Tag Archives: Far-right

Far-right militancy to increase in form of cells and lone-wolves – Europe Special Report

Executive Summary

A series of attacks and arrests linked to far-right individuals in Europe, as well as statistics and official statements from a number of European governments, underscore the threat as fast becoming the primary militant issue going forward.

Modern right-wing militancy has taken on a particularly transnational character, with online forums enabling communication and radicalization between countries.

Attacks in one country can easily spur similar copy-cat incidents in others due to social media and international news coverage.

Far-right militants come in two forms. Major cells will continue to form and operate but are more likely to be detected by security forces. Lone-wolves constitute the most significant threat but, in most cases, do not have the access to fire-arms of their American counterparts.

Far-right attacks are likely to grow in number across Western and Northern Europe, with migrant, religious, and political targets being specifically singled out.

Recommendations

Security plans should be updated to reflect the relevant threats associated with far-right militancy, including up-to-date training for staff, particularly regarding both the online and in-person profiles of attackers. Pay attention to differing threats from organized cells and lone-wolf individuals.

Public, private, and third sector organizations are advised to increase their awareness of threats on social media through the use of threat monitoring services. Increased awareness of an organization’s political footprint and perceptions from fringe online groups can help uncover potential violent actors and plots before they occur.

Institutions should increase their intelligence collection capabilities, including HUMINT, OSINT, and Deep & Dark web searches in order to understand the full spectrum of threats.

Immediately alert authorities of any suspicious behavior or items.

Background

Notable far-right attacks and arrests in Europe 2019

The rise of far-right ideologies in Europe saw a milestone during the European Parliament elections in 2019 when a number of far-right, alt-right, or populist parties were some of the top-performing political groups. In France, Italy, and the UK, far-right or populist-right parties came top, with similar outcomes reported in a number of other countries, and populist right parties increasing their total share of the European Parliament by almost 30%.

On August 14, the German Interior Ministry released figures registering 8,605 “right-wing extremist” offenses in the first half of 2019. This was an increase by over 900 compared to the same period of 2018. The 8,605 crimes attributed to far-right groups or motives included 363 violent incidents, with at least 179 people injured. Some sources indicated that the actual number of incidents could be higher due to state police officials often classifying right-wing offenses as non-political in initial reports.

In addition, a number of major political and social developments occurred in Europe which increased and catalyzed far-right sentiments across the continent. These included the migrant and refugee crisis, perceptions of economic disparity, the increase in militant incidents attributed to the Islamic State, the growth of social media as the primary method of consuming media, and a rise in Euroscepticism, illustrated through Brexit. Broadly, this built on a disillusionment with the centrist and center-left politics which dominated large parts of the West for much of the last decade.

Concurrently, crimes attributed to anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, racist, xenophobic sentiments saw significant increases in a number of European countries in the previous decade. In Germany, the number of criminal incidents per year that were attributed to such sentiments increased by around 47% from 2007 to 2018. Similarly, in the UK, there was an increase of around 45% between 2011 and 2016, with the numbers further rising after Brexit.

A number of European governments have spoken out in recent months of the significantly increasing threat of far-right groups in the region. In July, the UK’s Home Office warned that right-wing extremists were forming the most significant group of militants in the country, while the far-right threat was included in the official terrorist warnings for the first time. In Germany, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer claimed that the June 2 shooting of a CDU politician should serve as a “wake-up call” for the country, arguing that “right-wing extremism is a serious danger for our free society.”

Assessments and Forecast

Transnationalization of the far-right through online forums

One development in the current state of the far-right is the transnational character it has taken on, largely through communications online and shared grievances among a number of Western countries. The transnational nature of a globally interconnected world, which has become a focus of many far-right talking points, meant that individuals who would be susceptible to far-right ideologies began feeling affected by similar issues throughout the world. It is through these shared issues that global echo chambers arose of far-right sympathizers who congregate online to discuss problems of immigration, conspiracies of Jewish power, white supremacy, and other extremist ideas.

Much of this transnational communication came through access to social media and online forums which either cater to such ideas or are unable to police the content. The rise of ‘meme culture’ bolstered this ideology, as users were able to radicalize new members by presenting extremist political ideas through cartoons and jokes, bypassing the negative connotations of neo-Nazism or fascism. Many of the more extreme members of the far-right online community have migrated to websites such as Gab and 8chan, which have little to no restrictions on content and, therefore, become hotbeds for far-right and neo-Nazi activity.

The global nature of news media has also increased the transnational nature of the far-right. As the ideology focuses on the preservation of the ‘white race,’ any incident in the world which is carried out in the name of this goal is highly praised by such communities, regardless of where the attack took place. In this regard, it is notable that two far-right attacks were recorded in the UK and one in Norway following the widespread sharing of news about the Christchurch attacks. Mass attacks in one country are highly likely to spur copycat attacks abroad in the following weeks, particularly in countries with similar cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

With regards to government action to stop far-right militancy, the transnational and loosely structured nature of online far-right activism means that, while security forces may be able to foil attacks, a government attempt to fight the ideology will be difficult. It is highly unlikely that any single government will be able to successfully undertake a deradicalization program without the help of the international community. With that, it is likely that this phenomenon will continue to expand in Europe, with various right-wing governments reluctant to fully engage in fighting the far-right, due to political benefits of discussing grievances such as immigration.

