Report warns of “war against Islam” days after UK’s most senior terror officer warns of threat of far-right

The UK’s most senior terror officer, Mark Rowley, the outgoing assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has warned that far-right terrorists pose an “organised and significant” threat to the UK, stating that four associated plots have been foiled in the past year. He says this illustrates the growth of this form of terrorism, which is more challenging than public debate often appreciates[1].

Security services have been warning that far-right terrorism is becoming more organised since the murder of Labour MP, Jo Cox, in 2016. This is perhaps especially relevant given that the past year has also seen five, potentially inflammatory, Islamist terrorist attacks in the country[2].

Rowley’s warning came days before Hope Not Hate, a campaign group, published its annual report, State of Hate 2018, which “offers the most comprehensive and accurate assessment of the state of Britain’s far right that publicly exists”, profiling “every far right organisation currently active in the UK, highlighting those that are on the rise and those in decline”. It also measures “the growing threat of online hate” and identifies “the figures to watch in 2018”[3].

The report warns far-right extremists are preparing for what they believe is a “war against Islam”. The chief executive of Hope Not Hate, Nick Lowles, “said that with the combination of “civil war” rhetoric and growing online hatred, “we must be prepared for more terrorist plots and use of extreme violence from the far-right for the foreseeable future””[4].

The report details an interesting paradox regarding the British far-right, “Organisationally, the movement is weaker than it has been for 25 years … Yet at the same time, the far right poses a bigger threat – in terms of violence and promotion of its vile views (particularly anti-Muslim views) – than it has in many years”[5]. In addition, it details the evolving nature of the threat, as old-fashioned racial nationalism is replaced with anti-Muslim hatred, with contemporary key activists appearing to be younger and operating more online[6].

The report indicates that 28 suspects were detained for far-right inspired crimes in 2017[7], in line with statistics that indicate a record number of people are being arrested for suspected terror offences in the UK, with the proportion of suspects who are white rocketing[8]. Far-right extremists reportedly make up more than a quarter of those going through the Government’s counter-radicalisation programme, Channel[9].

The report also indicates that viewing Islam as a threat is now an idea which has spread into the mainstream British population, “with more than half of respondents in a public poll taking the position and 42 per cent saying their distrust of Muslims had grown after last-year’s Isis-inspired attacks”[10].

As a result, researchers concluded, “With increasingly negative views towards British Muslims – and Islam more generally – there is a growing pool of possible recruits for the far right and, with some now having huge social media platforms, they now have ways to reach people that were unimaginable in the past”[11]. Prominent far-right figures on social media have seen their views and followers increase in the wake of Islamist terror attacks, illustrating this phenomenon[12]. An example of this phenomenon is the case of far-right terrorist, Darren Osborne[13], which also raised questions about the mainstream medias role in normalising right-wing discourse (as detailed here,

Interestingly, after Rowley commented that Osborne had partly become radicalised after consuming “large amounts of online far-right material including, as evidenced at court, statements from former EDL leader Tommy Robinson”, Robinson himself tweeted that he was going to “find” Rowley, not elaborating on what he meant by this[14].

Joining the large number of existing far-right groups in the UK, new movements are also popping up in the country, including the pan-European, Generation Identity. Increasingly, those in far-right movements are defined as “counter-jihaders”. These people “are not part of the wider movement but define themselves specifically against Islam and dominantly act online rather than as part of real-world groups”[15].

Lowles said, “Something has to be done with people who deliberately incite hatred against a group because that clearly is going to end up inciting trouble and the Government has to do much more not just to take action but to speak out against it … The concern is that we could see tit-for-tat violence, which can spiral out of control very quickly”[16]. Hope Not Hate states that while the British far-right are “Organisationally weaker and politically more marginalised”, it poses “a greater threat to the social fabric of society”[17].

[1] Dearden, 2018b.

[2] Dearden, 2018b.

[3] Hope Not Hate, 2018.

[4] Dearden, 2018a.

[5] Hope Not Hate, 2018.

[6] Hope Not Hate, 2018.

[7] Dearden, 2018a.

[8] Dearden, 2017; Dearden, 2018a.

[9] Dearden, 2018a.

[10] Dearden, 2018a.

[11] Dearden, 2018a.

[12] Dearden, 2018a.

[13] Dearden, 2018a.

[14] Agerholm, 2018.

[15] Dearden, 2018a.

[16] Dearden, 2018a.

[17] Hope Not Hate, 2018.

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Agerholm, H. (2018) ‘Tommy Robinson threatens to ‘find’ UK’s most senior counter terrorism police officer’. [online] 27 February. [Accessed 2 March 2018].

Dearden, L. (2017) ‘UK terror arrests rise to record 400 in year as white suspects increase by 77%’. [online] 7 December. [Accessed 2 March 2018].

Dearden, L. (2018a) ‘Far-right extremists preparing for ‘war against Islam’, report warns after terror plots exposed’. [online] 1 March. [Accessed 2 March 2018].

Dearden, L. (2018b) ‘Four far-right UK terrorist plots foiled since Westminster attack, police reveal’. [online] 26 February. [Accessed 2 March 2018].

Hope Not Hate. (2018) ‘The State of Hate 2018: An overview of our latest report by Nick Lowles, Chief Executive’. [online] [Accessed 2 March 2018].