Right-wing extremists are using Covid controversies and online gaming as a way to recruit young people, as data shows half of the most serious cases of suspected radicalization reported by schools and colleges now involve extreme activity law.
The figures published by the Ministry of the Interior show that twice as many young people in school in England and Wales last year were considered to be at risk of radicalization by the far right, compared to those exposed by Islamic extremists.
New figures from the government anti-extremism program Prevent, covering 2020-2021, show that 310 people have been referred to Prevent by schools, colleges and universities because of far-right ties. Only 157 were referred due to their vulnerability to Islamic extremism.
But while less than one in five cases of suspected Islamic extremism has been aggravated by authorities, nearly one in three cases involving far-right extremism has been forwarded to the government’s Channel program, which aims to protect those considered most likely to be radicalized and attracted. in terrorist activity.
Sean Arbuthnot, Prevent’s coordinator for Leicestershire, said that while far-right extremism has been on the rise for several years, online apps and platforms are appearing more and more in referrals, including platforms. forms of games and chat apps such as Discord, as the right-wing groups sought it out. to reach young people.
While eight violent and racist right-wing groups have been outlawed by the government, Arbuthnot expressed concern that far-right groups that have yet to be banned are becoming attached to existing controversies.
“[Some] during the pandemic, they ran leaflet distribution campaigns, where they would promote the narrative that Covid is a hoax, that hospital wards are empty, and that you shouldn’t get vaccinated. Then they load their leaflets with pseudo-scientific evidence. But at the same time, they are dropping leaflets claiming whites will be a minority in Britain, which is fueling people’s fears, ”Arbuthnot said.
“If you engage with them on a YouTube platform and scroll down the comments section, then you may find links to more encrypted chat rooms or far-right codes or signs and symbols that you could.” be tempted to search.
“This is one of the disturbing ways that right-wing extremists can play on the fears that have resulted from Covid-19 and the conspiracies, to prepare, in essence, vulnerable young people in the online space. “
An East Midlands school principal – who asked not to be named – said the closures and prolonged time spent outside the school meant there had been a “shock” upon hearing students return to school with dangerous and extreme attitudes.
“A few came back, and it was like they spoke a different language that I imagine they could only have understood online,” she said.
Research by UCL’s Institute of Education earlier this year found that teachers are seeing an increase in extremist views and conspiracy theories among students, but feel they lack the training or resources to do so. to face.
Becky Taylor of the UCL Institute of Education said: “The teachers we spoke to told us that it is rare for young people to join extremist groups, but it is very common for young people to express extreme views in schools.
Of the teachers surveyed, 95% had heard students express racist views, 90% had encountered homophobia or conspiracy theories, and nearly three-quarters had encountered extremist views on women or Islamophobic views.
“For classroom teachers, because young people can deepen these points of view and can know all the arguments very well, if you yourself are not an expert in these areas, it can be very difficult to challenge them”, Taylor said. .
Owen Jones, director of training and education for Hope Not Hate, said the charity saw younger students become involved in far-right extremism, including boys as young as 13. , often using the Telegram messaging app.
Schools are “ill-equipped” to tackle the problem, Jones said, because the language of the new far-right or alt-right has changed so much that many teachers may not have a clue what the students were talking about. .
But Arbuthnot said Leicester schools and colleges have developed tailor-made projects using local organizations and charities, adapting their techniques as they become aware of new dangers.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said Prevent’s numbers underscored the need for better support for schools to tackle these issues, as well as more action from platforms. to block and remove harmful content and strong online regulation.
While the overall education sector benchmarks under Prevent have fallen – from nearly 2,000 to 1,221 in 2020-2021 – the prolonged closure of schools, colleges and universities after March of last year is responsible . The largest category of referrals were from people with unstable or unclear ideologies, but less than one in 10 of those referrals became Channel cases.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “It is vitally important that if someone is worried about someone they think is radicalized, that they act early and seek to ugly.”