Tuesday 21 March 2023

Far-right extremism is quietly increasing, researchers warn

Farmers’ protests have attracted right-wing extremists, researchers say. Photo: Molly Quell

Far-right and anti-government extremists in Dutch provinces are going unnoticed because intelligence agencies are focusing their efforts on jihadists, researchers have warned.

Groningen University (RUG) said in its first study of extremism in the northern provinces that around half of incidents in the region since 2018 were related to anti-government sentiment.

The total number of incidents is small – around 10 per year – but the trend is rising, researcher Pieter Nanninga told NRC. The study was commissioned by Groningen’s city council and covered the three provinces Groningen, Drenthe and Friesland.

Extremist violence in the north is more likely to reflect a ‘broad anti-Randstad sentiment’ and target sites for wind farms, asylum seekers’ centres and rural areas where the government wants to reduce nitrogen compound emissions.

‘The latest overview of the threat by the national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism and security (NCTV) covers things like anti-government extremism, but jihadism is still described as the greatest threat to our security,’ Nanninga said.

Incidents in recent years include the door of Groningen’s provincial assembly being attacked with a tractor during a farmers’ protest and a Molotov cocktail thrown through the window of a journalist investigating anti-lockdown groups.

Social unrest

The emphasis on jihadism means security agencies tend to underestimate the risk posed by homegrown far-right extremists, the researchers say.

‘Put simply, we are quicker to label someone with a beard who speaks Arabic an extremist than a farmer who batters the door of the provincial assembly,’ said the RUG’s Léonie de Jonge.

She says authorities need to develop a better understanding of the relationship between anti-government protests and far-right extremism.

‘We see the broader social unrest and distrust of the government reflected online in various extremist groups,’ De Jonge said. ‘We see a lot more cross-pollination than a few years ago, particularly online, such as right-wing extremists taking part in farmers’ protests.’

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