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How the far right is using video games and technology to attract and radicalize teenage recruits | The extreme right

By on March 23, 2021 0

John was 15 when a member of his Facebook group volunteered to become Britain’s “first white suicide bomber”. Another advocated attending Friday prayers at the local mosque and “killing people where they are”. Another wanted to burn down the place of worship.

In the end, no blood was shed. Police quickly raided several houses linked to the group. John and a friend – also 15 and a follower of far-right ideology – buried an arsenal of knives and machetes to make sure officers never find them.

John became increasingly radicalized by an online barrage of far-right disinformation. “Homeless British soldier posts have been set up against Muslim families receiving free houses. Now I know the posts were all wrong, but the 15-year-old didn’t bother to verify the facts.

The worry is that John’s contemporaries either. A wave of extremism and misinformation online has arrived in an era of lockdown-induced isolation, loneliness and homeschooling, creating what police call a “perfect storm.” A British far-right group has even started promoting an alternative white supremacist school curriculum for learning in lockdown.

Last week the youngest person in the UK to commit a terrorism offense was convicted. Only 13 when he downloaded a bomb-making manual, the teenager went on to become the head of the British branch of a banned neo-Nazi terrorist group that glorified those responsible for racist mass killings.

His quick journey from lonely teenager to British leader of the Feuerkrieg division is disturbing not for his uniqueness, but for his part in a growing pattern.

Sara Khan, the Government’s Senior Counter-Extremism Commissioner Photograph: Graeme Robertson / The Guardian

At least 17 children, some as young as 14, have been arrested for terrorism in the past 18 months. A new neo-Nazi group led by a 15-year-old from Derby emerged last year. All of its members were made up of children. The group discussed the attacks on migrants in Dover and how to acquire and modify weapons.

Among the organizations monitoring adolescent radicalization is the Home Office Counter-Extremism Commission. Sara Khan, the senior government commissioner responsible for countering extremism, confirmed to the Observer that the extreme right “actively and deliberately radicalized the children of the United Kingdom”. Khan, who this month will publish a report chronicling the countless failures of the government’s counter-extremism strategy, said they had identified considerable extremist content, much of it on unregulated platforms and powered by algorithms that could quickly draw young minds like John’s deeper into violent extremism.

“Thousands of videos, memes, GIFs and other content promote videos of Islamist beheading, from neo-Nazi material advocating the ‘gassing of Jews’, to videos celebrating the actions of terrorists such as Thomas Mair [the far-right supporter who murdered MP Jo Cox]”Khan said.

Meanwhile, new research is revealing how right-wing extremists are using new methods to attract young recruits. Researchers from an initiative backed by the United Nations Counterterrorism Executive Directorate have identified the online game creation system Roblox as having been used by right-wing extremists to recreate playable versions of infamous atrocities of ‘far right.

Technology against terrorism researchers found that users were invited to play the role of Anders Breivik’s 2011 attack on the Norwegian island of Utoya, the 2019 mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the 2019 terrorist attack in El Paso, Texas.

Significantly, the rapidly growing British white nationalist group Patriotic Alternative is actively targeting young recruits and has recently started Call of Duty Warcraft games tournaments for its supporters.

The most recent event took place last Monday, with its players personally invited by group founder Mark Collett, 40, the former publicity director of the UK National Party. It took place hours after the conviction last week of the teenager who led the UK branch of a group that wanted society to collapse through terrorist violence and was himself led by a well-known 13-year-old Estonian under the name of “the commander”.

Marc Collett
Mark Collett (left), founder of the British white nationalist group Patriotic Alternative. Photograph: Gareth Copley / PA

In court, lawyers for the British teenager spoke of the complex web of emotional, economic and political factors that can make young people vulnerable to radicalization. Described as socially isolated and emotionally underdeveloped, the teenager had a “dreadful childhood” that took him away from his parents.

John identifies a sense of hopelessness that made him vulnerable to messages from the far right. At 15, he felt “struck off” after being placed in the lower set at school. No exam wait was predicted by the teachers who made it clear that his opportunities in life would be dismal. The extreme right promised him a future.

