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

Introduction

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 et.al 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

When Politicians Inflammatory Rhetoric Leads to Legitimising Extremist Ideology

Javid

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.

afd 1adolf hitler

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.

italian far-right missileItalian far right weapons

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.

azov battalion 1wolfsangel badge

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

Christchurch Terrorist Attack

Christchurch attack1Christchurch 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.

METROGRAB:Suspected  Finsbury Park attacker is detained by police and members of the public
Photo credit: Nawaf Atiq/ Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/nawaf.atiq

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.

Jayda Fransen court case
Deputy leader of the far-right group, Jayda Fransen (centre) and its leader Paul Golding (left), leave Belfast Magistrates’ Court, after she was released on bail after appearing at the court charged over comments about Islam made in a social media posting. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday December 15, 2017. Fransen, 31, has been charged with threatening behaviour over remarks made earlier this week beside a peace wall dividing Catholics from Protestants in the city. See PA story ULSTER Hate. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

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.

National Action 2Atomwaffen

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

Does Extreme Far-Right Terrorism Really Pose a Threat to national Security? Evidence, Freedom of Expression and Differentiating between the Extreme Far-Right and the Far-Right

 

Thomas in Klan uniform

On the 12th November 2018 a number of individuals were convicted in the UK for terrorism offences linked to extreme far-right terrorism. Adam Thomas, Claudia Patatas and Daniel Bogunavic were convicted for being members of a proscribed organisation, namely National Acton, with Thomas also convicted for being in possession of articles useful to terrorists (Anarchist Cookbook). A British Army soldier, Lance Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen was also convicted for being a member of National Action. Thomas and Patatas named their baby boy Adolf after Adolf Hitler and Thomas was photographed wearing Ku Klux Klan clothing while cradling the child. Vehvilainen was an army trainer who tried to recruit soldiers to National Action. When the police searched his army accommodation they found swastika flags, Nazi memorabilia, CD’s of Third Reich music and stockpiles of guns, knives and other weapons. Apart from the stockpile of weapons, in themselves the other items do not pose a threat as they are not per se items that encourages a person fascinated by the extreme far-right national socialist ideology to commit violence. When added to other more incriminating evidence, it can help to prove a person’s mens rea when linked to extreme far-right terrorism.

shelagh fogerty

On the 13th November 2018 I was interviewed by Shelagh Fogerty on the radio channel LBC on the threat the extreme far-right pose to national security. I posted on Twitter that I was looking forward to having the discussion with Shelagh and some of the replies were interesting. One said comparing:

‘…an idiot with a child called Adolph and who wears Klan clothes to Islamist terrorism and religious race hate child abuse is absurd’.

Another saw raising the threat of extreme far-right pose as a ‘false equivalence’ to Islamist terrorism that he saw as a permanent fixture in Britain and is, ‘…likely to get worse’. I think in both the comments posted to Shelagh during my discussion with her and those posted prior and after the discussion showed a lack of real knowledge of why these individuals were convicted and why extreme far-right Neo-Nazi’s are a threat.

Terrorism-Act-2000

Firstly the terrorist related offences they were convicted for were serious offences all carrying a maximum of 10 years imprisonment:
1. Offence of being a member or professing to be a member of a proscribed organisation (section 11 Terrorism Act 2000);
2. Offence of inviting support for proscribed organisations (section 12 terrorism Act 2000);
3. Offence of possessing a document of a kind likely to be useful to persons committing or preparing acts of terrorism (section 58 Terrorism Act 2000).

Being members of National Action all four were convicted for the section 11 offence. Vehvilainen was also convicted for the section 12 offence with Bogunavic convicted for the section 58 offence, which was the possession of the Anarchist Cookbook that informs readers how to make improvised explosive devices. The offences they were convicted of were not simply due to being dressed in Klan clothes or calling a child Adolf, although if worn outside the Klan clothing could potentially amount to an offence under section 13 Terrorism Act 2000 of wearing a uniform in public that gives suspicion they are a member of a proscribed organisation. This is an issue in the North of Ireland with the New IRA and loyalist groups like the UVF and the UFF during marches in the country.

