Atrocities may switch focus from Islam to far-right threat

The atrocities in Norway could prove to be a watershed moment in the way far-right groups are dealt with.

So-called lone wolf extremism poses a challenge to Europe that has been dismissed as irrelevant for too long, Dr Matthew Goodwin of the University of Nottingham argued. But the horrific events of Friday will change the way it is perceived, he said.

“We need to accept that this is not an exclusively Norwegian issue,” he wrote on his blog in the wake of the attacks. “Right-wing lone wolves have emerged in different contexts and at different times.”

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Dr Goodwin, an expert in far-right politics, recommended that information should be shared across Europe “to assess the scale of the challenge”.

He said: “We need to understand that while activists like (suspected gunman Anders) 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.”

Large numbers of voters in Europe express concerns over these issues, he pointed out providing a potentially large pool of support for extremists.

Meanwhile anti-extremist group Hope Not Hate called for the English Defence League (EDL) to be “formally classified as a far-right organisation”.

Director Nick Lowles said: “Incredibly, the EDL are not currently classified as an extremist right wing group. That severely limits the capacity of the police to gather intelligence on the EDL, its members and its activities.

“Given the mounting evidence of connections between the EDL and alleged violent extremists like Anders Behring Breivik, we don’t see how this situation is sustainable.”

The EDL has denied any links to Breivik and condemned Friday’s attacks.

Another expert agreed there had been a lack of focus on far-right extremism, with research into Islamism overshadowing it.

“We have looked at lone wolves in relation to Islamism but I think we haven’t taken far-right extremism seriously enough,” said Dr John Bew, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College London.