US Race Riots, Black Lives Matters: How can the US deal with racism?


Following the death of an African-American by a white police officer in Minneapolis in the US, we are witnessing global protests related to ‘Black Lives Matter’. Sadly, this is not the first time that we have witnessed the death of African-Americans at the hand of White police officers in the US. This raises the question of what can the US federal government do to tackle this. Among issues related to police reform, which is easier said than done as policing in the US cannot be compared to the UK as in the US you have state police, city police, local police, sheriff departments all with differing levels of accountability and, as we have seen it the US on many occasion, individual states do not like to see the federal government ‘interfere’ with the running of that state. However, the federal government can two things, one is amending its hate crime legislation and the process in designating certain domestic groups as terrorist organisations, including the extreme far-right, white supremacist groups. This blog is quite lengthy but will take you through a comparative study between the UK and the US in relation to freedom of expression, hate crime and designating groups as terrorist organisations. This is based on my current research that I am writing up.

Right to Freedom of Expression

In a liberal democracy the right to freedom of expression is a vital human right that differentiates it from an authoritarian regime and, as such, most liberal democracies have some form of legislative provision protecting that right from being incrementally eroded by the state. These can come in the form of being enshrined in a state’s written constitution, a bill of rights, a convention, a charter or through a statute allowing the judiciary to assess if an executive government’s legislation is compatible with human rights provisions. In the UK Article10(1) European Convention on Human Rights provides this right where everyone has the right to freedom of expression that includes freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by a public authority and regardless of frontiers. However, this is a qualified right and under certain strict conditions the state and its agencies can interfere with this right provided it is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society when it is in the interests of:
1. national security;
2. territorial integrity or public safety;
3. for the protection of the reputation or rights of others;
4. for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary;
5. for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals; or,
6. for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

The first amendment of the US Bill of Rights protects freedom of expression stating that Congress shall make no law that abridges the freedom of speech, or that of the press.
Judicial Interpretation of Right to Freedom of Expression

To put some context into what is legally acceptable in relation to freedom of expression, in the UK case Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions (1999) Lord Justice Sedley said:
‘Freedom of speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having. [My emphasis]

Important in this decision is that freedom of speech does not provoke violence and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has adopted a similar approach. In Erbaken v Turkey (2006) the ECtHR has tempered freedom of expression saying that tolerance and respect for the equal dignity of all human beings constitute the foundation of a democratic, pluralistic society, adding:

‘That being so, as a matter of principle it may be considered necessary in certain democratic societies to sanction or even prevent all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred based on intolerance …’

In Texas v Johnson (1989) the US Supreme Court examined if burning the US flag breached the first amendment right of freedom of expression. The Court rejected the argument that Johnson’s conviction could be sustained on the ground that he had failed to show the respect for the US’ national symbol which may properly be demanded of every US citizen. The Court concluded that freedom of expression guarantees freedom to be intellectually diverse or even contrary and the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order, adding that encompassing the freedom to express publicly one’s opinions about the US flag, included those opinions which are defiant or contemptuous. US courts have delivered decisions where the first amendment protection of freedom of expression does not apply. These include defamation where the US Supreme Court held defamation is not protected under the first amendment where malicious, scandalous and defamatory statements are published and malice may be inferred in the publication of the statement. Another category of speech includes insulting or fighting words that the US Supreme Court held are not protected by the first amendment as they do not contribute to the expression of ideas nor do they possess social value in the search for truth. The court saw such terms as those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has also been held that sedition where statements preparing revolution to overthrow and destroy the US government by force and violence are not protected by the first amendment. In Brandenburg the US Supreme Court laid down tighter parameters as to when seditious statements are not protected under the first amendment, holding that inflammatory speech is protected unless such speech is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

From these examples we see the legal boundaries setting out what is acceptable under freedom of expression is wide. The judiciary in all both jurisdictions allow offensive, heretical, extremist views under the legal protection of freedom of expression and only when those views promote violence, incite lawless action or promotes or justifies hatred based on intolerance are those boundaries crossed and no longer protected under this right.

When Right Wing Narratives and Statements go From Being Offensive to Hate Crime

Hate Crime: UK
In the UK hate crimes come under Part III of the Public Order Act 1986, creating the offences of:
1. Using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or displays written material which is threatening, abusive or insulting with the intent of stirring up racial hatred or having regards to the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up;
2. Publishing or distributing material that is threatening, abusive or insulting with the intent to stir up racial hatred or having regards to the circumstances racial hatred is likely to be stirred up.

Racial hatred is defined as , ‘…hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to colour, race, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins’. Part 3A of the Act introduced offences based on the grounds of religious hatred and hatred on the ground of sexual orientation. Under the Act religious hatred means hatred by reference to religious belief or absence of religious belief, with hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation meaning hatred by reference to sexual orientation be it towards persons of the same sex, the opposite sex or both. In 2018/19 103,319 hate crimes were recorded by the police in England and Wales with 78,991 for race hate crime, 8,566 for religious hate crime, 14,491 for sexual orientation hate crime, 2,333 for transgender hate crime and 18, 256 for disability hate crime, with half of those offences being public order offences and a third for violence against the person.

Hate Crime: US
Following the assassination of Martin Luther King on the 4th April, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, the US government introduced the Civil Rights Act 1968 creating the federal crime of wilfully injuring, intimidating or interfering with, or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person because of his race, colour, religion or national origin. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act 2009 introduced during the Obama presidency expanded existing 1968 Act to apply to crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and dropped the prerequisite that the victim be engaging in a federally protected activity. The Act covers a wide array of activity. This ranges from aiming to prevent US states introducing law and customs resulting in persons being deprived of their constitutional rights on account of their colour or race, preventing disqualification of jurors due to race or colour and directly or indirectly depriving persons of employment, position, work, compensation or other benefit on account of their political affiliation, race, colour, sex, religion or national origin. The Act contains specific offences including intentional damage to religious property and intentional obstruction of persons in the free exercise of their religious beliefs. Under section 249 of the Act it is an offence to cause or attempt to cause bodily injury to a person because of that person’s race, colour, religion or national origin or because of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. However, bodily injury does not include emotional or psychological harm to the victim.

