Far-right Telegram channels have grown considerably in recent years, according to an analysis by NOS Stories of tens of thousands of Telegram messages. It concerns both the number of posts and the number of views and the number of user interactions with posts.
The AIVD intelligence service and experts confirm the picture that the extreme right is growing, and is succeeding in reaching young people specifically. This also works through other social media such as TikTok and Instagram, where the extreme right also tries to promote more extreme Telegram and Discord groups.
‘It’s nice to say: I’m WHITE and PROUD’ | The truth about the extreme right
Jonathan (19) joined a nationalist youth group. “It was said: we have to defend our city against Moroccan thugs,” he says. In disguised terms, he was even asked to train for it. “Come and exercise, we have to be resilient, we have to be ready.”
And Nigel, who has not been in extreme right circles for a few years now, also noticed that violence is glorified: “The fact that Muslims were shot to pieces in Christchurch was seen as payback there.”
Young people in particular run the risk of being sucked into extremist groups, says researcher Willem Wagenaar of the Anne Frank House. “They are looking for friends and an identity.” Those who do not find that in their immediate environment, and come across extreme right-wing groups that do offer it, are extra vulnerable.
Jonathan agrees: “I was looking for an identity, so if someone says: this is what binds us, you will find it. The thought: I am Dutch, I am white, I am proud of that.”
The age of the persons behind extreme right-wing accounts is difficult to determine. But, says the AIVD: “We see many young people in right-wing extremist online groups. That even occurs from the age of 13.”
Among the radicalized group, which tends to violence, for example, are “several hundred young people”, says Willemijn Kadijk, who studies radical groups. But there are also concerns about the much larger group that is not necessarily violent, but actively spreads those ideas.
Intelligence service AIVD not only fears that radicalized loners could commit an attack, but also that the radical narrative, or story, of extremist organizations “undermines” the democratic legal order. This is possible because right-wing extremist theories are normalized.
A good example of this normalization is the population theory, says researcher Wagenaar. That is the conspiracy theory that the white population should be replaced by people of foreign descent. “The theory has anti-Semitic components, but is now also often shared in non-extremist circles,” said Wagenaar. Even MPs share that conspiracy theory.
White Lives Matter
NOS Stories analyzed the message traffic in 51 right-wing extremist channels and groups, 18 of which are Dutch-language. Both the number of messages and the number of times those messages were viewed increased significantly between 2018 and now. The number of interactions – for example a forwarded message, a thumbs up or a response in text – also increased sharply.
One of those channels that has become more popular is the Telegram channel of the White Lives Matter group, which projected racist texts on the Erasmus Bridge at the turn of the year. Sometimes, between the lines, the groups are far right, presenting themselves as patriotic and patriotic. But in other cases it is about outright glorification of Nazi rule in World War II and the Holocaust.
Young people often come into contact with extremist ideas through seemingly innocent memes and thoughts. “It starts quite innocently with things that have nothing to do with race, for example, but with nationalistic thoughts,” says Jonathan.
This is a conscious decision, says researcher Kadijk. “The extreme right in its purest form does not appeal directly, it becomes easier to digest if you intertwine it with jokes, for example.”
Radicalization is not only a risk for society, but also for young people themselves. “It can lead to all kinds of unpleasant situations at school and work,” says Kadijk. Friends and family often turn their backs on someone with radical views, and those who really go wild can carry a criminal record with them for the rest of their lives.
There was talk of thugs and arms dealers, that went too far for me.
This turning away has the opposite effect, both experts emphasize: anyone who notices that someone in their environment has increasingly extremist thoughts is best to start the conversation. “It is precisely conversations with good friends that can ensure that people look in the mirror,” says Kadijk.
Breaking free from the extreme right-wing bubble is in any case possible, Jonathan proves; he dropped out when a penchant for violence got the better of him. “At one point there was talk of gangs and arms dealers being involved. That went too far for me. You’re talking about physically harming people.”