Notable far-right groups in Europe

Organized Militant Cells

Organized militant groups represent the long-term progression of neo-Nazi cells, which have galvanized in popularity following a general increase in far-right sentiments and through far-right culture online. These cells often form doctrines based around neo-Fascist ideologies, historical revisionism, and frequently link to other subcultures such as local gangs, hooliganism, and fringe political parties. For the most part, many of these groups continue to look up to some form of National Socialism or local brand of extremist nationalism. Many have built strong online followings and grow their support through encrypted messaging apps, online forums, and social media.

These groups make up a large number of the far-right-linked arrests in Europe. Security forces often track members who have been involved in weapons smuggling. Furthermore, such groups are likely to have links with certain members of the military or far-right political parties in their respective country. This has largely played a role in helping groups with training, planning, and building networks. The groups, similar to many other extremist militant organizations, are often more popular among disenfranchised members of society, particularly focussing on young white males who feel abandoned by the political direction of their country, and Europe in particular.

It is important to note that much of the structure of modern far-right groups, including the online base, use of encrypted social media, knowledge of attack methods, and even choice of methods come from behavior learned from Islamist cells in Europe. Many of these groups strongly followed news about jihadism in Europe and likely used this template to help construct their own groups.

Far-right cells are more likely to attempt to carry out major attacks than lone-wolves, with goals of fundamentally changing or affecting the political system of Europe. Many foiled incidents have seen groups building large arms caches, looking to target high profile political or religious targets, meanwhile much of their rhetoric continues to have revolutionary themes. Future attack plans, whether successful or not, are likely to include attempts to build powerful IEDs or carry out multi-faceted and sophisticated attacks, involving a number of methods and targets. Far-right militant groups are likely to look to target individuals or institutions which they believe represent a specific threat to their ideology, including refugee centers, mosques and synagogues, minority leaders, and left-wing political figures or events.

Far-right targets & tactics

Lone-Wolf Militants

As with the trend in other types of militancy, far-right militancy in Europe has also moved towards a lone-wolf angle. This likely comes from two main sources. First, lone-wolf attacks are much easier to carry out, as they avoid the high-risk communications between various different cell-members, which are more likely to alert security forces. Similarly, planning can be done alone and in secret. Second, the extremely visible trend of lone-wolf shootings with a far-right character in the USA, catalyzed, in part, by a dramatic increase in extremist and violent rhetoric online, has led to the radicalization of young, often mentally unstable men.

While lone-wolf attacks in Europe are unlikely to be as destructive as they are in the USA, largely due to the difficulty in obtaining firearms, they remain the most likely types of attacks. Unlike the attacks by larger militant cells, such attacks are likely to be unsophisticated and have lower impact. Many of the attacks may involve vehicular rammings, stabbings, or shootings with low-quality firearms.

Lone-wolf attacks are likely to be similarly targeted, looking to focus on individuals, institutions, or events which are particularly relevant to the far-right ideology, however, they are also likely to be far smaller and more local in character. It’s more probable that a lone-wolf will attack within their town or the area of their city, rather than traveling to the capital, in an attempt to carry out a major attack. This will likely increase the number of attacks happening in more peripheral areas in Europe.

Notable Militant Incidents

Attacks in 2019

Germany: A Christian Democratic Union (CDU) politician was shot dead on June 2, 2019, described by authorities as an ‘execution’ by a person who justified it based on the politician’s ‘pro-refugee’ stance. While details of the shooter were sparse in the days following the incident, far-right forums immediately began celebrating the shooter, attributing it as revenge for the politician’s support for migration. On June 15, a 45-year-old man was arrested in connection with the incident, with police confirming their suspicions of a far-right motive.

Germany: On January 1, 2019, an individual rammed his car into a crowd in Bottrop, western Germany in an attack suspected to be motivated by far-right ideologies. Among the people injured, seven were migrants, including two children. When the suspect was detained in Essen, after attempting to ram another set of pedestrians, he reportedly made racist remarks to police officers, with a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party calling it an act of ‘right-wing violence’.

Norway: On August 10, one person was injured when an individual wearing a uniform and body armor entered a Mosque in Skui, just outside of Oslo, and shot at three congregants. The man entered with two shotguns and a pistol and was later arrested by police. He is believed to have been influenced by far-right ideologies.

UK: On March 15, 2019, Muslim individuals were attacked with hammers outside of east London mosque by three men who were said to have shouted Islamophobic abuse. The attack occurred a number of hours after the Christchurch attack in New Zealand, in which 51 Muslim worshipers were killed in two mosques.

Arrests in 2019

France: On June 11, French authorities arrested members of a neo-Nazi cell across the country, beginning in Grenoble with the arrest of a volunteer police officer who had been amassing weapons. The members had been planning to attack Jewish institutions and Muslim places of worship. Five members of the group were closely associated with neo-Nazi ideologies and were charged between September 2018 and May 2019. Among the targets was the annual dinner of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF). Naming themselves ‘L’Oiseau Noir’ (Black Bird), they were charged under terror offenses and for being part of a militant conspiracy.

