Two mass shootings in the US over the weekend have once again shone a spotlight on how white nationalist ideologies can be nurtured and spread in the murkiest corners of the internet.
While such gun massacres are now unheard of in the UK, the threat from the far-right is very real.
Slick videos, ‘Miss Hitler’ beauty pageants and fervent preparations for the race war: these are the troubling revelations of the reality of Britain’s far-right movement, as revealed by a series of court cases this year.
Eleven people have been convicted for being members of the extremist National Action group since it was banned in December 2016, and earlier this year, university student Michal Szewczuk was jailed for branding the Duke of Sussex a race traitor in an “abhorrent” online post.
The picture, which featured a blood-smeared swastika, was shared on a far-right social media platform in August last year, just a few months after the Duke married former actress Meghan Markle, who is mixed race.
For a number of years, the terrorist threat from Islamists has dominated headlines – but in fact it is far-right extremism that is growing and getting “more organised and more sophisticated” by the day, according to counter-terror experts.
So who is susceptible to radicalisation?
In short, anybody.
Nigel Bromage, a former neo-Nazi who now runs Exit UK and Small Steps – two organisations that help people leave far-right groups – told HuffPost UK: “There used to be quite a stereotypical view of a white, angry and working class person who was angry at the system, but it can be anybody now.
“The kind of person who is susceptible varies now. There’s no stereotype – it can be across all classes, across all ages, it can be anybody. It can be your next-door neighbour.”
How are they groomed?
Bromage was recruited aged just 16 in the 1980s, after being handed an anti-IRA leaflet.
“I looked at this leaflet and there was a picture of a bomb victim and and it was really a call to action – ‘we need to stop terrorism and if you believe the same then do something’,” he said.
“Because it included a horrific story of someone getting killed, something just snapped inside of me and I thought ‘you now what, I’m going to do something to stop this’.”
Today, only around 30% of the people referred to Small Steps have been exposed to far-right ideas through face-to-face interaction, or books and leaflets.
The vast majority of recruitment is now done online, meaning someone can become a member of a neo-Nazi group without ever leaving the house.
Channel is the government’s domestic counter-extremism programme Its “intervention provider”, Nick Danes, told HuffPost UK: “The online space is playing a massive part these days and has become a big factor in how people access information. It has given rise to the mentality and behaviour of dissociated responsibility.
“We have people who are essentially anonymous online on sites like 4chan. That creates a diminished sense of responsibility where people will encourage and egg each other on more and more extremes. It’s easier to express hatred for a person or a group if you don’t draw any connection to them.”
National Action, founded in late 2013 by university students Alex Davies and Benjamin Raymond, was based on the hatred of members of Jewish, gay and ethnic minority communities.
It targeted Britain’s disaffected male youth through slick online propaganda set to an electro-pop soundtrack and drew heavily on the racist rhetoric and symbols of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party.
One of its more unorthodox method used by the group to recruit new members was a Miss Hitler beauty pageant.
The 5 Steps Of Online Grooming
Groups such as National Action and Generation Identity have people online looking for individuals who show interest in far-right ideas, which could be something as simple as liking a Facebook post.
“Eventually people will just approach them and say ‘nice one for liking that post, do you want some information?’,” Bromage says.
Once the initial contact is made, the recruiter will then try to build a rapport with the individual, pointing them in the direction of other material or forums where people are expressing similar views.
“It’s all about changing somebody’s mindset. It’s very simple but it’s all done on personal level so it doesn’t really seem to feel like someone is recruiting you to an extremist organisation,” Bromage says.
The move into actively participating in a far-right group is often triggered by a perceived moral outrage.
A common example is the highlighting of grooming gangs by groups such as the English Defence League (EDL), which has prompted numerous street protests over the last few years.
“That can be quite a strong motivator and the people involved feel like they’re actively doing something about what they see as a moral outrage,” says Danes
Isolation is the process of removing any moderate or stabilising influences such as friends and family. The group itself seeks to replace these provides confirmation and validation of the far-right views.
“A sense of belonging and being part of a group makes a person feel secure, feeling that they’re in control and actively participating in a justified cause,” says Danes.
Once fully immersed in the group and its ideology, the groomed individual may be asked to become more involved or show their loyalty to the cause, potentially by committing a crime.
“The predator or the group will look to exploit that relationship and leverage their control over that individual,” says Danes.
What are the warning signs?
There is no one behaviour that marks someone out as being groomed – what’s more likely to become apparent is a change in behaviour.
Someone becoming increasingly angry about specific topics in the news or isolating themselves could indicate the beginnings of a slide into extremism.
“It can be someone who’s being quite secretive on the internet, they want to sit up in their bedroom for hours and when you come in they try and block the screen,” Bromage says.
“Some of these organisations will have a button on their website where it’ll hide the screen and go to a completely normal Google search or a YouTube video or whatever.”
What can you do if you’re concerned about somebody?
First of all, don’t overact or confront them aggressively. “At the very beginning when you have a conversation you’ve got to be non-judgemental,” Bromage says.
If after having a conversation you’re still concerned then the next step is to contact a professional.
Bromage adds: “One of the best things to do is to contact Exit UK because we do this on a day to day basis and we can give people advice and that can be anybody from a friend to a parent to a professional.”
If you are concerned about someone, contact Exit UK here.