When Theresa May was Britain’s prime minister and Amber Rudd was her home secretary, one of them, I can’t remember which, identified not only terrorism but also far-right extremism as a threat to society, suggesting that the two were equally to be feared. I assumed that this was done out of political correctness. Everyone knew that terrorists were almost invariably Muslims, who had killed about ninety people in Britain in recent decades whereas only one or possibly two people had been killed by far-right extremists. Given the Muslim and White shares of the population, this meant that a random Muslim was more than 500 times likelier to be a politically motivated killer than was a random White person. But the pretence of racial equality had to be maintained, and what White counterparts of Muslim terrorists could there be but far-right extremists?
Since then, the government has extended its pretence. It now speaks not only of far-right extremism but of far-right extremist terrorism, which, despite the lack of cases, it seems to regard as more prevalent or serious than Muslim terrorism. The web page of its Prevent programme, which “supports people who are at risk of becoming involved with terrorism through radicalisation”, mentions extreme right-wing terrorism first and Islamist terrorism only second when identifying common types of terrorism.
Where does the government expect to find all the right-wing terrorists it refers to? It is one thing to conjure up an image of large numbers of White people holding secret meetings to plan atrocities that never happen or sitting in bedsits up and down the country cooking up murderous plots that rarely come to fruition, but quite another to show that such people actually exist. Won’t Prevent eventually have to admit that they are largely imaginary? No, because Prevent doesn’t deal with terrorists but with people at risk of becoming terrorists, whom it can easily create. All it needs to do is decide that common products of White culture can exert a radicalising influence and it will be able to identify anyone who partakes of White culture as a right-wing terrorist in the making.
In February 2023 we learned that it had done just this by giving out a list of books and DVDs that, if found in a person’s possession, might indicate a tendency to far-right extremism. On the list were the works of Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton, which were “warning signs of potential extremism” since people on the far right were known to read them. Also listed were Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Dam Busters. Read a book or watch a DVD like this and Prevent might come knocking on your door to “support” you, meaning to stop you going any further down the path to terrorism. The government seemed particularly concerned about books that might provoke thought about the nature of the society it was creating. George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World were on the list. Nor did it want to be made fun of. Yes Minister and The Thick of It were also thought capable of “encouraging far-right sympathies”.
Looked at linguistically, Prevent had only given an unusually bold push to what decades ago Peter Simple called the Great Semantic Shift, whereby people’s opinions are moved inexorably to the left by the constantly changing use of the words “left” and “right” by the media and politicians. Peter Simple was the pen name of Michael Wharton, who wrote a column in the Daily Telegraph for about thirty years starting in the 1970s. According to him the Great Semantic Shift began in about 1960, an example being the way that opinions about the multi-racial society once described as “moderate” or “of the centre” came to be described first as “right-wing”, then as “extreme right-wing,” and finally as “lunatic fringe” or “fascist”. Thus the opinions of the majority in one generation are called “right-wing” in the next, when views that were previously “right-wing” are called “far-right”. Eventually, sticking to the values of yesteryear makes one a “far-right extremist” or a “fascist”. Meanwhile, views that were once “left-wing” or even “far-left” go unlabelled as though they were those of any decent person. To keep in step with this, people move their opinions to the left so that they can continue thinking of themselves as decent.
For Simon Webb, a popular YouTuber, Prevent’s initiative was part of the war on White history and culture seen in such other things as books by White authors being replaced by books by Black authors on school and university reading lists, streets and buildings named after White people being renamed after Black people, and the closing of museums such as the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood or the disposal of the contents of the Wellcome Collection. No doubt he is right, yet perhaps advancing the war on White culture is more a side-effect of Prevent’s initiative than its main purpose. Perhaps its main purpose is to give the government a warrant to enter people’s lives so as to modify their behaviour and manipulate their minds in the name of preventing terrorism. If we don’t want to be “supported” as incipient terrorists, we must learn that only books and DVDs that foster sympathies once called left-wing or far-left are acceptable.
Prevent’s initiative is reminiscent of the way in which the government’s mental health agenda aims to drive more and more people, mentally ill or not, into the arms of its agencies to have their minds worked on, this time in the name of their mental health. The government’s mental health agenda does not stop at what Public Health England calls attitude change, when people come to see themselves as having mental health problems. They must then “take the step from awareness to action”, as Clare Perkins, a deputy director of Public Health England, put it and present themselves for treatment. Moreover, in 2019 Public Health England, now called the UK Health Security Agency, had a prevention programme, which meant that you didn’t need to have a mental health problem or even to think you did before the state could step in to stop one from arising.
Any resistance to its overtures could be taken as a sign of a mental health problem. Similar is the way that state agencies with a generation of young people in their hands, namely schools, bend children’s minds by introducing them to perverse sexual practices when they are too young to be introduced to any sexual practices and encourage them to doubt their “gender” while stopping their parents from expressing a view about what is being taught or even being able to find out what this is.
Then we have the government’s “Nudge Unit”, which according to Wikipedia uses “social engineering as well as techniques in psychology, behavioral economics and marketing … to influence public thinking and decision making in order to improve compliance with government policy”. We can also think of the propaganda the government put out for two years causing people so to fear a fairly normal virus that it could impose extraordinary restrictions on their freedom. Perhaps Prevent’s initiative is just another manifestation of the government’s determination to gain ever more control over people’s minds and behaviour.
 I am thinking of the killing of Jo Cox in 2016 and that of someone outside Finsbury Park mosque the following year.
 “The most common types of terrorism in the UK are extreme right-wing terrorism and Islamist terrorism” according to Gov.uk, June 8th 2022, “Get help for radicalisation concerns: find out how the Prevent programme supports people who are at risk of becoming involved with terrorism through radicalisation”, https://www.gov.uk/guidance/get-help-if-youre-worried-about-someone-being-radicalised#about-prevent.
 See Michael Wharton (ed.), Peter Simple’s Century, London: The Claridge Press, 1999, p. 36.
 See Clare Perkins, Oct. 10th 2019, “Prioritising mental health”, Public Health England, https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2019/10/10/prioritising-mental-health/.
 This is the Behavioural Insights Team, which came under the Cabinet Office when it was created in 2010 but is now an independent company.