'Easy access to extremism online helps far-right grow in unexpected places'

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Charity Exit UK say far-right extremism grows today in places many people would never think due to availability of extremist material online - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

The easy availability of extremist materials online is helping far-right extremism grow in unexpected places – including in Havering. 

That’s according to two organisations which work to stem the growth of these ideologies, which they say put forward narratives of racial or cultural threat from perceived outsiders. 

The anti-fascism campaign group Hope Not Hate recently named Havering as one of 52 local authority areas where Covid-19 had heightened the risk of far-right extremism.   

Nonetheless, for many in the borough, the idea of Havering as a hotspot for neo-nazism and similar ideologies seems far-fetched. 

But according to Exit UK, an organisation which helps people leave behind extremist ideology, these mindsets grow in places many people would never think due to the availability of material online. 

Jimmy, a support worker for Exit in London, said: “Just because we aren't seeing as many stickers on lampposts or marches as we once used to, this doesn't mean the far-right have gone away. 

“They have just moved to a different playing field and this one can be accessed 24 hours a day.” 

A recent report by Hope Not Hate claimed that a far-right activist group which has recently been active in Havering has a reach of 13,000 people on the messaging app Telegram alone. 

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“People don't just wake up far-right activists,” said Jimmy. 

“They have to have a need in their life, which is then manipulated by recruiters who offer simple answers and fulfil that need or void in people's lives.” 

He explained that, besides explicitly advocating extreme views, there were a number of signs which could indicate somebody you know may be getting involved with a radical group. 

These include the person isolating themselves from family and old friends, becoming secretive about their online activity or talking as if from a script. 

Jimmy said it is a “long road” to reducing extremism and building safer communities. 

He said: “We need to invest long-term, as the far-right have been around for over 100 years and it isn't going to just go away.” 

This comes as the owners of a new shopping centre in Romford have reported staff have been subjected to racist abuse from members of the public. 

How Exit UK help people leave extremism behind 

Exit UK was set up in October 2017 with the aim of helping people leave extremism behind. 

The organisation, composed of former members of far-right groups, offer “non-judgemental support and advice” to take the first steps toward a new life. 

Jimmy explained support workers like him offer “a listening ear” and show extremists there is an alternative. 

He said: “We show people patriotism is based on a place, not race, and highlight the contributions of thousands of people from varying ethnicities and religions who have helped Britain when in need, many of whom who sacrificed their lives. 

“We talk about how involvement damages those involved, their families, the communities people live in and ultimately, the country people say they love.” 

The group also offers support to families who have a loved one who has become involved in extremism. 

Anyone seeking advice about leaving a far-right extremist group can contact their local Prevent team or Exit UK at www.exituk.org or www.exitfamilysupport.org or call 0800 999 1945.