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Terrorist Narratives: The Biases in ‘Prevent’ Training Show How Counter-Extremism is Politicised

The 11 minute awareness course mandatory for many public service workers is in danger of turning into a propaganda tool

Photo: Janine Wiedel Photolibrary/Alamy

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Concerns have been raised regarding the Prevent programme’s awareness course for those working in many public services. Prevent is the UK’s terrorist prevention strategy. Uts aim is to identify and report individuals who are flagged as at risk of radicalisation due to an interest in extremist ideologies which might potentially lead to them committing terrorist acts. 

The course, which is a statutory requirement for those working in education, hospitals, prisons and other public services, sets out three broad categories of terrorist ideologies, Islamist terrorist ideologies, extreme right-wing ideologies and a third category which now covers left-wing ideologies of socialism and communism, anarchist and single-issue ideologies.

Specific “extreme right-wing ideologies” listed as potential terrorist ideologies are Cultural Nationalism, White/Ethno Nationalism and White Supremicism, while left-wing ideologies are described as falling into “Two broad ideologies: socialism and communism. Each is united by a set of grievance narratives which underline their cause.” 

It’s this inconsistency between the demarcation of specific extreme right-wing ideologies compared to a much broader approach to left-wing ideologies as a whole which has led to accusations of the politicisation of Prevent.


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Another section of the training on terrorist narratives also differentiates extreme right-wing ideology from right-wing ideology while again just referring to “left-wing” narratives without the distinction of “extreme”,  

​The list of established terrorist narratives includes: antisemitism, misogyny, anti-establishment, anti-LGBTQ+ grievances, religious or ethnic superiority while conspiracy theories are said to “act as gateways to radicalised thinking and sometimes violence. In some cases, a blurring of ideologies with personal narratives makes it harder to assess the risk that people may pose.” The training also lists less well recognised motivations for terrorism, “involuntary celibates (incels), left-wing and eco-terrorism.

​In regards to Single-issue ideologies the training states “Narratives are likely to come from those who seek to change a specific policy or practice, as opposed to replacing the whole economic, political or social system.” Examples given were animal rights, anti-abortion and anti-fascism. 


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Concerns regarding the politicisation of Prevent have been ongoing since before William Shawcross completed a review of the programme on behalf of the then Home Secretary Priti Patel. Shawcross’s recommendations were for Prevent to re-shift its main focus back to Islamist extremists because in his view too many normal right-wing views shared by many people were being caught up in the programme. 

There have been a number of high-profile cases in the media regarding people being wrongly reported to Prevent, which is why the broad definition of “left-wing” as extreme has led to concerns being raised by many who have completed the course as the training provides no further details or definitions. It took 11 minutes to complete the awareness course as research for this report. 

The training concludes with a list of concerning behaviours which include behaviours such as having more than one online identity and downloading propaganda material, to becoming more argumentative, changing friendship groups and using symbols associated with extreme groups.

​Shawcross’s appointment to lead the commission was controversial due to previous statements which have been accused of being Islamophobic such as “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future. I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations.”

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Many of these statements were made while Shawcross was the director of the hard-right think tank, the Henry Jackson Society (HJS). The Byline Times has previously reported on the HJS receiving funding from the same sources as groups like Turning Point USA – accused of harbouring racism and white supremacism; the David Horowitz Freedom Centre – “a driving force of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black movements” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center; and the Middle East Forum which sponsored British far-right extremist and convicted fraudster Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (known as ‘Tommy Robinson’).

The HJS also has close ties to far-right media executive Steve Bannon and Mike Pompeo – who both once held senior roles in the Donald Trump administration; and Gatestone which is funded by the Mercer Family Foundation as covered in a Byline Times report.

The review concluded in February 2023 making 34 recommendations including stopping funding going to Islamist groups or others not directly involved in counter-extremism work and a renewed focus on ‘Islamist extremism’, including views that do not promote violence. By contrast, the report states or implies that far-right or misogynist ‘incel’ views should only lead to Prevent referrals when there is an actual risk of violent activities. Another recommendation is to give Ministers the power to instruct investigations through a new oversight board.

As previously reported by the Byline Times Home Secretary Suella Braverman has accepted all 34 recommendations to the condemnation of a coalition of 200 civil society organisations, community leaders and academics including Amnesty International and the Runnymede Trust, that produced a 72 page criticising the review concluding “Implementing Shawcross’s findings means endorsing ideologically led policy with no legal accountability or parliamentary oversight”, warning “that Prevent poses a serious threat to civil liberties and urges both houses of parliament to join the calls for the Shawcross review to be withdrawn.”

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