Extreme right-wing terrorism is a substantial threat in Western countries

A heightened threat of far-right terrorism is also evident in Finland. The online environment plays a key role in spreading ideology.

Illustration, a blue warehouse with lights at night time.

The danger of extreme right-wing terrorism has grown in Western countries. The worrying trend of recent years is reflected in multiple completed and prevented attacks, arrests and convictions, with the most important threat coming from lone operators and small groups. The role of openly far-right movements in recent terrorist attack projects has nevertheless been minimal. Would-be perpetrators seldom operate in the open, preferring to conceal their operations.

The number of attacks by the far right and the associated death toll multiplied in the West between 2014 and 2019. The locations of far-right terror attacks have included the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, the United Kingdom and Norway.

2019 was a particularly grim year, with numerous large-scale armed attacks. The most serious of these was a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand that claimed 51 lives.

2020, by contrast, was a calmer year in terms of completed attacks. The only large-scale violent incident occurred in February when a 43-year-old man killed 10 people in Hanau, Germany, before finally committing suicide in an armed attack motivated by anti-immigration sentiment. Several clandestine attack projects were nevertheless disclosed during 2020.

Xenophobia strongly influences attack targets and hostile figure constructs 

Far-right terrorists primarily target ethnic and religious minorities. Large-scale violence has particularly targeted groups and symbolic sites representing Islam or Judaism, such as mosques or synagogues in recent years.

Besides large gatherings, individuals profiled as supporters of liberal immigration policies have been selected as targets for projected far-right attacks. Europe has seen several acts of violence and planned attacks targeting pro-immigration politicians.

The ideology of these attacks reflects such motivations as islamophobia, antisemitism or general anti-immigration sentiment.

One of the most noteworthy ideological motives of far-right terrorists is known as the Great Replacement conspiracy theory based on the idea of a fundamental threat posed by immigration and multiculturalism to the white population of Western countries. Views reflecting the idea of a Great Replacement have been highlighted in several far-right terrorist attacks.

Previous attacks and the online environment have influenced the emergence of far-right terrorism

The threat of the far right materially relies on the inspiring influence of previous terror attacks and their perpetrators. This aspect was highlighted in the Christchurch attack, in which the perpetrator openly sympathised with prior far-right acts of violence in his propaganda, and became a significant inspiration for the far right after completing the attack. Christchurch inspired a further five acts of violence, with several further projected attacks also disclosed and prevented thereafter.

The international online environment plays a substantial role in disseminating far-right ideology, with operators also networking on their preferred social media platforms, spreading terrorist propaganda and inciting one another to violent action.

In several cases, far-right terrorists have used these platforms to disseminate propaganda related to their attacks and to gain approval. The online environment has enabled the emergence of some loosely affiliated international far-right groups that have also been classified as terrorist organisations in the UK.

Besides factors internal to the movement, the threat of far-right terrorism is affected by broad societal variables, such as the immigration situation, economic trends or the coronavirus crisis.

While the number of far-right terrorist attacks has fallen during the coronavirus pandemic, increased use of the Internet due to coronavirus restrictions and social lockdowns, and far-right online activism have created a breeding ground for radicalisation.

The threat of the extreme right extends to Finland

Although the most important global terrorist threat is still posed by radical Islamist operators, developments in recent years have inevitably led security authorities to devote greater attention to the far right. Like many other Western security and intelligence services, Supo has stressed the heightened threat from the far right.

Even though it has avoided far-right terror attacks, this worrying international trend also extends to Finland. Supo has identified some individuals who support or sympathise with far-right terrorism, and counter-terrorism targets include some far-right operators. 

The extreme right-wing international online environment is also a significant growth platform for radicalising lone operators and small groups in Finland.