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

The Terrorist Threats Discussed at the UK’s National Security Summit: How Safe Are We?

Neil Basu

At the UK’s Nation security Summit held in London on the 9th October 2018 the head of national counter-terrorism policing, Neil Basu, warned that one for the greatest terror threats in the UK is by its own citizens who have been radicalised by extremists, in particular Islamists, who are frustrated or aspire to travel abroad to fight with the Islamic State (IS).

London Bridge & Borough Market Attack

There is credence in Basu’s observations as seen in the recent attacks prevented attacks in the UK. For example the London Bridge/Borough Market attack in June 2017 to of the attackers, Khuram Butt and Youssef Zaghba were prevented by authorities from leaving Europe to join IS in Syria/Iraq. In addition to this, another threat is posed by individuals who did fight with IS in Syria/Iraq who have returned to their home state as they will be more experienced in the use of firearms and explosives, as well as potentially in chemical weapons that were used by IS in Syria/Iraq. This threat is not just applicable to the UK, but to states in Europe, North America and other states such as the Philippines where returning fighters are now fighting in the south of the country. This is a global problem.

In relation to terrorists’ use of chemical and biological weapons, Neil Basu correctly states the likes of chlorine and mustard gas was used in Syria/Iraq and terrorists do want to adapt these weapons for use in domestic terrorist attacks. Fortunately, what is problematic for terrorists wanting to use such weaponry is having the facilities for storage and maintaining the chemicals as they have to be stored under controlled conditions. When IS held land in their self-proclaimed caliphate this was possible, but in domestic circumstances where without laboratories it is more difficult. As such, the type of attacks being planned will be low-level attacks we have unfortunately witnessed in Europe with the use of vehicles and sharply bladed instruments such as knives, which we have witnessed still have a devastating effect.

parsons green bombbarcelona terrorist attack 2017

There is also the possibility of terrorists using firearms and improvised explosive devices (IED). In relation to the latter this was seen in the Parsons Green attack in September 2017 and in Barcelona, August 2017, where the former failed to detonate and in the latter the explosives were not handled correctly resulting in the terrorists blowing themselves up in their home. To handle explosives requires a degree of knowledge and experience, which clearly many domestic terrorists do not possess. One cannot be complacent over this as the threat of the use of IED’s is still real. This could come from returning IS fighters and in the case of the UK, current paramilitaries in the North of Ireland from the republican New IRA to loyalist’s groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster freedom Fighters have members who have experience in the use of IED’s from the 1968-1998 Irish Troubles.

National Action 2national action at Liverpool

One must not forget that the terrorist threat does not solely emanate from Islamist inspired terrorism, there is also the threat from far-right groups too, and in the UK from paramilitaries in the North of Ireland. The UK is still the only state to proscribe far-right groups as terrorist organisations and to date these groups have been inspired by the national socialist narrative (National Action, Scottish Dawn and NS 131). Other far-right groups are also being monitored by UK counter-terrorism police and the security services such as Resistance System Network. Again, the terrorist threat far-right groups pose is not unique to the UK, it is prevalent throughout Europe, North America and Australia.

IRA unfinished revolution derrynew IRA

In relation to the UK republican groups in the North of Ireland have been using the impasse regarding the Irish border in the Brexit negotiations to influence an increase in paramilitary activity, in particular the New IRA.

prevent logo

Due to the diversity of terrorist threats, the number of groups and individuals being monitored and the increasing pressure counter-terrorism police and the security services have in keeping us safe is enormous. There are two areas that can help alleviate their workload so as to enable them to focus on the groups and individuals that pose a real threat to our security. First is to allocate more resources from the public and private sectors as well as communities to the Prevent strategy. A pre-criminal strategy, Prevent is aimed at helping individuals who are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorist activity. Secondly, we can all play our part by being more vigilant in reporting any activity we see as suspicious. Initiatives in the UK like Action Counters Terrorism (ACT) and the British transport Police’s ‘See it, Say it, Sort it’ are there to help us report anything we suspect is likely to be linked to terrorism and the police will deal with any reports sensitively.

Sputnik logo

I discuss this in more details in my radio interview with Sputnik Radio and many of these themes are covered in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy’ that was published in March 2018

My terrorism book cover

Tommy Robinson is Innocent and Not a Nazi

 

tommy robinson 1

In my blog ‘Tommy Robinson is Innocent?’, posted 22nd July 2018, I discussed issues related to freedom of expression and suggested that Tommy Robinson is not committing hate crime. I based this premise on the fact Robinson does not vilify or blame Islam per se or all Muslims for various crimes and terrorist activity. I suggested that provided he remains within the legal parameters of freedom of expression, he be allowed to continue with his social media profile as well as maintain his website.

tommy robinson 2

Even though many find Robinson’s views and commentary offensive, anything that is offensive, provided it does not glorify or promote violence, can come within what is permitted under freedom of expression. Antifa groups should also come under scrutiny for what they promote, in what they say and in how they conduct themselves at public assemblies. Yesterday (1st August 2018) they gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London chanting that Robinson is ‘Nazi scum’. I disagree with that as Robinson never has nor does advocate national socialism, he is expressing comments on some Muslims and some aspects of Islam that many will find offensive, heretical and provocative. This does not make Robinson an Nazi!

national action at Liverpool

However, I agree it is the neo-Nazis are the main problem in relation to the far-right and they both glorify and provoke violence against non-whites, Slavs, Gypsies, Jews, gay and lesbian people and the state. Already the UK has seen one MP, Jo Cox assassinated by Mair a man influenced by the national socialist narrative in 2016 and an plan to kill another UK MP, Rosie Cooper and the police officer investigating him by National Action member, Jack Renshaw who pleaded guilty to this charge in June 2018. This is addition to many assaults on those the neo-Nazi’s see as targets due to their difference and damage to property.

