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Intolerance-Fueled Terrorism Represents Growing National Security Threat, UN Report Finds

Xenophobia, racism, and other forms of intolerance are driving increased numbers of terrorist attacks across United Nations member states, according to a new report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

“In some member states, this phenomenon now represents the most serious threat to national security, necessitating increasing attention from law enforcement, intelligence, and counter-terrorism policing agencies,” according to the report, Manual on Prevention of and Responses to Terrorist Attacks on the Basis of Xenophobia, Racism, and Other Forms of Intolerance or in the Name of Religion or Belief (Manual on XRIRB, for short).

The manual focuses in XRIRB activities and countermeasures in six member states: Australia, Canada, Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. While some of these nations categorize these sorts of terrorist attacks differently—Australia, for example, differentiates between ideologically motivated and religiously motivated violent extremism—the UN report addresses them as a whole.

“Terrorist attacks on the basis of xenophobia, racism, and other forms of intolerance, or in the name of religion or belief vary in the ideology they draw from, but are often linked by hatred and racism towards minorities, xenophobia, Islamophobia, or antisemitism,” the report said. “As explained in this manual, individuals and groups espousing such ideologies do not constitute coherent or easily defined movements but rather a shifting, complex, and overlapping milieu of individuals, groups, and movements (online and offline) espousing different but related ideologies.”

While violent extremists have always been part of the political landscape in the member states examined by the UN, the individuals and groups have used social media and other online tools to increase their reach and influence, mobilizing an “unprecedented number of supporters,” the report said. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic provided XRIRB extremist groups “an opportunity to advance their ideologies and propagate new conspiracy theories, anti-minority and anti-immigration narratives, and fake news that purport to address the fears and isolation experienced by individuals.”

The manual provides policy recommendations on how to address XRIRB-related terrorism, including:

  • Develop robust programmatic responses to terrorist attacks, informed by periodic reviews of national threat landscapes.
  • Develop national multiagency approaches to monitoring and responding to XRIRB terrorism threats.
  • Endeavor to provide sufficient resource for law enforcement agencies tasked with investigating and disrupting terrorist threats.
  • Monitor the effectiveness of surveillance and intelligence-gathering programs.
  • Establish national legislative frameworks that provide options for the prosecution of individuals or organizations associated with XRIRB terrorism. These options should include criminal offenses for the commission, planning, and preparation of actions of violence
  • Explore national legislative frameworks that appropriately criminalize violent activity and incitement to violence. This includes acts motivated by hatred or hate speech. Countries should also ensure systems are in place to collect and collate data about such crimes.
  • Develop an enhanced understanding of how terrorist attacks are financed and learn which measures are effective in countering legal and illegal sources of funding.
  • Develop understanding and awareness of the effectiveness of national administrative powers that could be used to constrain the activities and mobility of individuals engaged in XRIRB terrorism activities.
  • Develop robust mechanisms for designating individuals or organizations that provide support for terrorist attacks.
  • Apply existing legislation that addresses foreign terrorist fighters to individuals associated with XRIRB terrorism domestically.

So, what is the overall impact of XRIRB terrorism in those six member states?



Australia

Ideologically motivated violent extremism in Australia is enabled by two main factors, the report found. First, groups can recruit from social settings that often glorify or promote violence—groups like the Proud Boys have recruited from mixed martial arts and gym subcultures. Meanwhile, other neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups have drawn supporters from heavy metal and punk music scenes, as well as the military and outlaw motorcycle gangs.

“More recently, various groups associated with ideologically motivated violent extremism have become involved with movements opposed to public measures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing for interaction with individuals from other political orientations, based on shared narratives of distrust of government agencies and pharmaceutical companies,” the manual said.

The second key factor is the Internet. The connectivity it provides has enhanced actors’ abilities to conduct outreach—including internationally—and recruit new supporters. Accelerationist neo-Nazis have used the Internet to recruit individuals with the end-goal of having them commit acts of violence, according to the UN.



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Canada

Since 2014, lone Canadian threat actors who were motivated in whole or in part by their ideological views have killed 26 people and wounded 40 on Canadian soil in seven attacks. Two additional plots were disrupted. Most terrorist attacks were conducted by individuals, not cells.

