ritain may be facing a “perfect storm” over the next six months with the risk of a new wave of far-right lone wolf terrorists competing to be “saints and martyrs” on a computer game-style leader board, an expert has said.
Professor Matthew Feldman, who has given evidence in 40 convictions of radical right extremists in the UK, warned of a heightened threat this winter amid the cost-of-living crisis and political instability.
In an interview with the PA news agency, he identified at least five lone wolf attacks over the last seven years, while highlighting counter-terrorism police officers’ continuing success in foiling more plots.
The murder of MP Jo Cox by a right-wing extremist in 2016 was followed a year later by a fatal van attack on Muslims in Finsbury Park.
In 2020, a teenager enacted a demonic ideology with far-right associations by killing sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in a London park.
Prof Feldman counts the fatal shooting of five people in Plymouth in August last year as a lone wolf attack, most likely driven by “Incel” ideology.
Also last year, the Southend MP Sir David Amess was cut down at a constituency surgery by an Islamic State fanatic.
Prof Feldman said the far-right variant of what he calls “self-directed terror” is on the rise globally, fuelled by the glorification of mass murderers such as Norwegian Anders Breivik, whose 2011 manifesto is still just three clicks away online.
“If we think about what drives far-right extremism, it tends to be political crises, and social crisis, or at least the perception of social crises,” he said.
“Right now the conditions in Britain are absolutely stark, indeed blinking red, that the political and social crises are only going to deepen over the next six months.”
It is a “real recipe for crisis” when an average wage earner is struggling to make ends meet on £25,000 a year in many parts of the country, he said.
“Most desperate people suffer silently with anxiety or going to foodbanks, but we also know that desperate people can do desperate, horrible, things.
“My genuine concern is that we’re heading into a period of protracted crisis and there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of joined-up thinking about what that crisis means and how it can be ameliorated, and indeed on how that crisis could very quickly spin out of control.”
Prof Feldman identified a “bloody triangle” of factors that can lead to far-right terror.
The first point of the triangle is the concept of self-directed attacks, which still remains poorly understood, he said, pointing to the deluge of scholarly studies on the so-called “myth” of lone-wolf terrorism.
The second is the growing trend of terrorist “manifestos” spreading ideas on political violence online.
While they existed before Breivik killed 77 people in 2011, his manifesto changed the dynamic and set off a “diabolical race”.
Earlier this month, a terrorist killed two people outside a gay bar in Bratislava before releasing a 65-page manifesto filled with antisemitic hatred.
Prof Feldman said: “They are still finding new ways of publishing, whether they’re on some social media channels or file sharing channels. Some are remarkably easy to find.
“Even today, you are literally three clicks from terrorism.”
Around 44 months ago, the third point of the triangle emerged, and it is the most dangerous, Prof Feldman said.
It relates to far-right terrorists being hailed as “saints or martyrs” online, with memes of mass killers with halos.
Prof Feldman said: “This idea didn’t come out of nowhere, but it has caught on like wildfire.
“I think the real danger that poses is not just the lone wolf, not just a manifesto, but in conjunction with these two, you might take isolated, alienated white men between the ages of 15 and 25 who may not feel like they have a future.
“They decide ‘I can either be a nothing all my life, or I can go into martyrdom and sainthood. I can go on the leader board’.”
Leader boards rank far-right lone wolves by how many innocent people they have killed, with Breivik at the top followed by Christchurch terrorist Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 worshippers in March 2019.
Prof Feldman explained: “It’s called getting a high score. I think a lot of that gamification exists because of the way in which the Christchurch killer undertook his live-streamed terrorist act, like a first person shooter video game.
“The idea of saints and martyrs and of being a hero for your race today absolutely post-dates Christchurch.
“A high score would technically be more than 77 innocent people slaughtered, going about their daily business.
“These memes circulate on a lot of fringe platforms. But it’s growing as a motive in and of itself.
“You can be a nobody or you can be a saint. And that sick notion just didn’t exist even four years ago.
“Most right thinking people would say the slaughter of innocent men, women and children is the opposite of sainthood – it’s closer to demonic.
“All of a sudden it’s become an attraction to become a terrorist saint. It’s fundamentally new although fascists have long used this language. Sainthood requires acting alone through the terror cycle; sainthood requires writing a manifesto explaining your actions and enshrining your notoriety.”
“This is your 15 minutes of fame for fascist terrorists. And the way to do it is through all three points of this bloody triangle.”
Prof Feldman called for society to stop listening to “false experts” who deny the existence of the lone wolf.
People can be more aware and report any suspicious activity that gives them cause for concern without becoming “busybodies”.
Thirdly, he said authorities should take more action to force technology companies to identity and remove extremist material glorifying lone wolf terrorists through expanding the “hash-sharing database” – a unique digital fingerprint that can remove terrorist materials in bulk.
He added: “We can still do our democratic duty by saying that these people who glorify slaughtering the innocent absolutely must be prosecuted and marginalised, and do what we can through our personal social media and democratic channels to challenge it.”