for_britainEDL-tommy-robinson

As Shelagh asked on the LBC programme, why has the UK proscribed extreme far-right groups like National Action? In essence it is because they glorify or promote violence. The national socialist ideology of the Ne-Nazis does this. It is important to differentiate between the extreme far-right Neo-Nazi groups and the far-right such as Tommy Robinson and his followers and parties like the For Britain Party, formed and led by former UKIP leader Anne Marie Waters in 2017. Antifa would have you believe that all far-right parties and groups are Nazis. This is not the case. Many far-right groups and individuals like Tommy Robinson and the For Britain Party do not glorify or promote the use of violence. They have views that many find odious, heretical, offensive or generally unwelcome and at odds with a liberal democracy. For example the For Britain Party are anti-Islam, anti-immigration and promotes British values (to define that is a legal minefield!), but as they do not glorify or promote violence they want to bring about change though democratic and judicial processes.

VehvilainenNational Action 2

Compare this with the extreme far-right Neo-Nazis like Vehvilainen. He posted online to ‘fight the Jew forever’, ‘The sooner [black people] are eliminated the better’ and ‘How anyone can somehow regards n*****s and w***s as human beings and worthy of life is beyond me. I could shoot their children and feel nothing.’ Add this to the evidence that Vehvilainan and his fellow Neo-Nazis were planning to turn depopulated rural villages into national socialist communities and that he posted ‘Every part of me wants war. There is no other way’, we see evidence of both the glorification and promotion of violence. The Nazi memorabilia and items found at Vihvilainen’s accommodation when added to the other evidence related to his mens rea shows his mind-set and factors influencing his thoughts. As seen with other Neo-Nazi groups, they promote and want a race war and an overthrow of any liberal democratic government that tolerates and promotes differences in society. The latter is an absolute anathema to Neo-Nazis, hence why they see the overthrow of governments as necessary in the race war they advocate.
I have a number of blog posts related to the far-right and freedom of expression that you can read on my website, but to put it succinctly, in law freedom of expression allows extreme views that are offensive unless it glorifies or promotes violence. Even though many may find them offensive and unwelcome, a total variance of views and beliefs and the ability to air those views is what makes a true liberal democracy.

Thomas Mairjack Bradshaw

Finally, do extreme far-right Neo-Nazi’s pose a threat to national security? Considering recent activity carried out Neo-Nazi groups or those influenced by Neo-Nazi ideology in the UK, the answer is ‘YES’. In 2015 a National Action member Zak Davies was convicted of attempted murder of a UK citizen of Asian ethnic origin, June 2016 Thomas Mair who was influenced by the extreme far-right assassinated a UK politician, Jo Cox and in June 2018 Jack Renshaw who was linked to National Action was convicted of plotting to kill another UK politician, Rosie Cooper and the police officer investigating him. In addition to the rise in race hate inspired violence, some members or those influenced by Neo-Nazi groups have been found to be in possession of improvised explosive devices where these individuals intended them to be used at mosques and synagogues. While membership of extreme far-right groups is small in number, it only takes a few, even just one individual to cause widespread violence as seen in Norway with Breivik. Do not underestimate the potential of extreme far-right Neo-Nazi groups to carry out attacks. Even when proscribed they morph into new groups as seen with System Resistance Network formed by Alex Davies, who was also one of those who formed National Action, where hopefully this will be the next extreme far-right group to be proscribed.

Raising the fact that extreme far-right terrorism exists in the UK (and other western states) does not mask the very real and potent threat Islamist groups pose to national security as suggested in some of the responses to my tweet, hence why the UK’s terror threat remains at severe. By proscribing extreme far-right Neo-Nazi groups as terrorist organisation and its members as terrorists, the UK government and mainstream media that cover this threat should be applauded not castigated and seen as political correctness to appease the Islamists. By recognising the various extremists who glorify or promote the use of violence as terrorists from the Islamists, extreme far-right and certain Irish republican and loyalist groups, the rationale in doing so is to keep us all safe.