There have been a number of convictions under the 2009 Act. Examples include US v Paul Beebe where the three defendants wilfully caused bodily injury on a disabled young adult Navajo man. A self-proclaimed white supremacist, Beebe’s apartment was adorned with Nazi swastikas and other Nazi paraphernalia. The defendants shaved a swastika into the hair at the back of the victim’s head, writing ‘KKK’ and ‘White Power’ in the lines of the shaved swastika. The defendants also heated wire hangers and seared a swastika in the victim’s right bicep. The defendants argued that section 249(1) was unconstitutional and the federal government exceeded their powers in legislating under the thirteenth amendment that states neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

The US District Court for the District of New Mexico followed the US Supreme Court decision in US v Flores that upheld the constitutionality of section 249(1) under the thirteenth amendment. In US v Frankie Maybee, among other charges, Maybee was charged with five counts of committing federal hate crime under section 249(1). With his co-defendant, Maybee conspired to cause bodily injury to five Hispanic males because of their national origin. Maybee chased the males in his truck, repeatedly striking the Hispanic Males’ car causing it to crash and burst into flames, injuring the five men. Maybee also used the argument that under the thirteenth amendment section 249(1) was unconstitutional. Once again, this argument was dismissed by the US District Court Western District of Arkansas relying on earlier US Supreme Court decisions. In 2017 Joshua Vallum was the first person convicted under section 249(2) of the Act for targeting a transgender victim. He received a 49-year prison sentence for murdering a 17-year-old transgender woman he dated and later killed on finding out she was transgender. The conviction led to the US Attorney General saying, ‘The Justice Department will continue its efforts to vindicate rights of those individuals who are affected by bias motivated crimes.’

The Disparity Between the UK and the US’ Hate Crime Law

While it is laudable and a positive step that US hate crime legislation has resulted in convictions, it is questionable if the US justice department is truly continuing its efforts to protect individuals affected by bias motivated crime due to section 249 Hate Crimes Prevention Act relating solely to bodily injury and not including emotional or psychological harm to a victim. The issue of cross burning has been questioned in US courts if such practice amounts to hate speech under the first amendment. The burning of a cross is a form of expression that has been associated with hatred and prejudice towards the US’ Afro-American black community. Cross burning was originated at the end of the US 1861-1865 Civil War when Confederate guerrilla groups and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) used it as a symbol of racial supremacy to terrorise newly freed black slaves. It was also used by the KKK throughout the 1920’s when the lynching of black people was commonplace. In the US, particularly in the southern states, cross burning has been used as a warning and a threat to any person seeking to improve the political or economic condition of black persons. There is no doubt such practice and behaviour is designed to cause harassment, alarm and distress towards the intended victim, or in the words of section 249(c)(1) would cause emotional or psychological harm in that victim. As such, cross burning should be treated as a hate crime, but paradoxically this practice is seen as an expression protected under the first amendment.

As a result, even though some US states and provinces have tried to legislate against cross burning, the legislation was held as unconstitutional (and consequently unlawful) by the US Supreme Court, which is seen in the following cases. In R.A.V. v City of St. Paul (1992) the defendant burned a cross in the fenced yard of a black family who lived across the street where the defendant was living. Convicted of disorderly conduct under an ordinance issued by the City of St. Paul, the defendant claimed the ordinance was unconstitutional under the first amendment and the cross burning was no more than an expression. The Supreme Court found that the ordinance was unconstitutional under the first amendment because it singled out display of swastikas and cross burning that amounted to a right-wing expression of hatred. Also, the Court saw a problem with the ordinance as it punished persons who knew their actions would amount to alarm or resentment and, as the defendant did not utter a threat or incite violence, the defendant’s actions came under the protection of expression under the first amendment.

In Virginia v Black (2003) that came before the US Supreme Court in 2003, the case contained two separate occurrences of cross burning. The first was Barry Black, who was Virginia’s KKK leader. He burned a cross at a KKK rally in a field on private property belonging to a person sympathetic to the KKK. The second occurrence was Elliott and O’Mara who burned a cross on a black neighbour’s property because the neighbour made complaints to Elliott’ mother about the two of them shooting guns for target practice in their back yard. Both were convicted under a Virginia state law of burning crosses with the intent to intimidate a person or group of persons, where under the statue, the burning of a cross is prima facie evidence of an intent to intimidate a person or group of persons. In relation to Black, the Court disapproved of the section that burning a cross is prima facie evidence of intent stating that cross burning may mean a person is engaging in constitutionally prescribable intimidation, but it is also seen as core political speech under the first amendment. As such the Court found in Black’s favour. In relation to Elliott and O’Mara the Court held that in burning a cross it has to be proved the defendants intended to intimidate people and if the section that cross burning was prima facie evidence of intent, then the Virginia law would be unconstitutional. As such the Supreme Court returned the case to the Virginia State Court for the retrial of the two men regarding the issue of proving intent. If these were UK cases all the defendants would have been convicted of hate crime.

The UK’s the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 amended the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 by introducing racially or religiously aggravated offences. This includes assault and criminal damage, but importantly, it also includes public order and harassment offences. In relation to public order offences is includes racial or religious aggravated disorderly behaviour. In relation to this offence the offender only has to use threatening words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of the victim causing harassment, alarm or distress and it may be committed in public or private. In relation to harassment it covers the offences of harassment and stalking causing alarm or distress and putting a person in fear of violence where the stalking involves fear of violence or serious alarm or distress. In both of these offences no physical assault or to use the words of section 249 of the US’ Hate Crime Prevention Act 2009, no bodily injury is required, only the equivalent of emotional or psychological harm has to be proved under the UK legislation which is alarm, harassment or distress.

