EER was joined by Dr. William Allchorn, a post-doctoral researcher at Leeds University and associate director of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, to discuss how extremists propagate their ideology and what can be done about it. Dr. Allchorn’s expertise is on the anti-Muslim far-Right—his last book is Anti-Islamic Protest in the UK: Policy Responses to the Far Right and his next book is to be Moving Beyond Islamist Extremism: Assessing Counter Narrative Responses to the Global Far Right—and he has advised the governments in Britain and Australia on these matters. As such, the discussion focuses on those groups.
Dr. Allchorn began by noting that narratives are crucial in all of human life; it is the common currency of speech. For extremists, narratives carry the ideology; they are memorable, they are emotional, and they usually carry a call to action. Extremists narratives are to shore-up the identity and common understanding of the group internally, though the same narratives are used to draw in new recruits by testing essentially who is attracted to that kind of narrative.
Counter-narratives look to delegitimise and deconstruct extremist narratives. One way to do this is to point out false binaries: extremist groups often portray their own members as pure and the out-group as corrupt; it is often quite easy to point out that this demonisation does not map onto reality. In general, the idea of a counter-narrative is to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of extremists about the underpinnings of their worldview.
The Internet is, of course, key to the spread of narratives—as it is key to the spread of all information and communications at the present time. For far-Right extremists, says Allchorn, there has been a pattern of them congregating on encrypted apps or unregulated channels, where they traffic in racism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism—ideas that have some overlap with the mainstream—and once they get kicked off one channel, they pop back up on another and use more careful, coded language that prevents regulators banning them and allows them to claim greater legitimacy within the mainstream discussion.
Conspiracy theories or conspiracy narratives play a large part in the far-Right information sphere, Allchorn explains. The anti-Muslim aspect is there, what he believes to be coded racism, usually tied to an idea that Muslim populations are growing faster than native Western populations and being topped up even more quickly by migration. This “Great Replacement” thesis, a victimhood narrative in which European populations are repressed and/or eliminated in their own countries, tends to then be attached to other conspiracy theories that either in the more traditional yet radical become antisemitic, blaming Jews for corrupting society, or, in a form that has more mainstream purchase, take an anti-government, anti-establishment form that blames Left-wing elites for wilfully orchestrating a rapid, unwanted demographic change in Western countries.
Within the far-Right, Allchorn says distinctions should be made between the more cultural nationalism where the friction is in dealing with an alien religion, to white nationalists whose antagonism to immigration is the racial diversity it brings, to outright neo-Nazis. The latter two categories are the worry when it comes to violence, and an interesting aspect that is emerging with them is eco-fascism, a belief that the environment can only be saved by eliminating large numbers of people.
Interestingly, the patriotic response of populations to the lockdown measures during the coronavirus crisis have blunted the appeal of far-Right groups; they have had quite a bad year, says Allchorn.
Allchorn concluded with a discussion on the logistics of how to build a counter-narrative campaign.