The RAN Plenary that took place in October 2020, explored three of the new trends and developing challenges, namely the changing Islamist extremism, the growing violent right-wing problem, and the impact of COVID-19 on the P/CVE environment, particularly the proliferation of conspiracy theories, all of which is giving terrorists and extremists new opportunities to radicalise and recruit.

The focus of this year’s Plenary was on how to best prevent and counter violent extremism in these challenging times.

Islamist extremism changing but still a major threat: The total number of attacks in the EU by Islamist extremists has been decreasing for a few years now. However, with recent attacks in Vienna in November 2020 and in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on the outskirts of Paris in October 2020, and the likely return of more foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs), the threat from violent Islamist extremist is still very real. In addition, the possibility of online Islamist radicalisation during the COVID-19 confinement has risen.

Violent Right-Wing Extremism is a growing concern: There have been several fatal terrorist attacks (for instance the murder of German politician Lübcke in June 2019 or the attack in Hanau, Germany in February 2020). Many Member States have identified VRWE as a priority alongside the still present Islamist extremist threat. The manifestations of VRWE groups can be witnessed more and more online as well as offline (demonstrations, Identitarian movement, stickers in the streets). Also during RAN meetings (e.g. RAN POL meeting in May 2020 on ‘Day to day challenges of VRWE’ or RAN LOCAL on ‘VRWE in the local strategy’ in September 2020) practitioners raised their growing concern about VRWE groups gaining support among both youngsters as well as among adults. At the Plenary, the need to start engagement at an early age before a person becomes violent was emphasised.

COVID-19, a confusing and disturbing new dynamic: RAN practitioners flag a worrying rise of a poisonous mixture of conspiracy theories (e.g., QAnon, anti-vax and anti 5G sentiments). This is exploited by extremist groups and is fuelled by online trolls and polarising disinformation. Over the last months, in the Covid era so to say, this dynamic has increased dramatically, resulting in large numbers of people expressing their distrust in government and organising anti-Covid actions. At the Plenary, a recent FBI study was cited which found that 46 % of attacks perpetrated worldwide were motivated by some kind of conspiracy theory.

Source: RAN