Boys to men: the violent teenagers of the radical right
The emphasis on white men has obscured the real, and increasing, threat from white boys.
"How wonderful it is to be an amoral individual." These words, scrawled amidst plans for violence, were found in the journal of a British neo-Nazi convicted of plotting a terror attack. They were also the words of a 16-year old boy. The perpetration of brutal terror attacks by white men has sparked global concern about the susceptibility of this demographic to radicalisation and the threat they pose to society. However, this emphasis on white men has obscured the real, and increasing, threat from white boys.
The danger posed by radicalised, underage white males are manifold, with both immediate and long-term security implications. Most pressingly, charges and convictions of white boys for radical-right terror plots testify to the potential threat constituted by this group. While recent radical-right attacks have been committed by adults, the fact remains that similar assaults are being planned by minors as well. Displaying criminal prosecutions of underage boys in the United Kingdom, the table below evidences one small facet of youth involvement in radical-right terrorism. Teenagers across the UK have been arrested, charged, and convicted of serious terror-related crimes, and this is happening at a growing rate (in keeping with the overall rising threat of the radical-right).
This is not unique to the UK; there are numerous cases of radical-right ideology breeding violence and terror across western countries.
This is part of what researchers know to be a push to recruit teenagers to global terrorist organisations that promote ‘lone wolf’ terrorist attacks. Newly-proscribed Feuerkrieg Division (FKD), for example, opened its membership to those as young as 16, while evidence presented at a recent criminal trial found recruitment targeting some as young as 15 by those in National Action. A recent report by the BBC likewise showed radical group The Base speaking to disaffected teenagers across the world and attempting to recruit them. Groups promoting ‘lone wolf’ attacks have made youth a target audience not simply because they appear more susceptible to radicalisation—minors are capable of committing and have committed mass-casualty attacks around the world. One need only look to school shootings in the United States to see evidence of this.
Minors have access to all of the necessary components to commit terror attacks or other violence against alleged enemies
As radical-right recruiters know, just like adults, minors have access to all of the necessary components to commit terror attacks or other violence against alleged enemies. For instance, Home Office Statistics show that of the more than half a million people in England and Wales holding gun licences, roughly 2,500 of those individuals with shotgun certification and more than 275 with permission to own rifles and handguns are between the ages of 14 and 17. Gun ownership is significantly higher in the United States, and even countries with more stringent gun restrictions allow for private ownership of some firearms. This, in addition to the ability to purchase weapons on the black market and the increasing accessibility of 3D printers (the Halle shooter’s weapons included components printed with a 3D printer), mean that radicalised youth may be able to gain access to and training with firearms.
Meanwhile, many of the attacks planned by teens involve other methods of killing, such as home-made bombs, knives/machetes, and vehicle attacks. Any quick search on the online forums of radical groups or the Dark Web unearth instructions on how to covertly acquire explosive materials, build bombs, and plot out other forms of terror attacks. A teenager need only have access to the internet to heed the ideological encouragement of radical groups online and plot attacks against ethnic minorities and those in positions of power.
But even less often discussed is the reality that radicalised white youth also represent a threat to society today because of their role in radicalising others online. The most notorious example of this is the recent discovery that the alleged leader of FKD was a 13-year-old Estonian boy. With thousands of subscribers to its online content, active members in three continents, and two foiled terror plots linked to the group, this teenage boy seemingly helped push an intensely racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynistic, and pro-terrorist narrative that radicalise an untold number of people.
Radicalised white youth also represent a threat to society today because of their role in radicalising others online
This is likely just the tip of a massive iceberg. It is impossible to know just how many teenagers are part of the radical-right movement online, but observers estimate that the world-wide figures are significant. This makes sense. Raised in the aged of computers, teenagers are generally technologically savvy. The increased concern among radical-right groups of government infiltration and the push to ‘lone wolf’ style attacks has precipitated the migration of in-person communities to online ones. This allows minors to participate in these discussions more easily, but also to pose as adults and set up their own groups or radical social media channels promoting hatred. The online nature of things makes it more challenging for family, friends, and community watchdogs to catch and disrupt.
Finally, it remains impossible to say the extent to which the teenagers of today will pose a threat to society when they become men. Planning a terrorist attack is the work of months or years. Radicalisation itself is a slow process. Eroding away pre-existing senses of morality to allow a person to embrace a new world-view (one filled with a desire to harm others), requires considerable time and effort. With radical-right groups promising members a sense of community and purpose, as well as comforting them and telling them that they are not to blame if they are social outcasts, these spaces appear like havens to disgruntled white teenagers and there, teens may be slowly indoctrinated. Terrorist manifestos, for instance, evidence how it was sometimes years between when a terrorist started making connections with other radicalised individuals and the fruition of his attack.
The teenagers of today are going to grow into adults having had the longest potential for exposure to the diverse array of radical-right content online
Perhaps a function of this, in addition to the underage boys charged with terrorism-related offences captured in the table, there are dozens more arrests in recent years of men aged 18 or 19. As they were radicalised some time before they became known to authorities, it is likely many were still underage when this process began. The teenagers of today are going to grow into adults having had the longest potential for exposure to the diverse array of radical-right content online. Who knows what they will do with this ideology when they come into adulthood?
It is true that the perpetrators of the highest-casualty radical-right terror attacks to date have been white men. However, in many ways, when considering the threat posed by those within the radical-right, age is just a number. Both foot-soldiers and recruiters, the threat radicalised white boys pose to themselves and their multicultural societies is significant and ever-growing.
i Imogen Braddick, ‘Two teenagers arrested on suspicion of terror offences during raids in north west London,’ Evening Standard (5 June 2020)
ii Lizzie Dearden, ‘Teenager charged with encouraging far-right terror attacks and making indecent images of children,’ The Independent (11 March 2020)
iii ‘Boy from Newcastle accused of right-wing terror offences,’ BBC (6 April 2020)
iv Counter Terrorism Policing, ‘Kent Man Sentenced for Right Wing Terrorism Offences,’ (20 May 2020)
v Durham Constabulary, ‘Durham teenager sentenced for terrorism offences,’ (07 January 2020)
vi Counter Terrorism Policing, ‘Bradford Teenager Sentenced for Explosives and Terrorism Offences,’ (20 September 2019)
vii Counter Terrorism Policing, ‘Two Sentenced in Extreme Right Wing Investigation,’ (18 June 2019)
viii ‘UPDATED: Racist couple and two others jailed for banned hate group membership,’ CPS (09 June 2020)
ix ‘Neo-Nazi pipe bomb teenager given rehabilitation order,’ BBC (13 February 2017)
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