Cruz, Florida Shooting and the Far Right: How long before gun control and white supremacist groups are controlled?

Nikolas cuz

Nikola Cruz, a 19 year old, has been charged with the murder of 17 people who it is alleged Cruz shot at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
This incident raises two important issues. One relates to US gun control as once more we have witnessed another massacre of innocent people, which from the view of this UK citizen it is incomprehensible as to why the US has not introduced legislation bringing in stricter and tighter conditions over gun ownership and its use. Clearly the influence of the US’ National Rifle Association must be strong on many US politicians, who from my perspective appear to see votes more important than their constituents’ lives. A reliance on the second amendment of the 1791 Bill of Rights that states, ‘A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed’ in 2018 seems a rather outdated constitutional right. Written at a time when the US did not have a standing army, as the US now has one of the world’s most powerful military this right seems to be obsolete. This is not the main focus of this blog, it is a second issue that this murder raises regarding Cruz’s alleged association with the far right, in particular the group Republic of Florida (RoF). If proved it demonstrates how influential these groups are in inspiring individuals to carry out acts of murder and violence in their name be they direct to by that group or not.

republic of florida flag

A white supremacist group, RoF has claimed that Cruz was associated with them. This is an allegation that is currently being investigated and has yet to be confirmed. That said over the last few years globally there has been a rise in murder and violent acts carried by individuals influenced by the far right narrative. This has included the killing of six people at a mosque in Quebec, Canada in January 2017 by Alexandre Bissonnette. In the UK examples include the conviction of a member of the now proscribed group National Action, Zak Davies for attempt murder, Thomas Mair for the murder of UK MP Jo Cox and more recently Darren Osborne for the murder and injury to Muslim worshippers outside a mosque in Finsbury Park, London. In 2017 the US witnessed the killing of Heather Heyer who was protesting against a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where it is alleged that James Field (who allegedly has Nazi sympathies) drove into the protestors killing Heather Heyer and injuring 35 others.

us bill of rights

The question is if other states should follow the UK’s lead and start proscribing certain far right groups as terrorist organisations? In raising this question concerns will be expressed as to how this would be seen as a step limiting certain rights. In Europe these are mainly governed by articles 11, freedom of expression and article 12, freedom of association under the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (articles 10 and 11 respectively under the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights). In the US these rights come under amendment 1 of the 1791 Bill of Rights. In a democracy it is important that views can be expressed freely and to associate with whoever we want to without fear of retribution from the state. As Sedley LJ said in the UK case Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions [1999] EWHC Admin 733:
‘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.’
The phrase that is important in this judgement is, ‘…provided it does not tend to provoke violence’. Note this is not to promote violence, just merely to provoke violence, that is merely to inspire someone to carry out violence.

antipodean resistance
It can be argued that the RoF (formed in 2014) promotes violence. Under the RoF’s ten codes, code 3 promotes a willingness to ‘wage battle’ by encouraging its followers to maintain a level of fitness saying, ‘You cannot fight if you are tired and weak’. Code 7 promotes its followers to be part of an organised militia. RoF has contact and associations with other white supremacist groups including Atomwaffen. Atomwaffen openly describes itself as a neo-Nazi group and as seen on their website the group provokes violence in achieving their aims. In Canada a recent study revealed that there are approximately 100 extreme far right groups active in Canada including Soldiers of Odin, the Alt-Right Group Heritage Front, Blood and Honour and based in Quebec, La Meute (translated as ‘Wolf Pack’), who between 1985 to 2014 were responsible for more than 120 violent incidents. In Australia a number of far right groups exist including Aryan Nation, Combat 18, National Democratic Party for Australia, Soldiers of Odin and United Patriots Front. Formed in late 2016 one of the more recent extreme far right groups to emerge in Australia is Antipodean Resistance. Antipodean Resistance is also openly a neo-Nazi group that appears to have based itself on the UK group National Action. The language and imagery used between Antipodean Resistance, National Action and groups like Atomwaffen are identical.
Earlier this week the UK’s Home Secretary, Amber Rudd revealed that she is encouraging internet service providers to use software that blocks Islamist extremist content. While the Islamist narrative is equally as vile as that of the far right, perhaps globally politicians should look at encouraging companies to use software that also blocks far right extremist content. Maybe other states should go further and proscribe those far right groups that are openly provoking violence. In doing so, this would give the police much wider powers and offences in which to deal effectively with the threat far right groups are posing to the security of citizens in many states. If it is later evidenced that Cruz had connections with RoF surely this is also evidence that certain far right groups should be prevented from carrying out their activities that is attractive to the disenchanted in society and, those like Cruz, vulnerable to being drawn towards violent activity. Rightly, if these were Islamist inspired groups, there would be more vociferous calls from politicians and the public for something to be done. It should be the same for far right groups that promote or merely provoke violence too.

