'Lone wolf' extremism: a new challenge for Europe

24 Jul 2011 11:34:50.203
PA 227/11

Events in Norway over the last few days will prove to be a watershed moment in how we approach, and seek to understand, far right groups and their ideology, according to a leading expert in far-right politics at The University of Nottingham.

Dr Matthew Goodwin argues that the challenge from right-wing extremism and anti-Muslim sentiment has been dismissed as irrelevant for too long – glossed over in favour of alternative forms of extremism. ‘Far right activists will never get their act together’, so the argument goes. ‘They are disorganized and lack the resources to commit mass murder’. In short, the concept of lone wolves committing mass violence appeared more at home in fiction than political reality.

The events in Norway have changed all this, says Dr Goodwin.
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In his latest blog post (http://www.matthewjgoodwin.com/), Dr Goodwin argues that the conventional wisdom about far right politics and lone wolves has been challenged. While many groups are disorganized, fragmented and ideologically incoherent, it only takes one committed activist to slip through the net. Timothy McVeigh set out the blueprint, killing 168 people (including 19 children) in what was the worst atrocity on post-war American soil until 9/11. David Copeland killed three people in London and injured over 120 in a sustained attack on Bengali and homosexual communities. Anders Behring Breivik has killed at least 92, mainly young Norwegians.

So, what can we do?

Dr Goodwin writes:

‘…First, we need to accept that this is not an exclusively Norwegian issue. As the examples above testify, right-wing lone wolves have emerged in different contexts, and at different times. Britain, for example, has seen a significant number of 'lone wolf' cases in recent years. You might have heard of David Copeland, but what about Paul Sargent, Robert Cottage, Martin Cross, Tony Lecomber, Terence Gavan, Mark Bulman, Martyn Gilleard, David Tovey and Ian and Nicky Davison? These names were highlighted in a recent report on actual and potential lone wolf activity in Britain.

‘Because of data limitations, it is difficult to speak convincingly to the question of whether the trend in lone wolf activity is moving upwards or is in decline, but anecdotal evidence would suggest the former. As a basic first step, we should collect data on far right violence across European countries to assess the scale of the challenge. Data on violence is notoriously difficult to collect, but at the moment we simply have no real idea about how many would-be Breivik's are out there.

‘Second, we need to understand that while activists like Breivik act in isolation, they represent a set of ideas that are shared by many (even if most would not endorse the use of violence). If the internet posts left by Breivik are indeed his, then they reveal an obsession with issues that are of concern to many within what we might term the broader right-wing subculture: a preoccupation with the effects of multiculturalism; the perceived cultural (not only economic) threat posed by immigration and Muslim communities; criticism of a lack of effective responses to these threats from established main parties; and strong emphasis on the need to take radical and urgent action.

‘These motives were similarly evident in cases such as Robert Cottage, a British citizen who was arrested after stockpiling chemical explosives. His move toward planned violence was described by his wife as follows: “He thinks there's a war going to happen with the culture, the Asian culture and the white culture and that Tony Blair and President Bush are scheming against people.”

‘Some of the issues allegedly cited by Brievik have played a prominent role within Norwegian politics in recent years, and for this reason it is important not to examine lone wolves in isolation from the wider context in which they operate. Most voters in Europe go out of their way to distance themselves from violence, but large numbers also express concern over the same issues that are raised by lone wolves. They are certainly not all lone wolves, or would-be wolves. But there is clearly a wider pool of potential recruits should the main parties not respond to their grievances.

‘To some extent, it is perhaps helpful to think of lone wolves as being located at the tip of a triangle. Further down, below the likes of Brievik and McVeigh, are citizens who are active members of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim parties, then citizens who vote for these parties, then a broader mass of citizens who are sceptical of immigration and rising ethno-cultural diversity. Many of these voters and citizens reject violence, but they are still concerned over these issues and elites need to address their concerns far more effectively than they have been doing until now. We also need far more research on what 'trips' some citizens from expressing their concern via the ballot box into open violence...’

The full post, and others on this subject, at: http://www.matthewjgoodwin.com/

Dr Goodwin is available for media comment on: 07929 045857.

— Ends —

Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘Europe’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world’s most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.

The University is committed to providing a truly international education for its 40,000 students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around its campuses in the UK and Asia.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power.

The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. More news from the University at: www.nottingham.ac.uk/news

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Matthew Goodwin, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)7929 045857, matthew.goodwin@nottingham.ac.uk, Twitter: GoodwinMJ, blog: http://www.matthewjgoodwin.com/; or Tim Utton, Deputy Director, Communications, University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 8468092, tim.utton@nottingham.ac.uk

Tim Utton

Tim Utton - Deputy Director of Communications

Email: tim.utton@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 846 8092 Location: University Park

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