My terrorism book cover

You can read issues raised here in more depth in my book ‘Terrorism: law and Policy’ published by Routledge in 2018

My Television Interviews on Terrorism Topics Monday 23rd July 2018

IS flag

I will be on BBC Northwest Tonight at 6.30pm, Monday 23rd July 2018 to discuss issues around the 15 year old Blackburn boy who was convicted of terrorism offences in 2015 and his wanting to have anonymity following his release from prison.

national action logo1System Resistance Network

 

 

 

 

 

I will be on ITV News at 6.30pm and 10pm, Monday 23rd July 2018 to discuss the threat and rise of the far-right in the UK in particular the neo-Nazi groups like National Action and the newest group that has morphed out National Action, System Resistance Network.

BBC_North_West_Tonight_titlesITV News logo

 

 

Here are the links:

BBC Northwest Tonight

ITV News

Tommy Robinson is Innocent? The Far-Right and Freedom of Expression

 

Pegida UK supporters stage silent march in Birmingham

Globally far-right groups are claiming their freedom of expression is being curtailed by the state and various social media companies when they perceive posts are violating their hate speech code. Since Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League in the UK and now right wing activist was imprisoned in May 2018, the arrest and subsequent imprisonment has been cited in many video blogs from right-wing commentators globally to show how western states, in particular the UK, are adopting a ‘police state’ approach when it comes to dealing with the far-right. Along with various court cases, this blog looks at freedom of expression legislation in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US and assesses when far-right narratives cross the line from being simply offensive to race hate crime. This is an extract from a peer reviewed academic journal article I have written that is being published soon.

ECHR logous bill of rights

Freedom of Expression

In a liberal democracy freedom of expression is cherished right allowing for a myriad of views to be expressed without fear or sanction from the state and that includes views of the far-right. There has been a movement where people who are offended by comments not in line with their own and, due to their company policies, internet social media providers have become increasingly influential on what can and what cannot be said or, more importantly, what values and beliefs a person can hold in society. This development is dangerously impinging on the right to freedom of expression. In most European countries this right is governed by article 10 in the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and article 11 of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms (CFRF). Both of these rights contain similar wording in that the right includes holding opinions and the right to receive and impart information and ideas without interference from state authorities. Article 11 CFRF adds that freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected. In the US this right is enshrined in the first amendment of the 1791 Bill of Rights stating that Congress shall not make laws abridging the freedom of speech or the freedom of the press. In Canada section 2 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.

Australia does not have a statutory or constitutional charter or Bill of rights as rights and freedoms are protected under common law. As such the courts have the power to provide significant protection of human rights principles. In carrying out this function in Coco v The Queen the Australian High Court restated the principle that Parliament is presumed not to have intended to limit fundamental rights saying:

‘The courts should not impute to the legislature an intention to interfere with fundamental rights. Such an intention must be clearly manifested by unmistakable and unambiguous language.’

In Electrolux Home Products v Australian Workers’ Union Chief Justice Gleeson said:

‘The presumption is not merely a common sense guide to what a parliament in a liberal democracy is likely to have intended; it is a working hypothesis, the existence of which is known both to parliament and the courts, upon which statutory language will be interpreted. The hypothesis is an aspect of the rule of law.’

This presumption includes the principle that fundamental rights are recognised by the common law. Compared to rights protected in statutory form, common law rights are negative rights and can be eroded via statute. This could explain why Australia incorporated the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR) in the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986. Article 19 ICCPR states everyone has the right to freedom of expression, adding the right includes freedom to speak, receive and impart information of all kinds. It appears that the Australian right to freedom of expression, as does the US Bill of Rights, has no constraints on what and what cannot be said.

In many jurisdciaitons freedom of expression is not an absolute right to say whatever you want. For example, article 10 ECHR is a qualified right where the state can interfere with that right provided it is prescribed in law and necessary in a democratic society when it is:
1. in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety;
2. for the prevention of disorder or crime;
3. for the protection of health or morals;
4. for the protection of the reputation or rights of others;
5. for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence; or,
6. for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

In the CFRF article 52 allows limitations to this right, but only where it is provided for in law and the limitation is both proportionate and necessary to meet the objects of general interest of the EU or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others. To put some context into what is acceptable in relation to freedom of expression in law, in the UK case Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions Sedley LJ 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.’

