Online radicalisation changed the far right in Finland

The threat of the extreme right became a topic of public debate when five Finnish men were arrested in Kankaanpää on suspicion of serious criminal offences in late 2021. Supo has provided specialist assistance in the police investigation.

Postdoctoral researcher Tommi Kotonen.

Supo´s specialist researcher Eero Pietilä explains that the tentacles of international far-right terrorism are reaching Finland more clearly nowadays through social media platforms and messaging services. Pietilä’s work involves analysing threats to national security posed by the extreme right, based in part on independent Supo´s intelligence gathering.

“Online radicalisation of far-right operators has progressed rapidly over the past couple of years. While the number of people involved is not large, it is increasing,” Pietilä observes.

Supo´s analysts also closely monitor academic research in the field. Tommi Kotonen, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Jyväskylä who has followed the far right, agrees with the assessment of Supo that Finland has very few operators like the Kankaanpää group.

“Accelerationist groups of the kind represented by the suspects in Kankaanpää lie on the fringes of the fringe in Finland. These communities feel that there are no political solutions, and that their goals can only be realised through violence. While usually operating independently, these lone wolves or small wolf packs draw their inspiration from successful attacks made by others,” Kotonen explains.

These operators largely share views concerning the decadence of modern society and the need for violence to bring about change.

Small groups do not operate in a vacuum

The heightened threat of the extreme right has been highlighted in the Supo terrorist threat assessment since 2020. Attackers and geographically dispersed supporters linked individually to the far right through social media are united in a loose international community. It is difficult to combat the threat posed by individuals and small groups that operate covertly.

Kotonen stresses that small groups do not function in a vacuum, and have at least online links to other operators. He notes that it is difficult to discern any clear command hierarchies or leaders of such groups.

“They largely share views concerning the decadence of modern society and the need for violence to bring about change,” Kotonen concludes.

This phenomenon is manifest globally in the spread of accelerationism and Siege culture that promotes societal collapse and race war. Based on the writings of an American ideologue and originating in a far-right online forum in the 2010s, Siege culture and accelerationist thinking have spread online in Western countries.

Kotonen explains the interlinked nature of extremist groups: “The Order of Nine Angles (ONA or O9A) Satanic group in Britain has links to accelerationism, and especially to the Sonnenkrieg Division (SKD), which was linked in turn to the officially proscribed terrorist organisation National Action.”

The threat of far-right terrorism is not confined solely to Siege culture and accelerationist thinking. There are also potential attackers outside of this operating context who justify the use of violent means, for example in opposition to immigration and Islam.

While the threat of far-right terrorism has been highlighted, the public and organised extreme right movement has receded into the shadows.

“The most important change came with the official disbanding of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement in September 2020. This has eliminated a common operator that defined the movement on the extreme right in Finland, even though many groupings have been attempting to continue operations of the same type in new, smaller formations,” Kotonen explains.

Blurring of ideological boundaries

A trend is emerging on the extreme right stressing increasingly diverse factors in the mentality of pro-violence operators that blur certain ideological boundaries. While far-right ideology continues to revolve around xenophobia, opposing immigration and protecting white identity, a very wide range of additional views are increasingly accompanying these basic axioms.

“These operators broadly agree with respect to the failure of the Western way of life and immigration policy, but the splintering of organisations also leads to some degree of ideological fragmentation that explains the highly diverse ideological perspectives of individuals,” Kotonen notes.

Opponents of the Western social order are glorified on the far right internationally, for example with expressions of sympathy for the Taliban following their resurgence in the wake of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The most radical far-right circles are similarly even willing to show admiration for Islamist terrorist organisations such as ISIL. Representatives of the Siege culture that advocates societal collapse and race war have incorporated various occult and ritualistic views into an ethos based on National Socialism.

The prolongation of COVID-19 restrictions and longer periods spent online have established a breeding ground for radicalising new individuals. 

Pietilä notes that far-right recruiters are seeking to exploit the anti-establishment atmosphere and operators for their own purposes.

“Social phenomena, online activism and occasional acts of violence suggest that the threat of far-right terrorism is likely to continue growing in coming years. Serious threats will not be posed primarily by organised groups committed to a unified ideology, but by individuals and small groups emerging from a loose online community,” Pietilä observes.