An estimated 100,000 people in the Netherlands may believe the world is being ruled by an ‘evil elite’ “to some extent”, and the conspiracy theory is currently the most popular one among extremist groups, the AIVD security service says in a new report.
The idea that an elite wants world domination and to subordinate, enslave or even kill ordinary people is widespread and therefore potentially a long-term threat to democracy in the Netherlands, the AIVD said.
This view of the world is factually wrong, the AIVD said, but if a growing group keep repeating it, more people may lose their trust in the institutions on which the rule of law is based, and that will pressure democracy itself.
Although those spreading the theories do not explicitly encourage violence, the narrative could lead to violence against the so-called representatives of this “evil elite”, the report states.
It points out that threats against politicians, journalists, scientists and lawyers are all increasing, particularly since the coronavirus pandemic, and in some cases have involved physical intimidation.
At the same time, “increasing society’s resilience to the anti-institutional narrative is essential,” the AIVD said. “Trust in government and institutions is low and there is often a lot of justified criticism, but this can become a breeding ground for anti-institutional extremism.”
National statistics agency CBS said earlier this month that public trust in parliament and politicians has plunged to an all-time low but trust in the police, health service and legal system remains close to 80%.
The survey suggests 25% of the over-15s had trust in parliament in the final quarter of last year and just 21% had confidence in politicians. The figure is the lowest since the research was first carried out in 2012.
“People must be able to criticize the government in a healthy democracy and criticism, protest and demonstrations against policy are essential in a democracy,’ home affairs minister Hanke Bruins Slot said in a reaction to MPs.
At the same time, she said, ministers and MPs must look in the mirror and recognize where things have gone wrong, such as with the childcare benefits scandal and Groningen earthquakes.
Politicians must regain the trust of voters and “reconnect with society” by becoming more responsive and service-driven. The AIVD report, she said, is a reminder of the need to protect democracy, “not only against the potential threat of extremism, but also against the more insidious erosion of the trust and respect.”
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