When interpreting article 10 ECHR the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has adopted a similar view. In Handyside v UK the ECtHR held that freedom of expression is an essential foundation of a democratic society and the right is not only applicable to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as indifference or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any section of the population. The ECtHR has tempered freedom of expression in Erbaken v Turkey saying that tolerance and respect for the equal dignity of all human beings constitute the foundation of a democratic, pluralistic society. The court added:

‘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 essence, while some will be offended by extremists’ comments, provided those comments do not glorify or provoke violence, or, promote hatred, they have to be accepted as being part of the rich tapestry of views and beliefs that creates a liberal democracy. The issue is assessing when those views, expressions and opinions cross the line of what is acceptable to when it becomes criminal behaviour and falls outside the parameters of what is acceptable under this right.

Differentiating When Far-Right Views Move From Being Simply Offensive, Irritating, Contentious, Eccentric, Heretical, Unwelcome and Provocative to Criminal?

National Action 2Britain-First-badgeAtomwaffen

As social media accounts displaying hate content are suspended or deleted, prima facie there does appear to be credence to the far-right’s claim that freedom of expression is under attack and being curtailed in liberal democracies. This can be seen in the responses and outcry to various comments posted on far-right social media sites or by individuals who are associated or inspired by the far-right narrative where accounts are suspended or individuals are requested, even directed to delete posts deemed to be offensive. When applying the far-right narrative to Sedley LJ’s judgement in Redmond Bate, for many it will be irritating, contentious, eccentric, heretical, unwelcome and provocative. Apart from some neo-Nazi national socialist groups that glorify or advocate violence and expressions that amount to race hate crime, the far-right narrative, as odious as it is, should be allowed in a liberal democracy as should any other extremist narrative that does not advocate violence or hate crime. By doing so the majority will see through the narrative and reject, even ridicule it.

Nick griffinon question time

An example of this was in October 2009 in the UK when the British National Party’s (BNP) former leader Nick Griffin, appeared on the BBC’s Question Time programme. There was outrage that the BBC was allowing Griffin and the BNP a platform to air their views on a high profile programme with a wide audience. Having two elected Members of the European Parliament and large number of elected local councillors at the time, the BNP was seen as a political party that should have a platform to discuss their views. Prior to the programme Griffin boasted his appearance would propel the BNP ‘into the big time’. During the programme Griffin got tied up in knots as he tried to answer questions on various topics, resulting in him being ridiculed and even laughed as people saw through his far right rhetoric, which with each answer Griffin became increasingly incomprehensible. It could be argued this was the start of the demise of the BNP. There are times to let people have their say and in doing so it allows people to see right through their argument, which is what happened on this occasion.

facebook logoTwitter logo 2

There are positives in how social media companies are adopting a hard line in what materials posted by groups and individuals they consider to be hateful against others. Twitter actively targets any group or persons who contravene their policy on hateful conduct and a number of US far-right groups have had their accounts suspended. For example, after posting a number of tweets in relation their far-right views, the Traditional Workers’ Party and the American Nazi Party final tweet said, ‘inevitable that we will be banned at the weekend.’ In relation to Britain First, Facebook finally deleted its account in March 2018 because Britain First continually violated Facebook’s Community Standards. Facebook were initially reluctant to delete Britain First’s page as they were cautious about removing political speech with Britain First being a political party. YouTube have also blocked video’s posted by far-right groups and in 2018 YouTube banned the US neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division’s YouTube channel for violating YouTube’s hate speech policies, a move that may have been triggered by the fact Atomwaffen have been linked to five murders and an alleged bomb plot in the US.
When dealing with groups and individuals who post comments in line with national socialist ideology and any other forms of extremist ideology such as Islamist views, social media companies should be applauded for taking this action. The problem comes when what is deemed as contravening the companies’ hateful conduct policy because they deem it offensive, contentious or provocative, but is legal under the freedom of expression. An example of how freedom of expression in the UK is potentially being fettered is how social media companies, mainstream media and UK state agencies have dealt with Tommy Robinson. In April 2016 Twitter permanently suspended Robinson’s account after he tweeted ‘Islam promotes killing people’. In the tweet Robinson was referring to a hundred verses in the Qur’an that incites Muslims to violence against non-Muslims. Due to the content of these tweets, Twitter said they violated its policies on hateful conduct. This raises the question if Robinson’s suspension is an example of social media companies, outside a court of law, restrict freedom of expression and decide what can and cannot be expressed. This is a serious step as these companies are in effect taking the law into their own hands. The suspension of Robinson’s account can be differentiated with Twitter’s suspension of Britain First’s Twitter account and that of its leaders.

