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A report from the Home Office describes a concerning trend amongst right-wing extremist groups who are using coronavirus conspiracies and online gaming spaces to recruit young people.
Across the course of the last year, 310 people were identified to be at a risk of becoming radicalised from polarised right-wing politics, and fewer than one in five individuals were referred to the anti-extremism programme for possible Islamic extremism.
Sean Arbuthnot, a member of the government’s anti-extremism programme called Prevent, expressed that these right-wing groups have been targeting fears surrounding the pandemic and the idea that white people will soon be a minority in the United Kingdom. However, the manipulation of online communities to sway vulnerable young people to their point of view is the prime concern for Prevent. Mentions of gaming and apps like Discord have appeared much more frequently in referrals to the programme.
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“If you engage with [these extremist groups] on a YouTube platform, and scroll through the comments section, you may then find links to more encrypted chatrooms or extreme right-wing codes or signs and symbols that you may be tempted to research,” explained Arbuthnot in an interview with The Guardian.
“That’s one of the troubling ways right-wing extremists can play on the fears that have resulted from Covid-19 and conspiracies, to groom, essentially, vulnerable young people in the online space,” continued Arbuthnot. Furthermore, an anonymous school teacher said that she was “shocked” to hear the change in her pupils’ language since lockdowns saw children cut off from their friends and spend a large amount of time online.
According to the teachers surveyed in a report from the Institute of Education, 95% had heard pupils share racist views, 90% had noticed homophobic language or conspiracy theories, and approximately 75% had encountered violent views on women or Islamophobic views. There is a worry that teachers will not be aware enough or equipped enough to effectively challenge these moments in the classroom as the language of right-wing extremism is continually evolving.
The Channel scheme, which is a part of Prevent, involves a panel of members of the local authority and representatives from education and health services. Cases of possible extremism will be judged and referred to Channel in order to assess the individual’s vulnerabilities and what support they would require.
“It is vitally important that if anyone has a concern about someone they think may be being radicalised, that they act early and seek help,” said a Home Office spokesperson.
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