Extreme-right loners and the sense of COVID-19 measures

Extreme-right loners and the sense of COVID-19 measures

Student Prizes for the best bachelor’s and master’s theses in 2021

20-05-2022 · Interview

From the effect of a malaria infection on the production of blood cells to how the European Commission communicates about migration. Last week during the Dies Natalis celebrations, eighteen bachelors’ and nine masters’ theses were awarded a Student Prize – consisting of a certificate and 500 euros – they are very varied, but have one thing in common: they were the best in their year. Observant has picket out two.

Lone extremists

When the crowds stormed the Capitol in Washington last year, master’s student of Forensics, Criminology and Law Bart van de Steeg was looking for a subject for his thesis. It put him on the trail of the right-wing extremists’ way of thinking, which was also springing up in the Netherlands. “People here radicalised during the corona pandemic, and even resorted to violent behaviour.”

His supervisor, David Roef, advised him to focus on the so-called lone actors, the extreme right-wing loners who do not operate in a group but who turn to violence on their own initiative. A well-known example is Anders Breivik, who killed dozens of Norwegian youths in 2011. “Unlike members of organised terrorist groups. these loners are often linked to psychiatric disorders. I wondered if this was justified, and what role this played in their trials, for example when determining whether someone can be held accountable.”

Van de Steeg researched nineteen Dutch criminal cases involving extreme right-wing loners: “Often young adults who make online terroristic threats or commit violence, such as setting a fire at a mosque. In most cases, it indeed appeared that the offender suffered from a psychiatric disorder. But whether and how this disorder led to this behaviour? Usually there is a mix of multiple problems and circumstances that ultimately lead to an explosion of violence.”

It is dangerous to think that someone with extreme right-wing ideas is crazy, he says. “Lone actors are not by definition unaccountable. That is why it is important to not just treat the possible disorder, but at the same time to focus on deradicalization. Furthermore, it would be good if lawyers, people from mental health care and others learn to speak as one voice when it comes to this offender type. Communication between the disciplines is not always optimal at the moment. That is what also made this thesis so tough, I had to familiarize myself with several disciplines.”

At the same time, this broad approach may have been the reason why the thesis won a prize, Van de Steeg agrees, who is currently doing a traineeship at the European Parliament. “Something completely different, mainly to gain more international experience.”

The sense and nonsense of COVID-19 measures

What is the effect of measures such as the closing of gyms or the wearing of face masks on the number of corona infections and deaths? That in itself is a reasonably challenging research question for a master’s thesis, her supervisor Stephan Smeekes emphasised, but Amber Rerimassie nevertheless chose this for her bachelor thesis at Econometrics. “Because I prefer to do something that is difficult but fun, rather than something that is easy but boring.”

The challenging part was mainly collecting the data. “My research is based on an American study in which methods from econometrics were used to measure the effects of the COVID-19 measures in that country. I wanted to apply the same method to see how things were in Europe. It was a lot of work trying to find the right data on the many websites of governments, organisations and businesses and subsequently to ‘clean them up’. For example, I came across a graph in which certain corrections yielded a negative number of deaths. So, it was necessary for me to check everything myself.”

She discovered that shutting down shops had the greatest effect. “It also appeared that if this measure had been applied during the second wave in the Netherlands - in September rather than in December - the high number of infections and deaths could have been prevented. Although it is still difficult to say this with certainty, because you never know how well people adhere to the measures if hospital figures haven’t soared yet.”

‘Voluntary behaviour’, such as consciously staying at home more, appeared to also have a huge effect on the number of infections and deaths. “This could be determined using data from Google Maps, which show where and when users travel. When people see that there are many deaths, it appears that they are more likely to stay at home, because of which the number of infections drops. On the other hand, this also means that measures can fall victim to their own success: if the figures improve, people think “things are going well” and so go out more.”

In the meantime, Rerimassie has started a research master’s at Econometrics and hopes to delve deeper into the subject as a research assistant next year. “For example, by improving the models and using more data. Who knows, maybe I can use it for my master’s thesis?”

Photo: Joey Roberts

Tags: diesnatalis2022,student prizes,theses,master,bacheror,student,covid,lone actors,measures,prize,instagram

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