The UK can expect a rise in violence from the far-right in 2016 with Muslims at increased risk from Islamophobic attacks and even acts of terrorism, a new report has warned. Militant right-wing groups in Britain, bolstered by foreign-born fascists, have reportedly grown in numbers over the past year, and have even been filmed holding outdoor survivalist and martial-arts training sessions for members.
The State of Hate 2015, published on Monday (8 February) by anti-extremist organisation Hope Not Hate, said that far-right demonstrations across the UK rose by almost 50% between 2014 and 2015, from 41 to 61. Often filled with Islamophobic rhetoric, the protests were said to be operating in a UK environment where anti-Muslim hatred had become "worryingly mainstream". This was in part evidenced by the "disturbing" rhetoric of Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins and Prime Minister David Cameron, Hope Not Hate claimed.
"The rising militancy of Britain's far-right will lead to greater violence in 2016," said Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope Not Hate. "This could be manifested in three ways: a general increase in anti-left wing harassment and attacks; communal violence where gangs of far-right supporters clash with Muslim or Eastern European youths; or, in extreme cases, terrorism. The underlying rhetoric of much of Britain's far-right is that a societal conflict – either between Muslims and non-Muslims or, more generally, with immigrant communities – is inevitable. For some, that means preparing for it or even encouraging it along.
"The Government needs to understand the changing nature of the British far-right threat and get to grips with the growing threat posed by far-right violence."
While last year saw the continued collapse of traditional far-right movements such as the British National Party (BNP) and the English Defence League (EDL), other groups were turning to increased violence as part of their campaign against Islamic and Muslim people, the report claimed. Linked to this growing violence has been far-right activists taking part in survivalist, outdoor training and martial-arts groups. One video filmed at a training camp shows men stripped to the waist punching each other as others practice combat with knives.
The most active group on the far-right last year was said to be North West Infidels (NWI), just recently involved in violence with anti-fascist protesters in Dover on 30 January. The NWI, which began as a splinter group of the EDL, is described as a network of "regional fascist gangs" that pursues "a far more confrontational and violent agenda". Other groups include the Misanthropic Division, led by a former member of the Azov Battalion in Ukraine, and the Italian neo-Nazi group Casa Pound.
National Action (NA), which tried to stage a "white man march" in Liverpool last year, is said to be one of the most organisationally sophisticated neo-Nazi groups, possessing its own internal internet forum and regularly using the 'dark web'. It represents one of the first signs that far-right groups in Britain are now making regular use of encrypted online-security tools to organise their operations.
Foreign far-right supporters living in the UK have also becoming increasingly active, Hope Not Hate added. One of the most active groups currently in Britain is Polish nationalist group Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski, translating as 'the national rebirth of Poland'. Dozens of UK-based Italian fascists are also said to be involved in the British Nazi music scene.
It comes after Hope Not Hate's previous annual report had revealed a picture of Britain's far-right movement as fractured due to a lack of leadership. In 2014, three key leaders – Nick Griffin, ex-leader of the BNP; Jim Dowson, formerly Chairman of Britain First; and Tommy Robinson, ex-EDL leader – had all withdrawn from frontline leadership roles.
Last year had seen all three attempt to make political comebacks, to varying degrees of success. Tommy Robinson, currently the most high-profile, is fresh from helping lead the first demonstration of anti-Islam group Pegida UK in Birmingham on 6 February. The group – an offshoot of the German anti-immigration movement of the same name – attacks Islam as a 'fascist ideology', with its leaders calling for a temporary halt to immigration and a five-year ban on any mosque being constructed in the UK.
While accused by critics of spreading hatred, the group insists it is not far-right and represents what it calls 'mainstream' views on immigration and Islam. The march in Birmingham saw around 200 people take part in a peaceful 'silent walk' with only one reported arrest – a 39-year-old man who formed part of an anti-fascist counter-demonstration. While calling for the government to do more about the rise in Islamophobia in the UK, Hope Not Hate also attacked some mainstream media outlets for promoting what it called 'far-right rhetoric'. It targeted Daily Mail columnist Katie Hopkins for her articles on the migrant crisis and David Cameron for describing refugees trying to reach Europe as a "swarm".
The report said: "With the rise of ISIS, terrorism in Paris and the migrant crisis, the traditional language and even polices of the far-right became worryingly mainstream. Rhetoric and behaviour that was once the preserve of the out-and-out extremists has now become increasingly mainstreamed.
"Papers such as The Express, Sun and The Mail have published articles on the refugee crisis that would not have been out of place in the propaganda of the BNP or the NF. Notable low points included Katie Hopkins' Sun article describing migrants as a "plague of feral humans" and claiming that "Some of our towns are festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum-seekers".
"Another low was a Daily Mail cartoon that depicted migrants as rats swarming across the border in an image not just reminiscent of, but very close to, the Nazi antisemitic propaganda of the 1930s. PM David Cameron, too, hit the depths, describing migrants as [a] 'swarm'."