How to find and identify digital terrorist “lone actors” before they commit violent acts was the lead question of this expert meeting. A special focus was put on the role and functions of social media platforms and gaming platforms. The term “lone-actor terrorism” has over time developed into a controversial and confusing concept.
While individuals might act alone on an operational level, usually they are or feel as being a part of a specific group or movement. Particularly in the digital age, so-called “lone actors” usually are and feel neither lonely nor alone. Some “lone-actor” attackers did not join any group since they thought they would be under government surveillance, but they felt part of a collective united by shared values, actions and enemies.
The trial of the Halle attacker (2020) and the Christchurch commission report (2020) indicated that neither intelligence services nor law enforcement nor the tech industry knew where to look for these digital lone actors or how to identify them online. Also, there was little awareness of the basic functionality (and abuse) of platforms, websites and other online services used by the perpetrators beyond Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
RAN hosted two digital sessions that aimed at facilitating peer to peer learning amongst the 20 CSEP projects, which all received EU funding to conduct P/CVE alternative or counter narrative campaigns. During these sessions, the projects were asked to demonstrate to their peers what they had learned and how they overcame challenges relating to their campaign activities. Although the projects have a shared framework, there is significant degree of variation amongst them. Some focus on videos, others use online games or workshops or a combination of different tools and formats. The RAN facilitated this sharing of insights by creating a digital safe space which allowed for all participating projects to openly share good and less successful practices. This paper captures the most common challenges faced by the projects and their lessons learned to help other civil society organisations benefit from the learnings of the CSEP projects when creating alternative or counter narrative campaigns. Some of the key learnings were: • Develop an evidence-based “theory of change” that serves as a formative road map for the project activities. See your project as a “change journey”, stay flexible and adjust when needed. • Involve representatives of your target audiences or work closely with partners who have an in-depth understanding of them. Co-create, this will help you identify what is important to your target audiences, the online platforms they use and the authorities/influencers they listen to. • Consider using an external facilitator who helps building a shared understanding of the key elements of your activities when working with a team with diverse professional backgrounds. Don´t automatically expect everyone to see things the same way. • Ensure the safety
Link to article (Translated version of article published in German in Die ZEIT)
Right-wing extremists are building international networks. The author advises the German government on how to deal with the resulting danger, suggesting possible counter-strategies.
In mid-January of this year, two leading German right-wing extremists speculated on Instagram and YouTube that a potential accident involving key members of the German energy supply would have catastrophic consequences for Germany. The summation was: „Goodbye, Federal Republic. Funny, isn’t it?“
Rechtsextreme vernetzen sich zunehmend international. Unser Gastautor berät die Bundesregierung, wie sie mit der daraus entstehenden Gefahr umgehen soll. Hier schlägt er mögliche Gegenstrategien vor. Ein Gastbeitrag von Alexander Ritzmann
RAN Small Scale Meeting The Role of Hotbeds of Radicalisation, online meeting, 25 November 2020
While violent extremism is a global phenomenon, extremists start their radicalisation process in their local context. Radicalisation to violent extremism, however, is not happening everywhere. Even between cities, neighbourhoods or communities that are comparable in regards to political, social or socioeconomic circumstances or grievances, there are often very different radicalisation-related developments. In other words, some neighbourhoods struggle with a significantly higher number of radicalised individuals than others, making them “hotbeds of radicalisation”. Why do some neighbourhoods turn into hotbeds while others, facing comparable challenges and factors, do not?
During the meeting, Islamist extremist and right-wing extremist hotbeds were analysed and discussed. While the topic is still under-researched, two key factors have been identified that seem to be particularly relevant when present at the same time: 1) charismatic “entrepreneurs of extremism”, and 2) indifference and/or incompetence by local actors (government/civil society) who miss out on the opportunity to intervene early on. Recommendations on the prevention or countering of hotbeds of radicalisation were discussed and collected.
The violent right-wing extremist and terrorist milieu in the United States and Europe has developed a distinctly transnational character in its activities and therefore presents an increasing security threat on both sides of the Atlantic.
In November 2020, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Germany concluded a larger scale research project focused on the transnational connectivity of violent right-wing extremism and terrorism in Europe and the United States. This research was conducted on behalf of the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany and analyzed in a comparative manner the situation in France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
„But even on mainstream platforms, acts of violence had been openly advocated. In a TikTok video, one Trump supporter asked his fellows to bring their guns to the protests.
For that reason, the escalation in violence could have hardly come as a surprise to US authorities, says Alexander Ritzmann, a consultant to the European Commissions Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) and advisor to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP).
“They must have known,” Ritzmann told EURACTIV Germany. According to public FBI documents, the Bureau has been closely following the activities of online groups such as QAnon, a loose collective of conspiracy theorists who believe Donald Trump is their only saviour from the villains among Washington’s “elite”.
The FBI considers QAnon and other “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” as a terrorist threat.
In Brussels, lawmakers are finalising a regulation on terrorist content online (TCO). Among other things, it will introduce a stricter notice-and-action-system which will force platforms to delete terrorist content within an hour of notification.
However, Ritzmann believes that any system relying on notice-and-action cannot be sufficient as long as platforms can lean back and wait until users or authorities ask them to act.“
On the 7th of December 2020, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) hosted a virtual side event, co-sponsored by Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. The event was opened by short statements of each of the co-sponsoring governments highlighting the threat emanating from the financing of right-wing and racially and ethnically motivated terrorism. The main discussion of the event was grouped into two panels.
During the first panel, CEP, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the Center for Research on Extremism (C-REX) at the University of Oslo discussed the current threat landscape emanating from the financial activities of right-wing and racially or ethnically motivated terrorists. During this panel, CEP presented the relevant research findings of its recent report entitled “Violent Right-Wing Extremism and Terrorism – Transnational Connectivity, Definitions, Incidents, Structures and Countermeasures”, which was commissioned by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.
During the second panel, representatives from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the Counter Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) outlined ongoing mitigation measures as well as the potential for joint and multilateral actions to counter this threat. The side event concluded with a presentation by the German Federal Ministry of Finance, summarizing the deliberations and highlighting a range of suggestions for further action.
This study focuses on the transnational connections of the violent extreme right-wing milieus in six countries: Finland, France, Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States. It was commissioned by the German Federal Foreign Office, Division “International Cooperation against Terrorism, Drug Trafficking, Organized Crime and Corruption”, in 2020.