Terrorism expert warns toxic mix of people are exploiting the Trump chaos
Affected Countries: united-states;
A former counter-terrorism chief has warned that an ‘unusual and toxic mix’ of groups are exploiting the turmoil surrounding Donald Trump’s prolonged exit. Sir Ivor Roberts said ‘unholy alliances’ have been formed between extremists, conspiracy theorists and far-right activists during the flux caused by the transfer of power in Washington DC. The FBI has warned of nationwide armed protests as Joe Biden prepares to take office following the deadly storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters on January 6.
The rallies are said to be planned for all 50 state capitals in the run-in to the incoming President’s inauguration on January 20, with one group said to be planning an uprising. Sir Ivor, senior advisor to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), also told of the ramifications for the British Government with far-right movement the Proud Boys, thought to have a UK chapter.
He said: ‘The transfer of power in a government, particularly in the US case when the transition lasts for well over two months, will always present an opportunity for malevolent individuals or groups to exploit the uncertainty of the hiatus for their own goals. ‘Extremists revel in exploiting any kind of change to the status quo. ‘What has become very clear in the last few weeks is the high priority which the Biden administration should accord to combatting far-right groups or militias which pose a threat to the US state today.
‘We have noted that the pandemic and its persisting restrictions have drastically reduced the range of soft targets, such as large gatherings or events, for extremists to put in their crosshairs. ‘However, there has been a simultaneous spike in online activities of extremist organisations. ‘While this may have resulted in a temporary decline in larger scale, organised and more complex Islamist terrorist attacks, the threat emanating from radicalised and newly radicalised extremists seems to be on the rise.’ Sir Ivor, former Head of Counter-Terrorism at the Foreign Office, views the riots – which resulted in five deaths – as being characterised by a ‘toxic mix’ of groups.
‘The Proud Boys were one, but only one, of the unholy alliances which came together inspired by President Trump’s rhetoric to invade the Capitol,’ he said. ‘They are believed to have a UK chapter and indeed its founder was born in England. ‘The combination of virulent anti-immigration racists, far-right nationalism and off-the-wall conspiracy theorists was a peculiarly unusual and toxic mix.
The UK Government is alive to the threat posed by the rise in far-right activities in Britain and works actively to combat it, notably by banning a number of far-right groups in recognition of the growing threat that the far-right and white supremacists pose.’ Up to 15,000 National Guard personnel are being drafted into Washington, with the majority expected to be in place by Saturday.
In a report, the CEP found that ‘extreme right, white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups’ have praised the Capitol attack and were exploiting it ‘for broader exposure and recruitment’. Sir Ivor, also a former ambassador to Yugoslavia, Ireland and Italy, said: ‘These attacks create a catalyst for the organisations to carry their messages outside the online community and build momentum. ‘We have seen they’re trying to use the attack to fuel further action.
‘This may not be confined to the US. The question remains who is behind them and ultimately what threat they pose. But as events in the US have shown, we must not underestimate that threat.’
Trump has been banned from Twitter while Parler, a so-called ‘free speech’ social network, has been removed from Amazon, Apple and Google’s app stores in efforts to tackle the digital roots of the chaotic scenes in the US. However, the CEP says that while the tools are in place to remove harmful and inflammatory content, swifter action spanning national borders needs to be taken by tech giants. The Washington-based think-tank has previously told Metro.co.uk about a diffuse but growing online threat from far-right activists in Europe.
‘The technology to identify extremist or radicalising content and prevent it reaching an audience already exists,’ Sir Ivor said. ’What must improve is the willingness of social media platforms to deploy it effectively and be more agile and ruthless in doing so. ‘This is so that those posting extremist material are identified and banned quickly, dangerous content is taken down swiftly or, better still, sifted out and never published in the first place.’
The former President of Trinity College, Oxford, cited 18th Century philosopher Edmund Burke as he pinpointed other actors in civil society as having an equally important role to play. ‘Recent efforts by leading digital companies to pay greater attention to the misuse of their services by terrorists and extremists are encouraging but not enough,’ he said. ‘Online propaganda often serves as a gateway to further radicalisation offline.
‘Consistent enforcement and greater vigilance are essential. Without a binary effort by the state and civil society, extremism will not be kept in check. ‘As Edmund Burke said more than 200 years ago “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.’ Trump has called for ‘no violence’ in the face of further possible unrest as he becomes the first US President in history to be impeached twice.