Foxes Guarding Hen Houses: The Radical Right Has Infiltrated Our Institutions

As we saw in the Trump insurrection, the radical right has infiltrated institutions from the police to government. This is also a global phenomenon.

Dr. Alan Waring is a retired risk analyst and former Visiting Professor, now Adjunct Professor, at CERIDES (Centre for Risk and Decision Sciences) at the European University Cyprus.

The below article is abstracted from chapter 12 of The New Authoritarianism Vol 3: A Risk Analysis of the Corporate/Radical-Right Axis, edited by Alan Waring, published by Ibidem Verlag, Spring 2021. It now includes analysis of the January 6 Trump insurrection.

State organizations and national infrastructure organizations, such as the police, armed forces, education, public health, energy supply, telecommunications, and nuclear establishments, normally have in place protective systems designed to ensure that extremists, of whatever persuasion, cannot misuse, disrupt or damage the organization’s functions.

This would include protection not only against overt actions by extremists, such as blockading premises, physical attacks against assets or personnel, and remote cyber-attacks [albeit minor compared to state-based cyber-attacks] against data, communications, or technical process control, but also against more covert actions, such as joining the organization. Covert infiltration would enable the perpetrator not only to engage in acts of sabotage, disruption, and vindictiveness, but also to disseminate propaganda and subvert other personnel to the extremist’s cause, as in the following examples.

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Radical Right Infiltration of State Organizations

Armed Forces

A number of countries have experienced infiltration of their armed forces by far-right individuals. For example, in the US a soldier plotted with neo-Nazis to attack his own unit, while in Germany infiltration of the army (DW News 2017; Hoff 2020; Sahinkaya 2020) has been a major issue. In the UK, one of the major cases so far against members of the proscribed far-right terrorist group National Action involved several men serving in the British Army. One, Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen, was convicted in 2018 and sentenced to 8 years in jail.


In 2020, a UK police officer suspected of far-right involvement was subsequently arrested and charged as a member of the proscribed far-right terrorist group National Action and on four other offenses including child sex offenses.  Another police officer was sacked for supporting the far-right Britain First on Facebook and expressing racist and homophobic views.

In Germany, the police force has also been infiltrated (Ankel 2020; Walsh 2017). In the US, infiltration of police forces by white supremacists and other far-right groups is reportedly a longstanding problem and one recognized by the FBI (German 2020; Speri 2017). Graphic evidence was provided in 2020 by the killing of George Floyd and a series of other black people by officers in different police forces across America, reported to be at least 160 such deaths from January to September 2020. There have been suggestions that some police officers colluded with far-right Trump mobsters who attacked the Capitol building in Washington DC on January 6, 2021.

Whether any officers will be included in those likely to face criminal charges remains to be seen.

As far back as 1999, the 350-page MacPherson Report into the Stephen Lawrence racist murder in London in 1993 found that police conduct had been “marred by a combination of professional incompetence, institutional racism and a failure of leadership” (para 46.1, page 365). In 2020, the Metropolitan Police Chief Commissioner Cressida Dick admitted that it remained a constant battle to eliminate unofficial institutional racism from the force.

In 2020 alone, there were numerous instances of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) members of the public being stopped by police while driving in London, searched, and in some cases arrested, on suspicion of drug offenses. Officers reportedly sought to justify their actions by reference to vehicle occupants behaving and driving suspiciously and being in possession of expensive high-range vehicles that police assert they normally associate with drug dealers.

In one case, officers refused to believe that a black husband and wife, both successful business people with impeccable credentials, could possibly own an expensive home in an affluent suburb and afford to own two expensive cars unless they were obtaining their funds illegally. A number of BAME citizens subjected to such prejudicial conduct have been high-profile persons, such as national sports champions, media celebrities, a Metropolitan Police Inspector, and even a member of Parliament. So far as is known, all those stopped and detained were released without charge.

The gulf of mistrust in the police among the BAME community has become widened by a strong suspicion that some police forces have become corrupted by far-right sympathizers and institutionalized racism. In the US, President Trump vocally supported authoritarian police actions and armed far-right white vigilante counter-demonstrations against BLM protesters in places such as Minneapolis, Kenosha and Portland, Oregon, while accusing such lawful protesters of being anarchists and criminals supported by liberals and Democrats.

Paradoxically, this same self-styled champion of law-and-order also publicly fomented and incited the far-right mob attack on the Capitol on January 6th. Many have noted that police action in Washington DC against peaceful BLM protestors in 2020 was forceful, even brutal, whereas their action against the Capitol mob was tame and perfunctory, indicating incompetence if not possible collusion with the mobsters.


