Community deprivation drives far-right violence

Using disaggregated data for England, Margherita Belgioioso, Christoph Dworschak, and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch show that community deprivation drives far-right violence. Their research reveals how deprivation fuels it, and how it may be possible to predict where such violence is likely, even when we cannot predict who may be carrying out attacks. They also suggest that efforts to reduce community deprivation can also help reduce political violence

The problem of far-right violence

Far-right violence is a significant security concern worldwide. It is, arguably, on the rise: The 2020 Global Terrorism Index reports a 250% increase in right-wing terrorist attacks in North America, Western Europe, and Oceania. A 2022 report from the UK Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament identifies extreme right-wing terrorism as 'a significant challenge' and a priority for counterterrorism policing strategies. The 2020 Munich Security Report argues that right wing-extremist attacks have been more frequent, and have killed more people in the US since 11 September 2001, than Islamist or Jihadist terrorism.

Feeding on the disaffected

Far-right rhetoric often seeks to appeal to disaffected citizens. It is more likely to find a receptive audience and gain traction among people who experience deprivation. Far-right ideologies seek to exploit discontent, blame the political establishment, and foster a sense of persecution among 'native' populations. This narrative legitimises political violence and identifies specific targets.

Individual and community deprivation

However, the individuals who carry out such attacks tend not themselves to be particularly deprived. This has led some to argue that focusing on deprivation is unhelpful for understanding or predicting extremist political violence. But focusing on individuals alone overlooks the role of the community in experiences of deprivation. Individuals tend to look to their local communities when they evaluate social well-being and sense of belonging.

People who observe deprivation and low standards of living in their community relative to others are more likely to be disillusioned with the establishment, and to support extremism

People who observe deprivation and low standards of living in their community relative to others are more likely to come to see outcomes as unjust. In turn, they become more likely to attribute responsibility to political leaders. They are also likely to become disillusioned with political institutions and the ability to generate change through conventional politics. Some may become more likely to condone and support extreme measures, including violence. A smaller subset may be willing to carry out attacks themselves.

Predicting far-right violence

Many strategies to contain violent extremism focus on identifying early signs of radicalisation with the hope of preventing future attacks. However, many note it is difficult to detect potential perpetrators through attempts to identify individual radicalisation. If groups can select the most able among potential supporters, then one would not expect factors fostering support for right-wing ideologies or deprivation to help identify potential extremists.

However, if we are right, then local community deprivation can be helpful for predicting where right-wing violence is more probable. This is likely the case even when it is impossible to predict which particular individuals will eventually carry out attacks. Deprived local communities have a greater pool of citizens who can be radicalised far enough to participate in attacks. Moreover, far-right attacks also tend to occur in the very communities in which the perpetrators live.

Attacks against local targets have symbolic significance: they can generate fear, exert control over perceived opponents, and draw local attention to the far-right cause

Resentment, and a desire for retribution, are more likely to result in attacks against targets familiar to perpetrators in their local communities. Attacks on local targets are also logistically easier to plan and execute, and thus more likely to be carried out. Finally, attacks against local targets often have an important symbolic significance to extremists: they can help generate fear and exert control over perceived opponents, and draw local attention to the far-right cause in ways that have the potential to recruit more followers.

Our study examines the connection between neighbourhood-level social and economic deprivation and right-wing violent attacks. We analysed local geographic data for England at the level of Lower Layer Super Output Areas (LSOAs). This is the highest resolution used in the UK census, covering 400–1,200 households, with a resident population between 1,000 and 3,000. Through a Freedom of Information request from the Home Office, we obtained data on local crime incidents. We then examined how this data covaried with a series of indicators of local neighbourhood income, education, and environmental deprivation.

Using machine-learning algorithms, we evaluated how measuring community deprivation can improve our ability to predict hate crime. Our results corroborate a link between the two

Analyses of observed data, however, can be prone to overfitting to the specific sample. In a subsequent sample, using machine-learning algorithms, we thus evaluate how measures of local deprivation can improve our ability to predict right-wing hate crime. Our results corroborate a link between community deprivation and future hate crime. Although it remains difficult to predict right-wing violence, adding information on local deprivation notably improves our ability to anticipate where hate crimes might occur.

Predicting and preventing hate crime

Our study provides insights into the mechanisms that underly radicalisation and hate crime at local level. Identifying local deprivation can be useful for identifying hate crime risk, even if we cannot predict the specific perpetrators. It also suggests new avenues for countering hate crime. If local deprivation is a driver of hate crime, then reducing deprivation can help prevent extremisms.

Our study is not designed to evaluate interventions to reduce deprivation, and efforts intended to achieve outcomes such as 'levelling up' may not be successful. However, some interventions, such as efforts to decrease child poverty under the New Labour government (2007–10), have managed to reduce deprivation. Such interventions suggest potential avenues to address deprivation that, in turn, could make significant reductions in far-right violence.

Focusing on reducing deprivation can help undermine extremism, prevent potential attacks, and complement efforts to deradicalise.

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.

Contributing Authors

photograph of Margherita Belgioioso Margherita Belgioioso Associate Professor in Quantitative International Relations, School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds More by this author
photograph of Christoph Dworschak Christoph Dworschak Lecturer in Quantitative Political Science, Department of Politics & International Relations, University of York More by this author
photograph of Kristian Skrede Gleditsch Kristian Skrede Gleditsch Regius Professor of Political Science, University of Essex / Research Associate, Peace Research Institute Oslo More by this author

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