Greece: Greek police arrested a man they believed to be the leader of the far-right militant group ‘Krypteia’ on June 4. The detained individual worked as a professor and is expected to be charged with arson, possession of weapons, and threats. The group has previously been implicated in an arson attack on an Afghan community center in March 2018, for ‘firebombing’ a migrant center in Athens in April 2018, and setting fire to a migrant camp Nea Manolada, Ilia in June 2018. Separately, the group claimed to have carried out over 21 attacks in 2018 in a leaked email.

Italy: Multiple military weapons, including a functioning air-to-air missile, were seized from a far-right group in Turin, northern Italy, per July 15 reports. Additional raids took place in Forli, Milan, Novara, Pavia, and Varese in conjunction with  Direzione Centrale della Polizia di Prevenzione (DCPP). It reportedly was conducted following an investigation into individuals with extremist ideologies who took part in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Three people were arrested including a former candidate for Senate for the far-right Forza Nuova. In addition to the weapons, authorities found large amounts of pro-fascist or Nazi memorabilia.

UK: Two teenage members of far-right groups from Leeds and west London were jailed on June 18 for calling for attacks on Prince Harry over his marriage to Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle and minorities including non-white and Jewish people. The men, 18 and 19 years old, were part of the Sonnenkrieg Division, a far-right neo-Nazi group. An online blog run by one of the men included violent misogynistic content, including multiple calls for violent sexual assault, calling for readers to become ‘a machine of terror’. He was also found in possession of bomb-making instructions inspired by similar material used by militant Islamist groups. Both individuals were active online on the website Gab, which predominantly features a right-wing user base, designing propaganda to encourage militant attacks and to recruit members.

El Paso Shooting – Domestic far-right shooters become primary militant threat as online communities act as hubs for radicalization, catalyzing attacks – USA Analysis

Written and Edited by Saad Lambe and Ollie Wiltshire

Executive Summary

Far-right online communities have increasingly shifted towards planning and calling for militant attacks, demonstrating the increased threat from such forums.

Calls for attacks against traditional far-right targets, including Jewish and Muslim communities, have seen a significant increase.

Corporations aligning with perceived left-wing political views are frequently discussed in a violent context.

Attendees at left-wing rallies, particularly those with right-wing counter-protests, face an increased threat of being identified online and targeted.

Far-right attacks from lone wolves will take place in the coming months as a result of the uptick in online activity.

Increase awareness of threats on social media through the use of threat monitoring services.

Current Situation

On August 3, a man entered a large supermarket in El Paso, Texas and opened fire on shoppers, killing 20 and wounding 26. The shooter posted a manifesto on 8chan, which described his opposition to the ‘Latino takeover’ of Texas. While he disavowed both the Democratic and Republican party, the manifesto included terms such as ‘fake news’ popularized during President Donald Trump’s campaign. Additionally, he stated that he was inspired by the Christchurch, NZ shooter and echoed talking points of the conspiracy theory ‘the great replacement’, naming it as the reason he targeted Hispanic and Latino people.

Following the shooting, 8chan’s hosting provider, Cloudflare, dropped the website as a client due to it being a convergence point for militants, which is expected to disrupt access to the website. With the presence of multiple competitors in the market, reports state that this incident is unlikely to have a long-term impact on the website.

A far-right militant entered a festival in Gilroy, CA on July 29 with a semi-automatic weapon and opened fire on attendees leading to the death of two people. The shooter was killed in a confrontation with the police having asked his social media followers to read a far-right extremist book before committing the attack.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Christopher Wray stated on July 23 in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that a significant percentage of domestic militant suspects arrested had been linked to white supremacy, additionally stating that over 100 domestic militant arrests had taken place from October 2018 to July 2019.

Portland, Oregon witnessed clashes on June 29 between members of the anti-fascist Antifa group and the far-right Proud Boys group, leading to several injuries. A member of the Proud Boys threatened to kill Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and a number of people on far-right forums rallied against what they perceived as ‘state-sanctioned violence’, calling for violence against people they identified as Antifa members.

On April 27, 2019, a gunman entered the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, California and killed one person with a semi-automatic rifle and injured three others.  He attempted to live stream a video of the shooting to Facebook but failed. He yelled anti-semitic slurs while entering and posted an anti-semitic manifesto on the far-right online forum 8chan before carrying out the attack. He had previously committed arson at a mosque and was allegedly inspired by the Christchurch shooter.

A Coast Guard Lieutenant, Christopher Paul Hasson, was arrested in Maryland on February 15, 2019, in the USA with a large stockpile of weapons, intending to commit an attack on a scale he claimed was ‘rarely seen in this country’. He identified as a white nationalist and had been collecting weapons since 2017. He planned to attack members of the Democratic Party, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with television anchors from several high-profile networks perceived as ‘liberal’ and being biased against the right-wing community.

Notable far right incidents in 2019

Background

Far-right attacks in North America have increasingly involved a single perpetrator (lone-wolf), self-radicalized through online propaganda, involving ‘memes’ depicting migrants and people-of-color as invaders, posing a threat to the ‘white race’.

