IN A recent article for Spiked, Brendan O’Neill refers to transgender activists as ‘jihadists’. Is he right to draw this parallel between extreme gender activism and terrorism? I think he is.
In the UK, the crime of terrorism has two elements – a mental element or intention plus a physical act. A person is guilty of terrorism if both elements can be proved. A terrorist must first have the intention to influence the government, or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public, for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause. The terrorist must then carry out or threaten serious violence against a person; serious damage to property; the endangering of a person’s life; a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or serious interference with or disruption to an electronic system. A clear example we all recognise would be the Provisional IRA, who wanted to influence the government and intimidate the public to advance the political cause of a united Ireland. They did this by planting bombs and threatening to plant bombs.
On January 19 an extremist stated on Twitter his desire to kill J K Rowling with a hammer and fantasised that someone would drive into and kill gender critical women planning a lawful demonstration in Scotland next month. On Saturday, two SNP parliamentarians were photographed smiling in front of a banner calling for women to be decapitated. (They said later they were unaware of the sign.)
The activists involved want to influence the government and intimidate women to advance their ideological cause. Such ideology conforms with the mental element of the definition of terrorism. When this ideology motivates them to advocate decapitation and encourage ploughing down gender critical women, they are clearly threatening serious violence, endangering life or putting the health of a section of the public at serious risk. By definition, they become terrorists.
Decapitation was ISIS’s preferred method of murder, also used in the horrendous slaughter of British Army soldier Lee Rigby in 2013. Vehicles were used as weapons in both the Westminster Bridge and London Bridge attacks of 2017. Extreme trans activists are deliberately using the brutal imagery of previous terrorist attacks to evoke fear amongst women.
To check our thinking, we might refer to the Metropolitan Police’s useful online guide to terrorist activity, helping the public to identify the signs of those who use the internet to ‘promote, glorify or help carry out acts of terrorism and violent extremism’. The guide tells us that:
‘You can help by being vigilant for behaviour and content such as:
- speeches or essays calling for racial or religious violence
- videos of violence with messages in praise of terrorists
- postings inciting people to commit acts of terrorism or violent extremism
- messages intended to stir up hatred against any religious or ethnic group
- bomb-making instructions’
Substitute ‘racial or religious’ for ‘gender’ and it’s plain that we should be warning the police of the trans activist terrorists in our midst – the tweet about driving into female protesters is quite clearly inciting people to commit acts of violent extremism and intends to stir up hatred.
The government’s Counter Extremism Strategy, part of the Prevent programme, defines extremism as ‘vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect and tolerance for different faiths and beliefs’. I have no doubt that misogynistic activists referring to women as ‘evil’ and ‘demonic’, screaming ‘witch’ into their faces as they protested at Holyrood against the Gender Recognition Act, oppose our fundamental values and have neither respect nor tolerance for individual liberty and different beliefs – these actions would appear to fit the definition of extremism.
The mechanism in place for dealing with extremists, called Channel, involves balancing the right to freedom of speech with the need to confront ‘instances of unclear, mixed or unstable ideology’. Until now, this has involved challenging the thinking of religiously motivated or right-wing terrorists, but violent misogyny is also an unstable mindset, one that we should be seeking to identify and prevent. Channel guidance, issued in 2020, acknowledging that most people engaged with a cause or ideology do not go on to develop an intention to cause harm, identifies factors that ‘describe the mindset that is associated with a readiness to use violence.’ These include: ‘over-identification with a group or ideology, “them and us” thinking and dehumanisation of the enemy.’
Such dehumanisation of victims is a topic well known to those who study terrorism. As the University of South Florida puts it, ‘Lack of empathy for others and the ease with which they dehumanise and devalue enemies makes the transition to violence and terrorism less difficult.’ I can’t think of a clearer example of dehumanisation than the repugnant practice of labelling as ‘TERFs’ (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) ordinary women who do not want to share their toilets, refuges, prisons and sports with biological men. Thinking of the enemy as TERFS rather than women enables radicalised young men to call for their decapitation and to fantasise about killing them with cars.
The blocking of Scotland’s GRA by Westminster, albeit a move with which a substantial proportion of British citizens appear to agree, will have created fertile ground for radicalisation towards violence. The European Commission’s Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation recognises, as do other studies, that extremism thrives in an enabling environment where there is ‘a widely shared sense of injustice, whether real or perceived’ among parts of the populace. In this context, activists drawn towards violence feel justified in presenting themselves ‘as a self-declared vanguard.’ Though writing, in 2008, chiefly about religiously motivated terrorism, the expert group notes that ‘alienation or the sense of a personal identity crisis’, concepts that may well apply to trans gender activists, increase levels of frustration and may push activists over the edge into violence. Though this is undoubtedly a fringe phenomenon – most supporters of the GRA have not threatened to kill J K Rowling – we ‘should not underestimate it’.
It is important to emphasise that the vast majority of trans gender activists are not likely to become violent extremists. It was ever thus; most people campaigning for a united Ireland are not violent. Nevertheless, a small group of extreme trans activists are beginning to look and sound like terrorists. It’s time we started using counter-terrorism methodologies, preventative as well as punitive, to deal with them. If not, when there is some awful act of violence, we will rue the fact that we ignored the warning signs and did not adequately protect our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters.