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Home Office Minister’s Speech at ICSR

15/03/2013

On Wednesday 13 March, the Home Office Minister for Crime and Security, James Brokenshire MP, delivered a keynote address at an ICSR conference to launch our latest report on the far-right. His speech is reproduced below in full.

Good morning and thank you for the invitation to speak.

I am particularly grateful given the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation has a first class reputation in the field of counter-terrorism studies.

And I would like to thank my hosts, today’s esteemed speakers, and the staff at King’s College London, for your combined effort and contribution in staging this event. I wish you a most productive and insightful day ahead.
It is a sad fact of our times that today we are discussing an evolving threat from Far Right extremism, and the hideous implications of any associated violence.

In 2011, 77 mostly young people were murdered by an unrepentant far-right extremist in Norway.

That appalling massacre gave rise to new fears about the nature and potential of the threat of further attacks by similar far-right extremists.

In Britain we have begun to see a worrying phenomenon on our streets; groups such as the English Defence League inflaming tensions and spreading hate-filled prejudice within communities.

I recognise too the huge concern the Far Right causes many Muslim and Jewish communities – and note the support the Community Safety Trust has given this conference here today.

Let me be clear – no matter what the threat, no matter what the brand of extremism – this Government has said from the start we will not allow terrorists and extremists the freedom to go uncontested.

Even before the massacre in Norway we had been urgently reconsidering the threat from Far Right terrorism in the UK.

That is why in June 2011 we updated and published CONTEST – the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

In particular Prevent, the strand of the strategy that aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism, made explicit that our work had been broadened to encompass all forms of terrorism, including the Far Right.

We’re consulting with our European partners, many of whom have had even graver difficulties with Far Right Extremist groups.  We hope to learn from their experiences of how to deal effectively with the challenge posed by the Far Right.

The threat picture

Recently, we have seen how the ugly face of extremism can rear its head in a variety of guises, including that of the Far Right.

It is not insignificant that the biggest arms cache found in England in recent times had been amassed by a bus driver motivated by such ideology.

In 2010 two individuals were convicted for preparing a terrorist attack using a homemade poison, and another was jailed for disseminating terrorist publications.

Their motivation was linked to the Far Right.

In 2011 17 people were in prison in this country for terrorist offences associated with Far Right Extremism.

Any of these examples could have proved deadly.

But it is important to keep the threat from Far Right Extremism in perspective.

All these cases are, without exception, self starting groups and individuals, rather than part of a centrally directed terrorist organisation.

The Far Right threat is not as widespread or systematic as the Al Qa’ida inspired threat. And operationally there are vast differences.

But we also notice that at the same time, at its core, the Far Right appeals to people who share many of the same vulnerabilities as those exploited by Al Qa’ida inspired extremism.

It feeds off the same sense of alienation and questions around identity.

And it has the same ambition to reshape the world in an impossible way.

The threat is real, and our response must be effective.

And we can also learn from what we know about the Al Qa’ida inspired radicalisation process.

What we mean by Far Right Extremism

The label Far Right has been used to cover a spectrum of groups and activities from the political fringe to those that have links to terrorism.

But CONTEST, including Prevent, is clear. It is concerned with those individuals and groups associated with terrorism.

It is not focussed on those groups, such as the EDL, where violence arises as a consequence of demonstrations and marches that lead to conflicts on the street between supporters and opponents.

Terrorism, on the other hand, is the use or the threat of violence deliberately designed to influence Government or intimidate the public and is made for the purpose of advancing a political or ideological cause.

We know from experience just how important it is we keep our work combating terrorism separate from wider Government efforts to promote integration.

As previous Prevent strategies have demonstrated, mixing counter terrorism and integration runs the risk of securitising social policy – and giving a false impression that Government views these communities only through a security lens.

Let there be no mistake, however. This Government utterly condemns the actions of the so-called defence leagues and their off-shoots.

We utterly condemn the offensive, anti-Muslim messages they promote. They are divisive, and run contrary to the values of respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.

Those values are the essence of our democratic system, and any attack on them is an attack on the basis of our society.

Our response has been based on firm and clear opposition by central and local government, and effective policing of their demonstrations and any associated crime and disorder.

Where necessary, the Home Secretary has banned marches.

At the same time, local authorities such as Luton and Blackburn are leading a number of positive local initiatives to bring people together in constructive ways that drive out suspicion and mistrust and leave no room for racism.

A National Special Interest Group funded by the Department of Communities and Local Government, enables local authorities affected by the EDL to learn from each other, share knowledge and expertise.

In communities, Show Racism the Red Card workshops are reaching nearly ten thousand young people aged 11-18, and giving them the skills to refute and challenge EDL type narratives.

Searchlight Educational Trust is also working in four areas where EDL style activity is deemed high risk, to establish community newspapers to counter the EDL’s divisive and damaging propaganda.

And where appropriate, the Home Office works alongside Department for Communities and Local Government colleagues to ensure a joined up approach in addressing the challenges posed by the EDL and similar groups.

This work, as I have said, is separate from our counter-terrorism strategy.

But we also recognise that we must stay attuned to where community and public order challenges may start to move into the counter-terrorism space.

The narratives groups such as the EDL use as their capital – engendering fear and distrust about large sections of our communities – have the potential to stoke radicalisation.

There are a growing number of examples which suggest extremist and terrorist groups can potentially destabalise each other – the presence of one causing a spiralling effect on the other – and offering an enemy against which to define themselves.

This goes beyond public order.

There are also views that groups such as defence leagues can provide ‘gateway ideologies’ through which individuals may migrate to more extreme organisations.

Where these lines blur, from a counter-terrorism perspective, is where the real risk, and our interests, lie.

We need to understand more about these groups: how they impact on radicalisation and whether activities such as EDL marches act as recruiting grounds for Far Right Extremist groups.

We also need to understand whether they enhance vulnerability, and, if so, how this can be curtailed.

One important organisation in helping us understand this picture is the National Domestic Extremism Unit who act at a national level to collate and analyse intelligence in order to support UK Policing in relation to all matters of domestic extremism including Far Right Extremism.

UK Government’s response

Many of the challenges we face with Far Right Extremism mirror those from Al Qa’ida inspired terrorism although, as I said earlier, on a much smaller scale.

For example, there is the risk from lone individuals.

We have seen a number of self-starting Far Right terrorists who have tended to act alone rather than as part of a group. But this phenomenon is not exclusive to the Far Right.

Nor do they exist in a vacuum without reference to group ideologies or materials.

Some of the ideologies we see on the Far Right contain sickeningly familiar themes such as anti-Semitism and racism.

Now too we see anti-Muslim sentiments and over and over again, these groups insisting that Muslims cannot live in this country in accordance with our values.

Just as with Al Qa’ida inspired terrorism, we have seen there is no single pathway to radicalisation, and a whole host of factors can have a role in creating vulnerability.

All this adds up to a dynamic, complex picture: which is why Prevent adopts a comprehensive, wide-ranging approach.

Firstly, we are seeking to challenge terrorist ideologies.

This includes addressing aspects of extremism where those concepts support terrorist ideology, and creates an environment sympathetic to it.

In the past we have seen extremist speakers coming to this country to ferment hatred and provoke others to violence – exploiting the freedom of speech we value so much.

This has stopped. Wherever possible, the Home Secretary has denied entry to individuals including those from the Far Right.

But we also need to make sure we are being effective where it matters most at a local level.

We are currently funding 112 projects in areas where radicalisation is considered high risk.

These include projects aimed at unpicking the narratives of the Far Right.

Secondly we are providing practical help to prevent vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism through our flagship intervention programme – Channel.

Channel is similar to other programmes aimed at stopping young people from becoming involved in harms such as gang culture or gun crime.

All terrorist and extremist organisations seek to recruit people to their cause, and it is vital that we protect the vulnerable from exploitation and manipulation.

About 10% of the individual’s subject to Channel cases have been motivated by Far Right Extremism.

Vulnerabilities vary from person to person

It is important then that we have a range of supportive measures that can be put in place, such as access to health and social services, education and training, as well as intervention providers who specialise in Far Right ideologies.

There is no single path to radicalisation.

Because of this it is important that all those who engage with vulnerable people are able to recognise warning signs that someone is drifting towards extremism.

Therefore we are training thousands of frontline staff in jobs across schools, prisons, social services and health – a particularly important sector given the number of known Far Right Extremists who have also had mental health issues.

Thirdly, Prevent is working with sectors where there are risks of radicalisation or opportunities to prevent it.

Schools are being made aware of their responsibilities to protect children from extremist influences, and teachers encouraged to raise issues around extremism in the safe environment of the classroom.

In addition, the Department for Education is also working with Ofsted to ensure inspectors have the necessary knowledge and expertise so that they can effectively identify risks when doing fieldwork.

In prisons staff are trained to identify extremist offenders and programmes are available to encourage them to disengage from all forms of extremism.

In communities – and with local institutions – the police are using training tools to discuss difficult issues.

Finally, there is the internet. Sadly, as we know, this can be used to spread vile, hate-filled propaganda which can have a brutalising and dehumanising effect.

Our legislation in the UK enables us to take swift, robust action where on-line material breaks the law by explicitly glorifying or encouraging violence as a means to achieve an ideological end.

To enforce this, we are funding a specialist internet counter-terrorism police unit which assesses online content and where it breaches terrorism legislation, seeks its removal where that material is linked to the UK.

To date over 2000 sites which breach UK terror legislation have been taken down by the unit.

We also work with filtering companies to ensure that schools, government offices and public libraries filter harmful websites.

Additionally, understanding the role of the internet in radicalisation and how we can minimise the potential for harm is an important part of our wider internet work.

Conclusion – the way forward

I have tried today to convey the extent of the work we are doing to address radicalisation, and to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.

The threat from the Far Right is real. And in recognition of that we have changed the Prevent strategy to encompass all forms of terrorism, including the Far Right.

Across Prevent we are learning the lessons from work we’ve done to address Al Qa’ida inspired radicalisation.

In addition we are building on the excellent work being done on integration.

The challenges are great, but a great deal has been done, by researchers, by Government departments and by communities.

We cannot afford to lose sight of how this picture is evolving and through the work of the ICSR, the people they have brought together today – and through the projects I have referenced – we are monitoring and responding to the situation as it evolves.

It is only by doing this and continually striving to better our understanding that we will stay ahead of the threat.