Individuals committing attacks and associated with far-right communities follow a path involving joking about attacks against certain target groups, which is usually applauded and reinforced by other members. They then begin stockpiling weapons, settling on a target, and researching the premises before executing the attack.

A large number of far-right militants were inspired by ideas espoused in Anders Behring Breivik’s manifesto used to justify his 2011 attacks in Norway and have released similar documents before attacks. This was highlighted by the Christchurch attacker, who posted his manifesto online on 8chan.

Far-right online communities have been instrumental in the dissemination of propaganda intended to establish the white race as ‘inherently superior’, as well as to push propaganda such as the ‘Great Replacement Theory’, which portrays Muslims attempting to convert a ‘Christian West’ into an Islamic homeland by sustained high-levels of migration.

Several far-right communities engage in ‘doxxing’, a term used to describe identifying an anonymous user or person’s personal details, in an attempt to intimidate, harass, and threaten the victim. While previously restricted to users online, members have begun posting images of left-wing activists at counter-protests in an attempt to identify and potentially harass and attack them.

Glossary of Terms

Assessments & Forecast

Increased calls for militant attacks likely to heighten security threat against traditional far-right targets

There has been a notable increase in calls for attacks on traditional far-right targets, including Jewish and Muslim communities, on websites such as 8chan and Gab with a dominant far-right userbase, which have been used to post militant manifestos due to their relaxed content rules.

On far-right forums, calls for attacks are largely indirect and usually in response to events perceived as ‘anti right-wing’. Recruitment for potential militants begins by appealing to traditionally conservative issues including anti-immigrant sentiments and orthodox conceptions of the family, which later devolves into calls for forum users to join ‘state militias’ which have often been described as possessing a far-right leaning.

While Gab has occasionally enforced rules over direct threats, 8chan allows this content to be posted regardless of its nature. In this regard, 8chan is likely to grow as one of the primary modes of propaganda dissemination and calls to action for far-right extremists online. Such content will come in the form of ‘memes’ and short-form media, including images and gifs, allowing the ideology to easily embed itself within more palatable internet culture.

Posts from 8chan calling for violence

A common theme of conversation includes corporations perceived as aligning with left-wing issues, such as civil rights and diversity, along with social media and news corporations accused of bias against right-wing groups. These discussions largely take place in a violent setting, with accusations of being funded by secretive ‘anti-white’ groups. In this regard, this behavior demonstrates the increased threat faced by these companies from far-right individuals over their political views.

Calls against Jewish targets rely on a variety of anti-semitic tropes, attempting to instigate readers into stopping Jewish ‘influence’ in politics and socio-economic issues on the world stage. Certain key personalities, including George Soros, are frequently mentioned, implying a stronger focus towards committing violence against Jewish people in political, corporate, and community positions.

Muslim communities in the West are largely painted as ‘invaders’, using the great replacement theory which was mentioned by the Christchurch shooter. As such, calls for attacks specifically mention mosques and Muslim community centers in Western countries, designating them as potential targets.

In the Gilroy, CA shooting on July 29, the shooter posted on social media asking followers to read a far-right book, common in white-supremacist groups before committing the attack. This highlights an ongoing trend among militants, attempting to clarify their intentions for the attack, likely brought on by multiple ‘white-power’ movements with differing goals.

As seen in the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto, many online calls will include references to ‘internet culture’ known as dog-whistle tactics, in which content is used to mean different things to the general public and the far-right audience. Given that a large number of ‘memes’ and culture-specific images have been created to evoke racist imagery within these communities, it is often used to subtly encourage violence towards groups. This is often termed as ‘redpilling’, a phrase used by online far-right communities to indicate the ‘conversion’ of a casual user into one who fits the profile of a traditional far-right user.

The recent wave of shootings served to highlight the trend of far-right incidents trickling down from casual hate-speech online to real-life violence. While the majority may not act based on hate-speech, the inherent nature of such closed-off communities attracts psychologically unstable individuals who are increasingly susceptible to these forms of propaganda.

Post about "red pilling" from far-right group on 8chan and Gab

Attempts to identify (dox) protesters and call for violence at left-wing rallies likely to grow, including dissemination of false information

With both left-wing and right-wing events predominantly being promoted and discussed online, there will likely continue to be an increase in discussions centered around what takes place at these rallies.

Far-right communities have included inflammatory content, especially false warnings about Antifa and other left-wing groups planning to commit attacks at right-wing rallies and calling for attendees to carry weapons to protect themselves which is likely to lead to further clashes at right-wing rallies going forward.

Some users on the social media website Reddit’s now restricted ‘The_Donald’ forum attempted to create a document containing personal details of individuals believed to be ‘anti-Trump’. This document featured generic information, including age and vague location, but in some cases, it featured details including ethnicity, sexual orientation, and home and business addresses. The details imply that members of the LGBT community and other minority groups are priority targets for these radical factions.

