The Far-right in the West

What is the far-right?

Although most people have an understanding of what is meant when referring to the ‘right-wing’, it is worth noting that the typical left-right political distinction can be extremely problematic and is at the mercy of regional and nation-specific subjectivities. Simply put, there is not a specific ideology that necessarily links members of the far-right in the Southern states of America, to those in Scandinavia, or to those in Russia. Andrew Gumbel discusses this in the context of America:

The radical far-right is made up of multiple ideological strands, not all of which are complementary. Some adherents follow a racist variant of Christianity, whilst others are uninterested in religion. Some hate African Americans and Jews equally; others…have no problem with Jews. For many decades, the movement was unconcerned with Latin American immigration across the Mexican border. Now, for activists in California, Arizona and Texas, the immigrant wave has become the primary issue.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Vidhya Ramalingam, who writes for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, notes that far-right extremism is also a broad concept, ‘encompassing a diverse range of groups with different ideologies, ranging from…youth street gangs to neo-Nazi terrorist cells, to anti-Islam activists’.  Location can often be an important factor in which demographic is most targeted by far-right extremism: in Russia Jewish people are often the most targeted; in Hungary and Slovakia it is the Romany Gypsy population; and in France it is the Arab population. This is no coincidence. It is due to the constructed identities that these groups have fostered due to their socio-history.

This raises the question: do these groups share any similarities? Clearly, they do.  Mariana Tepfenhart suggests that they are ‘in favour of strong nationalism and homogeneity, and express strong hostility towards asylum seekers and illegal immigrants… [and] oppose cultural pluralism and giving equal weight to the desires of the minority’. Similarly, Ramalingam observes that the defining features of these groups are: ‘racism, xenophobia, ultra-nationalism, and authoritarianism’. The targets and key issues may change when moving around the world, but there is a persistent undercurrent of rejecting globalisation and the multiculturalism that necessarily follows, believing that their nation should be made up primarily of those who look the same and subscribe to similar views of the world.

The growing spread

Over the past few decades, the West has seen a significant growth in far-right activities. This is often seen as a reaction to the rejection of multiculturalism and globalisation mentioned above. However, since the events of September 11th 2001, there has been a specific trend towards Islamophobia, which as Douglas Pratt notes is a ring-wing response to what the extreme right deems as extremism itself: ‘[They posit] Islam as an implacable threat fully deserving of all the opprobrium heaped upon it and justifying any exclusionary, if not eliminative, actions that can be mounted against it’. This narrative is borne out by the statistics: immediately after the July 7th 2005 bombings in London, there was a six-fold increase in the rate of right-wing violence against Muslims and similarly, after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, the French authorities noticed a 281% increase. In a similar vein, the English Defence League saw a four-fold increase in support online (from 25,000 to 100,000) within days of the murder of Lee Rigby in London in 2013.

With the spread of the extreme right, it is all too common that violence follows. Arie Perliger’s research tells of 4420 violent right-wing incidents in America between 1990 and 2012, causing 670 fatalities and 3053 injuries. Furthermore, in fourteen of the twenty-one covered years, the analysis witnessed more attacks than in the previous year and the average number of attacks between 1990 and the first eleven years of the twenty-first century rose by more than 400%. In Germany, 2015 saw roughly a 50% increase in acts of far-right violence (1408) from 2014 (990) and in 2013 estimated that there were 21,750 active extremists, including 9,500 who are potentially violent. With regards to violence that is considered a terrorist offence, Europol recorded 9 attacks by the extreme right in the EU in 2015, compared to none in 2014 (although the total number of arrests decreased from 34 to 11 in that time).

How right-wing extremists operate

Far-right groups act in a number of different ways which Ramalingam observes as: ‘Spontaneous hate crime, vandalism and hooliganism; street demonstrations; shock tactics; hate speech and incitement; and planned hate crime and terrorism’. This means that it is possible to experience it anywhere from around a football ground, to walking around a town centre, or browsing social media. Although it is not always directly physically threatening (it could, for example, be a use of hate speech or neo-Nazi vandalism), the possibility of violence is always present. It is especially dangerous because, as Daniel Koehler notes, ‘these extremist groups have developed and used violent tactics designed to be overlooked and misinterpreted by security agencies’. In short, although it may be tempting to view these groups as nothing more than thugs, they often have a lot of experience and are highly dangerous.

Perhaps the most worrying trend relating to the increase in far-right extremism is the efficacy with which they utilise the online milieu to their advantage. O’Callaghan et al. observe that there is a large community of far-right groups across Europe on Twitter which has distinct international communication, especially those who share a geographical and linguistic context. This means they are often able to gather support for their cause on the Internet with great speed. Furthermore, these groups are often targeting the next generation. Closer to home, it has been reported that the South Wales British Movement has set up its own youth wing, who are being recruited online. The use of the internet brings about exceptionally grave problems as Emily Turner-Graham explains:

Firstly, the Net brings a worldwide and highly visual (and therefore accessible) awareness to the cause it represents. Secondly – and this is of key importance in attracting an often socially vulnerable youth audience – forum websites create an immediate identification and a sense of ‘groupness’…Significantly, it does this within a void, a virtual reality. Simply by its presence, an online community immediately makes the visitor feel accepted and validates their views.

Moreover, empirical research conducted by Magdalena Wojcieszak finds that ‘those who are very involved in neo-Nazi online groups are more likely to exhibit false consensus.’ That is to say, those studied believe that their views were much closer to the mainstream than is actually the case.

In sum, although it can be difficult to pin down a specific ideology of the far-right, the commonly recurring themes are a rejection of multiculturalism in favour of ultra-nationalism and authoritarianism. It is a growing phenomenon and shows little sign of slowing down, partially because the movement is making efficient use of modern communication technology and is excelling at recruiting the next generation of extremists.

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