A hardcore of far-right supporters in the UK appears to believe violent conflict between different ethnic, racial and religious groups is inevitable, and that it is legitimate to prepare even for armed conflict, according to a new report.
The study, From Voting to Violence? Rightwing Extremists in Modern Britain, by Matthew Goodwin, of the University of Nottingham, and Jocelyn Evans, of Salford University, was launched at Chatham House on Thursday. The report questioned more than 2,000 supporters of “radical-right” and “far-right” groups and found that many endorsed violence, with a “hostile inner core” apparently willing to plan for and prepare for attacks.
“What we have got here is a group of people who self-identify as supporters of the far right and who are, to quite a large extent, backing ideas about preparing for violence and appear to view violence as a justifiable political strategy,” said Goodwin, who is a specialist in far-right politics.
The findings come ahead of the trial next month of Anders Behring Breivik, the far-right extremist who has confessed to the murder of 77 people in Norway in July. Breivik said he had contact with far-right groups in the UK and that he carried out the attacks on Utoya Island and Oslo to help protect Europe from a “Muslim takeover”.
Goodwin said his report’s findings should also be seen in light of the 17 people affiliated to the far right who have been imprisoned in the UK in recent years for terrorism offences.
“When you go through the transcripts of those cases what they often emphasise is this notion of impending race war, the impending clash of civilisations that meant they needed to stockpile explosives and plan attacks to defend their group from a perceived threat. It is that apocalyptic, almost survivalist notion that goes with far right ideology that we have begun to explore through these exploratory questions.”
The study was based on a survey, carried out by YouGov, of 2,152 people who self identify as supporters of either the British National Party, the UK Independence Party and a smaller sample of English Defence League supporters.
The authors found that almost half of the BNP supporters in their sample thought “preparing for conflict between different groups is always or sometimes justifiable” and two-fifths considered armed conflict to be “always or sometimes” justifiable.
The report states: “The responses point towards a tranche of BNP supporters who endorse the view that both preparing for and engaging in inter-group conflict are always justifiable actions…. the BNP members in our sample appear to view themselves as a core vanguard who are preparing for a forthcoming conflict in a way that the party’s more passive supporters are not.”
In line with previous studies, the respondents to the survey were largely men who had not been to university, were generally dissatisfied with their lives and were mostly concerned about immigration, the economy and a perceived threat from Muslims and Islam. Twenty per cent of BNP supporters and 25% of UKIP supporters who responded said they had served in the armed forces.
Goodwin said the study’s findings should be seen as a preliminary first step towards addressing that shortcoming and warned that the far right in the UK was now at a “fork in the road”.
“On one side, we have a far-right party [the BNP] disintegrating at elections and closing down any chance of a ballot box strategy. On the other we have a more combative and confrontational form of street politics in the EDL. Then for the first time in recent history we have somebody in Breivik who has essentially offered a brand to would-be perpetrators of far right violence.
“Our findings would appear to suggest that within this wider climate and amidst continuing public anxiety over immigration, Islam and economic hardship there is a significant section within the far right who believe violence and armed conflict is a legitimate option should they feel their wider group is under threat.”