Nearly two weeks after an armed gunmen shot and killed 50 people and wounded an equal number at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, the UK government said on 27 March that far-right extremism is an emerging threat, but that the country’s security services still consider Islamist-based terrorism to be the biggest danger to Britain’s national security.
Matthew Feldman, the director of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, said the threat of right-wing extremists carrying out an atrocity in the UK similar to the Christchurch shootings remained relatively low.
“The biggest barrier to the far-right is the fact that in the UK is that we have extremely tight gun laws,” Feldman said. “The far-right does represent a threat to some communities in our country, but more often than not these are people who are alone online, radicalising themselves, so they don’t have a direct support network that could help them to gain access to weapons.”
Since the Christchurch atrocity, however, some have argued that the threat of right-wing terrorism is not being taken seriously. A counter-terrorism expert, who did not wish to be named, said, “I have no doubt that there are far-right extremists across England who are planning to use violence to target Muslim or Jewish communities.”
His comments come after it emerged that the UK counter-terrorism programme “Prevent” received in 2018 more reports about right-wing activities than it ever had in the past.
Britain has relatively recent experience with examples of how extremist ideology has been used to target members of its Parliament. Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in her Yorkshire constituency in 2016 by Thomas Mair, who was described in court as a lonely Nazi sympathiser.
The number of religious or racially motivated hate crimes in England and Wales increased from 37,417 in 2013-14 to 79,587 in 2017-18, according to the Home Office.
Security Minister Ben Wallace has been forced to acknowledge that far-right extremism is a growing problem. He reiterated that the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy was designed to address all forms of terrorism, whatever ideology it was driven by and added that funding would be directed “wherever the threat emerges”.
British Labour MP Naz Shah said there was a definitive link between a rise in levels of hate crime and support for extreme far-right groups, saying, “We’ve seen across the country a rise in Islamaphobia and race hate crimes – this hatred is fuelling support for the far right.”
That support has been linked to the New Zealand attack after the shooter, Brenton Tarrant, sent allegedly sent in early 2018 €1,500 to the Austrian chapter of the European far-right movement, “Generation Identity.”