Alt-Right in the States, a little bit of what the BNP think over there, and what you do is that you take all of those strands that endorses and reflects your existing worldview and in force of it. Because, other people think the same way you do. You now have got plausible deniability that the internet has given you. You don’t need to meet people anymore to inspire them. You push a message out on a YouTube video and people lick t up and they mix it with other strands of ideologies and other foot leaders in the extreme right-wing space, then what you have is plausible deniability and then they go on and attack. Because it doesn’t matter. The causal link between someone watching a video and going on to commit an act of terrorism is very difficult to attribute that to individuals. So, you don’t need to recruit anyone nowadays. You push the message out there and you’ll find people that it resonates with and that’s a big difficulty for law enforcement agencies.
RAKIB EHSAN: I think we have time for one more question if someone would like to ask. Yes, gentleman in the navy blue suit.
GORDON CORERA, BBC: You were talking a bit about the international side of the networks. I was just wondering if you could talk about how much evidence you see for that. Because sometimes when you see groups like Generation Identity try to start up again but really dissipate (inaudible). So, is it just that there’s people cooperating behind the scenes and sharing ideas or is there some infrastructure?
RAKIB EHSAN: Thank you for your question. Craig if you could…
CRAIG MCCANN: I think back to Tommy Robinson when tries to bring the (inaudible) over here. There’s one place I wouldn’t try to bring (inaudible) which is in Newcastle. This very vibrant Anti-Fascist scene. It’s got a huge history of anti-fascism. Some of this is about time and place. Some of this is about picking the moment. There’s been a lot of work into looking at Tommy Robinson, as an example, his funding streams and how much he is funded by US money, Russian money. Some of this is about conspiracy theories surrounded individuals in this space, but there is a growing scene of people thinking more and more about these kind of narratives. They travel very well. Now, when I talk about ‘supermarket extremism,’ these little strands that you can pick up from different organisations, you can then go and make of that what you will. Going forward, you’re not going to have organisations. Why would you form an organisation like National Action? It increases the huge likelihood that you’re going to be destructed, arrested, and convicted. The better way, in terms of operating, going forward is to become a foot leader, is to push thinking out there and let other people do the work for you, actually. I think that will be the biggest change, evolution in this space going forward. This doesn’t just apply to right-wing extremism. It applies to other forms of extremists as well. We are seeing ISIS in Syria actually endorsing this going forward. Will they establish another caliphate in another failed state? Or, actually, what they’ll do is towards the end of what they did in Syria and Iraq, is endorse self-starters in country of origins to attack where they live. Very similar tactics across this.
RAKIB EHSAN: Thank you. Paul.
PAUL STOTT: I think the British Far Right has quite a lot of soft power, internationally. If you look at Combat18, Blood and Honour, they’re British inventions, British exports. SO I think there is always that degree of far-right groups, across Europe and elsewhere looking to the UK. I generation identity, in a way, is a bit similar to the International Third Position in the late 80’s, early 90’s, a splinter from the National Front. Its ideas were a bit too sophisticated for its audience. A lot of the people who they were reaching out to, with their sort of pan-European, pan-nationalist thought, it didn’t immediately hit home. I think on the very Far Right, where you’re looking at the National Actions of this world, those types of structures, they’re actually much more international when you look at who is turning up at the demonstrations, who is drinking together, who is going to the gigs. I’ve written that there needs to be a lot more research in that area.
RAKIB EHSAN: Yes, thank you. Well ladies and gentlemen. We have run out of time. I would like to thank you for attending our event. Please show your appreciation for our speakers. Dr. Paul Stott and Dr. Craig McCann.