“Adherents of ideologically motivated violent extremism in Canada are driven by a range of grievances, ideas, and narratives, including conspiracy theories,” the report said. “The resulting world view consists of personalized narratives that centre on the willingness to incite, enable, and mobilize to violence, including to achieve societal change. These narratives include the protection of the white race, loss of confidence in institutions, the pending collapse of society through civil war or race war, and hatred of women and the LGBTQI community.”

Common conspiracy theories among ideologically motivated extremists in Canada are linked to anti-Semitism, QAnon, and opposition to COVID-19-related lockdowns and vaccinations.

Germany

Germany has experienced an overall increase in the levels and visibility of right-wing violent extremism over the past decade. The main ideological movements of concern in Germany are variants of neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and xenophobic ideology, which focus on maintaining or restoring an ethno-religious homogeneity of Germany society and state, the report said.

“Thus, it is not surprising that, in the last few years, violence against immigrants has become the most common manifestation of right-wing extremist violence in Germany, a trend that was intensified with the arrival to Germany of more than a million refugees from the civil war in the Syrian Arab Republic,” the manual added.

Beyond attacks against immigrants and refugees, Jewish communities and institutions are still popular targets for German extremists.

Read more about the extremist situation in Germany in “How the Franco A. Case Changed the Way Germany Confronts Extremism.”

Norway

“The enemy stereotypes of right-wing violent extremist ideology in Norway are often Muslims, non-Western immigrants, Jews, LGBTQI communities, the traditional media and those on the political left. Other potential targets are politicians and representatives of state authorities who are perceived as facilitating immigration and helping to destroy the white race and its culture,” the manual noted.

Since the terrorist attacks in Norway on 22 July 2011, right-wing terrorism has become especially transnational in recent years as extremist groups draw inspiration from each other. Groups have developed cross-border networks and cooperation through transnational organizations and events such as conferences and festivals.

XRIRB threats in Norway are characterized by three key features, the report found: threats are primarily posed by individuals; digitalization has increased the geographic and numerical reach of extremist content, making use of memes, humor, film clips, and conspiracy theories to spread propaganda; and the COVID-19 pandemic had a unifying effect on different right-wing violent extremism milieus.

“Anti-state conspiracy theories such as the ‘new world order’ and ‘deep state’ theories, based on the idea that the world is governed by a secret, global elite, have also gained a foothold in Norway,” the Manual on XRIRB reported.



United Kingdom

“The constellation of extreme far-right terrorist groups in the United Kingdom do not exist in a state of national isolation but form part of a wider international network of organizations,” the UN said. Extremist groups appear to have connections with foreign far-right militia organizations, including violent extremist movements in other countries like Germany.

Despite the presence of organized far-right networks and affiliations, a greater threat is posed by lone actors and small cells. According to an analysis of violent and terrorist attacks committed by far-right actors in the UK between 1991 and 2019, 50 percent of the 90 documented violent attacks were conducted by individuals acting alone. A further 10 attacks were committed by small groups of two to three people.

“In the majority of those cases, there was no indication that the perpetrator had had a recognized affiliation with any far-right violent extremist group in the United Kingdom, suggesting that the perpetrators were likely to have been inspired by online networks that may or may not have been linked to those organizations, a development that represents a distinct challenge for law enforcement and counter-terrorism authorities,” the manual said.

Alongside violent attacks, far-right extremist incidents in the UK have contributed to a rise in hate crime incidents. Between March 2020 and March 2021, 124,091 hate crimes were recorded by police in England and Wales—92,052 of those were racially motivated.

United States

“As is the case in other member states, racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists in the United States are characterized by significant ideological diversity and organizational instability (frequent merges and splits), as well as various operational methods,” the Manual on XRIRB said. “Fatal violence by such violent extremists is typically committed by lone actors or small cells against minorities and carried out on soft targets such as religious institutions, public events, and businesses. Some racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists have shown a willingness to engage in cooperation and collaboration when they have shared similar objectives, such as the separation or subjugation of races.”

Domestic violent extremist actors in the United States fall primarily into two categories: racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism (especially white supremacist violent extremism) and anti-government or anti-authority violent extremism (militia violent extremism in particular).

New militia structures, such as those employed by the Boogaloo network and other similar online-based groups, are less centralized and more informal in form. This facilitates more effective local recruitment and mobilization to violence while posing a challenge to law enforcement agents who are trying to find the groups’ main leaders.

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