How Britain’s neo-Nazi dark web became a hub for global extremism

Online antisemitism in the UK has led to real-world violence in Europe and the United States, proving the Community Security Trust's work monitoring the internet is more important than ever


He called himself “The European”, and whoever he was, he was evidently antisemitic. “Judaism is and always has been the problem,” he wrote in one social media post in the summer of 2020.

“Keep a Healthy Mind — Never Listen to Jews,” read another, the words superimposed on a grotesque caricature with a hooked nose.

Although he didn’t know it, his output was being monitored by the Community Security Trust’s open-source intelligence unit, a specialist team that scans both mainstream websites and the darker recesses of the internet — extremist chat boards on platforms such as Telegram and 4Chan, and the Gab social media site, which welcomes users banned from other networks and has been repeatedly accused of disseminating racial hatred.

The unit’s work has never been more vital. In the past six months, a JC analysis has revealed, Britain has seen no fewer than 16 separate trials in which extreme right-wing activists have been convicted of offences including stirring up racial hatred, possessing explosives and bomb-making manuals, and preparing terrorist acts — an unprecedented total.

A recent damning review of the government’s anti-radicalisation programme by William Shawcross found that officials had been focusing on relatively minor threats from the far-right instead of addressing more urgent challenges from Hamas and Hezbollah — both of which have now been fully outlawed by the government — and other Islamist groups.

There can be no denying the accuracy of this research. But the CST has found that the far-right — which, as Shawcross says, occupies counter-terror police far less than Islamists while remaining highly dangerous — is mobilising. And, as Shawcross found in his study of the Prevent programme, antisemitism is a major driver of extremism in Britain today.

“The more we look into the online space, the more hate we find,” said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Tim Jacques, Counter-Terrorism Policing’s senior national coordinator. “The arrest and conviction figures [on the far right] tell their own story.”

This doesn’t mean the threat from Islamist terrorists has receded, Jacques said. Arrests, prosecutions and the disruption of attacks by jihadists continue, and the police “monitor the situation across the ideological spectrum.”

Online antisemitism has led to real-world violence in Europe and the United States. Robert G. Bowers, whose trial for allegedly shooting dead 11 Jewish worshippers in the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre began last month, is accused of authoring numerous antisemitic posts on Gab before allegedly committing the murders.

Last October, Juraj Krajcik killed two men and wounded a third outside a gay bar in Bratislava, before turning his gun on himself. The 65-page manifesto he left behind to justify his crimes was filled with hatred for Jews.

Over the summer of 2021, the CST investigators feared The European’s posts were becoming more sinister. He had already warned there would be “rivers of blood” and posted a meme of a sniper with a message saying the time had come to “fight against tyranny and destruction”.

Then he bought a double-hardened axe made by Fiskars, a brand that claims its tools cut three times as deeply as its rivals, and posted a photo of it online. A few days later he wrote: “I openly declare war on the ziototalmudjews and freemasons… I want them all d__d [dead].”

The CST referred the case to the police. On April 26, The European was named as Gareth Anthony Brett, 35, from Poole in Dorset, who was convicted at Bournemouth Crown Court of four charges of publishing material likely to stir up racial hatred, and jailed for a year.

Both Jacques and Dave Rich, the CST’s policy director, say his case was just one manifestation of an international “movement” of extreme right-wing activists who meet each other online, celebrate the perpetrators of mass killings, and sometimes announce plans to emulate them. They believe it is growing.

“Ten years ago, if we came across someone saying they were gathering weapons in order to kill Jews, that would have been a once-in-a-blue-moon experience,” said Rich.

“Now, it’s happening all the time. The other day we came across serious online talk about an attack on a shul in Europe. This is a global virtual network with a strong UK presence, a cauldron bubbling away that every so often boils over, spitting out a physical attack.”

Unlike previous iterations of far-right extremism, most of those involved do not belong to a formal organisation such as National Action, whose leader Alex Davies was jailed last year, or Patriotic Alternative, whose rhetoric targeting the Board of Deputies was revealed by the JC last week.

Instead, Rich says, “although this is a movement, it’s far harder to get a grip on it”, because its members, some still in their teens, become committed to it without ever meeting face to face, through their phones and laptops. “We’re probably talking about thousands across the world,” he said.

In contrast to terrorist groups such as Isis, “there is no organisation with a base you could send an army to demolish – it’s just online message boards and anonymous chats”, while the movement’s diffuse nature means its dangers and its growth are not widely appreciated.

Hannah Rose, a research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College, London, agreed. “This is a serious emerging threat,” she said. To some extent, she added, the spike in convictions may be the result of the police and MI5 paying more attention to the extreme right.

As Shawcross pointed out in his review of Prevent, the ideological “bar” applied to right-wing fanatics has looked much lower than the threshold used to characterise Muslim extremists.

But that, Rose argued, did not explain all of the increase, and the most frightening aspect was that it appeared to be partly driven simply by access to the internet.

