12 Apr 2019

How has the UK attempted to prevent radicalisation?

From Nine To Noon, 9:20 am on 12 April 2019

The UN register of designated terror entities, released last week, lists 445 groups as terrorist organisations. Of the 1962 individuals on the list, none are associated with white supremacism.

Yet the number of deaths caused by this type of extremism is rising.

Police officers search the area near the Masjid Al Noor mosque, site of one of the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Police officers search the area near the Masjid Al Noor mosque, site of one of the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, March 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker) Photo: AP

“If we look at the statistics that we know about from the Global Terrorism Database, we see in 2014 just three cases of white supremacist or far-right extremism deaths, if we look at those stats in 2017, we see that number at 17, there’s definitely a global rise,” says Gabe Mythen, Professor of Criminology at the University of Liverpool

Are these agencies focusing on the wrong type of people?

Mythen says a number of events in the US were precursors to the Christchurch terror attack. These include the Oklahoma bombing in 1995, the Wisconsin temple massacre in 2012, the Charleston church massacre in 2015 and the Pittsburgh synagogue assaults in 2018.

“If you look at the ways in which white extremist attacks are portrayed, and often presented, they’re often called lone-wolf attacks - that seems to me to be often misguided.”

White supremacists are using online forums and technology, not gathering locally, he says.

The attacks haven’t translated into an adequate security focus, says Mythen.

Where there is a renewed focus on white supremacism, it’s come very late. Security agencies aren’t insulated against bias, he says.

In the UK, professionals like teachers and doctors have a responsibility to identify anyone who might be at risk of radicalisation under the Prevent Strategy. Large numbers of the people that were picked up by this system tend to be Muslim, although those numbers are beginning to show the threat from the far-right.

While this points to obvious bias, Mythen says there’s also a bias in the system itself.

“Originally, the resources for Prevent Strategy were designated to local councils based on the proportion of Muslim community [in each area].” 

The focus was put on looking at some of the vulnerabilities to Islamist extremism and not far-right extremism or white supremacism, he says.

Eighty percent of the people flagged by this programme aren’t actually seen as a risk by agencies, but when they are cleared it stays on their record and stays with them in the community.

Programmes like these simplify something that is actually very difficult to predict, he says.

“I think it’s important to situate this kind of violence across a continuum of different violences. Are we finding that the people that are involved in these kinds of activities have particular views of women, for example, do they have histories of domestic violence, do they have family histories of violence, how important are those factors in desensitising?”

Mythen also notes that the number of people who thought it was ok to upload the video of the Christchurch terror attack to social media tells us something about society.

“To some extent… the policing and the surveillance and the legislation has to catch up with technology and there are also generational differences in the way in which people are using media. 

“I think issues around social media incitement are important, think about the way in which people can be influenced by bots…what about the use of these bulletin boards…

“The question then becomes, how do we regulate it, what would be our bar on extremism…?”