A confidential report by the European Union’s police agency warns that far-right groups across the bloc are increasingly recruiting from the army and police in an attempt to boost their access to weapons and capacity for violence.
“In order to build up their physical abilities and combat skills, members of extremist far-right groups are attempting to win over members from the military and security services in order to learn their expertise in the area of surveillance and combat-readiness,” said the report.
Concerns about far-right activity in the security services have been growing in a number of European countries following a series of high-profile recent cases.
In March, Mikko Vehvilainen, a British army corporal who had served in Afghanistan, was jailed for eight years for using his position in the military to trying to recruit fellow soldiers into the banned neo-Nazi group National Action. The 34-year-old believed in an impending race war and was planning to establish an all-white colony in a Welsh village.
And in 2017, a German military officer — whose master’s thesis at a German military academy argued that immigration was causing a “genocide” in Europe — was arrested for plotting a terror attack. The soldier had even created a fake identity as a Syrian refugee, successfully gaining political asylum and claiming monthly benefits under the new persona, with the intention of stirring up racial division by framing his alter ego for the attack.
German police have investigated hundreds of soldiers for suspected far-right sympathies, while the country’s police force has also carried out investigations looking for members of the Reichsbuerger movement — followers of a far-right conspiracy theory who reject the legitimacy of the modern German state.
The Europol report warned that the far right was also demonstrating an interest in acquiring weapons and explosives, and had made inroads into the martial arts scenes, where it has been recruiting new members in an effort to increase its capacity for violence. Earlier this month, the notorious Russian neo-Nazi, MMA fighter and football hooligan Denis Kapustin, also known as Denis Nikitin, was banned from 26 EU countries because of the threat he posed to the liberal democratic order.
The 34-year-old, who runs MMA tournaments and a lifestyle brand for white supremacists under the label “White Rex,” is considered the most influential figure in an increasingly dangerous network that links neo-Nazi football hooligans and MMA fighters across Europe.
The report noted the sharp rise in arrests of European far-right terrorists in recent years, from 12 in 2016 to 44 last year, with violence targeted mostly at refugees, Muslims, sexual minorities, and politicians or campaigners on the left. But it said that the data painted an incomplete picture, as authorities in some countries reported far-right violence as “extremist activities” rather than as terrorism.
Among the most shocking attacks in recent years have included the murder of British politician Jo Cox in 2016, a shooting spree targeting Africans in the Italian city of Macerata last year, the murder of German politician Walter Luebcke in June, and an attempted mass shooting in a Norwegian mosque last month.
Justice and interior ministers from across the bloc are scheduled to discuss the paper, and work towards a common strategy on the problem, including reaching a shared definition of far-right violence, next month.
Cover: German special unit police officer attends a joint anti-terror exercise of German authorities in Berlin, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. German police and rescue services practice the reaction after a terror attack with biological and chemical weapons at a training area in the German capital. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)