Jayda Fransen court case

In relation to Britain First, Paul Golding and Jeyda Fransen, the content of their tweets were written with intent to spread, incite, promote or justify hatred against Muslims based on an intolerance of their religion, which would fall under the parameters of race hate crime. No one would question the decision of social media companies to delete or suspend groups who express views glorifying or influencing individuals to carry out acts of violence. This seems to be the situation with Atomwaffen as the influence far-right social media accounts can have on vulnerable individuals cannot be overestimated. In relation to Britain First, it was a phrase Thomas Mair shouted as he shot the MP Jo Cox. Also, the behaviour and criminal actions of Britain First’s leaders could have been a factor in Twitter and Facebook suspending the accounts of the group and its leaders. Darren Osbourne was convicted of terrorist related murder and attempt murder after driving a van in Muslim worshippers outside Finsbury Park in June 2017. During his trial in February 2018 evidence was given revealing in the weeks before the attack that among others far-right sites, Osborne was following Britain First and Tommy Robinson on social media claiming it influenced him to carry out the attack. When being interviewed by the mainstream media, in his writings and on his social media sites, Tommy Robinson has always been careful never to accuse all Muslims or Islam per se as responsible for terrorist acts or criminal activity. As Sedley LJ said in Redmond Bate, ‘Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having’.

EDL-tommy-robinson

Especially in relation to Tommy Robinson the debate on whether the UK authorities are restricting the right to freedom of expression is ongoing. In May 2018 Robinson was recording live on his Facebook account outside Leeds Crown Court coverage of a trial involving Muslim defendant’s accused of grooming, raping and sexually abusing young girls. He was arrested for causing a Breach of the Peace and later imprisoned for contempt of court where it was claimed he made comments that risked the trial to collapse. At the time of his sentencing Robinson was serving a suspended sentence for contempt of court during an earlier rape trial at Canterbury Crown Court. Perceived as the UK restricting freedom of expression, Robinson’s imprisonment resulted in protests in June 2018 in Whitehall, London, a change.org petition for his release that received nearly 500,000 signatures and given support from Donald Trump junior who said, ‘Don’t let America follow in these footsteps’, as well as Geert Wilders posting a video on his Twitter account calling Robinson’s imprisonment ‘an absolute disgrace’. Robinson’s imprisonment has also internationally galvanised other right wing activists such as Lauren Southern in Canada and Black Pigeon in the US. Both have YouTube channels that attract many views. On the topic of Robinson’s imprisonment Black Pigeon’s video blog attracted 174,600 views and Lauren Southern’s attracted over 800,000 views with comments mostly supporting Robinson. In Tommy Robinson’s case he has not glorified or encouraged violence and as obnoxious as they are, he has literally posted his observations on how he sees various situations.

