A charity has issued guidance to schools about spotting far-right extremism over fears that an increased number of children have been exposed to dangerous ideas during lockdown.
Hope Not Hate has sent the safeguarding guide to every school in England and Wales, in time for the planned full return of schools in England on 8 March. The handbook is aimed at helping teachers spot signs of far-right influence after the charity’s researchers noticed that those harbouring and promoting extremist views are increasingly younger.
Earlier this month, a teenage leader of a neo-Nazi group was convicted for terrorism offences that began aged 13.
According to the anti-racism charity, social media and smartphones means children are more at risk of being exposed to extremist material than ever before, particularly with more time spent online during the pandemic. However, the terminology that radicalised young people are using may be so alien that parents or teachers do not pick up on it.
Owen Jones, the charity’s director of education and training, said young people did not actively have to seek out extremist content: they could be researching material for a school project on the second world war, and in half an hour, be watching Holocaust denial videos and other antisemitic content thanks to algorithms.
“Gone are the days when far-right proselyting was confined to the backrooms of seedy pubs – now this material can be accessed 24/7 with a few swipes of your phone,” he said.
Jones believes that increased levels of anxiety caused by the pandemic can make young people more vulnerable to being drawn in by far-right graphics and memes deliberately designed to catch their eye. “They are also having fewer social interactions with people who could take them off the wrong path,” he added.
He said that the current safeguarding advice provided to schools under the government’s Prevent strategy was often irrelevant in the face of the threat from the modern far right, as it was largely focused on Islamic extremism or far-right groups such as the BNP or the EDL, which are now largely defunct.
The 57-page book provides a guide to white supremacist and neo-Nazi symbols, the logos of far-right organisations and movements, modern online symbols and memes, and a glossary of common terms used by the far right.
Jones said teachers had been reaching out to the charity, which provides workshops and training, after seeing children use phrases or hand gestures that set off alarm bells. “Students are using language in classrooms they don’t understand – so, words like Chad and Stacey, which come from the ‘incel’ movement”, he said. “And then they think, right, I don’t understand that, so what else don’t I understand?”
He said a typical pattern of radicalisation could be an adolescent boy, who worries about finding a girlfriend, being exposed to misogynistic theories about conspiracies to keep men down, which could then leave them susceptible to ideas such as the great replacement theory, an extreme far-right paranoia that white people are being wiped out.
Jones believes that tackling far-right extremism is “one of the fundamentals of what government should be doing to keep us safe”, but in the interim hopes that the book will support early and effective interventions.