The played out script features a self-radicalised ‘loner’ who found comfort in extreme sections of the internet. A man who owned the banned Anarchist Cookbook, collected weapons, and built a viable nail bomb was recently jailed for two years.
But Ryan McGee is not considered a terrorist. Nor was his arrest pre-planned or part of a wider intelligence operation. Police only raided the McGee home in Eccles, Salford to arrest older brother Steven, 21, on suspicion of possessing child abuse images. Suspicion soon led to conviction and the older McGee brother found himself on the Sex Offences Register.
Upon entering Ryan’s bedroom, police discovered the “viable” nail bomb (with 181 metal screws), an air rifle, an imitation pistol, a knuckleduster, knives and axes. An English Defence League (EDL) flag hung upon the wall. Police also discovered pressure sensors that could be used for booby traps. Prior to his arrest, Ryan was serving with Bravo Company of the 5th Battalion the Rifles and was detained in his German barracks last December.
The court detailed how McGee grew up around far-right views. On Ryan’s 18th birthday, his mother gifted him an EDL ‘armed forces division’ hoodie and t-shirt. Ryan attended at least one EDL rally but various media outlets uncritically reported the prosecution line about a lack of EDL membership:
“McGee had been on an EDL march but had a never subscribed to the group.” [ITV News]
“McGee admitted having an interest in the EDL, but was not a member” [Mirror]
“McGee was obsessed with the English Defence League but was not a member” [Daily Mail]
At worst, it undermines the seriousness of his ideology and at best demonstrates a misunderstanding of the EDL’s structure.
The EDL website openly states it has no formal membership “the problem for journalists and so-called experts is that the EDL has an unusual structure. There is no formal membership, by it’s nature it has to be regional and locally organised, but it operates nationally.”
Between March and September 2011, Ryan McGee made four public (and often vile) comments on the British National Party’s official Facebook page. The most offensive comment “american irish you make out nazism is so bad but in my opinion hitler was the best immigration officer europe ever seen and he didnt take no shit and let them all in he took action!” was posted on July 11 2011. McGee’s final public posting fawned over former leader Nick Griffin “hahahahahah omg nick u fucking legend u absolutely owned them BNP <3” on September 16 2011.
A year later and McGee joined the army, but there is no indication that the army were aware of his ideology.
McGee also had links to other far-right groups in Europe. His laptop revealed online searches for handguns for sale in the UK and Germany, links to gore videos, French Skinheads, Russian Racism, and YouTube videos of EDL marches against Muslims and Nazi youth.
Most disturbingly, one of the videos featured a man bound and executed under a swastika flag. His Facebook account reveals an anti-Muslim outlook. Among various ‘likes’ are ‘Stop Islamification Now!’ and ‘The awkward moment when you accidentally post your letter into a Burqa’.
Yet, the prosecution accepted that McGee was not a terrorist (or aiming to support a terrorist group) but an immature teenager, a point put forward by his defence. Proof of McGee’s immaturity was a diary called Ryan’s Story Book that had Scooby Doo stickers on the front cover, and inside contained sketches of weapons.
Beyond the cartoonish front cover, his words dripped in the language of extreme violence and race hate. One extract contained a vow to “drag every last immigrant into the fires of hell with me” and expressed anger over the “millions of immigrants flooding our streets“. Other pages referenced the BNP, KKK, and National Front. One notable Facebook ‘like’ on McGee’s profile is ‘I Was Born In The Uk. So Why Do I Have Less Rights Then Immigrants’.
In his defence, Anthony Chinn QC argued that army life forced McGee to ‘grow up’ and dismiss much of his far-right ideology. Yet, a screenshot of McGee’s Facebook revealed a change in profile picture on February 6 2013 to show off his ‘English Defence League – Armed Forces Division’ attire. The timing and subsequent deletion of these photographs (after his arrest) suggests that army life had not caused a total disassociation in far-right ideology. Other photographs emerged of McGee posing next to EDL and Confederate flags – the latter featured him in a crude KKK outfit.
A lack of a target meant McGee avoided a more serious terrorism charge outside of possessing the Anarchist’s Cookbook, which lead to a 12 month prison sentence for “possessing a document containing information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”.
On the question of terrorism, the CPS sought to answer it with a statement in the Guardian “it was never McGee’s intention to use the device for any terrorist or violent purpose, and that he had no firm intention to activate the device. That’s why he was prosecuted under the Explosive Substance Act.”
In response to McGee’s jailing, an Army spokesman told the Manchester Evening News: “In line with normal procedure when a soldier is sentenced to imprisonment, an application will be made for his discharge from the Army.”
Police did believe McGee was “days, weeks or months” away perfecting the nail bomb. In a press release, Detective Superintendent Simon Barraclough, from the North West Counter Terrorism Unit said: “McGee had in his possession a viable improvised device and the material and knowledge of how to make it. He clearly set out to make the device, which could have seriously injured or possibly killed members of the public.
“There is no evidence of planning or intended targets but we do not underestimate the impact that McGee’s actions and extremist beliefs may have had on communities across the country.”
Another overlooked aspect of the case is that McGee is now subject to Part 4 of the Terrorism Act 2008 for a 10 year period.
Theresa May’s keynote counter-terrorism speech briefly highlighted the threat of far-right and nationalist terrorism but ‘Islamist extremism… is by far the most dangerous’.
Yet, a failure to engage with McGee’s far-right ideology, which instead compartmentalises him into an ‘angry’ or ‘immature’ young white man, risks undermining the potential threat he poses to communities he espoused hatred for so readily.
A dangerous man is rightly imprisoned but why this individual is not considered a terrorist in a broader sense remains to be seen.