X Close

The truth about Britain’s teenage terrorists News outlets are pushing another moral panic

"young british youths brandishing a dagger , grain and movement , focus on the dagger ."

"young british youths brandishing a dagger , grain and movement , focus on the dagger ."


May 2, 2024   5 mins

To read a British newspaper or to listen to the rhetoric of counter-terrorism police, you could be forgiven for thinking that the country has incubated a new generation of child extremists. And not just any child extremists: unlike previous moral panics, the new face of terror isn’t a bolshie 15-year-old Muslim girl — but a pallid, autistic white boy.

A recent article in The Telegraph, warning of “the ‘perfect storm’ turning teenagers into terrorists”, is a case in point. The opening few paragraphs focus on Joe Metcalfe, a white neo-Nazi from Haworth, West Yorkshire, who had plotted to kill Muslims in an attack modelled on the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand in 2019.“The acne-afflicted teenager,” we are told, “is part of a growing phenomenon of teenage terror offenders in Britain, with 2023 seeing a new record of 42 under-18s arrested.” The report also singles out the case of another white teen, albeit one who converted to Islam and planned to attack non-Muslims at the Isle of Wight music festival in July 2022.

The subliminal message conveyed here is that indigenous British white boys are not all right, but rather are potentially far-Right— a message that news outlets have been pushing ad infinitum for the past few years. Drill down into the actual data on Britain’s convicted teen terrorists, however, and you will find a different and less politically convenient story. According to a report published last November by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, between January 2016 and October 2023, 43 individuals in England and Wales were convicted of terrorism offences they committed as minors. The majority were far-Right (25), while 16 were jihadi and two had no clear or known ideological motivation. All except one — Safaa Boular, who was jailed for life for her role in an Isis-inspired plot to attack the British Museum — were male. The youngest was just 13. (The authors of the report, Hannah Rose and Gina Vale, have posted their dataset here.)

More striking, though, was the fact that none of the 43 had managed to commit an act of terrorist violence, none had procured a firearm and only one had come close to making a workable explosive device. Indeed, most were not, in fact, terrorists at all, but were instead the online fanboys of terrorism: they had downloaded, disseminated or created terrorist content on the internet — and a few had done a combination of all three. These are all offences under UK terrorism legislation and are punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment. One of the teens, a neo-Nazi from west London, had made a poster inciting violence against Prince Harry, calling him “race traitor” on account of his marriage to Meghan Markle. Another, a Muslim from Sutton Coldfield, had set up a “mujahdeen channel” on Telegram, where he gave a lesson on how to make a Molotov cocktail and offered advice on how to travel to Syria to join the jihad there.

The data cast an illuminating light on the ideology of the offenders, but you need to probe further to understand its implications. Of the 43 teenagers in Rose and Vale’s dataset, 13 — almost a third — were convicted of preparation of terrorist acts, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. And of those 13, seven had sought to join jihadi groups in war zones in the Middle East and North Africa, but were stopped by counter-terrorism police, while eight had unsuccessfully plotted to carry out terrorist acts in the UK. Among that last group, five were far-Right and three were jihadi.

Rose and Vale acknowledge that the “more serious” terrorism offences “were more common among Islamist individuals”, but they don’t enlarge on this point, although they make it clear that of the eight who plotted terrorist violence, the two who came closest to succeeding were jihadi-inspired. “While the extreme Right-wing teenage plotters outnumber Islamists in our dataset,” they write, “it is interesting to note that two planned large-scale Islamist attacks could meet the threshold of ‘late stage’ disruption after months of research and reconnaissance.”

It is also interesting to note that Rose and Vale’s dataset would look very different had they gone further back to the declaration of the Isis caliphate in mid-2014, giving them a decade-long perspective. That dataset would have included Shamima Begum and her two now deceased schoolmates, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, and the other Bethnal Green schoolgirl who apparently inspired all three, Sharmeena Begum. It would have also included Talha Asmal, 17, who travelled from Dewsbury to Iraq to join Isis and in June 2015 carried out a suicide bombing there. And it would have included many other teenage boys who made the same dismal life-choices as Asmal. It would, in short, have produced an overwhelming statistical disproportion between jihadists and the far-Right and further cemented the impression that British teenagers who embrace jihad are far more dangerous than those who engage in far-Right terror fandoms in their bedrooms.

