Countering the Radical Right

White nationalists are recruiting the younger generation in the UK

The way several teenagers and children have absorbed neo-Nazi terror ideas merits a rethink of how effectively white nationalist propaganda is being tackled.

Cristina Ariza
3 December 2020
Sign at an anti-Trump visit demo in London on 13 July 2018
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Traditionally, the extreme decentralisation of the radical right has facilitated a climate of constant infighting and splits, with new formations frequently emerging as others disappear. This is no different in the UK.

Over recent years two groups subscribing to a clear white nationalist agenda have surfaced: the Hundred Handers and Patriotic Alternative. But how different are these groups to other radical right movements in the UK? What are their tactics and who are their messages resonating with?

What do they believe in?

In essence, the ideas being pushed by white nationalist groups in the UK are not miles apart from the ideology of neo-Nazi groups like National Action, with a focus on presenting white people as a community under threat coupled with anti-Semitic undertones and anti-establishment views. This differs to the distinct anti-Muslim branch of the radical right in the UK, which steers clear of targeting Jews and usually employs coded cultural language to refer to the ‘plight’ of white people.

White nationalist groups, however, like many anti-Muslim formations, have incorporated strong anti-immigration and anti-refugee sentiment, often reliant on conspiratorial thinking emulating the Great Replacement; the conspiracy theory that suggests white people in the UK are becoming a minority because of immigration. The focus of this idea, as popularised by pan-European radical-right group Generation Identity (and in an altogether more deadly manner by the Christchurch terrorist), usually portrays Muslims as the main migrants ‘taking over’ European countries and therefore the culprits of multiple social problems and ills.

A more racialised version of the Great Replacement is the white genocide conspiracy theory, which essentially promotes the same tenets – white people are a minority and are being replaced – but deliberately uses ethnicised language to portray this conflict in exclusively racial terms. Conspiracy theorists on this side of the spectrum – like neo-Nazis - are intentionally putting together a white supremacist vision of society that explicitly incorporates anti-Semitism and sees any inward migration by non-whites as an erasure of white identity.

In the spectrum between portraying the conflict in terms of culture or race, Patriotic Alternative and the Hundred Handers fall closer to the latter. Both do not shy away from embracing racialised language, often do this with obvious anti-Semitic language, tropes and conspiracy theories.

Emergence of groups like Patriotic Alternative suggests that the UK’s far-right is becoming “more racist”

Patriotic Alternative, for example, emerged in 2019, founded by a former member of the British National Party. Anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate, in its report on Patriotic Alternative, has described the group as having “antisemitism at its very core”, with several members and even the founder having engaged in Holocaust denial.

On the other hand, the Hundred Handers first appeared in 2018 as an anonymous network dedicated to promoting white nationalism. They operate mostly in the UK, although some stickers associated with the movement have appeared in New York City, and they most recently came to public attention for imitating Extinction Rebellion stickers – but obviously adding their own radical right twist to messages around the climate crisis.

How influential are they?

It is difficult to assess precisely the influence that these groups are having. While actual membership is estimated to be low, their online footprint has been mildly significant at times – research shows that at its peak following of the Hundred Handers on Twitter first and then Telegram exceeded 5,000.

Still, these groups are probably best described as being part of the ‘fringe’, as their impact on the mainstream is still severely limited.

On the contrary, the anti-Muslim (or cultural) branch of the UK radical right has been steadily present for years in the UK, to the point that figureheads like Tommy Robinson have become global representatives of the radical right and even have a degree of ‘brand recognition’, engaging with the likes of radical right populists across the European Parliament, such as Geert Wilders, Pegida in Germany and Avi Yemeni in Australia. Indeed, a recent survey shows that out of the repertoire of radical right ideas, anti-Muslim narratives still have more mainstream appeal than explicitly racist white nationalist tropes.

