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Far-right extremists on the rise

Far-right violent extremism is growing as societies are experiencing an increased sense of fear and anxiety, experts warn.

Matthew, a former white supremacist who now consults to Australian governments on countering far-right extremism, told The Point Magazine that far-right anti-Islamic groups in Australia “believe Australian Law is being or will sometime in the near future be changed to that of Sharia Law and that the current Muslim population seeks to overpower the population”.

He said these groups “appeal to people with varying internal issues that can find a common source to vent their frustrations against, without thoroughly understanding the very group they oppose.”

Speaking of his own past experience as a white supremacist, Matthew (who only provided his first name out of concerns for his own security) said that he was raised “within an abusive environment with no support, listening daily to fanatical ideas (about) a particular race”.

"Far-right extremism tends to be seen as a second-tier security threat to other forms of extremism due to the perception that groups are less well organised, have weak leadership, and are thus not a threat to national security.”

– Vidhya Ramalingam, Director, Moonshot CVE

Matthew’s worldview was thrown upside-down when he was rescued from a violent assault by someone of the very “race” he had been taught to despise. This act of kindness by a hated stranger forced him to reflect on his own troubled experiences.

“My fight was not with this race but rather my internal struggles,” he realised.

Vidhya Ramalingam, co-founder and director of Moonshot CVE, a social enterprise that responds to extremism and community violence, told The Point Magazine that far-right groups are becoming an increasing problem across Europe.

“These movements tend to mobilise during moments when communities are filled with fear and anxiety. They offer simple solutions to complex problems,” said Ramalingam, who is also a research associate of the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society at the University of Oxford.

“People join far-right movements for a range of reasons, including feelings of political alienation, response to perceived provocation, or protection from perceived enemy. It might be thrill-seeking or developing a positive status or identity, which the person might lack in other spheres of their life,” she said. 

While the world focuses its attention on terrorist groups such as ISIS, Ramalingam says that far-right wing groups aren’t taken seriously enough.

“Far-right extremism tends to be seen as a second-tier security threat to other forms of extremism due to the perception that groups are less well organised, have weak leadership, and are thus not a threat to national security,” she said.

Recent attacks in Europe, she said, prove that right-wing extremism is just as dangerous as terror groups. But addressing the issue is difficult while anti-migration discourse continues to spread throughout Europe.

“There have been several major attacks by far-right terrorists in Europe over the past five years that have challenged these assumptions. However, it also becomes a challenging problem to define when the anti-immigrant narratives of far-right movements become mainstream.”

Timothy Curry, Deputy Director of Counter Terrorism in the US Department of Homeland Security, told The Point Magazine that the fight against far-right extremism should also focus on online activity.

 “The white supremacy movement has been at this (online) for more than 20 years,” he said.

 He advocates generating alternative narratives rather than trying to shut down extremist narratives. “The most effective social movements come outside of government, such as the #Illridewithyou hashtag that sprung up worldwide after the Sydney siege,” he said.

Ramalingam says that responding to far-right extremism requires a multi-faceted approach beyond anti-racism campaigns.

“Addressing far-right extremism requires methods ranging from upstream preventative measures, to hard-end intervention. Intervention tends to be forgotten in dealing with far-right extremism, as we tend to assume that broader anti-racism programs will do the job on their own,” she explained.

“Anti-racism programmes are brilliant at mobilising those who believe in the cause, but tend to be less likely to reach those embedded in hateful movements. We need much more targeted methods to reach those vulnerable to and embedded within far-right extremism and steer them away from movements.”

Ramalingam said that extremists rely on one another and far-right groups play off ‘Islamic’ extremism in their recruitment process and vice versa. So it’s vital to understand who is vulnerable to such movements, she said.

“Addressing far-right movements starts with understanding who is vulnerable to far-right extremism, and delivering targeted programs to reach those individuals and offer them alternatives – other forms of tackling grievances and alternative forms of empowerment.

“We need to recognise that people join movements for a variety of reasons, which may not be related to ideology. So we need to look at the underlying reason why people join these movements in Australia, and other parts of the world and find creative ways to both deconstruct their ideology but also offer them a way out of a life that would otherwise be filled with hate.”

Matthew, who now dedicates his work to combating far-right extremism, said that “Australia has come a long way in recent years combating these groups. To take the initiative away from (them) we must all interact and include those we see excluded no matter their background, as we all have valuable experiences to learn.”

 

The Point

Far-right violent extremism is growing as societies are experiencing an increased sense of fear and anxiety, experts warn.

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