Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the head of the UK counterterror police, is warning parents and citizens about a “new and worrying trend” of children being arrested or investigated for connections with neo-Nazi terrorist activities. Basu says that most of this radicalization has been happening online and it has gotten especially bad under this year’s lockdown conditions.
“We are seeing more young people being drawn towards terrorist activity. That is a relatively new and worrying trend in the UK, because just a few years ago we were not seeing anyone that young amongst our case work,” Basu said.
“What concerns me most is this – there has been a sharp increase in extremist material online in the last few years, and Covid-19 has meant that vulnerable people are spending a lot more time isolated and online, and with fewer of the protective factors that schooling, employment, friends and family can provide,” Basu added.
According to official police figures, 17 children under the age of 18 were arrested on suspicion of terror offences between January and June 2019. The vast majority of these suspects share a neo-Nazi belief system, and are willing to carry out violence to further their cause. Police have set up a new website and advice line and are urging families to seek help if they notice disturbing behaviour amongst family.
Law enforcement officials believe that this problem has gotten especially bad during the lockdowns because the radicalization is not spotted by teachers, social workers, and mental health services, who are often able to intervene before these problems get out of hand. Parents sometimes don’t know the early warning signs to look out for, and police are looking to change that.
“In my opinion that is a perfect storm, one which we cannot predict and that we might be feeling the effects of for many years to come,” Basu said.
Just this month, a 17-year-old boy was jailed for preparing to carry out terrorist acts of neo-Nazi terrorism. The boy, named Paul Dunleavy, researched how to convert a blank-firing gun into a live weapon, and provided “advice and encouragement” to fellow extremists online.
He communicated with fellow neo-Nazis and joined the Feuerkrieg Division group, which was later banned as a terrorist organization, according to the Independent.
In an online test to join, he wrote that Jewish people “must be eradicated”, called fascism “the pursuit of restoring the natural order”, and said he wanted to “go out there and provoke” a race war.
Basu says that young people are being targeted and groomed online by older extremists.
“We have seen young and vulnerable people both with complex psychological needs, but also just young and curious, being drawn through mainstream websites into encrypted chat rooms and closed groups. That’s when the really serious radicalization and extreme ideologies start. It is entirely possible for those people to be groomed and radicalized in a very, very short period of time,” Basu said.
For help and advice police are asking citizens and parents to visit www.actearly.uk, or call the national Police Prevent Advice Line on 0800 011 3764.