Far-right violence and terror in Western Europe is dropping
New findings challenge reports in the media that far-right violence and terror are on the rise.
There have long been warnings about a growing trend in far-right violence and terror in Europe.
Several terrorism experts have conveyed that this is one of the biggest threats we face.
“This threat has been cited and the citations have taken on a life of their own, including within academia,” said Anders Ravik Jupskås.
Jupskås is the deputy director at the Center for Research on Extremism at the University of Oslo. He and his colleagues recently presented a new report based on the Right-Wing Terrorism and Violence (RTV) dataset.
The data used by the researchers was based on open or publicly available sources, such as legal documents and thousands of articles in international news archives. Collaborating with national experts in 18 countries, the researchers believe they have captured all the relevant events in these countries.
Findings show the opposite
The new report data show the opposite of what many have claimed in recent years.
The number of right-wing extremist attacks with a fatal outcome has fallen considerably in the years 1990 to 2021, the researchers found.
“2021 was a year with very few attacks that had fatal outcomes. That year was the third least violent since 1990, when looking at deadly attacks,” Jupskås said.
When including all the serious events that did not have a fatal outcome, the picture is quite similar.
Far-right violence and terror are nevertheless still a serious problem that should not be underestimated, the researcher stressed.
“In Norway alone, we recorded 15 serious episodes of violence since 2015,” he said.
Several countries were hit by far-right violence in 2019.
Since then, numerous authorities, academics and journalists believe the far-right landscape poses an enormous terrorist threat.
“There is a lot to indicate that the data being used is both flawed and inconsistent,” said Charlotte Tandberg when the new Norwegian study was presented. Tandberg is a research assistant at the Center for Research on Extremism.
She and her colleagues examined ten different sets of data on far-right violence and terror in the USA and Western Europe.
The most serious incidents
From 1990 to 2021, the researchers found a total of 1 882 incidents in the 18 Western European countries that they investigated.
The data cover only the most serious incidents that had a fatal or near-fatal outcome.
Seventeen people were killed in such attacks in 2016 – nine of whom died in connection with an attack in Munich on 22 July that year. The number dropped to two fatalities in 2021.
Most terrorists don’t operate alone
Several experts and the media have reported that the trend is toward far-right terrorists who act alone, as did the terrorist in Norway on 22 July 2011.
But this does not align with the researchers’ new report findings, either.
Only a third of all right-wing violent attacks in Western Europe in 2021 were committed by a lone actor.
Gangs, disorganized groups and what the researchers call coordinated units are primarily responsible for the far-right violence. Two thirds of the recorded violence was committed by groups like these.
This violence is often unpremeditated, and is also often racially motivated.
Some apparently well-organized far-right and neo-Nazi groups, such as the Nordic Resistance Movement, commit very little serious violence.
They can be violent in their rhetoric, but they rarely act on it.
This makes sense, says Ravik Jupskås. Had these groups been more violent, they would have been met with a completely different level of opposition from the state.
Victims often have a skin colour other than white
The victims of far-right violence are primarily ethnic and religious minorities. Most of them have a skin colour other than white or are perceived to be immigrants, asylum seekers or refugees.
A number of attacks were also directed at political opponents on the left, particularly in southern Europe.
In addition, some attacks have targeted sexual minorities. One attack was against a homeless person in Spain.
In Norway, three cases of serious violence were directed at taxi drivers. Parents with children have also been affected in several attacks.
Many older men
Many of the perpetrators found by the researchers in recent years have been older men.
Only once has one of the perpetrators been under the age of 20 in 26 fatal attacks in Western Europe since 2015.
In 2020 and 2021, all the perpetrators who were behind deadly attacks were men over age 40 who used firearms.
An example from Spain involved a man who was told in a bar that he couldn’t keep making so many racist remarks. He went home and picked up a firearm, returned to the nightclub and shot the person who had spoken to him earlier.
Big differences within Europe
The trending sharp decline in far-right violence is evident across Western Europe. However, the researchers also detected differences between countries.
Germany stands out with the most far-right attacks. But in relation to the size of the population, Greece comes out worst.
The Netherlands have almost no serious far-right violence at all.
In the early 2000s, Sweden was among the countries that had the most per capita violence from right-wing extremists in Europe.
Sweden has experienced a dramatic decrease in this type of violence. This turnaround came after the right-wing populist party Sweden Democrats gained political influence in Swedish politics.
Jacob Aasland Ravndal et.al.: RTV Trend Report 2022. C-REX Research Report no. 1/2022.