The Home Office has recently released its latest set of statistics on the UK Prevent strategy and Channel programme for the period April 2016 to March 2017. Perhaps the standout headline was that radical right referrals to Prevent have risen by more than a quarter since the previous year. In fact, individuals with a radical right ideology now account for over a third of those that receive intervention from Channel- the safeguarding process that supports the most vulnerable, high-risk Prevent referrals.
As a practitioner who has worked with Prevent since 2013, the radical right has always impacted my work and has accounted for nearly 50% of the cases that I have personally been involved with. At its heart, Prevent is a safeguarding duty that tries to support vulnerable people who may be at risk of radicalisation and extremism. But how do we support people who are immersed in radical right ideology?
In my experience, there is no single pathway to radicalisation and every case I have dealt with has been unique. So it is incumbent upon us to treat people as individuals, consider their particular vulnerabilities and put Channel support in place that is bespoke for that individual’s needs. A good example of how this works in practice can be found in one of the first Prevent cases I ever encountered.
It began as a domestic incident where a teenage boy who was holding a hunting knife and wearing a Friday the 13th-style hockey mask threatened police. Chillingly, the boy had decorated the mask with Nazi swastikas and a toothbrush moustache (commonly associated with Adolf Hitler). He had scrawled various sinister signs and slogans all over the mask. These included “white pride,” “SS,” a Star of David with a cross through it, and the numbers “14” and “88”. Concerned officers referred the boy to Prevent.
Upon meeting the boy for the first time, I was startled when he shook my hand but not the hand of my colleague based on the colour of his skin. He then surprised me further by openly espousing his view that white people were the “master race”, threatened by extinction and that a race war was on the horizon. I wondered how someone could brazenly speak in such offensive and racist terms to police officers?
The extreme, racist views of the boy, his violent behaviour both at home and school, and his call to action for a race war raised significant concerns. But before we could consider Channel support we had to obtain his consent. Channel is a voluntary, confidential programme that works best when people are invested in the process rather than paying lip service to it. It is perhaps surprising that so many people agree to participate in it, and this boy was no exception.
So-called ‘Channel panels’ meet on a monthly basis. They are chaired by local authorities and include partners from agencies (such as education, police, health and probation) who collectively share information, assess the extent of a referral’s vulnerability and decide on a support package that is suited to their needs. Typical examples of support include life skills, anger management, careers advice and mentoring.
In this boy’s case, most of our partners played a key role in his support plan. For instance, he was diagnosed with a behavioural disorder that accounted for much of his erratic, violent conduct in school. Mental health professionals worked with teachers to support him and offer reasonable adjustments that resulted in improved attendance and behaviour.
Social services provided insights into the boy’s background and indicated that a close family member was the single biggest negative influence in his life. He had essentially been radicalised by his own father who had indoctrinated him with racist, anti-Semitic views and allegedly took him (blindfolded) to secret radical right group meetings. In many ways, given such an ugly influence, the boy was arguably a victim himself.
Mentoring can be a hugely effective support mechanism. In this case we introduced the boy to a youth worker, a skinhead, with a background in radical right culture. They developed a close bond and the mentor encouraged the boy to engage in new ways of thinking about race and ethnicity based on DNA, evolution and deconstructing racism.
One of Channel’s strengths is that it is creative. It offers unique, personal experiences that have lasting, positive impacts. For example, the boy displayed an avid interest in military history. He was also obsessed with conspiracy theories. He regularly claimed that 9/11 was a U.S. government plot and that the Holocaust did not happen. So, we took him to visit the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Nottinghamshire. Not only did the museum tour provide primary evidence of the horror and scale of the Holocaust, but the boy was also introduced to a Holocaust survivor who shared his experiences of life in a concentration. On this occasion, a 15-year-old white supremacist could hardly deny the reality of the Holocaust as he shared a cup of tea with a living witness to its inhumanity. This was the culmination of his Channel journey. Shortly after this life-changing day, the boy safely exited from the Channel process.
Before concluding, it should be stressed that, as with all Channel cases, at no point was this boy criminalized or forced to take part in the programme. The positive interventions he received were tailored to his individual needs. The racist ideology that he was once so proud of was effectively gone. Not only did he shake my colleague’s hand at the end of the process, he hugged him and thanked us profusely for the support he received.
In sum, Prevent practitioners rarely get the opportunity to promote successful case stories because ultimately we deal with confidential safeguarding issues and it’s important to obtain individuals consent before their stories are shared. Since 2012, over 1000 people have benefited from the Channel process. Last year alone, 124 people received Channel support for radical right-related concerns. This boy’s story is one of many but demonstrates the importance of tailored and targeted support in de-radicalising and disengaging right-wing radicals; both in the UK but also further afield.