Observatorio de violencia y terrorismo de extrema derecha en el primer trimestre de 2022

Observatorio de atentados yihadistas de marzo de 2022
Actividad yihadista en el Magreb y el Sahel Occidental en abril 2022

Key events:

  • Disbandment of the Zouaves in France.
  • Four extremists were arrested for recruiting and fabricating 3D-printed pieces for guns in the United Kingdom.
  • Sentences to members of The Base, Atomwaffen Division, Boogaloo Bois and Oath Keepers in the United States.
  • Creation of a new counterterrorism unit in the United States.
  • Hundreds were arrested after Canada’s emergency act was invoked concerning the truck convoy protests.


1. Introduction

The first quarter of the year was characterised by counterterrorism actions undertaken by governments and no violent events occurring. In this sense, the United Kingdom and the United States stand out, as several arrests and trials took place in these countries. The number of actions against extremists had a total balance of 14 arrested and 11 sentenced individuals.

During the first quarter there was no prevalent or specific ideology, showing the variety in ideas and doctrines that compose the extreme-right spectrum. However, it is reported the merging of the anti-vaxxer movement within the Far-right narrative, which has been increasing in recent times, particularly in Germany and the United States. Another trend from this quarter is the finding of 3D printed guns and pieces within extremist groups: the ownership or fabrication of these pieces is reported in four events. Finally, the creation of a new counterterrorism unit that will deal exclusively with domestic terrorism in the United States, exposing the change in paradigm taken by the new administration to deal with this growing threat.

2. Europe

Eleven incidents are presented in Europe, related to ten detentions and the disbandment of an extremist group in France and Spain. The most relevant event in this sense was the arrest towards five individuals accused of planning a terrorist attack in the United Kingdom. Complementarily, a German court has ruled that Alternative for Germany is a suspected threat to democracy, thus allowing the Domestic intelligence agency to tap communications using undercover agents to report its activities. On the other hand, the efforts of some States to fight right-wing extremism can be drawn, especially in conducting high-level sensitive operations. In this sense, Germany and the United Kingdom constitute some of the most active countries in fighting extremist groups.


2.1. France

After the violent events occurred at the rally of the far-right presidential candidate Zemmour, the government decided to ban the extremist group Zouaves after being accused of inciting hatred and violence. The group, whose name comes from the French troops who fought in Africa under the Second French Empire, was founded in 2017 from the merging of former members of the Union Defence Group, the Social Bastion and Generation Identity, all of them dissolved to date. The group had around 20 active members and was notorious for its openly white supremacist discourse and use of violence. Furthermore, the 23 year-old group leader Marc de Cacqueray-Valmenier was sentenced to prison after he violated his judicial review.

According to the news media RTL, around 1.300 radical activists are currently under active monitoring against any use of violence, claiming that eleven investigations have been opened due to law violations related to the extreme right: however, it is also relevant to mention that during the same period in 2021, 48 investigations were similarly presented for jihadism. Therefore, the biggest threat is still jihadist-related violence in France, although the threat from the extreme right must not be overlooked.


2.2. Spain

Regarding the situation in Spain, two relevant events are presented. In the first place, the national police detained the 20 years old leader of the extremist organisation Bastion Frontal in Madrid after he attacked a member of his group in Valencia, along with two more individuals. Additionally, there is some evidence from a local newspaper that argues Bastion Frontal has recently been expanding to Navarra. The organisation is currently present in several other provinces such as Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, Andalucía and Aragon, threatening to become the largest youth extremist organisation in Spain. Up to date, it is estimated that Bastion Frontal has approximately 150 active members.

The second event  reported in this quarterly report is the dissolution of a supremacist group that incited violence in several locations, particularly in Barcelona, Madrid, and Alicante, leading to seven arrests. During the raid, several arms, explosives, terrorist manuals and extremist content were seized by the police. It is relevant to mention that the operation started from an anonymous denouncement, which warned the police of the group’s existence.


