Groningen University’s anti-extremism experts are calling for more government action to counter what they say has become increasing right-wing extremism in the northern Dutch provinces. It is the main message of “Phenomenon analysis Extremism Northern Netherlands,” the first region-specific study into extremism and radicalization in the Netherlands.
Researchers Pieter Nanninga, Leonie de Jonge, and Fleur Valk suggest that certain sections of the northern Dutch population have been drawn closer to the far right during the COVID-19 pandemic, and much of the recent blame is being leveled at the farmers’ protests that began three years ago and flared up again last summer. The development largely flies under the radar of policymakers and law enforcement agencies because they “often emphasize jihadism,” which “plays a limited role in extremist manifestations in the three northern provinces.” Ms de Jonge, one of the study’s authors, told NRC that “we are quicker to brand someone who wears a beard and speaks Arabic an extremist than a farmer who rams a provincial assembly door.”
The RUG researchers say extremist elements were able to use the protests to draw vaccine-hesitant people to their movement – some through misinformation. Many legitimate protestors were rubbing shoulders with others who advocated anti-government action. That convergence is particularly obvious in online forums. The broader social dissatisfaction and distrust of the government are reflected in many internet posts. “We see much more cross-pollination than a few years ago, especially online, such as the extreme right taking part in the farmers’ protests,” de Jonge said.
Several recent incidents – the door of Groningen’s provincial assembly being battered with a tractor during a farmers’ protest and a Molotov cocktail thrown through the window of a journalist who investigated anti-lockdown groups – suggest that those with extremist views have become more emboldened in recent times. Anti-extremism advocates believe more needs to be done to address the new emerging menace and shift the focus, which “still strongly lies on jihadism.” The researchers say the growing threat from the far-right movement could also target the government’s climate change measures and immigration policies.
Different ways to express extremism
“This kind of extremism is characterised by a strong ‘anti-government’ sentiment that is expressed in different ways,” de Jonge told The Northern Times. “It can be a general sense of antagonism to any form of government, institution or elite; or it can also be an aversion to specific government policies, such as COVID-19 restrictions, or nitrogen emissions.”
According to the researcher, the Northern Netherlands has specific features that make this region interesting to study. Some issues are more prominent than in other areas of the country: asylum seekers, wind turbines, earthquakes, and farmers, among others. The “anti-randstad” sentiment also plays a role in the spread of extremism phenomena. This is not surprising,” the researcher said, “but these extremist incidents are only the tip of the iceberg.”
Another key element is the cross-contamination between people and groups, especially online. de Jonge called the online domain “a black box” to give the sense of something we should look more into. “If we don’t know what happens online, it’s difficult to prevent or counter extremist incidents and actions,” explained de Jonge. For privacy reasons, municipalities can’t look into people’s social media, “which is good because otherwise, they could spy on citizens.”
Among their reccomendations, de Jonge and colleagues call for more training, expertise and awareness of online extremism, and more investments in police and municipalities’ capacity. For the future, de Jonge suggests a follow-up study to compare their findings with the situation in other parts of The Netherlands.