Proscribing Extreme Far-Right Groups as Terrorist Organisations

In December 2016 the UK was the first western state to proscribe extreme far-right neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organisations, initially with the group National Action. The groups Scottish Dawn and NS131, which morphed out of National Action, have also been proscribed because their views were seen as exceeding the acceptable parameters of freedom of expression by glorifying and promoting violence. In February 2020 two further extreme far-right groups were proscribed, System Resistance Network (which is spin-off from National Action) and Sonnenkreig Division (that is linked to the US group Atomwaffen). Under section 3 Terrorism Act 2000 the Home Secretary has the authority to proscribe groups as terrorist organisations if that group is concerned in terrorism. Being concerned in terrorism includes if the group:
(a) commits or participates in acts of terrorism;
(b) prepares for terrorism;
(c) promotes or encourages terrorism; or
(d) is otherwise concerned in terrorism.

In relation to promoting or encouraging terrorism, it includes the glorification of the commission or preparation of terrorist acts. For glorification of conduct it is unlawful if persons who become aware of a group’s glorification of terrorist acts as conduct that they should emulate. Under the Terrorism Act 2000 the term ‘glorification’ includes any form of praise or celebration. In determining actions that amount to acts of terrorism, underpinning section is the UK’s legal definition of terrorism which in essence requires the use or threat of action designed to influence a government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public or a section of the public where the action is for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause. The action must:
1. Involve serious violence against a person; or
2. Involve serious damage; or
3. Endangers a person’s life (other than the person committing the action); or
4. Creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section fo the public
The action is not limited to action carried out in the UK, but also includes action outside the UK.

Regarding extreme far-right groups, from the criteria needed to proscribe them it was mainly under promoting or encouraging terrorism as these groups’ virulently racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic comments promote a race war, reject democracy and divided society by, ‘… implicitly endorsing violence against ethnic minorities and perceived race traitors’. The UK government recognised these groups’ online material frequently condoned and glorified those who used extreme violence for political and ideological ends. This was the crucial evidence that led to National Action being the first extreme far-right being proscribed as a terrorist organisation as their website contained phrases such as “gas all traitors” and “fight for your country” and the initial tolerance by the UK government of their narrative ceased with the group’s promotion and encouragement of acts of terrorism following the murder of the MP Joe Cox. In proscribing these groups the former Home Secretary, Amber Rudd said:

National Action is a vile racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic group which glorifies violence and stirs up hatred while promoting their poisonous ideology and I will not allow them to masquerade under different names. … Our priority as a government will always be to maintain the safety and security of families and communities across the United Kingdom and we will continue to identify and ban any terrorist group which threatens this, whatever their ideology.

Since proscribing extreme far-right groups, there have been several successful prosecutions in the UK under its terrorism legislation. This includes in September 2017 eleven members of National Action for various terrorism offences including being members of a proscribed organisation, funding terrorism, possession of terrorism related material and documents, and, preparation of terrorist acts. In June 2018 Jack Renshaw pleaded guilty to being a member of a proscribed organisation (National Action) and plotting to murder Rosie Cooper, a UK Labour Party politician, and threatening to kill the police officer investigating him. In November 2018 a British Army soldier, Lance Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen, was convicted for being a member of National Action and for recruiting other soldiers to join the group in order to prepare for a race war. For social media and electronic communications companies proscribing extreme far-right groups as terrorist organisations creates a clear delineation between speech and expression that is protected under the right to freedom of expression to that which is extremist that glorifies or promotes violence as seen in the UK when these neo-Nazi groups sites were immediately suspended following proscription.

A variety of US extreme far-right groups have existed for many years, including the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan. These two groups have their websites available in open source and are easy to access, although their social media accounts have been suspended for promoting white supremacy along with hatred towards non-Aryans/whites. Looking at both the American Nazi Party website and KKK websites, they are carefully worded to ensure there is no immediate direct encouragement or incitement to lawless action thereby complying with the US’ first amendment’s protection of freedom of expression and this could be the reason why the US government has not considered proscribing these two groups. However, formed in 2015 Atomwaffen is a US neo-Nazi group that glorifies and advocates violence and through the use of terrorism and guerrilla warfare encourages the overthrow of the US government. Its website contains graphic videos of their activities, including the burning of the US constitution and flag, promoting a ‘race war’ and the group practicing military manoeuvres in a rural area. In 2017 Atomwaffen drew international attention when the group were linked to five murders and a bomb plot, including the murder of a 19 year old Jewish gay Californian student, Blaze Bernstein. At the time of writing, Samul Woodward, who is accused of murdering Bernstein, has pleaded not guilty and the trial is proceeding. At least this extreme far-right inspired crime has been recognised by US authorities as a hate crime and as such should Woodward be convicted of first degree murder it could potentially result in him facing life imprisonment without parole. Even though Atomwaffen pose a threat to state security, the US government has not banned the group as a domestic terrorist organisation. In March 2020 five leading Atomwaffen members were arrested and charged with a variety of federal offences, including threatening journalists and illegal possession of firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Despite all of the arrests and trials related to violent activity, the US government has still not banned Atomwaffen as a terrorist organisation. When you look at the US legal definition of domestic terrorism that includes activities that:
1. involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; or
2. appear to be intended—
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
3. occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States;

it is submitted that there appears to be no doubt that Atomwaffen’s activities meet this legal definition. However, an anomaly exists with the US compared to most states that ban organisations as terrorist groups, including those examined in this study, in that the US only ban foreign terrorist groups, not domestic groups. The legal criteria for designating groups as terrorist organisations is:
1. The organisation must be a foreign organisation; and
2. The organisation engages in terrorist activity or terrorism or retains the capability to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism; and
3. The terrorist activity or terrorism of the organisation threatens the security of US nationals or the national security of the US.

The process of designating groups as terrorist organisations is in consultation with the Attorney General and Secretary of State of the Treasury, the US Secretary of State can designate foreign entities that he determines have committed or pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism that threatens US nationals or national security, foreign policy or economy of the US. By not designating domestic groups as terrorist organisations, the US has created a paradox in that groups like Atomwaffen engages and certainly have the capability to engage in terrorist activity that threatens the security of US nationals. It might be the US government does not feel the need to designate domestic groups and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has its own internal definition of legal terrorism which is:

‘Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature’.