2.3. United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, the first quarter of the year witnessed a huge deployment of counterterrorism measures and convictions taken against extremists. In the first case, a 15-year-old was arrested in London suspected of planning a terrorist plot. Likewise, a 14-year-old was also convicted of terror offences. Nevertheless, he was arrested in July 2021 when he was 13 years old, becoming the youngest person ever to be charged with such felonies. Similarly, another 22-year-old individual was sentenced to jail for terrorism offences after a court ruled his previous sentence. Equally, a 19-year-old Neo-Nazi was jailed for sharing a manual on bomb-making on Telegram. Lastly, three members of an undisclosed extremist group are being charged with 15 terrorist offences. The individuals, three men and a woman, are accused of recruiting, calling for violence, making explosives and manufacturing 3D printed guns. The median age of the accused is 29. Moreover, the police found a homemade explosive device and parts of a 3D-printed handgun. It is relevant to expose that the individuals praised the actions of other terrorists such as Breivik, McVeigh and Tarrant. In a conversation, one accused claimed that they wanted to kill as many people as possible since they would “waste their lives for what five, ten enemies”. This element has become a trend in right-wing terrorism, as the extremists try to emulate the actions of previous terrorists and live up to their attacks. Another element to be rescued is the use of Telegram to discuss and share manuals and extremist propaganda.

These events have become a characteristic of right-wing extremists in England, as it has been exposed that the age of the detainees is particularly low, given that a relevant number of them are underage. Moreover, the senior national coordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing stated that the foiling of terror attacks has become more challenging than ever because of the simplicity of the attack methods and that the individuals are self-radicalised online. Furthermore, he added that the profile of the terrorist had changed drastically. In this sense, it is exposed that the current threat comes from online self-radicalised individuals who are not trained and without a proper network. According to the Independent newspaper, since March 2017 there have been 12 extreme right foiled plots in the United Kingdom, while in 2021, around 40% of the 186 terrorism arrests were related to right-wing terrorism. It is crucial to expose that, from the 20 teenagers arrested during the same time, 19 were linked to extreme-right ideologies. In this context, the most common felony is the possession and dissemination of terrorist content, such as manuals and propaganda.

In another set of events, a news report exposed the existence of a military-style training camp run by the extremist group the Alpha Men Assemble to train anti-vaxxers for an upcoming revolt. The group is led by former military personnel and claims that they are at war with the government. This combination of extreme-right groups and anti-vaxxers’ philosophy has become a trend during the past months, as it is argued that they correlate to one another in their narrative.

Finally, it is pertinent to highlight that despite these arrests and movements’ disbandment, the terror threat level of the UK remains substantial, which is to be translated into a highly likely possibility of attack. In this sense, it is argued that the United Kingdom faces a twofold challenge in dealing with extremism: jihadism and right extremism.


2.4. Germany

In Germany, a court has ruled that the far-right party Alternative for Germany is a suspected threat to democracy, thus allowing the Domestic intelligence agency to tap communications using undercover agents to report its activities. The court found enough indicators of anti-constitutional elements within the party to be considered a risk, particularly the most extreme wing and its youth organisation. This decision is a clear move against extremism and defence of constitutional democracy, thus showing the German efforts to deal with right-wing extremism.

However, the situation in Germany is still worrisome, as the anti-vaxxers and extreme-right groups are merging. An example of this is the several violent events in which members of both movements appear together and collaborate in protests. Nevertheless, this trend is also emerging in other countries, such as Canada or the United States. In this regard, this situation is arguably presented as a security problem, as those who are presented with anti-vaxxing propaganda are then radicalised into more extreme ideas through conspiracy theories, creating a snowball effect.


2.5. The Netherlands

In the Netherlands, a 33 years old man got arrested with a 3D printed gun, ammunition, weapons and extremist material, including Nazi symbols and the Flemish Lion flag, which has been associated with extremist groups in the region. The individual is also suspected of  inciting hatred. This type of incident is not new as, according to a police report, a complete workshop with 3D printers for making firearms was raided last year.

In this scenario, senior researchers such as Veilleux-Lepage argue that “the appeal of 3D-printed weapons far exceeds their effectiveness”. However, he also concludes that “the simple act of choosing a 3D-printed weapon to commit a terrorist act can have a large symbolic meaning in and of itself. Right-wing extremists might be particularly attracted to the prospect of being able to manufacture their weapons without any government oversight, evading any attempt by the authorities at tracing purchases of weapons”. Therefore, it can be asserted that 3D-printed guns are likely to be a recurring trend among right-wing extremists, a trend expected to grow.


2.6. Ukraine

Regarding the situation of the extreme right and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there are evidences suggesting that such conflict has prompted an increase of activity among extreme-right groups, particularly those concerning recruitment and organisation to travel to Ukraine. In this sense, the output of support from white nationalist and Neo-Nazi groups for Ukraine has increased significantly. The main motivations of this rise are related to ideological goals and the opportunity to gain combat training. Further details of these evidences can be addressed through this report.