Another striking detail is that there are no incels among the 43 convicted teens. I point this out because while incel culture has reportedly “gone mainstream” in UK schools, no British schoolboy until now has been convicted of incel-related terrorism offences in this country. Given the enormous gaslighting around this issue of late, and the even bigger public and private digital-training-grift that parasitically engorges on it, the conspicuous absence of incels in the data is more than noteworthy.

A yet further striking detail is that of the 43 offenders, 13 had been referred at least once to Prevent, the UK’s counter-radicalisation programme, which, according to William Shawcross’s review last year, is excessively focused on Right-wing extremism, despite 80% of live police investigations involving Islamist plots. Prevent’s defenders insist that the scheme has stopped countless young people from engaging in extremism, but it’s impossible to empirically demonstrate this, given that we can’t know how their lives would have turned out had they not received support from Prevent. What we do know, however, is that a significant number who had received such support went on to commit terrorism offences. In one revealing section, Rose and Vale quote one of the teens as boasting: “I just had a two-hour conversation with a coconut mozlem which works with the government…He tried to ‘deradicalise’ me…They think we’re gunna stop following the haqq [truth] out of fear of them or of ignorance.”

Looking at the cold data, then, the overwhelming picture that emerges is not of dangerous masterminds, but of chaotic and cretinous loners immersed in an infantile online demi-monde of gore, murder fandom and sectarian hatred. Many grew up in troubled families and suffer from mental health problems, particularly autism. And while they were all vigorously invested in their ideological beliefs, their ability to competently act on them was, as Rose and Vale moderately put it, “less clear-cut”. Joe Metcalfe, for example, would have been a more serious proposition had he known how to drive: his plot came to a pitiful end when he stole his dad’s car and crashed it into a fence. Another far-Right plotter from Rugby was similarly ham-fisted, prompting the judge at his trial to describe his attack-planning as “inept”.

None of this means that teenage extremists are not a potential threat, and Rose and Vale are rightly determined to dispel the idea that they have no agency and were led astray by mysterious “online groomers”. The recent stabbing of an Assyrian bishop by a 16-year-old boy in Sydney testifies to this: he survived the attack, but his right eye didn’t.

The attack was revealing in other ways, too. Bishop Emmanuel has apparently forgiven his attacker, which is his right to do of course, while a spokesperson for the attacker’s family has relayed to the media that the teen had “anger management” problems and is a devout Muslim without being “fanatical”. Here we can see the inverse of today’s extremism panic, where the temptation is to pretend that it’s not happening at all, or that it’s only happening among those sketchy white kids.

The Head of the UK’s Counter Terrorism Policing, Matt Jukes, recently told a journalist that, when he first started his career in counter-terrorism 25 years ago, the dominant foes were organised groups such as al-Qaeda, whereas today the threat-picture looks very different: “One in five of the people we arrest [today] is a child… principally boys,” he said, adding that some were as young as 11 and that much of his work is now taken up with liaising less with MI5 and more with child and adolescent mental health services, schools and colleges.

Counter Terrorism Policing, in other words, has become an ancillary of Britain’s already over-bloated and ever-expanding therapeutic state. This is alarming for all sorts of reasons. Not only does it risk stigmatising the young people who come within its remit, but it also diverts resources away from investigating threats that are far more serious than that posed by acne-ridden teenagers in their bedrooms.


Simon Cottee is a senior lecturer in criminology at the University of Kent.


Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

21 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
22 days ago

Another, a Muslim from Sutton Coldfield, had set up a “mujahdeen channel” on Telegram, where he gave a lesson on how to make a Molotov cocktail
Who needs instructions on how to make a Molotov cocktail? All you need is a bottle, a rag, gasoline, kerosene, whiskey, vermouth, chartreuse, and Angostura bitters.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
22 days ago

It would appear our response to the threat of teenage terrorism is to be shaken, not stirred.

Sylvia Volk
Sylvia Volk
22 days ago

For the proper final touch, you need to light it with your cigar.