In addition to this definition guiding FBI investigations into ascertaining if an act is one of domestic terrorism, this will also be a sentencing factor used by the judiciary in sentencing those convicted of violent criminal acts that fits in with that definition in addition to that under the United States Code 18 Part 1 Chapter 113B section 2331(5). To determine if a case is one of domestic terrorism in the US it depends on the weaponry. In the case of Scott in 2015 where he attempted to use a weapon of mass destruction, far-right extremist Scott attempted to kill members of the Muslim community triggered a terrorist investigation. If the perpetrator uses a firearm it is not a case of domestic terrorism, it is prosecuted as homicide or a hate crime. An example of this is seen in the case of Dylann Storm Roof where in June 2015 Roof shot and killed nine African Americans attending a bible study group at the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina. At his trial the prosecution submitted evidence of Roof’s extreme far-right influence that included his website showing photographs of himself with guns, a Confederate flag and symbols of white supremacist movements, his participation on white supremacist platforms including the Daily Stormer and Stormfront and a manifesto he posted his reasons for the attack that included selecting it because of Charleston’s high ration of ‘blacks to whites’ to start a race war, clearly demonstrating this was an attack on a section fo the community, that is the US black community. Even though US politicians and the media referred to the shooting as a terrorist attack, the FBI did not see it as a political act and therefore not a terrorist act, but it was classed as a hate crime. A reason why the US does not designate domestic groups is similar that examined under hate crime, in that the federal government may not want to be seen as restricting the first amendment’s protection of freedom of expression and it on a case by case basis as to whether an act is one of domestic terrorism. While not considering designating any extreme far-right groups, during the race riots occurring in many US cities at the time of writing, accusing them of starting the riots in the street protests at the police killing of African American George Floyd, ironically President Trump is looking to designate the left-wing, anti-fascist group Antifa as a terrorist organization not any of the extreme far-right ones. Maybe President Trump should consider amending the Hate Crime legislation to include emotional or psychological harm and to amend the process of designating domestic groups as terrorist organisations, starting with the American Nazi Party, the KKK and Atomwaffe

My Article in Counter Terror Business Journal


Here is a link to my article that was published on the 21st January 2020 in the journal Counter Terror Business ‘Terrorists’ use of electronic communications’ that discusses terrorists’ use of electronic communications and legislation covering law enforcement agencies’ surveillance of terrorists’ electronic communications use and activity’-use-electronic-communications


Senior British Counter-Terrorism Officer Admits Policing Alone Cannot Beat Extremism: The Prevent Strategy

Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, Neil Basu, made some interesting points last night on terrorism and extremism. During the interview he disclosed a number of issues related to the UK’s Prevent strategy.

He sees Prevent as the most important ‘plank of Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy’, but admitted that so far it has struggled to be widely accepted due to being ‘badly handled’.
Basu would like to see more policies introduced that go towards greater social cohesion, more social mobility and more education. In his opinion, rather than simply using the police and security service apparatus, such policies are more likely to drive down violence.

Accepting that terrorists come from a variety of backgrounds, including middle class families who seemingly wanted for nothing, Basu added some people were more ‘malleable’ than others to terrorist recruitment. Factors behind this can include a person’s high anxiety to lack of confidence, lack of education and events they suffered including bullying, racism, bigotry and lack of opportunity.

Prevent was introduced in 2005 as a pre-criminal strategy to help those vulnerable to being drawn towards violent Islamist terrorism. In 2011 this changed when Prevent was re-drafted to help those exposed to all forms of extremism. As Basu recognised in his interview, extremist narratives that are attracting individuals is not just the Islamist narrative, it includes the far-right. He missed other examples. For example the extremist narrative of dissident Irish republicans and loyalists are also attractive to many, especially in the North of Ireland where the terrorist threat is severe due to dissident Irish republican terrorist groups’ activities. Section 1 Terrorism Act 2000 states that an act of terrorism can be carried out under any political, religious, ideological or racist cause. As such, any ideological cause that promotes or glorifies violence can be classed as extremist thought under Prevent. For example there can be environmentalist terrorists who carry out violence to promote their cause.

Basu was correct when he said Prevent was initially mishandled and, unfortunately, those mistakes have led to a mistrust of the strategy that has not gone away making Prevent a toxic brand in the eyes of many. I agree with Basu when he says Prevent needs better communication, more transparency and not have the ability to create a vacuum for people to attack it. He is right when he says Prevent needs re-marketing and in doing so I suggest the many positive experiences and results related to those who have been referred to the strategy be emphasised how successful Prevent has been to date in helping those who are vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorist activity. In addition, it is important in the application of Prevent that many initiatives in driving it forward to become more effective should be community led, with change coming from the bottom-up via community groups.

Basu did state he wanted ‘good academic, good sociologists, good criminologists’ to be telling people and officials exactly why many in our society are being drawn towards various extremist causes. He could start by attending the Prevent symposium being held by Leeds Law School at Leeds Beckett University on the 19th September 2019 titled ‘Prevent Strategy: Helping Vulnerable People Drawn Towards Terrorism or Another Layer of State Surveillance?’ where presentations will be given by a wide variety of academics and practitioners. One of the key aims of the symposium is to reduce the disparity between academia and practice in relation to application of Prevent. If you are interested in attending then you can register your interest with this link.

My terrorism book cover

You can read in more details issues related to Prevent in the chapter on the subject in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge

When Politicians Inflammatory Rhetoric Leads to Legitimising Extremist Ideology

On the 19th July 2019 the UK’s Home Secretary, Sajid Javid not only expressed concern, but condemned how extremist politicians’ xenophobic comments, including immigration, is fuelling racism. The son of parents who immigrated to the UK, Javid was born and raised in the northern English town of Rochdale, and he said that immigration has been used as a proxy for race where migrant figures are exaggerated to stoke fear. For Javid the extremist problem has spread from radicalisation by groups like Islamic State to the far-left and the far-right of politics.