My terrorism book cover

I discuss many of these issues in my forthcoming book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that is being published by Routledge in March 2018.

Should Persons Possessing Items Like the Anarchist’s Cookbook be Prosecuted in a Criminal Court?

Joshua walker

On his return to the UK after fighting with Kurdish forces against Islamic State, Joshua Walker was detained at Gatwick Airport and after being found to be in possession of the Anarchist’s Cookbook Walker was prosecuted for section 58 Terrorism Act 2000, even though a person can purchase the item form Amazon. On Thursday 26th October 2017 the jury at Birmingham Crown Court took three hours to deliberate on their verdict, where they found Walker to be not guilty of the offence. Section 58 has raised a degree of controversy.

anarchists cookbook

 
Section 58 Terrorism Act 2000 provides investigators with a wide power. It is wide because a person merely has to collect or make a record of information that is likely to be useful to a person involved in terrorist activity. What has to be ascertained is the type of article section 58 is referring to. The question is if it includes what would be considered innocuous items such as a train timetable or a map of a city centre with certain locations highlighted or items downloaded from the internet for personal interest. It is worth noting that under section 58 investigators do not require reasonable suspicion the article is for a purpose connected to terrorist activity. In effect, under section 58 the burden of proof is not placed on the prosecution but on potential defendants who have to prove they had a reasonable excuse for their possession of the article.
As a result there have been a number of legal challenges as to what amounts to an article for the purposes of section 58. In R v K (2008) the Court of Appeal held that section 58 was never intended to criminalise the possession of theological or propagandist material adding that:
‘A document or record will only fall within section 58 if it is of the kind that is likely to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. A document that simply encourages the commission of acts of terrorism does not fall within section 58’.
In R v G, R v J (2009) the House of Lords examined section 58 and, building on the K judgement, the House held that for a conviction under section 58 it is a requirement that the defendant not only possessed the document that may be of use to a terrorist, but they must also be aware of the nature of the information contained therein. The House stressed that this did not mean the prosecution had to show that the defendant knew all the details contained in the document, only that the defendant knew of the nature of the material it contained. The Court held for a person to be convicted under section 58 the prosecution must prove the defendant:
1. Had control of the record which contained information that was likely to provide practical assistance to a terrorist;
2. Knew that he had the record; and
3. Knew the kind of information which it contained.

J challenged this decision and the case went to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) where the case was Jobe v UK (2011) J claimed that section 58 violated article 7 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) where there can be no punishment without law. The premise of J’s claim was that section 58 was so vague it was not law and if the court agreed with this argument, his article 10 ECHR rights (freedom of expression) was also violated because section 58 would not be deemed to be an act prescribed by law. The ECtHR held there was no violation of article 7 and stated the House of Lords decision was fully and clearly reasoned. Key to the ECtHR reaching this decision was the guidance the House of Lords gave in their decision regarding the three points cited above that have to be proved for a conviction under section 58 to stand. Likewise the ECtHR found there to be no violation of article 10 saying it was justified under the legitimate aims of the interests of national security and that it did not criminalise in a blanket manner the collection or possession of material likely to be useful to a terrorist.

radio scotland logo

I cover this and other statutory preventative measures in the UK, US, Australia and Canada in my forthcoming book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that will be published by Routledge in March 2018. For a more in-depth analysis of Walker’s case you can listen to my interview with BBC Radio Scotland from Friday 27th October 2017 that is 55 minutes 28 seconds in.