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Migration and Home Affairs
Expert opinion

Capitalising on Crises How VRWEs Exploit the COVID-19 Pandemic and Lessons for P/CVE, August 2021


Publication date
9 February 2022
Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs


The COVID-19 pandemic and measures against its spread and their impact on populations create an opportunity for new dynamics of development of violent right-wing extremism (VRWE). Utilisation of the “corona-crisis” is typical of various forms of violent extremism and terrorism in a global scope (including violent religious extremism). The specific threat of VRWE is characterised by various forms of manifestation of violent behaviour (so-called corona hate crimes, violent demonstrations and riots, discussions about terrorist attacks, etc.) and by the interconnection of VRWE with a broader spectrum of mass protests over responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and with mass propagandist campaigns in new social media.

Violent right-wing extremist behaviour can be triggered by fake news, conspiracy narratives and hate speech. Traditional narratives of RWE are enhanced by topical reaction to specific events connected with the pandemic (such as traditional anti-Semitic conspirative narratives adopted as arguments to discredit and advise against vaccination against COVID-19). Some narratives are shared globally by right-wing extremists; however, many national and country-specific issues are thematised (usually in the context of the contemporary domestic political situation in various countries). Global as well as national-specific extremist narratives are used.

Right-wing extremist anti-government propaganda in the EU and many other democratic countries is supported by external powers, mostly by pro-Kremlin forces. People who are frustrated due to the real negative impact of the pandemic on individuals and communities as well as due to inordinate fear and anger after the forced change of lifestyle can be manipulated by violent right-wing extremists to violent activities (in “worst case scenarios”, also to mass riots, coups, insurgencies and other subversive activities). Mitigation of RWE influence during the pandemic poses a huge challenge for preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE).

This prevention and countering is a multiple issue. It covers a “traditional anti-extremist” struggle as well as specific communication regarding the anti-pandemic measures. Dissatisfaction of people with the impact of these measures is misused and widely exploited by right-wing extremists. VRWE utilize the growth of RWE in general (including non-violent forms). They are emboldened by the perceived acceptance of right-wing ideas among broader parts of societies and attempt to use this stage to further normalise their violent narratives as part of the discourse. At the same time, governmental political forces have been under pressure during the pandemic and therefore have been more prone to making mistakes or questionable decisions.

Countering right-wing extremist narratives must take all these aspects into account, as not all anti-measures propaganda can be linked to VRWE narratives. The coordinated effort of experts on radicalisation as well as experts in the field of public health and crisis management is required. It is important to distinguish between real RWE/VRWE and ideologically nonmotivated participants of various controversial activities in the recent era. However, these frustrated people are in the focus of right-wing extremist propaganda and efforts to recruit new supporters to right-wing extremist networks and movements has been observed.

Capitalising on Crises How VRWEs Exploit the COVID-19 cover


Capitalising on Crises How VRWEs Exploit the COVID-19 Pandemic and Lessons for P/CVE
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