Javid’s comments were made following a Republican Party rally in Greenville, US on the 17th July 2019 where following President Trump’s verbal attack on four Democrat Congresswomen, calling them ‘hate filled extremists’ because they have been highly critical of Trump’s presidency. In an earlier tweet he posted on his Twitter account and at the rally, Trump said the four women should go back to the country of their origin. The irony is that three of the women, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib were born in the US with Omar being the only one who was born outside the US in Somalia but who is a naturalised US citizen. As Trump was criticising the women at the rally his supporters aimed their vitriol at Omar, chanting repeatedly, ‘Send her back’.

Javid did say that he knows what it is like to be told to go back to where he came from, suggesting that those who made this comment did not mean his hometown of Rochdale! He added that everyone has a part to play from broadcasters in not giving a platform to extremists to public figures (including politicians) who must moderate their language.

As I have covered in many of my blog posts on the far-right, immigration and xenophobia is an issue that fuels the far-right’s ideology and political agenda. Such issues are not solely a problem for the UK and the US. On the 20th July 2019 the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, used the 75th anniversary of the failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler to call on citizens to counter rising right wing extremism. Her comments were made as a result of a rise in far-right activity in Germany. This is poignant as we know how the 1933-1945 Nazi regime in Germany led to the largest loss of life in modern history from both the military and civilian casualties, the holocaust and deaths in concentration camps. The far-right party, Alternative for Germany recently had relative electoral success in both national and EU parliament elections, resulting in the Party being the largest opposition party in Germany’s federal parliament. As I have commented in my previous blog posts on the far-right, the increase in right wing populist politics has created an environment providing a form of legitimacy in the far-right being more open in expressing their views and ideology.

Such views have inspired far-right violence in Germany, including the assassination of a CDU politician, Walter Lubcke, that happened on the terrace of his home in Isthain, June 2019 because of his liberal views on immigration. The mayors of Cologne and Altena have received death threats because of their liberal approach to asylum policy. This is in addition to other violent acts carried out by German far-right groups or people inspired by their cause. A far-right group gathering momentum in Germany is Der Dritte Weg (The Third Path). Formed in 2013 by former members of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany, the group held a march in May 2019 in Plauen, Saxony on the eve of the Jewish remembrance of the Holocaust. Marching with flags, torches and drums and banners saying, ‘Social justice instead of criminal foreigners’, it was reminiscent of Nazi parades in Germany in the 1930’s.

It’s not only Germany on mainland Europe that have issues regarding the far-right.  Along with neo-Nazi propaganda, on the 15th July 2019 Italian anti-terrorism police seized an air-to-air missile and other sophisticated weapons during raids on far-right groups. These raids were part of an investigation into Italian far-right involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. While the Italian police did not ascertain which side the Italians were fighting with, one logical assumption is it highly likely to be with the Azov Battalion. An attachment of Ukraine’s National Guard, the Azov Battalion is a volunteer force that attracts and recruits foreign fighters globally.

The Azov Battalion has links with the far-right and has Nazi-related insignia on their uniform, in particular the Wolfsangel badge. This badge was worn on the uniforms of the German SS Divisions ‘Third Reich’ and ‘Landstorm Nederland’ who were fighting on the eastern front against the Soviet Union’s Red Army in World War Two. Just like Islamic State recruited foreign fighters from around the world, so has the Azov Battalion where many of their recruits have come from the US, Spain, Italy, Germany, Poland and the UK. Since 2015 in the UK recruiters for the Azov Battalion have been actively recruiting those who have associations with the now proscribed groups like National Action and other far-right groups. While there was a justifiable concern in relation to state security about North American and European citizens going to Syria to join Islamic State as foreign fighters, there has been no mention of far-right influenced citizens joining the Azov Battalion, but this might be due to the fact the numbers who do so are much smaller than those who joined Islamic State.

What is this telling us?

  1. There is an increase in the impact the rhetoric of right wing populist parties and politician has in influencing peoples’ perceptions on various issues;
  2. From this, it is submitted it has led to a correlative increase in people influenced by the far-right ideology, as seen with the various groups formed or who have grown in the last few years;
  3. This has led to an increase in far-right fuelled violence in liberal democracies ranging from the assassination of politicians, violence towards others who are seen as deviant and or different as seen in racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic attacks on people or damage to property, to attracting individuals to fight wars with far-right brigades in foreign wars.

To conclude, in essence, in relation to any form of extremism be it Islamist, nationalist like dissident Irish republicanism, or far-right, as the saying goes, ‘from small acorns do large oak trees grow’. Returning to Javid’s comments, public figures, including politicians, should think before they voice what can be perceived as inflammatory language as far-right will seize on this to legitimise their activity. As witnessed at the Greenville rally, while it may not have been President Trump’s intention, his inflammatory tweet and rhetoric at the rally legitimises extremist thinking in the minds of many individuals. This can lead to the uncomfortable scenario of racist chants or shouts that in turn can lead to the commission of hate crime, that in turn can lead to violent acts carried out against those who are simply different or who have a different viewpoint to the ideology of those carrying out violent acts on behalf of any extremist cause. This is not an exaggeration as the facts are there, like those I have covered in previous blog posts and in this post. The bottom line is irresponsible rhetoric by influential persons where the content of that rhetoric is an exaggerated or distorted version of what actually is can lead to any form of extremist inspired violence, not just the far-right.

My terrorism book cover

You can read in more detail similar issues covered here in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledg

‘Jihadi’ Jack Letts Parents’ Conviction for Funding Terrorism: Just or Unfair?

