Coup attempts in Germany and the US confirm it: the key terror threat is the far right

The danger of violent jihadism persists, but the growing menace is from racist extremists – even if some in the UK government can’t admit it

Instead, both events – a disrupted terror plot by armed would-be “citizens of the Reich” and the legitimising of extreme racism by the de-facto leader of one of the US’s two governing parties – point to a rising global threat, one that is too often regarded as either too ridiculous or too marginal to be menacing. That threat lives almost entirely on the internet, its regular foot soldiers neither European nobility nor rap superstars but, says one who monitors it closely, “young, white, anti-immigrant neo-Nazis, networked in an online subculture that glorifies and generates terror”.

The danger may incubate on screens, but it doesn’t stay there. That much has been clear for a while. Recall the massacre of 92 mostly young Norwegians in 2011. Or the slaughter of 49 at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019. Or the mass killing at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh six months earlier. Or the gunning down of 10 Black shoppers and workers in a supermarket in Buffalo by a white teenagerMay this year.

These horrors follow a pattern in which the killer seeks not only to murder but to livestream his butchery, accompanying it with the release of a supposed manifesto, a long screed identifying all the same enemies: Black people, LGBT people, Jewish people.

For two decades after 9/11, any talk of global extremism or a “war on terror” meant only one thing: confronting violent jihadism.  But when it comes to international terror, jihadism no longer has the stage to itself.

That requires a shift. This week, Australia’s home affairs minister warned that counter-terror laws would have to change if the country was to tackle the surging threat of far-right violence. 

This shift demands a change in policing but also in our thinking. For one thing, while jihadists dreamed of establishing their own government somewhere – the Islamic State vision of a new caliphate – those arrested in Germany this week, like the insurrectionists who stormed Capitol Hill on 6 January 2021, aim to topple existing governments in the west and install themselves. (And they are encouraged when Trump calls for the suspension of the US constitution to restore him to power, as he did this week.)

The content is different, but so too is the form. 

The far right is much looser and entirely leaderless, radicalising its followers chiefly by means of memes and online content. Its home comprises platforms such as 4chan or the “Terrorgram” network of channels on Telegram, where recent mass murderers are venerated – the killers of Christchurch and Pittsburgh are depicted as “saints”, complete with haloes – and where footage of their acts of slaughter is presented in the manner of a first-person shooter game, complete with scores awarded for each “kill”.