However, like Jacques, she considered it “meaningless” to ask whether Islamist or right-wing terrorists present a greater threat: “The important question to ask is, ‘is this person a danger to the Jewish community?’”

Indeed, there is sometimes an overlap between the two species of terrorism: extreme-right activists have been found in possession of bomb-making manuals by jihadists.

“When someone was radicalised and joined Isis, there was usually an offline influence — a family member, or someone at their mosque,” Rose said.

“I think it’s misleading to speak of ‘lone wolf’ extreme right-wing attacks. People join this movement to be part of a counter-culture, because they think it’s cool. What we’re seeing is are 18-year-olds radicalising each other, with no evidence of grooming by older adults at all.”

Antisemitism, added Rich, is its ideological core. Ultimately, it’s always about the Jews. “Even if they attack some other target, they feel they have to explain to their followers why they’re not attacking Jews,” he said.

Rich said the challenge was to “differentiate between the credible and non-credible threats. If we passed on every case we come across, we’d be writing to police every day”.

Jacques concurred: “The risk of violent extreme right-wing attacks in Britain is real.” But assessing whether someone is “going to progress along the path to acting out their rhetoric” was extraordinarily difficult.

That said, even if someone posting Jew-hate is not intent on committing their own atrocity, the danger they might influence someone else to do so is real — as shown by the case of Daniel Harris, 19, from Glossop in Derbyshire, who was jailed for 11 years and six months at Manchester Crown Court in January.

The court found that films posted by Harris on a site called World Truth Videos “encouraged and motivated” Payton Gendron to murder ten in a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, last May.

He even used an image from one of Harris’s videos for the front page of his manifesto. Hours after the attack took place, Harris posted a video celebrating it.

The CST unit is highly regarded in the US, where last November its intelligence led to the arrest of Christopher Brown and Matthew Mahrer in New York.

A few days before their arrest, Brown had declared on Twitter he was “gonna ask a priest if I should become a husband or shoot up a synagogue and die”.

The two men were found in possession an automatic weapon, an extended magazine and ammunition, and have been indicted for planning to attack a shul.

According to Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, the CST and their American partners averted a “potential tragedy”.

Last year was the first since 2015 when there were no terrorist attacks in Britain. But the threat to Jewish communities from the extreme right is likely to persist.

“We see this threat as a very big deal,” said Rich. “There may not have been a mass attack on the Jewish community so far in Britain.

“Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean none have been planned.”

Catalogue of Hate: RIGHT-Wing Extremists Jailed

In the past six months 16 right-wing extremists have been convicted following counter-terrorism investigations .

Daniel Harris, 19, of Glossop, Derbyshire, convicted in November 2022 posted far-right videos that influenced the gunman behind a US mass shooting. Given an 11-and-a-half-year sentence.

Stu Sutton, 45, Wigan, convicted December 2022, posted racist and antisemitic material online. Sentenced to 16 months.

Oliver Lewin, 38, Coalville, Leicestershire, convicted December 2022 of planning to attack communications masts. Believed UK dominated by a Jewish elite. Convicted for Sentenced to 6 years 6 months.

Elliot Brown, 25, Bath, convicted January 2023, of sharing explosives recipe in far-right chat. Sentenced to 3 years 3 months.

Luca Benincasa, 20, Cardiff, convicted, January 2023, of possession of information useful to a terrorist. Sentenced to 9 years 3 months.

James Farrell, 32, Glasgow, convicted, February 2023, of sharing neo-Nazi and antisemitic material. Sentenced to 2 years 8 months.

Kurt McGowan, 23, Workington, Cumbria, convicted, February 2023, ofsharing hate speech and instructions for making weapons and explosives. Sentenced to 7 years.

Sejr Forster, 25 Norwich. Army recruit convicted February 2023 of possessing bomb-making instructions and hate speech. To be sentenced.

Juvenile, 15, Haworth, convicted March 2023 of planning terror offences and disseminating terrorist publications. To be sentenced.

Steven Donovan, 28, Huddersfield, convicted March 2023 of stirring up racial hatred and possessing a knife. Sentenced to 2 years 3 months.

Gareth Brett, 35, Poole, Dorset, convicted April 2023 of posting hate speech online. Sentenced to 12 months.

William Loyd-Hughes, 27, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. Police staff member, convicted April 2023, of sharing extreme right-wing material online. Sentenced to 18 months community order.

Nicholas Roddis, 38, Rotherham, convicted April 2023 for breaching terrorist notification requirements and possessing ammunition. Sentenced to 4 years . Had previously been sentenced to 7 years in 2009 for terrorism offences.

Vaughn Dolphin, 20, Walsall, convicted, May 2023, of possessing explosive material and bomb manuals. Sentenced to 8 years 6 months.

James Allchurch, 51, Gelli, Pembrokeshire. Convicted May 2023 of hosting hate speech videos online. Sentenced to 2 years 6 months.

Luke Skelton, 19, Washington, Tyne & Wear, convicted May 2023 of preparing to commit terrorism and possessing bomb ingredients.Watched Nazi propaganda. To be sentenced in June.

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