System Resistance Network

Resistance System Network is the latest UK neo-Nazi group to morph out of the proscribed far-right terroirs group, National Action, where Alex Davies, the founder of National Action, clearly has his fingerprints and DNA all over the group’s activities.

Royal Court of Justice

Yesterday the UK’s Court of Appeal released Robinson on bail from prison where Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett ruled that Robinson’s article 6 ECHR right to a fair trial was violated and that his case is to be reheard. Where Robinson overstepped the mark was the cases he was alleged to be reporting had reporting restrictions placed upon them, and breaching that restriction can be held as contempt of court.

Let due process take its course and apply the rule of law (Lord Burnett applied the rule of law in finding the court that sentenced Robinson had erred in law), which is what differentiates a tolerant liberal democracy from a totalitarian state. I reiterate once more, restricting freedom of expression because it is offensive, heretical, unwelcome, irritating or provocative is a move to towards a totalitarian state and we should uphold the decisions in the UK’s High Court in Redmond Bate and the European Court of Human Rights in Handyside v UK.

My terrorism book cover

I cover many of these issues in my book ‘Terrorism: Law and Policy‘ that was published in March 2018 by Routledge.

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

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.

Osborne Convicted of Terrorist Murder: Time for all extreme far right groups like Britain First to be banned?

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

Darren Osborne has been convicted of murder and the attempted murder of nine others when he drove a van into Muslim worshippers at Finsbury Park in June 2017. Osborne received a life sentence where he will serve a minimum of 43 years in prison. While tried for murder, as it usual with terrorist incidents when persons are killed, the political cause (here extreme far right) was a sentencing factor and the trial judge, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb stated that Osborne’s actions was a terrorist attack as he intended to kill.

It is important we recognise the dangers the extreme far right pose to the security and safety of citizens, not just in the UK but globally. Extremism in all its forms from Islamist to extreme far right.

National Action 2

In the UK, while the UK extreme far right group National Acton was proscribed in December 2016 as a terrorist organisation (that was followed the groups morphed after National Action was proscribed, Scottish Dawn and NS131), there are other extreme far right groups whose extremist message is influencing others towards violence carried out in their name. That violence is invariably targeted towards minorities, that for many far right groups does not just focus on race and religion but sexuality and political views.

Jayda Fransen court case

The group Britain First is a prime example of an extreme far right group the UK government should seriously consider proscribing as a terrorist organisation. Currently its leader, Paul Golding, and its deputy leader Jayda Fransen are on trial for allegedly carrying out religiously aggravated harassment. The pair  targeted a person related to a rape trial. This is not the first occasion Golding and Fransen have been arrested and appeared in court. There are many examples  including in December 2017 Fransen appeared at Belfast Magistrates Court for allegedly using anti-Islamic comments. In December 2016 Golding was jailed for eight weeks for breaching  am injunction prohibiting him from entering mosques in Bedfordshire. In November 2016 Fransen was convicted for religious aggravated harassment, receiving a £2,000 fine.

Britain-First-badge

While Britain First’s mission statement does not explicitly state it is anti-Islamic, there is a picture of Golding and Fransen with their supporters with a banner saying ‘Time to fight Islamic terror’. The statement says Britain First’s policies are pro-British, loving ‘our people, our heritage and culture’, defending them no matter what odds the group faces, the question is who is ‘our’? The statement is clear the group is anti-foreigner,. anti-asylum seeker and anti-migrant, adding that Christianity, that the group sees as the bedrock and foundation of Britain’s national life, is under ‘ferocious assault, with Christians facing discrimination and persecution.

donald trump 1

It is perhaps time now for the UK government to proscribe Britain First as their narrative does influence others to believe their skewed and warped ideology. The problem of them being free to release anything they want to say is the group can grasp any legitimacy of its narrative, especially when that legitimacy comes from an unexpected source like the US President. In November 2017 US President, Donald Trump retweeted three of Fransen’s tweets that purported to show actions of Muslims , with those actions being shown to be a false depiction of what Fransen was using them for. Fransen jumped on this using it to legitimise Britain First’s narrative claiming that the US President supports them. This incident caused a bitter row between the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May and Donald Trump. Donald Trump has since said he is prepared to apologise for retweeting Britain First’s tweets, claiming that he had no knowledge of what the group stands for.

Although small in membership numbers, groups like Britain First and National Action do inspire others to carry out violent attacks. This is why they should all be proscribed a it gives the security services and the police wider powers and a wider number of offences to deal with the far right. This is seen in the number of arrests there have been on members of National Action, where even in January 2018 six alleged members of National Action were arrested in the UK. In addition to the wider powers being proscribed organisations reduces the platforms from which to spread their damaging and dangerous narrative with which to inspire those less aware of current affairs or special issues from carrying out acts of violence. Anything that does this has to be a positive move.

prevent logo

It is important counter-narratives are developed and used against all forms of extremism and this is an important strand of Prevent strategies. While Prevent has had its problems in the past, there is no credible alternative to use at the moment and the strategy does work. We should all work towards the goal of helping those who are vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism by producing an effective counter-narrative and making as hard as possible for any extremist group to get their message out.