“I was counting on the far right for a job. They were saying that when they had the power they would give jobs to people like me, ”John said.

Patriotic Alternative, whose members include a former activist from the outlawed neo-Nazi group National Action, offers teens who think school failed them a different learning route. Adapted from ‘early years to Key Stage 4’, the home schooling program has a strong emphasis on Anglo-Saxons and sections on figures such as the Victorian Poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Critics warn that a lack of supervision of home schooling risks exposing young people to extremism. The teenager who ran the UK’s Feuerkrieg division, but cannot be named, was homeschooled by his grandparents in Cornwall.

Clear attempts by the far right to win over adolescents to its cause are on the increase. Patriotic Alternative encouraged young people to organize live “zoom nights”, named after the “Gen Z” age group born between the late 1990s and early 2010s. Archived footage from anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate reveal teenagers discussing the “white genocide” and fearing that black and Asian minorities will become their “new masters”.

John says he has also become concerned with the concept of a war between race and religion. “Everyone thought like a soldier, spoke of defending our culture, of defending our country. His personal odyssey took him from the violence-deprived Facebook group to the far-right Southeast Alliance to the fascist Britain first to the virulent anti-Muslim English Defense League (EDL).

Like at the start of John’s far-right journey, the internet provides a quick and easy way for teens to push boundaries and create an identity, says Patrik Hermansson of Hope not Hate.

“Young people have found a cheap outlet to appear extreme and have disproportionate influence and fear among other members. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 13-year-old or a 30-year-old, ”Hermansson said. He added: “It’s easy to dismiss as a gesticulation, but these kids are wreaking havoc, they’re running far-right campaigns, they’re producing propaganda, and they’re radicalizing other kids.”

Tech Against Terrorism research also found that extremists were using language on gaming platforms like Roblox – which says it acts quickly on any inappropriate content – to recruit new young people online.

They discovered that the extremists were using references to the computer game Minecraft or Roblox in their posts in order to disguise their posts as an online game chat.

One example, found on the Telegram social messaging app, involves a user posting full bomb-making instructions to a youngster with the message, “Hey kid, do you want to make a mailbox bomb for Roblox? “

Also on Telegram, a Roblox simulation of a vehicle attack on protesters, a recurring issue far right memes theme, and a real feature of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests in the United States.

“Every day we see violent extremist and far-right terrorist groups exploiting youth culture, not only to escape moderation of content, but also to radicalize young people themselves,” said Adam Hadley, director of Tech Against Terrorism.

He wants governments to be able to remove additional far-right content by designating more groups as terrorist organizations.

Another pressing issue is how to rescue young people seduced by extremism. The teenager convicted last week has been given a 24-month pardon order to help de-radicalize him.

Leaving the UK, led by former far-right organizations that understand how difficult it is to leave the scene, has received 241 requests for help since last April, shortly after the first lockdown. In 2019, the group registered 60 requests.

“Offering simple answers to very difficult problems, the far right and other extremists are promoting their message of division and hatred, using a difficult and lonely time, to target the vulnerable,” a spokesperson said. .

John knows how all-consuming hate ideology can be. By the time he turned 18, in 2019, he was so convinced by the far-right message that he openly shared racist and anti-immigrant comments with his peers in college. Proudly he told his teacher he was a member of EDL and Britain First. The college backup team has been notified. John responded by offering them an EDL sticker and invited them to a far-right meeting.

John was referred to the government anti-radicalization program Prevent, then Channel, which provides support and mentorship. The 20 “quotes” from the Qur’an that John said declared war on “the British people” were quickly disputed.

His mentor asked him to locate the quotes in an electronic version of the Quran. Only one existed, “and it was dramatically out of context.”

John said: “It was light bulb moment – I realized I had been lied to.” Over the next five weeks, he assiduously researched and cross-checked the “facts” that confirmed his far-right dogma.

“After finding out the truth, I realized I had to walk away. I didn’t want to hate Islam, I didn’t want to hate Muslims. I didn’t mean to hate, period.