Internet 'fuelling new wave of self-initiated right-wing extremists' in UK

Report raises concern that young people are being radicalised online and are difficult to identify and monitor

Police and intelligence services are trying to monitor a growing number of extremists who have been radicalised online. PA
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Britain is facing a growing threat from right-wing extremists, particularly from tech-savvy young men who have been radicalised online, according to a report by UK legislators.

A report by the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee found that the number of referrals to the Prevent anti-radicalisation watchdog have increased steadily since 2017.

It added that a growing number of young people under the age of 24 were now on the radar of the UK domestic security service MI5 investigating extreme right-wing terrorism (ERWT).

Figures cited in the report showed that eight out of 25 terror attacks prevented by intelligence and counter-terror police were inspired by ERWT.

Right-wing extremism in Britain is “increasingly driven by the internet and characterised by a technologically aware demographic of predominantly young men, many of them still in their teenagers, who are typically ‘self-initiated terrorists’.”

The report also warned that these self-initiated terrorists are able to become radicalised, and radicalise others, from the “seclusion of their bedrooms” with limited real-world contact with other like-minded outsiders.

Historically, the report says, a journey into right-wing extremism needed “real-world contact with organised groups and individuals in person”. However, the internet has removed this requirement.

Few of the suspects belong to organised groups and are as a result difficult to identify and monitor.

“Their motivation can be highly individualistic, according to their particular personal circumstances, the nature of their grievances and perceptions of their own capabilities,” the MPs said.

“Determining how, why and when they may choose to attack is therefore particularly challenging,” the report said.

Right-wing material circulated online could be harder than Islamist terrorism propaganda to tackle, the report warns, partly because of the wider lack of understanding of the threat from right-wing groups.

In addition, social media and end-to-end encryption on messaging services also pose a challenge to security services.

MI5 Director General Ken McCallum has previously warned that the internet is fuelling extremism. PA

“It is clear that the ERWT online environment poses a new challenge for the Intelligence Community and there is a long way to go when it comes to tackling what is largely an ungoverned space”, the report said.

Authors of the report warned that armed forces and police must be vigilant about the threat of right wing extremists joining their ranks, and said vetting procedures must be improved.

It highlighted a case in April 2021 when a Metropolitan Police officer was convicted of membership of National Action, a banned Neo-Nazi group.

The Committee report also called for more funding for intelligence services to help tackle right-wing groups without compromising its other functions.

Last month MI5 Director General Ken McCallum described extreme right-wing terrorism as now a “diffuse online threat”, adding: “From the comfort of their bedrooms, individuals are easily able to access right-wing extremist spaces, network with each other and move towards a radical mindset.”

The Intelligence and Security Committee has previously criticised the government for failing to probe possible Russian meddling in UK politics, including the 2016 Brexit referendum.

On Tuesday, its chairman Julian Lewis said it was “deeply disappointed” that the government failed to provide information on time for it to scrutinise.

The delays had hampered its ability to provide statutory oversight, he added.

Updated: December 13, 2022, 4:53 PM