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Neo-nazis active in Scotland use Instagram and Telegram to recruit youngsters

Neo-nazis are increasingly use platforms such as Instagram and Telegram to recruit young people and one of Britain’s longest-standing white supremacist groups is active in Scotland, says a new report.

Patriotic Alternative (PA) and the British Movement – both operating in Scotland – are among a raft of extreme far right outfits named as a threat to the security of the UK by anti-racism charity, Hope not hate.

Its new report follows a number of racist incidents in the Edinburgh area. They included an Asian mother being attacked in the street with her children, cars set alight and sprayed with racist graffiti, and a swastika sprayed onto the front of a shop owned by an Asian man.

Hope not hate’s study – its annual State of Hate assessment – says the British far-right is now digitally led and reflective of online culture. The emergence of PA was “one of the most notable developments on the far-right scene in 2020”, the report says.

PA is a white nationalist group created in 2019 by Mark Collett, former head of publicity for the British National Party. The Ferret recently revealed that supporters of PA in Scotland posted racist and anti-semitic content in a private Telegram group.

Prior to various social media bans in early 2021 PA’s Facebook group had nearly 18,000 likes. But although PA is viewed as a major player on the far right scene Hope not hate says it is “unlikely to grow significantly” in the coming year due to its “perceived extremeness” and internal disputes.

Another group named is the long-standing British National Socialist Movement, aka British Movement (BM), one of the few openly National Socialist groups still operating in the UK. Antisemitism is at the core of BM’s ideology and the group has a close relationship with the openly nazi Swedish organisation, the Nordic Resistance Movement. 

BM’s most recent newsletter falsely claims the Scottish Government resettled 20,000 Syrian refugees in just two years. This is incorrect. In 2015, the UK government committed to taking in 20,000 Syrians by 2020 through the Syrian vulnerable person resettlement programme. Data obtained by the SNP from the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre shows that since 2015, 13,818 refugees have arrived in the UK. Of those, 2562 have settled in Scotland.

Hope not hate says that while BM is a “mere shadow of its heyday self from the early 1980s” it has been “surprisingly resilient” and remains active during a period when many far-right groups have folded. 

“It has active units in south London and Kent, South Wales, the East Midlands, Yorkshire and Humber, Scotland and Northern Ireland,” the report says. “Its activists hold meetings, host white power concerts, coordinate leafleting and postering sessions for activists and attend demonstrations and protests. It also produces a quarterly magazine and regular newsletters.”

Hope not hate’s report follows racist incidents in the Edinburgh area.

We have seen a slew of far-right terror convictions over the last year, and half of these have been teenagers

Nick lowles, hope not hate

Unite Against Fascism Edinburgh said the far right has been falsely claiming that Covid-19 is a ‘Chinese virus’, resulting in people being targeted by racists.

UAF told The Ferret: “Edinburgh mother, Wei Saik, was recently physically assaulted when walking home with her two young children, by a group of teenage boys, one of whom shouted ‘covid’ as he smacked her on the head.

“Sadly, and especially over the last year, there has been a whole series of verbal and physical assaults in our city against people who the racists perceive to be of Chinese appearance.

“In addition to these disgusting acts there have been many other recent examples of racism in and around Edinburgh. Only last week a swastika was sprayed onto the front of a shop in Abbeyhill owned by an Asian man. Even more recently, a used car garage in Loanhead had four cars set alight and sprayed with racist graffiti.”

Hope not hate’s report warns that neo-nazis increasingly use social media to recruit teenagers. HNH identified two far-right groups active in the UK – The British Hand and the National Partisan Movement – which have used Facebook-owned Instagram to recruit members, while using other messaging apps, such as Telegram. Three alleged members of The British Hand, who are all teenage boys, are facing trial on terrorism charges.

Last month saw the conviction of the youngest person ever in the UK to be convicted of terror offences. He was only 13 years old when he downloaded bomb making manuals before quickly progressing to become leader of a Nazi terrorist group.

According to Hope not hate, the formation of National Action in 2013, banned under terror laws three years later, heralded a “new phase of nazi terrorism” in the UK. 

Its report says: “Set up largely by former young British National Party activists, it was the first hardline nazi group in the UK created by young people, for young people and it was the first to fully embrace the online world, both to disseminate its propaganda but also to organise.”

An offshoot of National Action called Scottish Dawn tried to recruit young people in Scotland before an expose by The Ferret led to it being proscribed in 2017.

Nick Lowles, Hope not hate’s chief executive, said: “The British far-right is now digitally led and reflective of online culture – traditional structures have given way to social media platforms, influencers and ‘citizen journalists’ creating peer-to-peer radicalisation and a global community willing to crowdsource ‘micro-donations’ of time and effort. The new organisations and collectives that are emerging understand how to operate in this decentralised, self-directed environment.

“We have seen a slew of far-right terror convictions over the last year, and half of these have been teenagers. Though we continue to warn about niche platforms like Telegram, a fertile recruitment ground for young neo-nazis has been Instagram – it’s inadequate moderation and worrying algorithm recommendations are child protection issues that demand urgent action from the platform.”

A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “The persistence of far-right activity is totally unacceptable. It is particularly worrying that many of these groups deliberately target and recruit impressionable youngsters. The apparent endurance of the neo-nazi British National Socialist Movement is especially disconcerting, as is the formation of newer groups peddling similar antisemitic and racist ideologies. 

“With police warning that the far-right poses the fastest-growing terrorist threat to Britain, these groups must be met with zero-tolerance law enforcement in Scotland and across the nation.”

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