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Security-related Threat: Migration of Ideas

CRiTERIA stands for Comprehensive data-driven Risk and Threat Assessment Methods for the Early and Reliable Identification, Validation and Analysis of migration-related risks.

What most likely first comes to mind regarding migration-related risks are people crossing sea- and land borders, often assisted by ruthless smugglers. In order to be better prepared for and take control over situations that occur in border crossing situations, analysis of various sources is most needed. To bring another angle of risks of migration to light, the Swedish engagement in the CRiTERIA project is concerned not only with the migration of people but also with the migration of ideas.

Migrants in Sweden

Since way back there was an openminded and welcoming of migrants in Sweden without taking notice of the fact that many migrants often have a perception of life due to their culture, beliefs and life experiences which is different from the general population in Sweden.

This difference – noted especially with regard to lack of trust in authorities and hence lack of respect for or willingness to comply with prevailing norms – leads to feelings of exclusion and difficulties concerning integration. This has led to social unrest and violent behavior, especially among young people (but not limited to them) to an unexpected level in several areas and in several different situations over the years.

Previous lack of understanding, or courage, and lack of initiative to bridge the gap and build functional relationships has eventually become a mainstream ambition, however, it is clear that this will take a long time. During this time, the police needs to be better prepared to meet the threats related to misperceptions but also to malevolence in order to protect citizens and democratic values. These kinds of threats might be carried by humans directly or they might be transferred over the internet.

Migration of Ideas

This notion of travelling ideas is something that we brought forward at the start of CRiTERIA. Since the idea was accepted, we have continuously worked with this notion.

For instance, there has been, for quite some time, a discussion going on concerning how to come to terms with all the disinformation that is being trumpeted over the internet, mostly on social media platforms. An example of this phenomenon is a campaign which started a couple of years ago on the internet and was directed at the Swedish social services. The campaign claimed that the social services kidnapped Muslim children.

The Swedish Defense Academy states in a report that this disinformation-campaign has had serious consequences for national security in Sweden. The campaign spread across social media and became an international story. For the Social Services it was a case that was handled in accordance with Swedish law, by the relevant authorities. But, as it went viral in a most negative sense, the effect over time was a raised security threat level against Sweden, according to the report. – Ideas travel and lead to consequences.

Series of tweets by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs also warned of the disinformation campaign.

Increase in Violence

2022 brought home the importance of understanding the processes around how ideas travel and what consequences this may have more directly for keeping the peace in our societies. The so-called Easter riots in Sweden are examples of this. The starting point was when a person was given permission, by the Police authorities in various places, to burn the Koran as a statement of his beliefs. All in his right to freedom of speech, fully in accordance with Swedish law. The first event (2020) was local. It raised some violence but to a degree that was manageable for the police.

But there is reason to believe that as the word spread about kidnapping of children, the belief systems shifted to a much more negative stance. The likely hypothesis is that in 2022, when more and more people gathered in demonstration and these turned more and more violent, for every new site was a sign of spiraling of opinions in a hostile belief system. The result was disastrous and led to burning of police vehicles, policemen injured by paving stones and all sorts of bats and lots of young men have been sentenced to several years imprisonment.

Violent Events and the Evolution of Urban Rioting

Our focus in the CRiTERIA project concerns how to better understand the indicators and be prepared for approaching threats. And also, to enable and estimate the severity, the geographic location(s) spread or concentrations of threats and the reliability of the sources.

We have been working in various ways to find out what different indicators have a potential of shaping together, and hence could be taken for early warnings of threats that may lead to violence.

During literature review we came across a theory concerning the evolution of urban rioting. The theory identifies five different phases of urban rioting – The flash point event, the hostile belief system, the moral holiday, the spiraling of opinions, and the mimicry – in the paper discussed as mimetic rivalry. We have seen that many of these stages are found in the violent events that we have looked at and the theory has given us a good framework for our work.

The application of the theory contains one clear element that can be brought back to the thinking we started out with – the transferring of ideas.

The researcher states that in the Gothenburg disturbances in 2009 the way the different suburban areas went about the actual committing of the violence was inspired by the way rioters behaved in other areas and they tried to outdo them. So, not only do ideas about what to react against travel, but also ideas about the perceived appropriate response travels.

Most demonstrations are relatively peaceful. An opinion is expressed, the idea catches on, and sometimes protests start. -Ideas travel-. The challenge is to identify when expressions of opinions will turn into a riot – this is where the theory about hostile belief systems come in. Similar to the Gothenburg disturbances 2009 occurred and turned violent in suburbs of Stockholm in 2013.

Source: Financial Times

In New year’s 2015 there was another type of expression of cultural differences when a wave of sexual assaults of women with certain modus appeared in Cologne, Germany. The modus operandi spread within hours to the New Year’s celebrations in various towns in Sweden. The fact that the sexual assaults were carried out in the same fashion at the same time gives support to the notion that ideas travel both by humans and internet and is influenced by cultural background and belief systems.


Rioting in 2022

In 2022, the idea that one should go out and protest in a violent manner spread over the country. Inherent in it is that, there is an element of mimicking in the act of rioting in itself, which one of the appellate courts in Sweden actually identifies. This is evident even when it comes to other crimes which has its roots in clashes of cultures.

Niki Ekman

Niki Ekman

Niki Ekman is an intelligence analyst and former police officer of the Swedish Police. She holds a Master's Degree in Law from the University of Stockholm and a Master's Degree in Intelligence Studies from Mercyhurst University (Research intelligence and analysis program).

Carina Axelsson Palmer

Carina Axelsson Palmer

Carina Axelsson Palmer works with development issues at NOA's intelligence unit. She is an intelligence analyst and police officer and holds a Master’s Degree in Criminal Intelligence analysis from the University of Manchester and a Philosophy master's degree from the University of Stockholm (Decision, risk and policy analysis program).

Banner image by Timon Studler on Unsplash.