The secretary general of Interpol, Jürgen Stock, spoke to The Washington Post about the dramatic rise in extremist right-wing violence and the use of social media as a “sort of incubator” for far-right ideas. The incidents, he said, should be treated in the same way as Islamist extremism.
Stock, who is German, has served in his position since 2014. We interviewed him during the Munich Security Conference earlier this month and again last week after a gunman — apparently fueled by extremist right-wing views and conspiracy theories — killed nine people in the German city of Hanau.
Interpol, an international organization facilitating police cooperation across borders, is headquartered in Lyon, France.
Q: In the past months, we’ve seen attacks by individuals who were followers of right-wing ideologies. The most recent attack was in Hanau. Has right-wing extremism increased?
A: The indication is that things are getting worse, definitely. We will see more of these attacks in the future.
It is too early to say [on Hanau], but it seems to be. There clearly seems to be a right-wing xenophobic background to the whole thing. It will be interesting to see whether there was a national or international network involved. Interpol has offered its support to the German authorities.
Q: Do you see a trend of globalization in the case of right-wing extremism? Are people much more connected?
A: This is a key question. So far, we still have to work on the bigger picture. What we see is that of course in parallel, the number of these kinds of incidents is increasing dramatically. And I think we have some information that just in the last couple of years, primarily in the Western countries, particularly Western Europe, North America, Oceania — the number of cases attributed to far-right groups has been increasing by 320 percent. We have seen in some of the cases that of course social media was used as a sort of incubator, as the modus operandi for any ideas.
Q: Do you have any examples?
A: For instance, what happened in Christchurch was used as inspiration by others to streamline other activities. There were more or less loose connections via social media groups, closed user groups, information exchange, and obviously we also see that some of these terrorists are “media sensitive” — releasing messages, videos and manifestos. And here we have to dig a little deeper and establish a better exchange among law enforcement globally about how this radicalization is taking place, what role does social media play, how is the planning exactly going on.
Q: What about the attack in Hanau? What possible connections to right-wing groups are of interest to you? And where should international cooperation work better?
A: The person did not have a criminal record. The law enforcement agencies were not aware of him, so the modus operandi, the way they contact each other, the role of weapons, and of course their connections — nationally and internationally. This is something where we have to put in more effort, to intensively share this information on a global scale in order to exactly answer these questions. Understanding what is going on and of course being a little bit ahead so we can kind of predict what is going to happen in the months to come.
Q: You said during the Munich Security Conference everyone seems to be pretty much on the same page regarding how to deal with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Is it as easy with right-wing extremism?
A: Of course, we need a collective understanding that this is terrorism. Period. What we know from the other case in Germany where the other obviously right-wing cell was arrested — and obviously had the motivation, according to authorities, to go for a kind of civil war within Germany. So this is terrorism. The successful methodology we have been applying in regard to other terrorist groups including ISIS, this global solidarity to tackle this, to enter a new level of sharing information amongst countries which we have never seen before — we have to apply the same methodology to right-wing terrorism, no doubt.
Q: Are you running into problems, for example in the United States, where you can find on social media right-wing extremist and anti-Semitic propaganda that would be considered rabble-rousing in Germany and other European countries?
A: At Interpol we are focusing on crime, so when an attack occurs, we support the investigation, supporting the sharing of information, also preventing these kinds of attacks. We don’t have any legal problem at Interpol to take action if it concerns this kind of terrorist activity.
Q: Would it be helpful to collect the data of right-wing extremists, biometric data for example, the travel movements, the same way you are doing with foreign terrorist fighters?
A: We have clear rules regarding the possession of data and at the end of the day this is a national responsibility. The basis is the law that exists in our member countries that allows the national law enforcement agencies to share with Interpol. We are ready to use our strongest tool — the red notices and other alerts — that exist based on information provided by our member countries. We have a good tool box in place that was developed over the past couple of years, specifically, of course, on terrorist activity from al-Qaeda and ISIS, there is no reason not to apply it also to right-wing terrorism. What we are seeing more and more is terrorist activity. Period.
Q: Does the information sharing from member states on right-wing extremism reach the same level as when it comes to al-Qaeda or ISIS?
A: No, I would not say that it is at the same level. . . . Interpol’s membership in the global coalition against ISIS has been helping us a lot . . . The U.N. Security Council has been encouraging countries to better use the instruments of Interpol and better share the information. So that today we can say that sharing has been reaching a very high level and this is still something we have to apply in regard to right-wing terrorism.
Maybe the international dimension is not as obvious as in the case of ISIS, so here there is more work to do, but it starts by sharing the relevant information. This is the only way to get the bigger picture.