Researchers at anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate have taken the emergence of groups like Patriotic Alternative to suggest that the UK’s far-right is becoming “more racist” by shifting to openly focus on race, partly as a reaction to the Black Lives Matter movements and migrant crossings over the English Channel. While such issues may act in fact as triggers for spikes of white nationalist activity, it is still unclear, if not unlikely, that this will have an impact on the wider appeal and growth of the movement – given the small scale of their operations and the racist hook of their messages.

How are they advancing their messages?

While the core ideas of white nationalists have suffered little alteration, tactics have continued to evolve and adapt, mixing offline with online strategies.

White nationalist groups have shied away from publicly demonstrating and rallying —as opposed to how this constitutes the bread and butter of anti-Muslim groups like the English Defence League and Britain First—, but they have resorted instead to plastering stickers around towns, vlogging and getting involved in ‘prepper’-type training camps.

Both Patriotic Alternative and Hundred Handers have disseminated racist stickers, normally peddling conspiracy theories about white people becoming a minority in the UK, with messages such as “mass immigration is white genocide” and “it’s ok to be white”. The Hundred Handers have even been known to embed blades in the stickers with the aim to injure whoever tries to remove then.

In terms of locations, these groups frequently target public spaces where the stickers can be rapidly seen, such as bus stops, although there are indications that schools are becoming a priority. Their reach seems to vary: at best recent reports show that Patriotic Alternative’s most successful offline propaganda campaign managed to deliver leaflets to 1,000 homes in Hull.

In the online space, according to Vice, one tactic that white nationalist groups are employing to amplify their propaganda consists in lying through the screening process to be able to call into radio programmes and then flip to promoting neo-Nazi ideas on air. Those segments are then turned into shareable clips that can be distributed on radical right forums or Telegram chats.

Who is joining these groups?

As expected, the membership of these groups is fairly fluid, following a pattern of how individuals in the radical right gravitate from group-to-group. The perfect example to encapsulate this is how the founder of the Hundred Handers is now collaborating with Patriotic Alternative. Moreover, and in the past, he had also been involved with proscribed group National Action and other radical-right activist groups like Generation Identity and For Britain.

The lack of appeal of white nationalist ideas in the mainstream still acts as a barrier to these groups gaining more prominence

As to who they intend to recruit, little information is available. Patriotic Alternative, in its unsuccessful attempts to register as a political party, has tried to tap into disenfranchised populations in deprived areas and is certainly trying to establish a localised presence here in the UK.

This would suggest they are targeting a fairly adult demographic, but other reports of Patriotic Alternative holding livestreams with teenagers on YouTube or the Hundred Handers plastering stickers in schools might point towards these groups attempting to sway a fairly young demographic. Indeed, on the violent end of the spectrum there is ample evidence that neo-Nazi groups trying to recruit children, as well as children and teenagers being involved in recent high-profile terror trials. As such, white nationalist groups see this demographic as ‘fair play’ as part of their recruitment strategies – something that both parents and educators need to be aware of.

Tactics are worrying but longevity is in question

Groups, like the Hundred Handers and Patriotic Alternative, will very much continue to be part of the fringe. The lack of appeal of white nationalist ideas in the mainstream still acts as a barrier to these groups gaining more prominence, which will largely depend on their online following to survive as opposed to their offline roots.

Going on the short longevity of many recent radical-right groups (e.g. Pegida UK and the English branch of Generation Identity), it is still too early to determine whether either of these groups can become influential enough to fundamentally shape the radical right scene in the UK. However, beyond being the name of the day, the same activists involved in both organisations continue to flit from group to group in the UK. Tracking their individuals activities is therefore of prime importance should these groups disband.

Perhaps the most worrying element is how these groups have made it evident that they are targeting a younger demographic with their message. This, coupled with the way several teenagers and children have absorbed neo-Nazi terror ideas, at the very least merits a rethink of how effectively this propaganda is being tackled and interventions that might make young individuals ‘inoculated’ to such ideas in the first place.

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