Most recently echoed in a Portland, OR rally by a far-right group called the Proud Boys, comments made on Gab included screenshots of individuals’ social media profiles who were perceived as left-wing activists, descriptions of their workplace, as well as photos of a rope meant to call for lynchings. Some allegedly left-wing members identified were unlikely t be members of Antifa, instead, such false-positives were likely targeting unaffiliated counter-protesters. This behavior reinforces the danger presented to civilians unconnected to both Antifa and other left-wing groups who may be misidentified through these actions and targeted for attacks.

Journalists have increasingly been targeted in recent years, especially those deemed as left-wing. Far-right users, in particular, believe in a larger conspiracy against right-wing groups among “mainstream” media. This was demonstrated in the case of the coast guard arrest, who planned to attack several left-wing commentators due to their perceived bias. Therefore, journalists are likely to continue being the target of online harassment, with the increased possibility of threats online devolving into physical violence.

Based on previous attacks, instances of violence directed towards ‘doxxed’ individuals may include pipe bombs, possibly containing TATP often employed by Islamic State (IS) members, with the wide availability of manufacturing instructions online.

Gab post attempting to Dox

Recommendations

Public, private, and third sector organizations are advised to increase their awareness of threats on social media through the use of threat monitoring services. Increased awareness of an organization’s political footprint and perceptions from fringe online groups can help uncover potential violent actors and plots before they occur.

Jihad & the Far-Right: The Dual Terror Threat Facing the West – New Zealand Special Report

Written by Ollie Wiltshire and Ziv Reuben

Executive Summary

Following the deaths of 50 people in the Christchurch Mosque shootings, Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda and Islamic State, called for reprisal attacks on far-right and Christian sites.

The rhetoric of the New Zealand shooter and the publications from the jihadist groups underscore that the two ideologies are catalyzing each other and increasing radicalization and the potential for attacks.

Far-right militants are more likely to be radicalized by the decentralized online community who perpetuate extremist ideologies. They are more likely to attack specific targets with ideological significance.

Jihadist militants are often radicalized by pro-Islamist online messaging groups and are targeted by recruiters to carry out attacks. They are more likely to attack public places in urban areas.

Threats to Global Businesses

This interactive relationship between far-right and jihadist lone-wolves has a number of implications on global businesses:

  1. Potential for attacks will increase around times of heightened tensions between Muslim communities and nationalist communities.
  2. Companies that are deemed by either the far-right groups or jihadists to be opposing one ideology or aiding the other may become specific targets. This threat is particularly relevant with regards to the far-right, who are more likely to attack specific companies.
  3. Those who may be radicalized may not be obviously adhering to extremist ideologies and may be mostly interacting with such groups online. They could be hard to detect and may be working within an organization.
  4. Targets with specific cultural significance are more likely to be attacked. This includes religious sites or overtly religious gatherings.

Christchurch Attack and Aftermath

50 people were killed and 50 others wounded in two consecutive shooting attacks at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand during the Friday afternoon prayers on March 15. The perpetrator, a 28-year-old Australian identified as Brenton Tarrant, was arrested shortly after; he live-streamed parts of the attack.

The attack was carried out using two assault rifles, two shotguns, and another rifle. These firearms were reportedly bought via an online store. Two undetonated IEDs were found attached to a car in the area.

The suspect released a document detailing his motivations and ideologies, which he also emailed to Prime Minister Jacintha Arden. According to Tarrant, his motivation for the attack was to “crush immigration and deport those invaders already living on our soil”. Tarrant states that he developed his views in 2017, and was influenced by the Stockholm vehicular attack and French elections that year. He claimed that he traveled through Western Europe during this time.

Following the attack, Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda (AQ)-linked online groups released a series of messages calling for attacks on churches and Christians as a retaliation for the Christchurch attack.

The media foundations al-Andalus and Az-Zallaqa released a statement on March 18 in response to the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand calling on supporters to attack members of the far-right. Al-Andalus is the media outlet of al-Qaeda-Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), operating in North Africa, while Az-Zallaqa is the media outlet of Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam waal Muslimeen (JNIM), an al-Qaeda coalition operating in sub-Saharan Africa. The statement encourages young Muslims to carry out attacks on members of the far-right for inciting hatred and attacks on Muslims, specifically mentioning those who supported the attack in Christchurch within the media and on social networks.

Relationship between Far-right and Jihadist Radicals

While the New Zealand attack was clearly a part of the ongoing trend of far-right attacks being carried out by individuals radicalized online, the quick and strong response from jihadist groups over the incident is highly notable. It appears that the cycle of violence between the far-right and jihadist groups is escalating, with online communities radicalizing young European individuals to carry out lone-wolf attacks against Muslims and jihadist groups calling on lone-wolf Muslim youth to respond in kind. In this regard, it is important to note that the threat of self-radicalized individuals carrying out attacks now comes from two ends of the extremist ideological spectrum, both far-right and jihadist.

In addition, the rhetoric being used by the far-right and the rhetoric being used by jihadist groups feed into each other, escalating the threat of violence with each attack. That is to say, when a major attack carried by a jihadist militant occurs, far-right online chatter will increase and anti-Muslim sentiment will rise. This has the potential to push certain individuals towards carrying out lone-wolf attacks, which will then increase radicalization among Muslim communities. Although this is likely to happen throughout the world, areas where Muslim communities and communities of European descent meet are likely to be the most affected, including Western Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Recommendations

Avoid the vicinity of far-right protests, rallies, or buildings due to the potential for jihadists to target such gatherings.

