In the aftermath of the attacks by a supposed ‘lone wolf’ in Norway, the discovery of a violent neo-Nazi cell in Germany and the murder of two Senegalese street traders in Florence, there has occurred an upsurge of interest in right-wing extremist violence: its current levels, its perpetrators, and the underlying causes. Against this backdrop, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) asked Dr Matt Goodwin to write a summary of the current evidence on far right violence. In short, the report sought to assess what we know and what we don’t about this particular form of violent extremism.
You can read the full report here (from page 36). But for now, let’s talk about the key findings. Specifically, there are four.
- In contrast to a rapidly growing evidence base on AQ-inspired terrorism and processes of radicalization, we know little about extreme right-wing violence, including its underlying causes and adherents. This owes much to a lack of reliable, systematic and comparative data, and the fact that there have been only a few studies of right-wing extremist violence and potential disengagement strategies.
- This means it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to identify the profile and motives of perpetrators, what factors render some citizens (or communities) more susceptible than others to this type of violence and, alternatively, what might increase their resilience (or the resilience of vulnerable communities) to this activity. Put simply, this particular and increasingly salient form of violent extremism remains under researched, and poorly understood.
- We also know little about the relationship between extreme right-wing violence and extreme right-wing political parties. Not every supporter of extreme right and populist radical right parties are necessarily violent, or even prone to violence. This is evident in states such as the UK, where surveys suggest that although large numbers of citizens are potentially responsive to these types of political parties, their support is conditional these parties rejecting violence. But to what extent is there a relationship between violence and voting, and what are the dynamics of this relationship? Is far right violence higher in states that lack successful far right parties, on the basis that those who would otherwise channel their grievances into the conventional political process instead choose to express these via violent acts? Or is violence higher in states with successful far right parties, on the basis that these movements contribute to a combative and exclusionary political climate that is conducive to violence?
- The current response to right-wing extremist violence is further weakened by the lack of consensus over an accepted and commonly adopted definition. Across Europe, this form of extremism is often defined in different ways. Furthermore, clarity over this activity is further muddied by a tendency for security agencies to record acts of violence in different ways. This makes it difficult to accurately compare overall trends in levels of violence, the actual ‘threat level’ and any geographical variations that exist across Europe.
In short, then, much work remains to be done.