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security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed’ in 2018 seems a rather outdated constitutional right.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.

David Anderson QC Report into Manchester Bombing and other Terrorist Incidents 2017: What have we learnt?

david anderson 1

On Tuesday 5th December the UK’s Home Secretary, Amber Rudd gave details from the report into the terrorist incidents the UK have suffered in 2017 conducted by the UK’s former independent reviewer for terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC. The report examined if the UK’s Security Service (MI5) and counter-terrorism police could have done more to prevent the attacks from happening and if any blame could laid at their door.
In essence David Anderson found no great culpability on the actions by either MI5 or the police. He did find the following:

westminster atatck 1

Khalid Masood (Westminster Bridge attack March 2017) – he was an MI5 subject of interest between Feb to Oct 2012and between 2012 – 2016 he was linked intermittently to Al Muhajiroun (a Salafist jihadist group linked to international terrorism that is proscribed in the UK). There was no intelligence indicating that he was planning an attack;

manchester arena attackabedi

Salmen Abedi (Manchester Arena bombing May 2017) – he had a criminal record limited to theft related offences. He became a subject of interest for one day in Oct 2015 due to contacts he had with an Islamic state figure in Libya. In May Abedi was identified a person who needed further consideration with a meeting to consider him planned for the 3st May, nine days after the bombing. When Abedi returned to the UK from a trip to Libya on the 18th May he had not been flagged so no port stop under Schedule 7 Terrorism Act 2000 was carried out on his return. This is led to David Anderson saying that with hindsight the intelligence MI5 had on Abedi could, ‘…have been highly relevant to the planned attack’ but at the time it was received the intelligence was not fully appreciated by MI5 with David Anderson adding that if the ‘cards had fallen differently’ the attack could have been avoided;

BRITAIN-ATTACKSKhareem Butt

Khuram Butt (London Bridge and Borough Market attack, June 2017) – he was known and was a principal subject in an MI5 investigation, Operation Hawthorn. He was known to be active in recruiting people to Islamic State (IS) and planning trips to IS’ self-proclaimed caliphate that existed in Syria. In mid-2015 intelligence was received that Butt aspired to carry out an attack in the UK but following risk assessments carried out, by Sept 2015 Butt was considered to have a strong intent but a weak capability to carry out the attack;

Finsbury Park attackDarren-Osborne4

Darren Osbourne (Finsbury Park attack July 2017) – there was no intelligence held by either MI5 or the police that he was going to commit the attack.

Could more have been done?

Certainly in relation Abedi, if there were a handful of investigations ongoing in the UK then maybe there could be a greater degree of culpability on the part of MI5 and the police but this is not the case, something that David Anderson recognised. Currently in the UK there are approximately 500 ongoing investigations into 3,000 individuals, with 20,000 individuals in the intelligence system graded of serious concern. This is not counting individuals who are on a system but who have been assessed as a low threat. These figures alone reveal the enormity of the task facing the UK’s security services and police in preventing terrorist attacks from happening. As there is only limited resources in both staffing levels and equipment priority has to be given to what the analysis of the vast intelligence/information received that reveals where the greatest risk lies.
Following the 2005 London attack the key lesson learned was that intelligence must be shared between the security services and the police and the UK has developed a model of intelligence analysis with the introduction of bodies like the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) where the intelligence is forwarded onto the relevant agency with the greatest capability for dealing with specific issues. It is model that has served the UK well in recent years as between 2005 and 2017 the only other main attack we witnessed was the killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013 and is model other states have wanted to emulate.
Of course some will say why has the UK sustained five major attacks (the attack in Parsons Green in September 2017 does not appear to have been part of the remit in David Anderson’s investigation)? The Manchester bombing was the most sophisticated attack that involved more individuals that just Abedi. One could arguably say the same for Parsons Green in relation to the bomb that fortunately failed to detonate fully on the Tube train, but lack of knowledge and inexperience existed in that attack. The other three were low level attacks carried out by driving vehicles into people and stabbing victims with knives. These are relatively easy to prepare and carry out, something we have tragically witnessed in other European states. Since March 2017 the UK’s security services and police have prevented nine attacks from taking place, twenty-two since the killing of Lee Rigby. At the time Amber Rudd was informing the UK Parliament on the findings in the Anderson report news also broke related to terrorism arrests. Two men, Rahman from London and Imran from Birmingham were appearing in court on the 6th Dec for allegedly plotting to kill the UK Prime Minister, both men were arrested on the 29th November 2017. Rashid from Lancashire (northwest England) who was arrested on the 22nd November 2017 was charged with offences of preparing acts of terrorism, will be appearing at Westminster Magistrates Court in London today.
Preventing terrorist attacks is a difficult task, but in the current climate it is virtually impossible to prevent all attacks from occurring. One should focus on what the UK security services and the police have achieved. Lessons will be learnt and it maybe that intelligence form other police sources could be shared such as neighbourhood officers who may have that vital piece of intelligence on individuals who may have been downgraded as a low priority that would make those countering terrorism look at them again.

I discuss this in more details in my interview with BBC Radio Wales (1 hour 10 minutes 33 seconds in) and on BBC North West Tonight (TV)