Following a lengthy trial in the UK, on the 21st June 2019 John Letts and Sally Lane were convicted for the terrorism funding offence of making funding arrangements (section 17 Terrorism Act 2000). This conviction received widespread media coverage in the UK. The main reason for this is both are parents of a 23 year old male, Jack Letts, who went to Syria to join the terrorist organisation, Islamic State (IS). Both received a 15 months custodial sentence, suspended for 2 years. The couple were tried on three counts of making funding arrangements, but were only convicted on one count, with the jury finding them not guilty on the second count and unable to reach a verdict on the third count. The value of the count they were convicted for was £223. As stated, the case received widespread UK media coverage and I gave a number of interviews to provide expert commentary to the BBC and independent broadcasters. One may wonder why this case received such media attention. This blog post will address this and assess both the offence of making funding arrangements and the sentencing guidelines provided to the judicary for offences related to terrorism funding.

John Letts and Sally Lane are a typical decent middle class couple who have lived what many would perceive as a normal life. Both work, had a family and have been a law abiding couple having no previous convictions. Their son, Jack Letts, converted to Islam when he was 16 years old and when he was 17 years old he went to study in the Middle East, which his parents funded. Shortly after Jack’s arrival in the Middle East his parents did not hear from him and evidence emerged that he was associating with IS extremists, something that Jack Letts confirmed to his parents when he told them he had joined other IS recruits in Raqqa, the capital of IS’ self-proclaimed caliphate. In essence these events became newsworthy because Jack Letts came from a white middle class family, converted to Islam at a young age, albeit with his parents’ support, and decided to join IS, a group that is known to be an extremist Islamist group with a vile, warped and violent ideology, hence why some of the printed media dubbed Letts as ‘Jihadi Jack’.

IS have not solely killed Christians, citizens from western states and homosexuals, IS have killed more Muslims that any other terrorist group and had a pogrom against Yazidis (whose religion is a cross between Christianity and Islam) who IS saw as devil worshippers. In one interview I gave for the BBC, I was part of discussion with a close friend of Letts and Lane during which he claimed there was no evidence of Jack Letts fighting with IS and that due to Assad’s regime in Syria bombing Aleppo, he joined IS for humanitarian reasons. Knowing what we do about IS, I suggest there is a degree of naivety regarding this claim. As I said in my interviews on this point, if Jack Letts wanted to carry out humanitarian work he should have joined the official groups. This had its danger as we saw with Alan Henning from the UK who was with official aid agencies when he was captured by IS and later beheaded by IS’ Emwazi (also from the UK and nicknamed ‘Jihadi John’).

Regarding the facts in Letts and Lane’s trial a great deal of sympathy has been shown for the couple.  I think this is reflected in the verdicts the jury delivered and the sentence passed by the judge at their trial. I know being a parent myself, regardless of their age, they are still your children and as parents you still support and help them.

The offence they were tried for is funding arrangements under section 17 Terrorism Act 2000 that states it is an offence to:

‘…enter into or become concerned in the arrangement as a result of which money or other property is made available to another or he knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that it will or may be used for the purposes of terrorism’.

The offence is a serious one carrying a maximum of 14 years imprisonment.

As stated, the jury found Letts and Lane not guilty of section 17 in relation to attempting to send £1,000 to Jack Letts in December 2015 and unable to return a verdict regarding the attempt by Lane to send £500 to him in January 2016. The couple were sending Jack Letts money under the belief that it may help him survive, even escape from Raqqa and IS. Jack Letts told his parents that any money they sent him would not go on ‘jihad’, advising them if they sent the money to come up with a cover story. In September 2015 the couple did send £223 to Jack Letts’ contact in London.

Although they received conflicting messages from Jack Letts, some regarding the West dying in IS rage for its actions, other messages pleaded for help as he stated he was doubting IS’ ideology and beliefs and that he wanted to return home to the UK. In informing the police of this, the police, two independent experts, an academic specialising in this area and a professional de-radicaliser advised Letts and Lane not to send any money to Jack Letts. This may due to IS not allowing its members to own personal property and any money received by its members, IS would not allow them to keep, seeing it as property of IS. Ignoring this advice they tried to do so.  Although one junior liaison police officer did suggest they send Jack money if it would help his escape, this was ill advised advice and a mistake.

Taking all the facts together, it appears the jury did find sufficient evidence to show beyond reasonable doubt that Letts and Lane were guilty of the first count regarding the sending the £223, but not the other counts. In passing sentence, the trial judge did say of Letts and Lane that they were, ‘…two perfectly decent people … in custody because of the love of their child’. This leads to the sentencing guidelines for financing terrorism trial judges have to follow. In March 2018 new sentencing guidelines on terrorism offences were published by the Sentencing Council, where the Council Chairman said that terrorist offences are among the most serious that come before the courts, adding:
‘As well as the threat to people’s lives, terrorist activity threatens the way society operates.’

The guidelines have a number of steps a trial judge must consider before reaching their decision. These includes assessing the culpability and harm associated with the facts of the case. It appears in Letts and Lane’s case, under culpability they performed a limited function under direction and under harm, the couple’s actions would only make a minor contribution for furthering terrorism. Another step judges take is assessing the aggravating and mitigating factors. Examining the aggravating factors related to Letts and Lane the only factor pertinent is their failure to respond to warnings. In mitigation, clearly the couple’s previous good character and not having previous convictions allowed the trial judge to pass a suspended sentence.

In conclusion, both Letts and Lane appear to have received sympathy for their plight by both the jury and the trial judge, as well as wider society. However, while some may see even the convictions as harsh, from the facts of the case Letts and Lane received advice from experts and practitioners not to send money to Jack Letts. Although the amount is small that led to the conviction, an acquittal would send a precedence for others not so ‘innocent’ to use in order to evade conviction for a serious offence. The circumstances Letts and Lane faced are difficult for any parent, but taking an objective view, as this case shows, sometimes tough love is needed.

My terrorism book cover

In relation to IS and the UK offences under funding terrorism, you can find more detail in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’

My Book ‘Terrorism and State Surveillance of Communications’

My book with Simon

My book ‘Terrorism and State Surveillance of Communications’ co-written with Simon Hale-Ross has been published this week and is available for purchase. It contains chapters from practitioners, academics with practitioner experience and academics who research and write in this area. Click on the link for more details.