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
22 days ago

Careful RWH, that might be considered dangerous dissemination of terrorist content no matter how delicious it sounds. I can see a judge taking a very dim view given your stated leanings – GD hippie.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
21 days ago

Is this a variation on Harvey’s ‘Wallbanger’ ?

mike otter
mike otter
21 days ago

Did you see the Ukrainian recipes bandied about on the MSM a few weeks ago? they added lumps of polystyrene which must greatly enhance the arson and anti-personnel capabilities of the weapon.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
22 days ago

I agree with the writer’s caveats about the figures bandied about.
Might I further make the point that even if the numbers were being counted for roughly the same level of threat, that 25 out of the white non-moslem population of the UK and 16 from the moslem population would indicate that there is a very much higher proportion of the latter getting involved.

Matt M
Matt M
21 days ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

I think that is Far-right: 1 in 2.25M, Muslim: 1 in 281k.
Or Muslims are 8 times more likely to be picked up for terror offences than white Brits.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
19 days ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

And it’s worth pointing out that both categories are “far right”, the muslims (who are disproportionately represented as you point out) are much more so in therms of their beliefs than the whites involved.

Katja Sipple
Katja Sipple
17 days ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

That’s why the alliance between the far left and Islam is so baffling, isn’t it? Ideologically, they are on opposite sides of the spectrum. My take has always been that a) both sides have an “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” view, using the other to topple the status quo, and b) the far left needs victims to justify its existence, and the traditional working class person just doesn’t cut it anymore (white, male, etc.).

Keith Merrick
Keith Merrick
22 days ago

Really good article. Whenever I hear about the threat from terrorism that comes overwhelmingly from the far-right I raise my eyebrows. Yeah, course it does.

Dylan Blackhurst
Dylan Blackhurst
21 days ago
Reply to  Keith Merrick

If you go on Twitter it appears the Tories are far right. So it look like the terrorists have already taken over.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
21 days ago

The truth is……. There is no truth, only narrative.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
21 days ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

No, Tom, that train has already left the station; we’re now on the Post-Modernist express and there’s only the narrative about the narrative about the narrative….

Roland Fleming
Roland Fleming
21 days ago

I wouldn’t recommend drawing strong conclusions about a whole population by subdividing a sample of less than 50 into groups.

mike otter
mike otter
21 days ago

Meanwhile real terrorists are free to plan, resource and execute their schemes with little chance of being caught. This seems to validate at least three common observations: The numbers of violent nutters is vanishingly small as a % of UK society. Islam + other theisms are religions of peace in similar proportions. We now have “performative” security services, as we have “celebrity” surgeons, lawyers, psychiatrists, vets, mechanics etc. Literally people “performing” a role not doing a job. IMO only one of these observed facts is a problem.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
21 days ago

With such a small sample size, the writer is correct to point out how changing the timeframe can change the results.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
21 days ago

The narrative police are hard at work in defense of their preferred mascots, none of whom are white kids, and certainly none of whom are “far right” white kids, whatever that means. It has become comical, albeit dangerous, to watch and listen to media people and the political class engage in this duplicitous psyop that refuses to acknowledge problems in front of its collective face.
Illegals went to migrants and, more recently, to ‘newcomers’ as if they are invited guests. “Women’s health care” is abortion. Nothing more, not even the conditions that are and have been the leading causes of death for women. And the same is true with crime stories, especially in the US – when race is either not mentioned or buried deep in a story, or no picture is forthcoming, it’s a safe guess that the assailant is a minority.
This is a particularly curious form of anti-whiteness, one that seeks equivalence between people who, as the article notes, commit no acts of violence and people who have harmed others. The sad reality is that eventually, there will be trouble from whites, especially the ones who are low-income and often marginalized. When you browbeat people long enough over an immutable characteristic, they will eventually respond and it won’t be good.

Arthur King
Arthur King
21 days ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

They hate our young white boys and these boys know it.

Johan Grönwall
Johan Grönwall
21 days ago

The dreaded ”far right” terrorists are miserable loners with no support anywhere but from inside their deranged minds.

Whilst muslim terrorists enjoy broad support from a large part of the muslim community. As seen on 7th October all over the world.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
17 days ago

And how shall we treat budding terrorists, given that some of them could be truly dangerous individuals? I think they were given lots of warnings before arrest and conviction.