Reporting about Violent Extremism and P/CVE Challenges for Journalists – Recommendations from Practitioners, August 2021 (RAN Paper)

Authored by Alexander Ritzmann and Fabian Wichmann

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Reporting about extremism and terrorism poses major challenges for journalists on different levels. This paper will address some of the most relevant challenges by introducing key insights and recommendations on how to follow a “do no harm” approach when informing the public, and particularly when reporting about violence.

The role of civil society organisations working on P/CVE will also be highlighted. According to EU law, terrorist offences are acts committed with the aim of:

  • seriously intimidating a population;
  • unduly compelling a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act;
  • seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation.

Terrorism is the most extreme form of communication. It could be described as a deadly performance that aims at drawing attention to the political messages of the perpetrators by violently and publicly harming their victims. Terrorism is therefore even more about propaganda and manipulation than it is about the violent act itself. Put differently, without detailed media coverage about a terrorist attack, there might be no international terrorism, just local violence.

Podcast: Social media?! Why is their content moderation so bad? How come big tech are not liable for the harm they are doing? And can the EU DSA fix this?

Link to podcast

In today’s podcast, Lucinda Creighton was joined by CEP Senior Adviser Alexander Ritzmann to discuss internet regulation and extremist content online while particularly focussing on the DSA. Alexander Ritzmann advises the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) Berlin on internet regulation, including the NetzDG, Artificial Intelligence/Transparency, and the EU Digital Services Act as well as on the effective countering of extremist/terrorist actors and content online. 

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Violent Right-Wing Extremism And Terrorism – Towards a common international understanding and shared legal concepts – Insights from Germany (Video)

Alexander Ritzmann

Link to video

This virtual conference organized by CEP on behalf of the German Foreign Office aimed to explore this issue in greater depth. The event highlighted a range of instruments governments have found useful in countering the domestic threat posed by violent right-wing extremism and terrorism. It discussed how developing a common conceptual understanding of the terrorist nature of networks within these wider transnational movements could open up the possibility to use already developed multilateral legal, administrative and operational structures, as well as instruments and mechanisms to mitigate terrorist threats.

The conference was organized in the framework of Germany’s chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Member States had the opportunity to exchange information on their already existing mechanisms and discuss which counterterrorism instruments may be already applicable to this threat and which may need further modification.

LONE (terrorist) ACTORS IN DIGITAL ENVIRONMENTS (RAN Spotlight magzine)

May 12, 2021

By Alexander Ritzmann

Weblink to RAN Spotlight magazine / VoxPol blog article

The Halle attacker – who killed two people, injured two and aimed at killing dozens more at a Synagogue on 9 October 2019 – was inspired and motivated by online manifestos. In addition, he streamed his attack online and posted his own manifesto online, too. His attack has been marked as a typical ‘lone actor’ attack.

‘Lone wolves’, ‘lone actors’, ‘solo terrorists’, ‘loners’, ‘lone attackers’ – all definitions suggest a single individual, finding his or her way into an extremist ideology without affiliating to a group or network and operating on their own. However, most of the so-called ‘lone actors’ who carry out attacks subscribed to certain narratives and unorganised collectives. These collectives are leaderless and without clear hierarchies, but their followers are connected and united by shared narratives, values and enemies. For example, during his trial, the Halle shooter said that he did not join any group since he thought they would all be under surveillance. But he made clear that he feels like a soldier fighting for the “white race”.

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Digital Terrorist and ‘Lone Actors’ (RAN paper)

RAN Small Scale Meeting Digital Terrorist and ‘Lone Actors’, online event 24 February 2021

Alexander Ritzmann und Anneleis Jansen

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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.

Transnational Right-Wing Extremism: No Beer for Neo-Nazis

Alexander Ritzmann

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?“

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The Role of Hotbeds of Radicalisation (RAN paper)

Alexander Ritzmann and Rik Scheele

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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.

GEFÄHRLICHE VERSCHWÖRUNGSMYTHEN UND EFFEKTIVE GEGENMAßNAHMEN DER P/CVE-ARBEIT

RAN expert online- meeting, 28 September 2020

Das Papier kann hier heruntergeladen werden

Von Alexander Ritzmann und Maximilian Ruf

„Verschwörungstheorien setzen auf Narrative, die pseudowissenschaftlich sind oder gar eine Leugnung wissenschaftlicher Fakten darstellen, und sollten daher eher als Verschwörungsmythen bezeichnet werden. Sie zählen zu den größten Herausforderungen in der Arbeit zur Prävention und Bekämpfung von gewaltbereitem Extremismus (P/CVE) in Europa, da sie zentral für extremistisches Gedankengut sind und auch eine Schlüsselrolle bei Radikalisierung und Anwerbung spielen. P/CVEMaßnahmen können nur dann effizient geplant werden, wenn ein Grundverständnis dafür vorhanden ist, welche Narrative eine Gefahr für die Menschen, die sie glauben, und in Folge auch für die
Gesellschaft, in der sie leben, darstellen. Eindeutige Indikatoren lassen sich nur schwer definieren.
Vielmehr sollten es PraktikerInnen als Alarmzeichen werten, wenn eine Person die drei folgenden zentralen Narrative in Kombination vertritt:
1) Wir gegen sie: „Wir sind überlegen und im alleinigen Besitz der Wahrheit!“
2) Sie gegen uns: „Wir sind die Opfer der Machenschaften dunkler Mächte!“
3) Die Postulierung einer apokalyptischen Dimension: „Wir befinden uns in einer existenziellen Notlage, die den Einsatz von Gewalt rechtfertigt!““

Harmful conspiracy myths and effective P/CVE countermeasures

RAN expert online-meeting, 28 September 2020

Download the paper here

By Alexander Ritzmann and Maximilian Ruf

„Conspiracy theories, which should rather be called conspiracy myths due to their anti- or pseudoscientific narratives, continue to pose a key challenge for the prevention and countering of violent extremism (P/CVE) in Europe, since they play vital roles within extremist ideologies and recruitment and radicalisation.

In order to efficiently plan P/CVE interventions, it is necessary to understand which conspiratorial narratives could constitute a danger to the individuals believing in them and, by extension, to society. Fixed indicators are difficult to define, but three main types of narratives, when believed in combination, may help practitioners identify if a person is on a potentially dangerous path:

  1. Us vs Them: “We are superior, only we know the truth!”
  2. Them vs Us: “We are victims, we are being threatened by evil forces!”
  3. Apocalyptic dimension: “The threat to us is existential, hence violence is legitimate!”“