Derry Disorder, Irish Republican Terrorism, Lyra McKee murder: The UK’s Forgotten Terrorist Activity?

In the evening of Thursday 18th April 2019 disorder broke out in the Creggan area of Derry. While the PSNI were carrying our searches for weapons and explosives trouble broke out with vehicles being set alight and petrol bombs thrown at PSNI vehicles and officers. During this disorder a New IRA gunman came around a corner and fired shots indiscriminately towards the PSNI, tragically killing the journalist Lyra McKee who was reporting in the incident.

This tragic event follows closely behind two separate pipe bomb attacks on the 17th April 2019. One was in in Armagh where two devices exploded, the second in the small village of Rasharkin, Antrim where a pipe bomb was thrown into the window of a home in the village with a second left on the home’s windowsill. Also on the 17th April a 49 year old male was arrested in Strabane, Tyrone by the PSNI for terrorism related offences linked to the INLA and suspicion of blackmail and being concerned in the supply of controlled drugs.

The killing of Lyra McKee is being reported as a top news story by the British media, but regarding the other incidents the British media were relatively silent. This raises the question if terrorist activity, in particular activity by dissident republicans in the six northern counties of Ireland that is part of the UK has become the forgotten UK terrorist activity in the island of Britain? Understandably the main terrorist threat facing the whole of the UK emanates from Islamist inspired activity, followed by activity by the extreme far-right (mainly in Britain). It is predominantly Islamist inspired activity that resulted in the UK terrorist threat level being at severe (an attack is highly likely) from the international terrorist threat. In the North of Ireland the terrorist threat level is also severe and that includes from ‘Northern Ireland related terrorism’, where for Britain this particular threat is moderate (an attack is possible but not likely). How long will it be before the threat to the whole of the UK the threat of North of Ireland terrorism is severe?

In March 2019 letter bombs were received in various London locations, where it is suspected a person linked to or on behalf of the New IRA were responsible. As I have stated in my previous blog posts covering the terrorist activity in the North of Ireland, dissident Irish republican groups be it the New IRA, the INLA or Continuity IRA are desirous of carrying out attacks in Britain. While these groups’ logistical capability to do so my be limited at the moment, especially in relation to sympathisers providing logistical support in Britain, there are members of dissident republican groups who from the 1968-1998 Troubles have vast experience in bomb making and firearms use, as well as operating in Britain. Since reporting in my blog posts on the rise of dissident Irish republican group activity over the last few years, I predicted there would be a rise in republican based terrorism and violence in the North and there is an increasing possibility these activities will cross the Irish Sea to Britain.

The reason behind the increase in dissident republican activity includes the exploitation of the inactivity in the Assembly in Stormont that is currently suspended due to the impasse between the DUP and Sinn Fein. Another reason is in relation to Brexit where republican groups and their political wings like the New IRA’s Saoradh are exploiting the potential problems a hard border between the North and the Irish Republic would pose. As I have stated in previous blog posts on this subject, Saoradh and the New IRA in particular are using this to fuel discontent among the Catholic, nationalist community with calls for the 32 counties to be reunited and come under the governance of the Dail in Dublin. In turn, there is no way would loyalist groups like the UDA, UVF and UFF and political parties like the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the DUP would ever contemplate that happening. One result would be an increase in loyalist violence.

At the time of writing it is Easter weekend and there will be a number of parades and commemorations regarding the 1916 Easter Rising. Already in certain locations in the North parades have been planned without the permission of the PSNI. This is a legal requirement and in virtually most cases those submitting their parade plans will be granted authority by the PSNI to do so. Groups like Saoradh have not carried out this legal requirement and I suspect this is to fuel further discontent and violence as the PSNI will attempt to prevent illegal parades taking place. Marching is a sensitive issue in the North of Ireland, which we have seen during the marching season in July.

While quite rightly Northern Irish politicians have condemned the killing of Lyra McKee and the violence in Derry last night, I would like to see the DUP and Sinn Fein do more that pass commentary and take positive action. This includes putting aside their differences and rather than be self-serving, they work with the other political parties for the benefit of all in the North. Reading the DUP and Sinn Fein response to the murder of Lyra McKee, I feel it is easy to give platitudes, but I would rather like to see positive action coming from the two largest parties in the North to work together with the other parties to diffuse the tensions and discontent that exists in certain areas.

On the 2nd May local elections are being held in the North and now is the time of the North of Ireland electorate to send a positive message to the DUP and Sinn Fein and shun their traditional political allegiances and cast their vote for the SDLP, Alliance and UUP parties. It will not stop the violence overnight, but it would be a start by the people to tell the DUP and Sinn Fein that they are fed up with inactivity and want political action. Another action the people can take is holding demonstrations like they did in Omagh when the PSNI officer Ronan Kerr was murdered and have a ‘Not in My Name’ protest.

My terrorism book cover

You can read issues related to this post in my book ‘Terrorism: Law & Policy’ published by Routledge

Update: Just as I published this post Saoradh issued a statement justifying the actions of the New IRA gunman where the statement contains the rhetoric of PIRA/Sinn Fein during the Troubles. There can be no justification for this senseless murder.

Update 20th April 2019 – there will be ‘not in our name’ demosntratiosn in Strabane and Derry today around 12 noon. Let’s hope politicians take note of the strength of feeling over the murder of Lyra McKee and the disorder in the Creggan and start working together.

Christchurch Terrorist Attack

All forms of violence are tragic and awful. The threat of extreme far-right and far-right influenced terrorism revealed the devastation it causes was witnessed in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday 15th March 2019 where, to date 49 people have been killed in an attack by a gunman influenced by the extreme far-right. The man’s target was Muslims worshipping at two Christchurch mosques where he indiscriminately shot and killed men, women and children.

