Brexit racism doesn’t signal rise of fascist groups like Britain First

Hope not Hate's Matthew Collins responds to Channel 4 Dispatches: Racist Britain


Hope not Hate research director and former far-right activist Matthew Collins responds to last night’s Channel 4 Dispatches: Racist Britain.

In January of this year, a gang of men stood in Newcastle town centre with a banner proclaiming ‘Hitler was Right’. It barely raised a hackle; such seemingly spontaneous demonstrations by far-right groups have become an almost regular feature for shoppers in the city.

In the main, locals just ignore them. Sometimes the banners or the name of the group changes; the personnel invariably remains the same. There was some consternation this time, however, when one of the masked Hitler worshippers tried to set about a local busker who had attempted to drown out their racist din.

A week later and 200 far-right activists took to tearing up the pavement in Dover, throwing missiles at police and antifascist protesters as part of a demonstration of (apparent) solidarity with British lorry drivers. The organisers had billed it as a ‘unity’ demonstration.

Far-right activists had made their way from across Britain to the Kent port, representing some dozen or more organisations. One of the founders of 1990s neo-Nazi gang Combat 18 even travelled from Belgium to show his solidarity. The police arrested 30 people after the trouble flared.

A couple of weeks later, the same organisers bussed in Polish fascists to fight on the steps of St George’s Hall in Liverpool. This time there were 40 arrests. Despite leaving Liverpool battered and with many in police custody, the organisers thought the day (like Dover) had been a great ‘success’.

On and on these groups have kept organising demonstrations that remain threatening and yes, are vile and racist – but they are getting smaller and smaller.

People have been inclined to believe the far right is on the increase in this country for some time now. There’s been an air of inevitability about it if you are drawn to reading newspaper headlines about the mass influx of a criminal, foreign underclass stealing jobs and benefits wherever they go.

That is despite the fact the fascists were driven out of council seats and seats in the European Parliament long ago.

Even as nasty (ex-British National Party leader) Nick Griffin was being bundled out of the European Parliament in 2014, and his old party was down to just a few hundred paying members, people were still certain that fascists were on the rise.

Neither the facts, nor the evidence at hand, point to a rise in the organised far right. Its decline is bordering on terminal: it is smaller and more badly behaved then people would care to imagine.

If you go looking for racism and fascism in this country, of course, yes, you’ll find it. A good place to start is the internet. There are literally thousands upon thousands of racists and fascists on Twitter.

There are over one million ‘followers’ (actually, ‘likers’ is a better word) of Britain First – the beer-swilling, bible-thumping incarnation of the decimated BNP and the near-moribund English Defence League (EDL) – which despite being the biggest online party in the UK, tends to poll less than 1 per cent at elections.

People persist with the idea that the far-right must be growing because they are hearing so much about racism. If you happen to be a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, there’s a chance that one day racism may find you.

But there are simply not enough far-right activists to have carried out every act of racism, vandalism and violence that has been reported since Brexit.

There is actually nothing to suggest (and we have people who go to far-right meetings) that even those who form these movements believe they are growing.

Talk alluding to a ‘Fourth Reich’ is depressingly unhelpful. The majority of complaints we get at our offices about online content on far-right sites are in fact by people who refuse to read the Daily Mail or Daily Express out of principle, but then stumble across the content of those newspapers on the Britain First Facebook page.

That’s a symptom of a society now so obsessed with celebrity, misery and voyeurism, that even the moronic outpourings of groups such as Britain First have websites and Facebook pages dedicated solely to rebutting what it says.

So, no, the far right isn’t rising (and I don’t include UKIP as a ‘fascist’ party); nor do I think Britain has become a more racist country overnight or indeed since Brexit.

If we play six degrees of separation with our online lives, we’ll all end up being in a fascist party. And believe me, only a few of us know what that is really like.

Matthew Collins is research director of HOPE not hate, and author of Hate: My Life in the British Far Right. Follow him on Twitter @MattHopeNotHate

See: What I saw at the EDL’s ‘Lee Rigby memorial’ in Colchester

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