Right-wing terrorism may not be the subject of as many studies as other forms of terrorism, but in recent years right-wing radical ideology has spread more widely, in part because through internet forums and social media.
Studies have shown that there are common patterns and factors behind the pathways to right-wing violence; however, there are very few reports that look at ways to prevent individuals from being involved in this kind of extremism.
Who are right-wing terrorists?
Right-wing terrorists are a diverse mix of violent extremists that can come from different types of social movements, subcultures and activism. Examples include white supremacists, neo-Nazis and violent skinhead groups. They have strong beliefs and are prepared to be violent to uphold them.
Why do people become right-wing terrorists?
There is no single straightforward pathway to becoming a right-wing terrorist. It’s often a complex process that progresses over time, with a gradual increase in extremist involvement as a result of a number of experiences.
In July 2020, the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) released a report: Right-Wing Terrorism: Pathways and Protective Factors by Dr Simon Copeland and Dr Sarah Marsden. This notes that those involved in far-right movements often fall into one of four categories:
Revolutionaries – motivated by ideology, they see the extreme right as a way of changing the world
Wanderers – individuals searching for those who share their views and politics
Converts – people who feel they have been wronged, are angry and are looking for others who feel the same
Compliants – those who take part to keep up friendships or relationships with people who are already involved in far-right terrorism
What are the common features of right-wing terrorists?
Common features in those who engage with far right terrorism are:
- Dysfunctional family backgrounds – including experiencing abuse of various types; parental incarceration or abandonment; poor relationships with family members, childhood trauma
- Growing up around racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and other prejudicial and extreme right-wing viewpoints
- Substance abuse, in particular alcohol and drugs from an early age
- Low educational attainment, poor attendance and dropping out of school
- Petty and serious criminal activities
- Social isolation leading to a need to feel a sense of belonging
- A fascination with Nazism, often watching war movies and documentaries
In many cases ideology is less important than influences such as an interest in violence, in certain types of music and in the appeal of right wing subculture.
The right-wing extremist group as family
Because of growing up in dysfunctional families and experiencing a lack of role models at home, many see right-wing extremist groups as families to which they can belong.
There’s usually a common interest in particular types of music, clothing and culture, and new recruits will seek out role models among the older members of extremist groups to replace the lack of mentors in their lives.
Women and right-wing extremism
There are many woman who join right-wing extremist groups and take part in violence and crime. The stereotype that they follow men into these activities is not supported by evidence, however, their entry into this world is often provoked by a specific dramatic personal incident.
Women often fit into the ‘revolutionary’ category and are motivated by ideology, as well as seeking out opportunities to fight.
While not many studies have been carried out about what protects individuals vulnerable to joining right-wing terrorist groups, factors include:
- Strong self-control
- Holding favourable attitudes towards the law and society
- Acknowledging the range and complexity of their own values and beliefs
- Positive attachment to school, academic success
Education can be a positive influence on prevention, for example teaching about prejudice and racism to encourage all students to challenge it when it arises, but also allowing space for pupils to discuss extremism and providing education to mitigate its attraction.
Teachers and other educators should approach the subject carefully and provide a safe, non-judgemental space for discussion – some former extremists have said that teachers judgement of their right-wing ideas pushed them further towards violent subcultures.
The same is true for families: being able to have open discussions and meaningful interactions with their parents can potentially reduce the likelihood that young people will seek out the ‘family’ of an extremist group.