A new law allowing for hate groups to be designated and punished before they turn to violence is needed in order to tackle far-right extremists, according to a report by Tony Blair’s thinktank, which also seeks powers to ban marches and media appearances.
Generation Identity, a racist movement that promotes a conspiracy theory that white people are being replaced by non-whites in Europe, would be among the groups targeted by new legislation, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change report said.
The law could sit alongside proscription powers, banning groups concerned with terrorism, but would not be directly linked to violence or terrorism. Rather, it would designate hate groups as organisations that spread intolerance and antipathy towards people of a different race, religion, gender or nationality, the report said.
Offences related to designation as a hate group should be treated as civil, not criminal, the thinktank recommends.
The authors acknowledge that the issue of linking violent and nonviolent extremism is contentious and steps would need to be taken to protect free speech. The recommendations and conclusions are based on analysis of the overlap between four “nonviolent” far-right groups – Britain First, For Britain, the British National party (BNP) and Generation Identity England – and the ideology of the terrorist Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011.
Writing in a foreword, the former home secretary Jacqui Smith, the chair of the Jo Cox Foundation, said: “The growth of far-right extremist groups and the threat they pose cannot be left on the ‘too difficult’ pile.
“While ad hoc action has been taken against some groups and the intelligence services are now prioritising the monitoring of far-right terrorists, we need to return to the vexed problem of how to identify the link between violent and nonviolent extremism, and develop a coherent policy approach to tackling the threat of far-right groups.”
The government, public agencies and security services have taken steps to tackle far-right violence, but action against nonviolent activity has been limited and uncoordinated.
In its report, Narratives of Hate: The Spectrum of Far-Right Worldviews in the UK, the thinktank found that public messages from the four activist groups in the UK had shared themes with the world view of Breivik. Victimisation, fundamental conflict between the west and Islam, anti-establishment sentiment and the justification of violence were all found in social media statements by the four UK groups and in statements by Breivik.
Generation Identity and the BNP shared identical world views with Breivik on the theme of victimisation, including ideas of “white genocide” and “the great replacement” theory.
The security services and the government have recognised the threat of violent and non-violent far-right extremism in the UK. MI5 took over the matter from police in 2018, meaning the far right was officially designated as a major national security threat.
In 2016, the neo-Nazi group National Action became the first far-right group to be proscribed in the UK. Announcing the decision, the then home secretary, Amber Rudd, said the group was a “racist, antisemitic and homophobic organisation which stirs up hatred, glorifies violence and promotes a vile ideology”.
The ban, which covers three National Action splinter groups, has resulted in several former members being put on trial. To date, National Action is the only far-right group outlawed in the UK.
The Tony Blair Institute has called for a working definition of extremism, which could be used as a tool by government, law enforcement and institutions to tackle individuals and groups that spread hateful ideas but fall short of advocating violence.
It is also calling for further efforts to curb far-right hate online, including working with social media companies to define the limits of acceptable content.
Azmina Siddique, a policy adviser at the institute, said: “These groups are far from innocuous. Only last month, Generation Identity England activists gathered outside the Tower of London dressed as Isis militants and simulated the beheading of two anti-racism activists. It is time that policymakers acted – by defining extremism and designating hateful groups – to stop such obviously malicious acts.”
Lady Williams, the minister for countering extremism, said: “Far-right extremism has absolutely no place in our society. Our counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies tackle the scourge of both violent and nonviolent far-right extremism head on.
“We have also established the independent commission for countering extremism, which provides advice in what is needed to tackle extremism and will be refreshing our counter-extremism strategy to ensure we keep pace with the evolving threat.”