Maintain vigilance in the vicinity of religious sites, refugee centers, or any institution which may be perceived to be linked to immigration.

Remain cognizant of your surroundings, including any suspicious behavior of individuals, which may include a person wearing winter clothing during warm weather and/or seemingly wandering around, as well as items that look out of place, such as bags or containers.

Immediately alert authorities of any suspicious behavior or items.

Public, private, and third sector organizations are advised to increase their awareness of threats on social media through the use of threat monitoring services. Increased awareness of an organization’s political footprint and perceptions from fringe online groups can help uncover potential violent actors and plots before they occur.

 

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Pittsburgh Shooting – How Social Media became a Platform for Decentralized Radicalism and Political Violence – USA Special Analysis Report

This intelligence report was written by: Ollie Wiltshire, Regional Director of Intelligence for Europe and the Americas 

Executive Summary

The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting by a white nationalist underscores the decentralized nature of radicalism in the USA, which is increasingly found on online domains.

The comments and influence that the social media site Gab had on the Pittsburgh shooter underscore the potency of some online political communities in catalyzing violence.

Further incidents of violence are likely to stem from similar cases of online radicalism, coming in the form for far-right, far-left, and Islamist attacks.

Public, private, and third sector organizations are advised to increase their awareness of threats on social media through the use of threat monitoring services.

Please be advised

On October 27, 2018, at 09:54 (local time) a white male entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1.6 km east of Carnegie Mellon University and 8 km east of downtown Pittsburgh, with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and at least three handguns. Upon entering the synagogue he was able to discharge his weapons, killing 11 worshippers and wounding six others, including four police officers. The suspect, who was taken into custody following a shootout with security forces, was later found to be Robert Bowers who will be charged with 29 federal criminal counts. While inside the synagogue, which was relatively full due to the Shabbat morning services, the shooter reportedly shouted a number of anti-Semitic statements, including saying to the police while surrendering, “all Jews need to die”.

The suspect, Robert Bowers, is a 46-year-old resident of Baldwin, Pennsylvania, a southern suburb of Pittsburgh. He was an active user of the social media platform Gab, where he registered in January under the handle “@onedingo”. His account description read ‘”jews are the children of satan. (John 8:44) — the lord jesus christ is come in the flesh (sic)”’. His cover picture was a photo with the number 1488, which is commonly associated with neo-Nazis and white supremacists. While using the platform Bowers published a number of posts, as well as reposting the content of others, which indicated that he was a believer that white people were being targeted for genocide in the United States and that Jews were responsible. In addition, Bowers criticized President Donald Trump for not being a nationalist and being controlled by Jews. Many of Bowers’ views appear to have surrounded the idea that Jews were catalyzing immigration into the US to the detriment of white citizens. Bowers had no known connections to any organized militant group.

Bowers reportedly made anti-Semitic posts directed at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) National Refugee Shabbat, in which Tree of Life Synagogue was participating, in the weeks before the shooting. The event was held to show support from the Jewish community towards various pro-refugee and immigrant initiatives. According to his social media, Bowers claimed that the group was aiding members of Central American caravans moving towards the United States border and referring to members of those caravans as “invaders”. Shortly before the attack, in an apparent reference to immigrants to the US, Bowers posted on Gab that “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

Background

The attack on the Pittsburgh synagogue came just two days after the arrest of Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr., a Florida resident, in connection with a series of letter bombs in the United States which targeted liberal and pro-Democratic public figures. Sayoc was a registered Republican and was reported to be active on social media, where he would often post views deemed “extremist”, particularly with regards to his support for various right-wing policies and anti-liberal messages. Similar to Bowers, Sayoc was believed to have acted alone and had no known connection to any organized militant groups.

Of the 14 incidents which were considered “terrorist” attacks in the US between the beginning of 2016 and the end of October 2018, only four had any connection with an organized militant group (in this case, the Islamic State), and these were only claims of allegiance. On three occasions, the Islamic State (IS) or IS-linked media stated that the attack was inspired by them. On one occasion, the claim came from the assailant himself, who stated that he had carried out the attack in the name of the group. Of all the militant incidents that have happened in the US since 2016, none were found to have been specifically planned or conducted by an organized militant group. On the contrary, all of the violent attacks carried out by non-state actors with the intention of catalyzing a climate of fear for political purposes were carried out by unaffiliated individuals. The vast majority of these individuals had been radicalized online, through both regular and social media.

Assessments & Forecast

Recent US attacks underscore lack of clarity between organized militancy and lone-wolf incidents

The shooting in Pittsburgh, the mail bombs across the USA, and the vast number of IS-inspired incidents in the country and throughout the West, illustrate that the difference between organized militancy and lone-wolf attacks has become increasingly convoluted. While traditionally both governments and the media had differentiated between “terrorism” and lone-wolves, the increase in radicalization online and individuals carrying out attacks on their own volition has shown that militancy has become democratized.

