Although the war in Ukraine is still raging and shows that state threats are still rightly number one, it is time for terrorism news. And news about the relationship between radical statements on social media and offline actions, in other words: the offline/online dilemma. Yes, you can say anything you want within the law – but words matter, they can become deeds. Barking dogs are increasingly biting.
Last week, the murderer of the 20-year-old tank clerk Axel W. from Idar-Oberstein was on trial in Germany. In September 2021, the young cashier asked the 49-year-old customer to put on his mouth mask. Mario N. refused, so he didn’t get the six-pack of beer he wanted to buy, went home furious, got his revolver, came back and shot Axel. Initially, the defense was that the killer was drunk, and was so confused by all the corona measures that he ‘went on’ that night. Now more information has surfaced. In the months before, the perpetrator had increasingly searched the internet for corona news, but above all had endlessly chatted with his brother-in-law in the United States, a Trump supporter and gun enthusiast. Mario mainly followed AfD politicians and other far-right publicists on Twitter, sharing conspiracy theories circulating in those circles. On Telegram, supporters of the Querdenker moreover, the murder as success: “Jetzt gehts loose!” German scientists from, among others, the Center for Monitoring, Analysis, and Strategy confirmed the threat of radicalizing language on Telegram, which called for the establishment of ‘tribunals’, and even for the direct execution of politicians who supported the corona measures.
Think, PVV and FvD
Here the debate about polarization flared up again when NRC revealed that the NCTV also followed parties such as Denk, PVV and FvD. Supervision and control of the powers of the executive must be properly regulated in a democratic constitutional state. So it is right to put that power under a magnifying glass.
At the same time: the activities of the NCTV arose from concerns that were expressed in the House itself, and which have long been expressed by scientists (including André Krouwel). confirmed, namely that parties are often more extreme than their voters and themselves instigate polarization. In fact, it is precisely and only when MPs mention certain concepts and conspiracy theories or elements thereof in the plenum that activity increases on the social media platforms, and from there to chat groups and even offline activities, according to reports. research of the Utrecht Data School.
It is understandable that the police, the judiciary and the services are subsequently concerned about the translation into radical actions. Incidentally, they are also concerned about the consequences of statements made by MPs for their own safety. But of course attention is also paid to the influence that unconstitutional statements have on the public debate. Because even though parties immediately distance themselves from cross-border actions (see the reactions to the ‘home visit’ that Minister Kaag received), the Committee on the Constitutional State Election Programs suggested in 2017 and 2021 it is clear that some parties are violating the ‘minimum standards of the rule of law’. And that fuels online and offline radicalization.
Very young loners
The louder the dogs bark, the more likely they are to bite. We already knew that research into the relationship between online jihadist radicalization and travel to Syria. This danger also turned out to be real with corona radicalization. And we also know that online radicalization of far-right, very young loners is an increasing threat.
One last step of thinking – and also a dilemma. Dogs are allowed to bark, they even have to. And muzzles are an ultimum remedium. But sometimes you have to. The only question is: who is putting on the muzzle, how, and for how long? And who regulates the supervision of the muzzles? Last week in Germany revealed of the mirror that the number of right-wing extremists in the police, Bundeswehr and security services is much higher than was thought. Between 2018 and 2021 alone, there were 138 detected serious cases of right-wing extremism in the regional security services. These are the same services that should protect society against extremism.
In the Netherlands, we are not aware of this problem in such magnitude and seriousness. But we must take three insights from the German situation: 1) Recent attacks have been fueled by radical statements and conspiracy theories of legal parties. 2) The services that have to protect us against this form of radicalization must therefore be able to monitor polarization and radicalisation, also of politicians and parties. But 3) is the legal basis for this properly arranged? Who supervises those services – and thereby also protects them from themselves, and from cyclical upheaval in society? Guard dog NRC does his best. But actually we had come up with something else for that, you guessed it: the House of Representatives.
Beatrice de Graaf is professor of the history of international relations in Utrecht.