The massacre of 50 people at two mosques in southern New Zealand on 15 March served as a grim reminder of the threat posed by extreme right-wing (XRW) terrorism. While accounting for a small proportion of terrorism globally, attacks by right-wing extremists have been on the rise in recent years across the West.
Notwithstanding this, the terrorism (re)insurance market should remain relatively threat agnostic as the principles of risk management and associated protective security measures to mitigate these threats remains the same. Defeating the impact of terrorism relies on sound intelligence, comprehensive risk awareness and appropriate risk mitigation.
While Islamist extremism continues to pose the principal terrorist threat to Britain, the frequency of attacks by far-right actors is anticipated to increase in coming years. While the methodologies they employ will broadly mirror those of their Islamist counterparts, their intended targets differ, increasing the range of exposures at risk.
In the UK, the collapse of the British National Party (BNP) from 2010 corresponded with the emergence of violent, radical far-right groups like National Action (NA). The organisation was banned following the 2016 murder of Jo Cox MP by a white supremacist, but some of its members and sympathisers continued to engage in attack planning. The Islamist attacks of 2017 exacerbated the situation, fuelling XRW grievances and threatening a cycle of reciprocal violence between Islamist and far-right extremists.
The Finsbury Park attack of June 2017 was the most visible manifestation of this dynamic, but a further four XRW plots have been foiled since then. With rising political polarisation and the spectre of further Islamist attacks, the increased frequency of XRW attack planning will probably be sustained and may accelerate in future. Inevitably, some plots will succeed.
The methodologies most likely to be successfully employed by XRW terrorists are those involving the use of knives and vehicles as weapons. These low-complexity tactics attacks require little training or preparation and are therefore less vulnerable to advanced detection by authorities, especially if mounted by individuals acting alone.
Attacks involving explosives or firearms are also on the cards; in the past decade, XRW terrorists have demonstrated the ability to both manufacture viable improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and source illicit firearms undetected. Large vehicle-borne IEDs are probably beyond the means of all but the most capable actors. However, the events of 2017 demonstrated that terrorists remain capable of building and deploying smaller devices against crowded places—attacks which determined right-wing extremists could emulate.
Marauding firearms attacks of the type seen in Christchurch and in Norway in 2011 are less likely to be replicated in Britain due the difficulty of acquiring the kind of weapons necessary. More probable is the use of small arms, either in combination with other (probably low-complexity) methodologies, or for targeted attacks against individuals. However, there is a possibility that XRW terrorists could acquire more sophisticated, automatic weapons through connections with criminal groups, overseas extremist organisations or through the internet.
Right-wing extremism and the military
Links with serving or former military personnel could also facilitate the acquisition of military-grade materiel. Links between service personnel and the far-right is a very real concern, as demonstrated by the recent convictions of several soldiers for being members of NA. The involvement of serving or former service personnel in attack planning could also significantly augment terrorist capabilities by providing expertise in handling of weapons or explosives, planning and reconnaissance.
XRW terrorists are unlikely to conduct indiscriminate attacks against the public, as Islamist extremists have. However, mass casualty attacks against crowded locations associated with ethnic, religious or sexual minorities are more likely. Busy areas in ethnic minority-majority neighbourhoods are particularly at risk, along with places of worship and sites popular with the LGBT community. Attacks against individuals, particularly high-profile left-wing figures, are also probable.
While the deliberate targeting of property by the far-right (vandalism, arson etc) is not uncommon, these incidents are typically investigated as hate crimes rather than acts of terrorism, and therefore may not be certified as the latter. While the use of explosives could result in significant property damage, as with other methodology types, IEDs are assessed to be used by XRW terrorists with the primary intent to target people rather than property, and therefore attacks will typically cause greater intangible losses than material damage.
In summary, factors driving far-right violence are unlikely to abate any time soon, and the recent increase in frequency of XRW attack planning is therefore anticipated to continue, if not accelerate. The extent to which this could precipitate a cycle of reciprocal violence is unclear, but an increase in the volume of attacks, regardless of motivating ideology, seems likely. This will clearly impact on the frequency of terrorism incidents occurring in the UK and, equally, the growth of XRW terrorism, with its own distinct target set, has also increased the range of exposures at risk.