While all terrorist attacks come as a shock when they happen, this is not the first time we have witnessed the use of small arms or the targeting of those attending a place of worship. Bissonnette, who was influenced by far-right ideology, was convicted in early 2019 for the murder of six Muslims he shot while attending a mosque in Quebec, Canada in 2017. Darren Osbourne was convicted of murder and attempt murder after killing a Muslim and seriously injuring other Muslims attending Finsbury Park Mosque, London after driving a van into worshippers leaving the mosque in June 2017. White supremacist, Dylann Roof, was convicted of murdering nine black worshippers at a church in Carolina, US, when he entered the church and shot them.

I have posted numerous blogs on my website regarding the rise of extreme far-right and far-right inspired violence over the last 18 months. I see two distinct groups here with the extreme far-right, who espouse the national socialist ideology and are neo-Nazis, and the far-right who are generally anti-Islam, anti-immigration and anti-EU (European groups). The violence has ranged from hate crime to, as seen in the UK in June 2016, the killing of a politician, the MP Jo Cox by Thomas Mair who was inspired by neo-Nazi ideology. My work in this area has shown how the rise in populist right wing politics has resulted in the extreme far-right and far-right feeling more comfortable in espousing their message and cause. Also, while one tends to think of the right being nationalist, a degree of internationalisation has occurred where, mainly through current forms of electronic communication, from social media to website support for and encouragement of extreme far-right and far-right activity between similar thinking citizens in various states.. As I have said on many occasions, do not underestimate the threat of the extreme far-right and the far-right.

My studies revealed a high degree of variance in hate crime and terrorist activity related to the right. The UK is currently the only western state to proscribe extreme far-right groups as terrorist organisations (National Action in December 2016, Scottish Dawn and NS131 in September 2017) and has a statutory definition of hate crime related to race, religion, nationality and sexuality. Canada has a similar statutory provision as the UK regarding hate crime, but the Australian legislation is weak and US is virtually non-existent, with the definition of hate crime being non-statutory and provided by the FBI. One reason for this is politicians do not want to be seen to impinge on freedom of expression. This may also explain with no other state has followed the UK in proscribing certain groups as terrorist organisations. As a result, extreme far-right and far-right groups are open in publicising their cause via various media. For example in the US neo-Nazi groups, although monitored by the likes of the FBI, are actively open. One US group, Atomwaffen, their social media and website contains videos of their members burning the US flag and constitution, training with automatic assault rifles and calling for a race war. Due their glorification and promotion of violence to their cause if they were based in the UK they would be proscribed as a terrorist group.

Maybe, just maybe, this tragic and truly awful attack in Christchurch will have states tightening or introducing hate crime legislation and following the UK by proscribing extreme far-right groups as terrorist organisation to deal with the internationalisation of the right, just as they have rightly done so with Islamist groups.

My terrorism book cover

Your can read more on this area in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’, published by Routledge in 201

London Letter Bombs: Are we seeing dissident Irish Republican attacks return to Britain?

On Tuesday 5th March 2019 three packages containing explosives were found at Heathrow Airport, City of London Airport and Waterloo Rail Station. The package that was delivered to Heathrow was opened and caught fire, while the other two were unopened and seized by the police. These IED’s were small and placed in a Jiffy bag and posted in a white A4 envelope. To date no one has claimed responsibility for this action.
At the time of writing the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism unit, SO15, were being assisted by the Irish police, An Garda Siochana in the investigation. This is not confirmation dissident republican groups like the New IRA (NIRA) were responsible, but there is a possibility of a connection. As all investigators should do, SO15 are keeping an open mind as to who is responsible for sending the letters. It could be from any extremist group or individuals influenced by an extremist group including Islamists or the far-right, to an individual with no connection whatsoever who simply has a grudge against the recipients.

Since the delivery of the letters developments are increasingly leaning to NIRA as being responsible. Over the last few years NIRA (and its predecessor Real IRA) have been the most active group carrying out violent attacks in the North of Ireland. Their violent activity has increased over the last few years as seen with the car bomb outside Bishop Street courthouse in January 2019 and the shootings in 2018 and 2019. Gardaí intelligence has indicated that for several months NIRA is preparing to ‘ramp up’ its activities in 2019.

Supported by NIRA’s political wing, Saoradh, they have used the Irish border issue in the Brexit negotiations to recruit disillusioned members of the nationalist community in the North to their cause. Emphasising how a hard border demonstrates a degree of contempt by the UK government in Westminster towards the Irish, NIRA recently warned ‘there will be blood’ if a hard border returns between the North and the Republic. The British mainstream media has hardly reported the recent violence in the North by both dissident republicans and loyalists. As seen in the Troubles, a campaign of violence carried out in Britain does bring closer attention to dissident republican’s cause by both national and international mainstream media. I was part of that having given interviews providing commentary over the letter bombs to BBC Breakfast (television) and BBC Radio 5 Live and talkRADIO discussing the potential Irish connection to this incident.

These particular letter explosives were designed to start a small fire, not to cause serious injury, but they have been enough for SO15 to be concerned about the incident. It appears the aim of these letters was to frighten and warn people that they are not safe. It has achieved that, especially with the mainstream media reporting the incident. As I said in my media interviews it has got us talking about it and that is what the sender of the letters wants. This is part of the terror effect, to frighten and warn people.

As stated, currently it is not known who is responsible and there is the possibility this action was carried out by a person with strong opinions about the recipients of the letters, even as to how Brexit negotiations are panning out who have no connections with terrorist groups. However, reports are increasingly pointing towards NIRA and if this is the case it will emphasise how the whole of the UK is facing a terrorist threat on three fronts, Islamists (that is likely to be enhanced with Islamic State fighters returning to the UK from Syria), the extreme far-right (neo-Nazi’s) and from dissident Irish republican groups. It is of paramount importance the UK, Irish and EU Brexit negotiators find a solution regarding the Irish border issue to maintain the free flow of all Irish citizens between the North and the Republic, thereby removing a political issue that is fuelling dissident Irish republican groups’ cause.

My terrorism book cover

You can read in more detail about terrorism in the North of Ireland in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge