The threat from far-right terrorism is growing and getting “more organised and more sophisticated” by the day, a leading counter-terror officer has said.
Chief Superintendent Matt Ward, who heads one of the country’s dedicated counter-terrorism units, said: “It’s a risk that has been growing now for a number of years.”
His remarks follow the convictions of three members of the neo-Nazi terrorist group, National Action, which was outlawed by the government in 2016. It was banned in December 2016 by the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who called it “a racist, antisemitic and homophobic organisation, which stirs up hatred, glorifies violence and promotes a vile ideology”. It was the first time since the Second World War a far right group had been out-lawed.
One of reasons for the ban was National Action members’ vocal support, mostly though social media, for Thomas Mair, the man who murdered the Labour MP Jo Cox in a shocking daytime attack.
Although Cox’s killer had no links to the group, his words at his first court appearance “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” became the motto of National Action’s now defunct website.
Ward, who heads the West Midlands counter-terrorism unit, said while the principal terrorism threat in the UK remained with Islamist extremists plots, the threat of extremist far-right violence was “growing every day”.
His comments echo those from Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, who last month told MPs that of 17 terror attacks stopped by security services since March last year, four were extreme right-wing.
Ward said: “We have always had far right ideologies within the UK but I think what we’ve seen over recent years, they’ve become much more organised.
“The use of internet and online ways to actually connect people from different parts of the country, together, connecting with organisations overseas, downloading information about weaponry and bomb-making.
“So they’ve come together, they’re more organised, more sophisticated, there’s a greater sense of ideology and a greater determination to actually go out there and cause significant harm.
“They’re very dangerous and they continue to grow and from a counter terrorism policing point of view we are devoting more and more resources, time and effort to be able to tackle them.”
Prior to the ban, National Action had been attracting attention from the security services – and would-be recruits, through high-profile demonstrations such as the “Battle of Liverpool”, banner drops, and plastering university campuses up and down the country with stickers reading “White Jihad”, and “Step it up, white man”.
Although small, it was never more than 100 members strong, it had an organised leadership structure, organising “socials” in pubs, and transport to and from demos. It targeted universities to recruit young people – mainly men – and also members of the armed forces.
A member of National Action, pre-ban, Jack Coulson was convicted, aged 17, at Leeds Crown Court, of making a pipe bomb in his bedroom. He had posted a picture online calling Mair a “hero”, adding: “We need more people like him to butcher the race traitors.”
The group were also connected to a plot to kill Labour MP Rosie Cooper, which was only uncovered when a disillusioned member tipped-off anti-racism group Hope Not Hate.
At the Old Bailey earlier this year, the group’s leader Christopher Lythgoe was cleared of encouraging the plot by an associate, but convicted of being a National Action member. Sentencing him to eight years in jail, Mr Justice Jay described him in court as “a fully fledged neo-Nazi with deep-seated racism and antisemitism”. He added that Lythgoe “did nothing to stop or discourage” the plot to kill Cooper.
When Midlands regional group leader Alexander Deakin was jailed after trial at Birmingham Crown Court in March, he shouted at the jury: “I’m still a prisoner of conscience, I don’t give a damn.”
Ward said: “We’ve been able to dismantle one terrorist cell operating in the Midlands, it doesn’t mean there won’t be others, and it doesn’t mean they won’t adopt different names and identities going forward.
“National Action – the Midlands chapter that we had, is no more.
“National Action – the ideology, neo-Nazism, those seeking violent extremism, that’s still prevalent and we have to remain vigilant as both police and communities in being able to tackle that.”