3. North America


3.1. United States

In a closely similar situation to the European cases, the first quarter in the United States witnessed a huge amount of counterterrorism measures, particularly through the creation of a new unit to counter domestic terrorism. Additionally, five trials and two arrests also occurred during this period, in addition to those related to the events of January 6th.

Building upon the latter, it is relevant to mention that the 25 years old leader of Atomwaffen Division, Kaleb Cole, was sentenced to prison for his role in a plot to threaten journalists. During the trial, evidences showed that Cole and other members of the extremist group plotted to intimidate their victims. In this case, the other three co-conspirators, who previously pleaded guilty, were also sentenced. This ruling brings an end to the trial of the four individuals from the Atomwaffen Division.

Additionally, a member of the extremist group The Base was sentenced to prison. The individual, alongside two more, is being accused on several charges, although none are related to terrorism, which brings attention to the challenge of not charging the extremists with their appropriate felonies. In this scene, the initial charges were larceny of a building, gang membership, conspiracy and illegal property of firearms.

Similarly, three events are related to the Boogaloo Bois, although being unrelated to each other. First, a member of the extremist anti-government group Boogaloo Bois was sentenced for unlawful possession of a machine gun and his role in a plot to attack the Minnesota Capitol. The individual had 3D printed pieces of plastic that could be used to convert a semi-automatic gun to a fully automatic. Second, another member of the Boogaloo Bois was sentenced for conspiring to provide material support to Hamas, specifically a 3-D printed auto sear to convert semi-automatic rifles into fully automatic rifles. This sentence comes after an investigation initiated by the FBI on a subgroup of this group called the Boojahideen, which led to the arrest of other two individuals. However, the second individual is still to be sentenced.

Lastly, three men pleaded guilty to charges of plotting a terrorist attack. The accused provided material support to an attack against power grids and followed a supremacist ideology. The individuals were assigned a substation in a country region and were instructed to attack the power grids. An element of this incident is again the median age of the detained, who is only 22 years old.

Concerning the arrests, two arrests in unrelated events occurred. In the first place, an individual planning to organise and recruit a cell was arrested for instructing how to make and use explosives. During the arrest, several explosives were devised, and arms were seized. Similarly, a 18 years old teenager was arrested for owning three homemade explosive devices and planning an attack on mosques and synagogues in Chicago.

Regarding the counterterrorism measures taken by the United States after the events of January 6th, the Justice Department announced the creation of a new unit to counter domestic terrorism. Followingly, the Justice Department has charged over 725 people in the aftermath of the event and is conducting around 2.700 investigations related to violent extremism from the extreme right. It is relevant to expose that some of the accused individuals are members of extremist groups such as the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters. In this sense, the leader of an Alabama chapter of the Oath Keepers pleads guilty to seditious conspiracy and obstruction of Congress on the grounds of efforts to stop the democratic transfer of power. As part of the agreement, the individual agreed to cooperate with the investigations, and more group members are thus expected to face further trials. In this context of trials, sentences and arrests, it is relevant to pinpoint that the executive assistant director for the FBI’s National Security Branch has referred to these groups and individuals who pursue racial and anti-government ideals as the most lethal threat in the United States.


3.2. Canada

The situation in Canada had an attention-grabbing turn, as early this year a convoy protest in the capital city ended in violence and several arrests. It all began with a series of protests and blockades against the Covid-19 regulations and restrictions, particularly based on the vaccine mandates. The convoy was coined as the Freedom Convoy and began in late January to end in mid-February. During this period, hundreds of vehicles crossed the country to reach Ottawa, and once there, a rally at Parliament Hill was held. In addition to the vehicles, hundreds of protesters showed up: the number of protesters was estimated to be over 3.000. In the aftermath of the event, prime minister Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time and 272 people were arrested, while over 2.600 were fined

One of the leading singularities of the convoy was its embrace by the Far-right movements, receiving overall support from abroad, particularly from the United States in the shape of millions of dollars’ funding from online campaigns. For instance, a GoFundMe page directed to fund the truck protest accumulated over $7.8 million. Moreover, in the rally itself, several protesters displayed Nazi symbols and were joined by conspiracy and extremist groups. In this sense, it is emphasised that the rally was properly organised and supported financially by a broader movement. While it was not an extreme right rally, it portrays the broader Far-right and anti-vaxxer movements joining forces in recent times. Moreover, this event has shown the capability of the movements to mobilise and receive funding rapidly. Likewise, another element to be rescued was the government’s response, which was criticised as slow. Thus, a lesson which can be extracted is that the responses from the governments need to adapt to the problem rapidly, appropriately and commensurately, rather than waiting until the situation has reached a critical point.