Gateway Organizations: Understanding the Lure of the Radical Right

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February 15, 2019 06:21 EDT

To date, the notion of gateway organizations has in the most part been used to help explain processes of radicalization in relation to Islamic extremism.

Since September 11, 2001, the radical right has been on the rise in terms of popularity and reach across Western states. The 9/11 attacks, the subsequent war on terror and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq all played their part in creating the initial breeding ground for these ideologies. This was further built on and sustained by attacks across Europe, the US and Australia by groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, as well as other phenomena such as the Syrian refugee crises, sensationalized reports of black-on-white crime and the perceived “Islamification” of the Western world.

By 2005, a tipping point was reached, and across the West feelings of a perceived threat to identity and culture were vocalized by the radical right across a number of countries. Against this backdrop, the world also saw a rise in Islamophobic hate crime and the normalization of these types of sentiments across Western politics and media, leading to today’s catastrophes such as Brexit in the UK, the election of President Donald Trump in America, and the permeation of radical-right groups into the mainstream political arena.

None of the above will be of any surprise to those who are immersed in this area of research. However, having been analyzing the language and imagery of groups such as Reclaim Australia, Britain First, the US-based Traditionalist Workers Party, as well as a number of smaller and emerging groups over the last couple of years, the lack of importance placed on these groups by policymakers and academics alike needs to be addressed. Groups like these, which have proved to be incredibly popular, although less engaged in “actual” violence, represent the easiest way for us to understand the popularity of the radical right: They are the gateway organizations.

Pathways to Extremism

Gateway organizations refer to those groups that are not directly involved in the pursuit of violence but are seen to facilitate pathways to violent extremism. This is based on an understanding of the three performative functions of gateway organizations as put forward by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at Kings College, London, in 2008: indoctrination, socialization and subversion.

First, in terms of indoctrination, gateway organizations are seen to share the same ideological ideas as violent extremist groups but do not themselves act upon them. Second, socialization refers to the process by which gateway organizations “introduce individuals into the radical ‘milieu’ in which it becomes easy to establish social networks with violent extremists.” Third is subversion, as gateway organizations are seen to embrace values that are incompatible with the current state of play. Gateway organizations are the breeding ground for violent extremism.

To date, the notion of gateway organizations has in the most part been used to help explain processes of radicalization in relation to extremist Islam. Most notably, Professors Peter Neumann and Brooke Rogers expressed concern about “gateway organizations of Islamist activism, who could facilitate exposure and connection to militant ideas and the social influence of people who endorse them.” In addition, in the 2008 King’s College report, the concept of gateway organizations was applied to three different case studies of extreme Islamist movements. In this study, the authors argued that dealing with gateway organizations represents one of the greatest challenges in the fight against violent extremism, stating that it is difficult to see how these gateway organizations could “ever play a positive role in combating violent extremism.”

They also argue that the importance of these organizations lies in their ability to prepare individuals ideologically, and socialize them into the extremist “milieu” — something exploited by Islamic militants. This has also translated into government policy, in the UK at least, where the government’s Prevent strategy aims to stop individuals from becoming involved with non-violent extremist ideologies recognized as a gateway to violent extremism.

Rather than argue the importance of these groups as an insight into pathways to violent radicalization, which has proved to be less helpful in terms of seeking prevention, other influential works have moved away from profiling and instead posited the sociological importance of gateway organizations as spaces where individuals can become vulnerable to more violent extremist ideologies.

Stopping Normalization

Similarly, we need to reinvigorate the importance placed on understanding these groups to stop the normalization of this rhetoric in mainstream society. Gateway organizations are already showing themselves to be of key importance in understanding the radical right. Yet most scholars, politicians and even the media tend to focus on those more extreme radical right groups that are engaged in physical violence. Policymakers have long discussed the vulnerability points for extremist messages such as inside prisons, schools and workplaces.

Social media represents the same pinch points. Before the banning of Britain First from Facebook, most of this author’s acquaintances had seen a Britain First post or knew someone who followed it, meaning the group’s messages come up on their newsfeed. This relatively tame but harmful ideology had thus become an everyday occurrence, something that most people were used to.

Britain First is just one of many groups that will come and go. In a sense the group itself isn’t that important. What is important, however, is why these groups gain such unprecedented popularity and, perhaps even more significantly, how they are able to permeate their ideas throughout society and whether people agree with them or not. It is time we paid more attention to these groups if we are to better understand their attractiveness.

*[The Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right is a partner institution of Fair Observer.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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