Attractiveness of British military for far right continues to be a threat

The attractiveness of the armed forces for the far right is as old as British fascism’s earliest incarnations.

During the extreme right’s periodic postwar resurgences, groups such as Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement and later the National Front also coveted recruits from the military’s ranks.

Yet in an age of concern about a new far right – technologically literate and at its most extreme focused less on political activity than on violence – the continued threat is underlined by records revealing multiple investigations of military personnel under the UK’s counter-terrorism programme, Prevent.

No fewer than 14 investigations were carried out in 2019, 包括 11 stemming from potential far-right concerns, while there were more this year and last. What’s missing is the number of referrals to Channel, the discrete de-radicalisation process under Prevent, which is voluntary.

Nevertheless, the figure is striking at a time when concerns about the far right’s penetration of the armed forces in democracies have been on the rise globally – particularly in the US and 德国.

It’s clear on some levels why the far right, often with a love of performative quasi-military trappings, would be drawn towards men and women in uniform. To those who hold themselves up as patriots, any association with Britain’s defenders lends the ultimate credibility. One only has to recall the smile on Tommy Robinson’s face in a 2018 video the English Defence League founder posted of himself surrounded by a group of young infantrymen.

There is also the obvious attraction, particularly for groups with individuals with violent intent in mind, of tapping into military training, if not closely guarded arms.

In all of this, credit may be given to the Ministry of Defence for its approach to far-right activity in its ranks, in terms of public statements and measures such as the internal guidance it emerged last year was being used by officers to spot “extreme rightwing” attitudes among soldiers. Activists have also been booted out when identified.

But images such as those that emerged in 2019 showing British paratroopers had used pictures of then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for target practice are among those that suggest that there is work to do.

What’s also not in doubt are the concerns – voiced by the service complaints ombudsman among others – about racism within the armed forces. Any foothold by the far right, however small, would deepen those fears.

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