Those who carry out attacks no longer need to have any relation to charismatic militant leaders; they can be radicalized online. They no longer need to be in a specific geographical location to find ideologically like-minded extremists; they can be recruited to carry out attacks through social media. These individuals also no longer need large networks of criminal and militant connections to acquire attacking expertise or equipment; they can research and purchase such materials via the internet. Moreover, it has become ineffective, in many cases, to organize a militant group in a single location, where police are more likely to be alerted to activities. It is more effective to gain influence in online spaces, encouraging radical ideas and calling for attacks, which will then catalyze the individual’s motivation to carry out a shooting, stabbing, or vehicular ramming. In many cases, targeted individuals may have pre-existing issues with mental health, potentially making them more susceptible to radicalization.

Such was the case with Robert Bowers, who was not known to have any militant links but had engaged with extremist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic rhetoric on the Gab social media platform, which likely exacerbated pre-existing views. He did not appear to have been encouraged by any politically-motivated central organization to choose his target or carry out the attack; the shooting was entirely of his own doing. Nonetheless, there are also political ideologies within the US which will benefit or use the shooting to further their extremist views, with far-right users online praising Bowers and conspiracy theorists arguing that the attack was a “false flag” intended to cast a negative light on pro-white ideologies.

Social media created a base for extremism, increasing difficulty in countering radical ideologies, as well as opportunities for countermeasures

The use of websites such as Gab and the encrypted messaging network, Telegram, has become a base for a number of radical and pro-militancy groups, both far-right and jihadist. Through such social media websites, they have found a unique platform with which to discuss their ideologies, unchallenged and unaffected with the outside world; an environment which breeds radicalism due to the continued validation of their beliefs. While such platforms do not, themselves, encourage militancy, they are preferred by more extremist groups due to the premium that they place on privacy, particularly from government oversight, and on free speech, with both platforms being preferred by covert and fringe groups. FORECAST: Further cases of radicalization and militancy being planned, announced, or inspired on such websites will continue going forward, with this framework for attacks likely becoming among the most common in the West. This will particularly be the case in the US which is increasingly experiencing a climate of political violence and lone-wolf attacks.

With an understanding of militancy which moves away from a structured organization of fighters to a loose ideology which can recruit individuals across the world, comes new problems with regards to counter-militancy. Attempts to mitigate and stop attacks before they arise can no longer rely on methods of surveillance and infiltration of small cells while attempting to neutralize leaders. Rather, it is necessary that governments and private institutions take a more active role in analyzing such social media platforms for general trends with regards to possible targets, methods, and attacker profiles. Ideological and “meme” trends on such platforms can give indications of tendencies, while deep and dark web infiltration can allow for greater access to information on possible attacks. For example, the comments from Bowers in which he ends with “Screw your optics, I’m going in.” – indicated an imminent attack and could have been found, through online monitoring, prior to the incident to aid with mitigation attempts.

How the recent developments in militancy impact global corporate security

It is evident from both the Pittsburgh shooting and, perhaps more pertinently, from the mail bomber, that, unlike with IS attacks, the targets of this decentralized paradigm of militancy are not necessarily random. In fact, in both cases, they were highly specific. In the case of the Pittsburgh attack, it was the local Jewish community and in the case of the mail bomber, it was a number of prominent pro-Democrat individuals, including private businesses. With this in mind, global corporations and prominent individuals or institutions are liable to be targeted by such militants due to their political stance on various issues, and the interest in such targets can be tracked online. Unless serious investigations into the perceptions of a company’s political footprint are uncovered, it is far harder to understand whether or not there is a threat from extremist groups. It is important to gather whether or not a company is linked, or perceived to be linked, to an issue which is on the radar of online radicals, so appropriate steps can be taking towards securing the firm’s employees, assessments, and reputation.

Through a campaign of online social media, deep and dark web brand monitoring, companies are able to identify threats or sentiments which could result in violence prior to attacks. Unlike with militant groups who speak in highly clandestine circles, modern social media radicalism is relatively easy to survey and track. Private companies and individuals possess the abilities to monitor the perceptions of their brand from a security standpoint, to ensure they are not becoming the focus of political or Islamist radicals.

Recommendations

Public, private, and third sector organizations are advised to increase their awareness of threats on social media through the use of threat monitoring services. Increased awareness of an organization’s political footprint and perceptions from fringe online groups can help uncover potential violent actors and plots before they occur.

Far-right militant threat reflected in September 2018 arrest data; risk to immigrant communities, anti-Brexit figures to increase – UK Analysis

Executive Summary

Statistics demonstrate that the number of attempted militant attacks from far-right groups has significantly risen in recent years.

Since the Brexit vote, far-right militancy has been catalyzed by the polarization of British politics and a concurrent increase in Islamist militancy.

Nationalist rhetoric is expected to continue to manifest in an increased risk of attacks on minorities, as well as those seen as liberal or against Brexit.

Travel to the UK may continue going forward while remaining cognizant of the risks emanating from far-right militancy.

