CJ Werleman on how the UK is “sleepwalking” into a domestic right-wing terrorism crisis despite warnings from the police.
On 2 June, Walter Lübcke, a 65-year-old regional German politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party – and best known for his strong advocacy for the country’s 600,000 refugees – was shot in the head at close range on the terrace of his home in the village of Istha, located a short drive from Dusseldorf.
When news of his execution broke, far-right extremists took to social media platforms, chat rooms and blogs to celebrate his death, which, in turn, unleashed a wave of death threats against other pro-refugee and left-leaning politicians throughout the country.
Eighty years after the beginning of World War II, politicians have again become victims of right-wing terrorists.German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass
On 18 June, authorities arrested Lübcke’s suspected killer, a 45 year-old man described by German intelligence agencies as a “violent right-wing extremist”, who is known to have had links to neo-Nazi networks and a possible connection to the notorious NSU (National Socialist Underground) – a Far Right group which murdered 10 migrants in between 2000 and 2007.
Germany “has a terrorism problem,” wrote the country’s Foreign Minister Heiko Mass in an op-ed for the Bild newspaper on Friday.
“Eighty years after the beginning of World War Two, politicians have again become victims of right-wing terrorists. Because of their beliefs. Because of their commitment to our country,” wrote Maas. “All this shows what many still close their eyes to even now: Germany has a terrorism problem.”
Maas should be commended for speaking forthrightly and clear-eyed about the alarming and ever increasing threat of domestic right-wing terrorism – a commendation that cannot be ascribed to the UK’s political leaders, despite the fact that counter-terrorism specialists have identified Far Right extremism to be the “biggest security threat” to northern England.
British Politicians Minimise the Threat
The UK Government refers to the threat of right-wing terrorism only as “evolved” and “growing”, despite the assassination of MP Jo Cox in 2016 and the foiling of four right-wing terror plots in 2017. Hate crimes against immigrants and Muslims have spiked over the past few years. Even the UK’s former counter-terrorism chief, Mark Rowley, has said that police were monitoring Far Right extremists among a group of more than 3,000 “subjects of interest”.
When US President Trump refers to Nazis as “very fine people”, and when likely future British Prime Minister Boris Johnson demonises Muslim women and refers to them as “letterboxes,” violent right-wing extremists interpret these comments as tacit support for their ideology.
“For the first time since the Second World War we have a domestic terrorist group, it’s right-wing, it’s neo-Nazi, it’s proudly white supremacist, portraying a violent and wicked ideology,” Rowley told BBC Newsnight. “If we sleepwalk into it, then I think there is a real danger we give them more scope to get stronger. They’re repackaging their aggressive intolerance and sometimes thinly disguised avocation of violence; they’re repackaging that and attaching it to mainstream political debate.”
The UK, however, like many Western countries, remains almost exclusively fixated on “jihadist” terrorism, a reality underscored by the fact that, in a study of 4,458 empirically-based peer-reviewed publications relating to domestic terrorism, only a tiny 0.6% are related to right-wing extremism.
The UK is “sleepwalking,” as Rowley warned, into a domestic right-wing terrorism crisis, and thus following the same blind alley Europe and the US have now found themselves in. Right-wing groups and individuals are responsible for almost 100% of all acts of terrorism on US soil since end 2017.
The UK Government, media, and public needs to wrap its collective mind around the fact that “jihadist” terrorism was yesterday’s number one security threat, but that right-wing extremism is exactly that of today and tomorrow – particularly as it is becoming internationalised in the same way the attacks of 9/11 globalised the violent jihadist movement.
In the week after an Australian right-wing extremist murdered 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, a whopping 95 anti-Muslim incidents were reported in the UK, representing a 593% increase in weekly hate crime activity.
A month later, a right-wing extremist, who drew inspiration from the gunman, walked into synagogue in San Diego and shot dead one Jewish worshipper.
“Attacks always spark reactions from different extremist communities, but when it comes to the Far Right, there was never anything like the response to the Christchurch attack,” Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, told the Sun Herald, adding that the terrorist’s targeting of Muslims, coupled with his “deadly execution” and live-streaming of the attack generated an “unprecedented response… like nothing we’ve ever seen thus far from the Far Right across the globe.”
In the week after an Australian right-wing extremist murdered 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, a whopping 95 anti-Muslim incidents were reported in the UK.
The assassination of Walter Lübcke in Germany and Jo Cox in the UK points towards what is likely to emerge as yet another deadly trend: the targeted killings of politicians, which, according to Andreas Forster, an expert on political extremism, “should be understood for what it is and taken seriously: a declaration of war on the state and democratic society”.
Compounding this threat, of course, is the normalisation and mainstreaming of right-wing extremist rhetoric in everyday political discourse.
When US President Trump refers to Nazis as “very fine people” and when likely future British Prime Minister Boris Johnson demonises Muslim women and refers to them as “letterboxes,” violent right-wing extremists interpret these comments as tacit support for their ideology – a reality demonstrated by the fact that 41 attacks on niqab and hijab-wearing British Muslim women were reported in the week after Johnson made his racist remark.
Counter-Terrorism against the Far Right
So, how should the UK Government improve the way it confronts and mitigates this threat?
According to Daniel Koehler, a fellow of George Washington University’s program on extremism at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, policy-makers and law enforcement agencies should implement the following recommendations:
Avoid double standards between various forms of political violence; allocate adequate resources to counter right-wing extremism; appropriate judicial responses; increase funding for research on Far Right violence and terrorism; acknowledge the relationship between hate crimes and terrorism; and expand exit programs for right-wing extremists.
Ultimately, the assassination of Lübcke is another ‘canary in the coal mine’ moment for the UK, and thus its Government should mimic the German Foreign Minister by elevating the threat posed by right-wing extremism from the opaquely worded “evolved” and “growing” to a major “terrorism problem”.