A number of individuals having controversial radical-right views were appointed to posts where they have formally advised ministers in the UK Conservative government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Some of these advisers have expressed their radical-right opinions and prejudices in a way that challenged public perceptions of acceptable conduct from unelected public officials in positions of significant political influence.

The most prominent example is Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former personal adviser on strategy, whose controversial actions and utterances have been widely reported. Others include the Prime Minister’s social media adviser, Chloe Westley, who expressed anti-Muslim prejudices and described as a “hero” Anne Marie Waters, former leader of far-right activists Pegida UK.

In 2020, Cabinet Office policy adviser Andrew Sabisky was forced to resign for alleged racist policy comments arguing [on Dominic Cummings’ website] that enforced contraception should be applied to certain classes of women so as to avoid over-burdening the economy and the state with an underclass of unwanted births, and [on various other website blogs] arguing that policies based on eugenics were defensible since black Americans have [he alleged] a lower IQ than whites and blacks have an “intellectual disability”.

In July 2020, Will O’Shea, a Cabinet Office adviser on digital services, was sacked after it was revealed that he had posted Twitter comments suggesting that police should use live rounds and that Black Lives Matter activists should be shot. Despite widespread demands, the Prime Minister declined to issue any comment or apology on any of these cases, thereby cementing a perception of connivance and that he apparently supported their views i.e. giving rise to the suspicion that these extreme individuals were welcome invitees rather than unwanted covert infiltrators.

And in the US, the past four years of the Trump Administration speaks for itself.

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How can we prevent the radical right from infiltrating institutions?

An essential part of recruitment, selection, internal promotions, and sensitive postings in state and national infrastructure organizations is so-called ‘due diligence’ vetting (Waring 2013, 88-98). Such vetting is designed to identify evidence in the individual’s background of dishonesty, criminal activity, substance abuse, heavy gambling, reckless conduct, mental instability, or support for anti-social or extremist ideologies, any of which is likely to present an undue risk for the organization. While due diligence vetting is necessary and admirable in its intent, the examples above show that it is not always successful in preventing the employment of those with a predisposition to extremist views and actions.

With vetting procedures under the Official Secrets Act applying to most UK government departments (and their contractors), why have due diligence procedures apparently sometimes failed? One possible reason is that there are two classes of vetting ‒ negative and positive. Most individuals subject to security screening are those whose work will not entail access to any security-classified information, activities, personnel, or locations.

This group is deemed to present a lesser security risk and therefore to warrant ‘negative vetting’, that is the screening criteria focus on identification of anything manifestly wrong, for example, criminal convictions, falsification of qualifications or work history, records of anti-social conduct, records of extremist public statements. Such screening is essential but not necessarily sufficient to identify anyone determined to hide evidence that might thwart their security clearance.

Evasion is characteristic not only of spies but also of fanatics whose mission is to impose their ideology on governance and society e.g. Islamic State, anti-abortion extremists, white supremacists, radical-left extremists, radical-right extremists. To identify covert individuals requires positive vetting, an altogether more rigorous and time-consuming process that examines in depth all aspects of an individual’s life history, ancestry, education, qualifications, career, employment record, finances, references, criminal record, civil judgements, activities, travel history, publishing history, lifestyle, social media and online history, personality profile including mental health history, beliefs, attitudes, proclivities, addictions, deviances, friends, associates, and contacts with radical groups or individuals.

Vetting procedures will include not only online searches but also personal interviews with the individual, and with third parties such as educators, employers, former employers, neighbors, associates, banks, local shopkeepers, local bars, and restaurants. Discreet surveillance may also be warranted in some instances.

Of particular importance for post applicants within the police, security services, armed forces, and Cabinet Office advisers, is the need for psychological profiling and, as necessary, psychiatric evaluation. See, for example, the large-scale study reports on corporate psychopathy by Brooks et al (2020) and Fritzon et al (2016). This is to ensure that individuals with psychopathic or sociopathic personality traits, or extreme propensity (whether ideological or personal) for violence or harm to others, are prevented from gaining entry or positions of authority within the service. The need is accentuated, for example, by the number of video-recorded murders and assaults by police officers, especially but not exclusively in the US, against unarmed members of the BAME community.

In the above examples, it would appear that the infiltrators were not subject to positive vetting, otherwise, their radical-right allegiances and sympathies would have been discovered and their initial appointment or continued posting probably stopped. Whether the criteria for deciding when positive vetting is necessary and how rigorously it is applied, require review and possible revision, is now a live question and one becoming ever more salient.

This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.

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