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Some extremists are using Covid conspiracy theories and online gaming channels as a means of recruitment of UK young people.
Right-wing extremists are using COVID-19 conspiracies and online gaming as a way of recruiting young people, as data shows half of the most serious cases of suspected radicalization reported by schools and colleges now involve far-right activity.
Figures published by the Home Office show twice as many young people in education in England and Wales were thought to be at risk of radicalization by the extreme right-wing in 2020, compared with those at risk from Islamic extremists and the new figures from the government’s Prevent Anti-Extremism Programme, covering 2020-21, show that 310 people were referred to Prevent by schools, colleges and universities because of far-right links. Just 157 were referred because of vulnerability to Islamic extremism.
Ways and how the far-right extremist groups use online gaming and COVID-19 conspiracies to recruit UK youngsters
Sean Arbuthnot, a Prevent coordinator for Leicestershire said that some far-right extremist groups employ the following tactics to lure UK young people into extremists’ activities:
1. Use of leafleting campaigns against COVID-19 Vaccines and creating fear of being the minority group
The far-right extremists conduct leafleting campaigns among the young UK people with leaflets loaded with pseudo-scientific evidence promoting the narrative that COVID is a fraud in order to discourage them from getting the vaccine. They further drop the COVID-conspiracies campaigns and create fear of being the minority group on their subjects.
The extremists post links to more encrypted chat rooms or extreme right-wing codes or signs and symbols at the comment section on YouTube Platforms for their target to search online. Sean Arbuthnot described it as a troubling way right-wing extremists can play on the fears that have resulted from COVID-19 conspiracies, to groom, essentially, vulnerable young people in the online space.
Extreme views and conspiracies rising among England-UK pupils
The Prevent Coordinator said that while far-right extremism has been on the rise for several years, online apps and platforms were increasingly cropping up in referrals, including gaming platforms and chat apps such as Discord, as rightwing groups sought to reach young people.
Owen Jones, Director of Training and Education for Hope Not Hate, said the charity was seeing younger students becoming involved in far-right extremism, including boys as young as 13, often using the Telegram messaging app.
More young UK origins now being arrested for as terror suspects compared to the Asians
A record number of children were arrested on suspicion of terror offenses related to extreme rightwing and Islamists’ radicalization.
Figures released by the Home Office, according to Guardian News, show that there were 25 of such arrests were under-18 youngsters in the 12 months to September, the majority in relation to far-right ideology – an increase from 17 arrests the previous year. Under-18s accounted for 13% of all terror arrests last year, up from 8%.
In reflecting on the increasing focus on far-right activity among young UK origins, the Home Office data said 101 white people were apprehended, up 5%, and 49 people of Asian ethnic appearance, down 40% – the number of white people arrested as terror suspects is now double the number of arrests of people from an Asian background
The Deputy Assistant Commissioner and the Senior National Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism Policing (CTP), Dean Haydon, said that a 13-year-old neo-Nazi from Cornwall was found guilty of possessing bomb-making manuals and disseminating far-right materials online in February 2021 and a 17-year-old youngster from Derbyshire appeared before Westminster magistrates were charged with possessing and sharing a terrorist publication in the week of December last year. A trial is expected this year.
The Home Office banned the neo-Nazi group Sonnenkrieg Division (SKD) in February 2020, members of which have been jailed for serious offenses, making membership of the group illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison. It also recognized the extreme right-wing group System Resistance Network as an alias of the already-proscribed organization National Action.
Counter-terrorism officials expressed fears that a crucial defense to propaganda was weakened during lockdowns to curb the spread of coronavirus, with young people spending more time online alone and unsupervised as schools and colleges closed.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, announced the UK’s terror threat level would be raised from substantial to severe, meaning an attack was “highly likely”. It came after a suspected suicide bomber blew himself up with a homemade device outside a maternity hospital in Liverpool, weeks after the Conservative MP David Amess, 69, was killed during surgery for his constituents.
3 likely major reasons the extremist views and conspiracy theories among pupils are rising
1. Some far-right groups remain unbanned
Arbuthnot said he was concerned by far-right groups that have yet to be banned attaching themselves to existing controversies even though eight violent and racist rightwing groups have been proscribed by the government
2. Lack of empowerment of school teachers
Research by UCL’s Institute of Education earlier this year found teachers are seeing a rise in extremist views and conspiracy theories among pupils, but feel they lack the training or resources to tackle it. Becky Taylor of the UCL Institute of Education emphasized the need for the teachers to have the expertise to correct the pupils who get quite deep into these views and can be very well versed in all the arguments.
Owen Jones said that schools are “poorly equipped” to tackle the problem because the language of the new extreme right or alt-right has changed so much, that many teachers may not have a clue what students were talking about.
3. COVID-19 Restrictions
Loneliness during lockdowns and the ease with which young people with time on their hands can seek out extremist material online when not being supervised are also factors driving the rise in numbers, police believe.
The lockdowns, restrictions on socializing and movement and extended time spent out of school meant there had been experiences by teachers that pupils return to school with dangerous and extreme views and attitudes – speaking different languages they learned online.
Becky Taylor of the UCL Institute of Education said: “The teachers we spoke to told us it was rare for young people to join extremist groups, but it was very common for young people to express extreme views in schools.”
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