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?
- There is an increase in the impact the rhetoric of right wing populist parties and politician has in influencing peoples’ perceptions on various issues;
- 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;
- 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.
You can read in more detail similar issues covered here in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ published by Routledge.