A NEW far-right group advocating terror is recruiting minors to its ranks via Instagram and Telegram.
A Derby-based 15-year-old is the leader of the group and writes in private messages that he plans to attack migrants in Dover. In its messages the group discusses how to modify, make and acquire weapons and how to hide their political views so that they can enlist in the military.
The small cell, numbering as few as 15 young members, also discusses having to go to school and what they’ll do after graduating. Some of the group are already known to Prevent, the government’s programme to prevent radicalisation into violent extremism, and mockingly detail their meetings with police officers to other group members, only to return to recruiting members online once more.
The first Instagram post by The British Hand appeared on 31 July. It disparaged the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in posts condoning violence against the anti-racist movement.
One post reads: “How real men ‘take a knee’” over an illustration of a soldier aiming a rifle. Another post alleges media bias in favour of the BLM movement and the left, and that violence against white people is suppressed. A short voice recording from the leader four days later again emphasised how BLM and the topic of systemic racism against black people was part of his motivation to form the group:
“They are dressed like paramilitary, and my point is I think we should do as well. But we need to show dominant force. The fact that these people are doing it in britain [sic], this is our nation, not theirs. […] If you live in Darby [sic], DM me. I’m going to create a group to deal with some shit.”
Although the members are relatively young and the group is newly formed, its leader keeps calling for urgent and extreme action. He describes The British Hand as “ultranationalist” and that its main goals are “to get rid of Islam and those little blm fuckers”.
The group is rife with antisemitism but Muslims and migrants appear the primary targets. Worryingly, messages in the closed chat group show a consensus around the necessity for violence. When the leader posted that he was planning an attack against Dover migrants, he received support from other members in the group. Others stressed their willingness to also commit violent attacks. Talking of Muslims in London, one writes that they are “gonna mow em down”.
In line with other similar groups on the extreme far right, The British Hand consistently glorifies terrorists. Pictures of the 2011 Norwegian far-right mass murderer, Anders Breivik, are interspersed between images of the 2015 Charleston church shooter, Dylann Roof, the 2019 Bærum mosque shooter also in Norway, and the Christchurch terrorist Brenton Tarrant who killed 51 people at two mosques in the same year. One member even claims he’s named a pet after Tarrant. In another post, the leader of the group suggests that The British Hand are “gonna be bigger than them”, referring to the 2019 Christchurch and 2011 Norway killers.
On the group’s Instagram page and private group chats, videos of the Christchurch shooting are shared frequently alongside material relating to the now defunct and proscribed British terror group National Action (NA). One user calls himself “Free Renshaw”, referring to Jack Renshaw, NA’s former spokesperson who planned to murder his local MP, Rosie Cooper. The user glorifies NA and writes that he “will most likely die fighting for what I love”, posting a picture of the Charleston church shooter aiming a gun at the camera.
Especially worrying is the fact that the group have shared pictures of themselves at an airsoft gun range outside Sheffield, dressed to look like they’re taking part in paramilitary training. Airsoft is a hobby for some of the members and while it’s only a simulation of war involving replica guns, their interest in weapons does not end with plastic bullets.
In their chat members discuss how airsoft guns can be modified to cause real harm and other ways to acquire actual weapons and explosives online. In a message that was deleted just minutes after being sent, a user wrote:
“Mate it’s a code. When we say airsoft we mean real weapons and shit”.
Enlisting in the Army is a frequent topic of discussion, with two members saying they have concrete plans to do so. While some members argue that the Army does not represent them anymore, they agree on the view that the Army can teach them useful skills and in order to get enlisted, they’ll have to hide their real political views.
The leader and one other member of the group also appears to be in the Army Cadets. One post on the leader’s Instagram page uses the hashtag #armycadets and another member mentions the Cadets as a place where he found friends who had similar political views to his own.
Coverage of terrorist groups on social media has, for good reason, recently centered around Russian chat app Telegram and video-sharing sites such as YouTube. The largely unmoderated Telegram has been a particularly fertile ground for the emergence of explicitly violent groups in Europe and North America.
The British Hand diverged from this path as it originated on Instagram. Most members were recruited from Instagram rather than Telegram and while their Instagram accounts have been banned relatively quickly, it is still an effective outreach platform. Instagram’s recommendation feature prominently directs you to the group’s main account if one starts following a member.
In the ongoing cat-and-mouse game between law enforcement, moderators, anti-racist activists and the far right, the latter have been forced to become more adaptable. Violent groups are continuously moving between platforms. Instagram’s focus on visual media rather than text and its young and mainstream user base means it is appropriate for groups like The British Hand, whose propaganda is simple but simultaneously communicates extreme messages through images and videos.
The rate at which new, explicitly violent far-right groups are emerging online is worrying.
The case of The British Hand highlights multiple specific threats posed by the modern far right. These groups pose a real threat of violence against minorities in Britain. While access to weapons remains a hurdle, it is an issue that far-right activists are actively working to overcome, whether that is through buying on the dark web, the use of homemade weapons (as the shooter in Halle, Germany did in October last year) or through gaining access to weapons and weapons expertise in the military.
The young age of the members, and its leader, is part of another trend currently visible in the far right in the UK and abroad. Young people are using social media to reach out and promote their views, including those attracted to extremism, and in cases like this urging others to commit violence. Social media gives community to both positive and incredibly harmful activists, including those in the violent far right, and such small, insular groups can unfortunately become effective settings for further radicalisation.
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