A core of the BNP believe armed violence is always justified to protect the ‘national way of life’, according to a new report into the UK far-right, based on a sample of over 2,000 supporters.
Last year, the attacks by Anders Breivik in Norway sparked an upsurge of interest in far right violence, writes Matthew Goodwin, political scientist and associate fellow at Chatham House.
Shortly afterward, this renewed fascination was further galvanised by the discovery of a violent, underground neo-Nazi cell in Germany, and then the murder of two Senegalese street traders in Florence by an activist with links to a far right network. With Breivik sentenced this week, our interest in the causes and perpetrators of far right violence looks set to continue.
One out of every five BNP supporter in our sample thought planning for conflict is always justifiable, while one out of every ten similarly branded armed conflict as always justifiable.
The problem, however, is that we actually know very little about this form of violent extremism. As a Home Affairs committee highlighted earlier this year, in the UK the tendency is to dismiss far right violence as only a minor threat when set alongside religious-based forms of extremism. Recent changes to the “Prevent” strategy suggest this view is beginning to change, but still the drivers of far right violence, and the extent to supporters of a fragmenting far right might endorse more extreme measures, remain largely unknown.
It was for this reason that we surveyed some 2,152 citizens to explore the views of far right supporters toward violence and group relations. We wanted to build on past research, which suggests those who are most active on the far right tend to subscribe to a distinct set of beliefs and narratives about our increasingly diverse society, and where it is heading.
These emphasise the “threat” from immigration and Islam, claim that citizens have been thrust into a battle for racial survival or a “clash of civilisations”, employ apocalyptic scenarios, contend that only urgent and radical action can protect a wider group, and that activists have a moral obligation to defend their loved ones and ways of life from these wider threats.
But to what extent are these views prominent within a much larger sample of far right supporters? Our study is exploratory in nature, which means that its conclusions should be treated with caution, but still it sheds light on a corner that has never before been examined to this extent.
The BNP response to the report:
“We don’t believe in violence – we believe in a democratic political system. The whole idea of being involved in the BNP is to provide nationalists with a democratic platform,” Simon Darby told Channel 4 News.
“What I would say is that there are a number of people out there who are increasingly seeing the British political system as rigged, and inherently biased against anyone opposing mass immigration and its consequences – political parties voted in on these issues don’t deliver on their promises.”
Activists were asked whether they thought various actions, such as planning for violence and engaging in armed conflict, are justifiable when defending the national way of life. Over 50 per cent of the BNP supporters in our sample viewed this action as always or sometimes justifiable, compared to 31 per cent of followers of the more moderate UK Independence Party (UKIP).
We then asked the same question, only alternating preparing for conflict to engaging in armed conflict. Overall, 40 per cent of the BNP supporters in our sample considered armed conflict as justifiable on similar lines, compared to 21 per cent of UKIP supporters. We then asked respondents whether violence may be needed in the future to protect their group from threats: 64 per cent of BNP followers in our sample agreed with this suggestion, whereas only 34 per cent of UKIP supporters backed this idea.
Irrespective of their affiliation, however, large numbers of our respondents shared a general view that future violence between different ethnic, racial or religious groups in British society is ‘largely inevitable’. In fact, 91 per cent of BNP supporters and 75 per cent of UKIP supporters in our survey endorsed this view, whereas only 2 per cent and 13 per cent respectively disagreed. This would indicate that significant numbers of activists beyond the territory of the Conservatives are anticipating violence clashes between different groups in a future Britain.
It is the inner core of the extreme right who are most likely to justify preparing for and carrying out violence, and anticipate future outbreaks of violence.
Aside from revealing important differences between the extreme and more moderate radical right-wing, our findings also indicate there is a tranche of activists within the extreme right who view preparing for, and engaging in, group conflict as always justifiable. One out of every five BNP supporter in our sample thought planning for conflict is always justifiable, while one out of every ten similarly branded armed conflict as always justifiable.
Clearly, without a national comparison it is difficult to truly appreciate the intensity of such views.Nonetheless, the finding that significant numbers of citizens anticipate inter-group violence and/or endorse pre-emptive action to defend their group form perceived threats is a worrying trait for a group of party supporters in a Western democracy to exhibit.
Read more: What is fuelling the rise of the far right?
When we drill down further, we also find that those who are most likely to hold these views are the core supporters of the far right: current and past BNP members, and those who actively identify with the movement. Whereas more casual supporters of the far right, for example voters, are also more likely than their UKIP counterparts to back these ideas, it is the inner core of the extreme right who are most likely to justify preparing for and carrying out violence, and anticipate future outbreaks of violence.
With the electoral far right now in disarray, and no obvious outlet for grievances over issues such as immigration or the role of Islam in British society, these views about the perceived necessity and inevitability of violence should not be ignored.