The Government’s Commission for Countering Extremism appears to be consulting academics enthralled by far-right Great Replacement theories, even as it holds closed meetings with Britain’s security services

The Government’s chief advisor on extremism met last year with a notorious anti-Muslim government agency in Austria whose brutal crackdown on ordinary Muslims is based on the discredited claims of an advocate of the far-right Great Replacement conspiracy theory.

The Great Replacement theory is part of a wider white supremacist ideology that believes white populations are becoming extinct in a genocidal process driven by high birth rates and immigration of foreign populations – it has inspired recent far-right terrorist attacks.

Robin Simcox, whose term as Interim Lead Commissioner at the UK Government’s Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) was recently extended in late March for the third time, met with Austria’s notorious Observatory on Political Islam as part of his bid to develop the UK’s strategy on countering extremism.

But the Austrian government agency is well-known for using the label of ‘political Islam’ to justify an indiscriminate crackdown on any Muslim who might be critical of the Austrian government and the challenges of Islamophobia.


Anti-Muslim Witch-Hunting

The Observatory on Political Islam was established by the Austrian Government in July 2020 to study what it calls political Islam’s “dangerous dimensions for European societies”. But in practice, it plays a lead role in advocating that normal Muslim civil society groups in Austria are a ‘trojan horse’ for a global Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to infiltrate Austrian society.

Just four months after its founding, Austrian authorities carried out Operation Luxor, a series of police raids targeting 70 Muslim households. No one affected by the raids was charged for any offence, and an Austrian court concluded that nine of them were unlawful. Meanwhile, the obsession with targeting ordinary Austrian Muslims led the authorities to miss warning signs of actual terrorism.

The following year, the Observatory published an ‘Islam Map’ identifying the locations of mosques, Islamic cultural centres and even shops across Austria. Far-right group Die Identitären circulated the map to its networks, leading to a rise in far-right attacks on Muslims. “The map published by the Austrian government equates every citizen of the Islamic faith and every person of culture who studies Islam with a potential criminal, provoking a witch-hunt,” said Imam Yahya Pallavicini, coordinator of the Council of Muslim Leaders of Europe.

“Austria might claim it is cracking down on ‘Islamists’”, observed Brookings Institution senior fellow Shadi Hamid, “but the word is defined so loosely, or not at all, that any observant Muslim speaking out against anti-Muslim bigotry and criticizing the government can find themselves under surveillance, or worse.”


Far-Right Influence

A key figure advising Austria’s Observatory on Political Islam is George Washington University academic Dr Lorenzo Vidino, who Byline Times has previously exposed as an advocate of the baseless far-right Great Replacement conspiracy theory which claims white people are being replaced in the West largely by Muslim immigration. 

In 2005, when asked if Europeans were witnessing “the end of Europe” by FrontPage magazine – the far-right publication of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black extremist David Horowitz – Dr Vidino described how “Europe as we knew it 30 years ago is long gone. Demography doesn’t lie: in a couple of decades non-ethnic Europeans will represent the majority of the population in many European cities and a large percentage of them will be Muslim.” 

Vidino is also a major promoter of discredited conspiracy theories about the Muslim Brotherhood’s infiltration of Europe and the US, which have been heavily influential in far-right circles. Vidino’s publications, for instance, have been cited by the anti-Muslim blogger “Fjordman,” whose texts Norwegian white nationalist and mass murderer Anders Breivik copied into his manifesto. Breivik killed 77 people in Norway in 2011. 

Vidino was also referenced 35 times in the Operation Luxor arrest warrants justifying the anti-Muslim police raids.

Byline Times has previously revealed the surprising dependence of various materials commissioned and published by the CCE on Vidino’s conspiracy theories, which are overwhelmingly rejected by counter-extremism scholars and practitioners. Simcox’s meeting with an Austrian agency that is actively implementing Vidino’s ideas – with demonstrably counterproductive results – raises questions about how the CCE plans to replicate such approaches in the UK. 

Robin Simcox’s meeting with the Austrian government’s Observatory on Political Islam is documented in the CCE’s new End of Year Report, 2021-2022, published in March. The report provides no further details of the meeting.

Simcox’s interest in the Observatory is unsurprising given that he previously cited Vidino himself during his tenure at the pro-Trump Heritage Foundation, in an article promoting discredited anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Byline Times previously revealed that Simcox had spoken in 2019 at the Center for Immigration Studies, designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the leading US civil rights firm, due to its anti-Semitism and white nationalism.

Simcox’s sympathies with far-right figures raises alarm bells given his influence on the UK government’s counter-extremism strategies. The CCE’s end of year report also confirms that Simcox held high-level meetings with senior Government officials including No. 10, the Home Office, and Home Secretary Priti Patel. The report also reveals that Simcox met Britain’s Security Services.


Secrecy

Byline Times repeatedly requested information on the CCE’s recent key activities as described in its report, including further details of its academic advisory network and a closed CCE conference in February. A spokesperson for the CCE refused to disclose any information citing data protection laws.

However, the spokesperson’s responses revealed how closely the CCE works with the UK Government, noting that members of its own academic advisory group, as well as attendees at the conference, are government employees. But the CCE refused to clarify which government departments these employees represented.

The CCE did not respond to enquiries about Simcox’s meetings with the Austrian Government’s Observatory on Political Islam, nor with Britain’s Security Services.

The CCE’s growing propensity to secrecy is a marked departure from its operations under the leadership of Sarah Khan, during which the agency openly published details of its academic advisors and conference activities. This fits into a broader pattern – Byline Times reported in February that the Home Office assessment panel deciding who the Government will appoint to succeed Simcox as Lead Commissioner includes Col. (ret) Robert Graham Cundy, a former Royal Marine and British Army Special Forces officer who played a senior role in counterinsurgency operations before going onto consult for ‘overseas intelligence agencies’.

With Robin Simcox at the helm, the CCE appears to be on a trajectory of declining transparency and increasing hostility toward Muslim communities, and an apparent inability to engage with legitimate academic and journalistic scrutiny: the hallmarks of genuinely free scholarly inquiry in democratic societies. The public might be forgiven for fearing that the Government’s flagship ‘counter-extremism’ agency is in danger of becoming become a trojan horse for far-right extremism.

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