Far Right radicalizationThe Far Right and reciprocal radicalization

By Samantha McGarry

Published 16 October 2018

Could fragmentation within the Far-Right contribute to increasingly extreme responses to Islamist terrorism? There is increasing evidence of instrumental responses from some of the most extreme groups, which seek to encourage the strategic use of violence.

Reciprocal radicalization, or cumulative extremism, is a concept that suggests extremist groups become more extreme in response to each other’s activity. This means a group may frame violence as justified or necessary because they perceive an opposing group as extreme. Identifying how to respond to such a dynamic has become increasingly important, as terrorist threats from both Far-Right and Islamist groups increase, alongside increased hate crime and group membership.

More research is needed to establish the extent to which extremist groups genuinely escalate in response to each other. Small groups such as the British Far-Right National Action, and their subsequent incarnations, can be particularly challenging due to the way they thrive on conflict with other groups. My own work examines individual groups at a more granular level, through which it may be possible to establish how, when and why risks increase.

Whilst they maintained secrecy, a review of their promotional, recruitment and incitement materials reveals that they, and their offshoots, (NS131, Scottish Dawn, and now System Resistance Network) have made reasonably frequent reference to Islamist extremism and hatred of Muslims, when inciting members to act.

National Action formed in 2013 in response to their dissatisfaction with the reaction of the Far-Right to the murder of Major Lee Rigby, and taking apparent inspiration from Far-Right terrorist attacks by Pavlo Lapshyn. They quickly escalated to criminality, violence and support for terrorism, including harassment of an MP and violent conflict with other far-right groups. This rapid escalation suggests that the group’s formation could itself be evidence of reciprocal radicalization processes.

In contrast, there has been little or no discernable response from Islamist groups regionally or internationally that makes reference to National Action, or comparable Far-Right groups in general. This suggests that these Far-Right groups self-sustain any response to their declared opponent even when the latter is non-responsive.

The focus of National Action’s prevailing ideology was upon Neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism and racism. This suggests the regular use of anti-Islam themes was primarily a strategic choice, to seek to increase recruitment within the context of increasingly anti-Islam narratives.