Please be advised

Statistics released by the UK Home Office in September demonstrate the increasing militant risk emanating from within the far-right. Since the assassination of anti-Brexit Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Jo Cox in 2016, the proportion of those arrested for militant-related charges who are considered ‘white’ has risen significantly. According to the Home Office report, white suspects constitute 38% of all those arrested on such charges in 2017, ahead of ethnically South Asian (referred to un the UK as Asian) suspects for the first time since the institution of the 2000 Terrorism Act.

In 2016, the far-right, allegedly neo-Nazi National Action group was officially banned under the Terrorism Act, the first group of its kind to face such action in over 70 years. The group is reported to have continued operations and is believed to have between 60-100 active members nationwide. Members of the group reportedly supported the murder of Jo Cox, sent threatening messages to LGBT and Jewish figures, including MPs, and held small-scale demonstrations in several cities in the UK before the 2016 ban. A member of National Action admitted to having planned to kill Labour MP Rosie Cooper with a machete in the summer of 2017, while in September 2018, three individuals from the Midlands were charged for their membership in National Action.

Notable Incidents

Three people were injured after a deliberate car collision near the al-Majlis al-Hussaini center in Cricklewood, North London during the overnight hours of September 18-19. The collision occurred following verbal altercations between the occupants of the car and a large group of people visiting the center. The assailants were consuming alcohol in the car park of the center and reacted belligerently when requested to stop by visitors.

Security forces arrested two 15-year-olds in Ramsgate, Kent on the south-eastern coast on September 20 in relation to an ongoing investigation into a possible far-right inspired militant attack, although police sources stated there was no imminent threat.

In March 2018, a number of Muslim MPs, businesses, and individuals were sent letters threatening attacks on April 3, deemed ‘Punish a Muslim Day’, however, no attacks were reported to have manifested on the day.

In February 2018 police arrested an alleged white supremacist on suspicion of planning to attack an LGBT+ event with a machete in the northwestern town of Barrow.

Assessments & Forecast

Since Brexit vote, far-right militancy has been catalyzed by the polarization of British politics and concurrent increase in Islamist militancy

The vote on the UK’s future in the EU in 2016 increased political factionalism, decreasing the emphasis on centrist politics which had continued for almost two decades, increasing nationalist sentiments and energizing elements of the far-right. The following years have witnessed persistent anti-migrant and anti-non-white rhetoric within far-right propaganda. This rhetoric has been coupled with an envisioning of opposition to Brexit as tantamount to treachery by such groups, with online abuse and threats against liberal, left-wing, and anti-Brexit figures significantly increased after the vote. The threat from such rhetoric was highlighted by the February 2018 in Barrow.

This rhetoric has supposedly exacerbated sentiments of disenfranchisement and alienation among the Muslim community, increasing the potential pool for recruitment and radicalization by Islamist groups and by individuals accessing online materials. This came alongside a series of militant attacks between March-June 2017, including the suicide bombing in a Manchester arena, a ‘lone-wolf’ vehicular and stabbing attack near Parliament in London, and the coordinated stabbing and vehicular attack that took place near London Bridge.

As demonstrated by the vehicular attack on a mosque in Finsbury Park, London shortly after the London Bridge attacks, the Islamist inspired attacks further heightened anti-Muslim, far-right sentiments and support. Thus, these incidents underscored the cycle of far-right and Islamist related militancy, with both influencing and exacerbating one another.

Expected continuation of nationalist rhetoric to manifest in increased risk of attacks on minorities, as well as those seen as liberal or against Brexit

FORECAST: Given ongoing political tensions surrounding Brexit, as well as the recent arrest of high-profile nationalist figure Tommy Robinson, it is plausible that nationalist and far-right sentiments and support will continue to grow, at least in the medium term. Other factors liable to augment such sentiments include the far-left policies of the opposition Labour Party, perceived snubbing of British interests by the EU in Brexit negotiations, and right-wing rhetoric from foreign sources, such as US President Donald Trump and European leaders, such as Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

It is therefore likely that the recent trend in increased far-right and white supremacist motivated militant-related activity will continue. Radicalized individuals and groups are liable to plan attacks on high-profile figures, organizations, and groups perceived to be pro-immigration, anti-Brexit, or related to an ethnic or religious community. As demonstrated by the planned attack in Barrow, they may also target groups which they perceive to be against traditional values, such as the LGBT+ community.

Based on precedent, these attacks are likely to remain rudimentary, with regards to their modus operandi; stabbing, physical assault, and vehicular rammings are the preferred methods of attack among far-right militants. That said, further intimidation campaigns, such as the ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ for example, may also be launched, in addition to trends like the recent trend of sending harmless white powder to high-profile individuals and community centers. While there have been reports of individuals attempting to access or assemble explosives, given the difficulty of obtaining or manufacturing such devices, they pose a lesser risk than the more low-sophistication methods mentioned above.

Recommendations

Travel to the UK may continue going forward while remaining cognizant of the risks emanating from far-right militancy.

Organizations related to ethnic or religious minority groups or the LGBT+ community are advised to maintain heightened vigilance and take precautionary measures to mitigate such risks.

Alert authorities immediately if suspicious behavior or items are witnessed.