Two examples of how comments come outside the parameters for freedom expression can be seen in two ECtHR cases. In Norwood v UK Norwood was a Regional Organiser for the BNP and between November 2001 and January 2002 he displayed a large poster in the window of his flat with a photograph of New York’s World Trade Centre in flames with the words ‘Islam out of Britain – Protect British People’. Following a complaint the police removed the poster. Failing in the UK courts that his freedom of expression had been curtailed, Norwood appealed to the ECtHR. The Court found no violation of article 10 ECHR saying the poster was a vehement attack on a religious group, intimating the group as a whole were involved in an act of terrorism. In Berkacam v Belgium Berkacam was the leader and spokesperson of the organisation ‘Sharia4Belgium’ where he made remarks on YouTube videos that incited others to hatred, violence and discrimination towards non-Muslims. The ECtHR held the comments were incompatible with the ECHR’s values of tolerance, social peace and non-discrimination. In both of these cases the comments were aimed at a whole group, not individuals within a group, holding the whole group as responsible for various acts. This is why Britain First’s social media content would be outside the bounds of freedom of expression and rightly contravene the social media companies’ policies on hateful content as they portray Islam and all Muslims as an evil in society. In relation to Tommy Robinson this is not the case. He never says all Muslims or Islam as a whole is to blame for problems in the UK only particular Muslims who commit either terrorist or criminal offences. His main argument is little mainstream media coverage is given to certain trials involving Muslim suspects, especially in sexual offence trials. Admittedly he has strident views on Islam that could be seen as heretical, but they would fall within the legal parameters of freedom of expression. Using the imprisoning and harassing of Robinson only fuels the flames of complaint by the far-right their freedom of expression is being curtailed by the state. To take back control of the far-right’s position on this argument it might be preferable, when not glorifying or encouraging violence, or inciting race hate, to allow far-right activists like Robinson to continue to use their social media sites. Returning to the example of Nick Griffin on the BBC’s Question Time programme, one should not be fearful of providing them with a platform to air their views as most people will see through the arguments they make. However, if they cross the line into hate crime that is a different matter.

My terrorism book cover

Issues related to this can be found in my book published in March 2018 ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ by Routledge

British soldiers suspected of being members of banned far right group

national action logo1national action at Liverpool

 

It has been reported that four British Army solders have been arrested for allegedly plotting a terror attack and being members of a proscribed far right group, National Action. In December 2016 National Action became the first far right group to be proscribed among western states. By being proscribed, National Action is now a terrorist group in the UK.

Over the last few years there has been a rise in far right activity, not just in the UK but globally. In the US we have witnessed the rise in far right group activity leading to violent clashes such as that seen recently in Charlottesville where a car was driven into a crowd killing one person and injuring nineteen others. Whether this has been in response to Islamist groups’ activity is questionable. Far right groups have been active in western states over many years, it might just be that in the current climate where many have concerns of recent actions carried out by Islamist  groups that pose threats to personal safety in day-to-day activities far right groups feel more comfortable in being more able to express their ideology. Added to this we have seen a rise in the popularity of nationalist political parties. This was seen in the 2016 Dutch elections with Geert Wilders, the leader of the Party for Freedom who secured a significant rise in votes and seats in the Dutch Parliament and Marine le Pen, the leader of the National Front party in France who ran second to Macron in the 2016 French presidential elections. It could be argued that the popularity of the likes of Nigel Farage, the former leader of UKIP, who was one of the most strident in encouraging the UK electorate to vote leave in the 2016 EU referendum  with his message related to immigration and the slogan ‘We want our country back’ . It could be argued these political events along with Donald Trump winning the US 2015 presidential election with his xenophobic messages in the ‘Make American Great Again’ slogan have created a  safer environment where far right groups feel able to be more open and vocal in their message.

National Action 2.jpg

The threat and danger to life far right groups pose should not be underestimated. Recent examples in the UK include  Zak Davies who was radicalised online and a member of National Action was convicted of attempt murder in June 2015 when he tried to behead his victim, a Sikh, who Davies thought was a Muslim. In November 2016 Thomas Mair who was also radicalised to the far right narrative was convicted  of murder after killing a UK Member of Parliament, Jo Cox in June 2016. In June 2017 Darren Osbourne is allegedly suspected of being influenced by far right ideology when he allegedly drove a vehicle into worshippers who were leaving Finsbury Park Mosque in London, injuring eleven people.

As Islamist terror activity has been prominent both in actual attacks and in the media, it is understandable that other forms of extremism seem to have either been ignored or not recognised by many people. This is why working to help achieve the aims of the Prevent strategy is important. It is better to help people at a pre-criminal stage who are attracted by an extremist narrative and as such are being drawn towards terrorism. It is not perfect, but it is the best we have got. All forms of extremism, even non-violent extremism that glories violence are dangerous and must be differentiated from activism. For a more detailed analysis of this issue see my article in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism ‘Prevent Strategies: The Problems Associated in Defining Extremism: The Case of the United Kingdom’.