If the past year has taught us anything, it is that we need to do more to understand and counter far right violence.
For much of the past decade -and for obvious reasons- policy-makers and the security services have focused almost exclusively on mainly one form of religious-based extremism.
The challenge from al-Qaeda or 'AQ'-inspired extremism led to an explosion of interest in the factors that push and pull some citizens (though mainly Muslims) along the paths to violent radicalisation. But in the process, we lost sight of the challenge from an alternative form of politically-motivated extremism. One that is preoccupied heavily with the perceived threat from immigration and rising diversity, and the alleged influence of political correctness, 'cultural marxists' and secretive global conspiracies.
One of our early assumptions was that right-wing extremists are simply not capable of organising or enacting mass violence. This view was once expressed to me by a member of the security services, who dismissed the threat of violence from far right groups. The next year, Anders Behing Breivik organised and carried out the deadliest attack on Norwegian soil since World War Two. Then, in Germany authorities discovered that an underground neo-Nazi cell -the National Socialist Underground- had been responsible for at least a dozen murders. Then, in Florence, an activist connected to the far-right group Casa Pound shot dead two immigrant street traders in an unprovoked attack. Then, in Wisconsin a member of the 'white power' music scene and the network Hammerskin Nation went on a shooting spree at a Sikh Temple.
Moreover, these recent cases are preceded by other examples. Prior to the terrorist attacks on September 11 2011, the deadliest attack on U.S. soil was committed by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma in 1995, an individual with links to the militia movement and whose bomb resulted in 168 deaths and over 600 injuries. Only a few years earlier in Sweden, John Ausonius or the 'Laserman' had gone on a shooting spree that largely focused on immigrants and minority groups. Then, in 1999 the 'London nailbomber' David Copeland -who had been a member of the British National Party and National Socialist Movement- went on a thirteen-day bombing spree that resulted in three deaths and over 139 injuries.
Even in the UK, since 2001 at least 17 individuals with links to the far right have been imprisoned after planning or committing acts of violence and/or terrorism. Examples include Robert Cottage, who was jailed after stockpiling an assortment of chemical explosives due to his belief that Britain would soon experience a civil war. Or Martyn Gilleard, who was imprisoned on terrorism offences after being found with home-made nail bombs, stemming from his worries over multiculturalism. Then, in 2009 the discovery of a network of right-wing extremists in England with access to an arsenal of weapons prompted London Metropolitan police to warn that far-right militants might attempt a "spectacular" attack. Nor has this been the only warning: security agencies in the United States, Germany and Denmark have in recent years issued similar warnings.
Politicians and security officials tend to dismiss the threat of far right violence and its perpetrators as belonging to the loon fringe. They often reject the argument that -like their religious-motivated counterparts- those on the extreme right-wing can also be driven by specific goals, and pursue violence in an attempt to achieve these outcomes. As we learned during those cases above, these often centre on a belief among perpetrators that their racial or cultural survival is under threat from multiculturalism, that only urgent and radical action can fend off this threat, and that they have a moral obligation to engage in violence in order to 'defend' or 'save' their wider group from these threats.
But at the same time -and in contrast to other forms of extremism- our collective evidence base on right-wing extremist violence is inadequate and under-developed. This was most recently expressed by the Home Affairs Select Committee on the Roots of Violent Radicalisation, which noted how in the UK we have a tendency to only 'pay lip service' to the extreme right. Put simply, we know a lot about AQ-inspired terrorism but very little about the dynamics of violence on the extreme right-wing. This is one reason why we launched the Extremis Project: a platform to help close the gap between those who undertake research, and those who are on the front-line of policy, security and politics. By gathering together independent, objective and evidence-based analysis, and a roster of international experts, the Project is intended as a key resource for those who research, monitor, campaign and seek to counter extremism. Only by talking together can we respond to the challenges posed by extremisms.
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