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

8 Responses to “Brexit racism doesn’t signal rise of fascist groups like Britain First”

  1. s rossiter

    Hope your right, but fear you are falsely equating ‘fascist party’ and ‘fascism’. Fascist parties are dwindling as the mainstream parties take forward their agenda. Violence against foreigners is now editorialized as a regrettable but inevitable cry from an unrepresented group, their thuggery CAUSED by leftist liberalism.
    The fall of the Sturmabteilung in 30’s Germany did not, in my opinion, signify a major move to the left!!!

  2. Alex Wilson

    Wow, S Rossiter, victim blaming much? How has the left wing caused xenophobic and racist hate crimes and assaults? Because they care about equal human rights? That’s like saying alcohol was the cause of a victim’s sexual assault. You need to stop blaming the victim, and start blaming the criminal.

    Neo-fascism is most definitely on the rise across the West. Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Golden Dawn, Danish People’s Party, UKIP, etc.

    52% of those who voted in the referendum sided with an out-and-out neo-fascist (Farage), and a neo-fascist gunned down a pro-human MP weeks ago.

  3. N Thomas

    To be fair, I think S Rossiter was attributing that view to those who editorialise. No?

  4. CR

    Brexit has nothing to do with racism. Control over borders and immigration is legitimate policy issue.

  5. Imran Khan

    A timely article from someone who does know what he is talking about. I personally and my family and friends haven’t noticed any increase in racism in any form. As a Muslim journalist based in London covering the UK and Europe for a number of Indian and other south Asian media outlets my email inbox is full of requests for information about this wave of racism. I have to reply that there isn’t any that I have been able to find by a couple of weeks now of phoning and talking directly to Asian contacts. It could be that for some strange reason Asians are exempt from this ” racism and xenophobia” and it is directed only at African Caribbeans and Eastern Europeans.

    I was always taught to look at the source of stories and or rumours and it would appear that aprime move in this case is an organisation called Tell MAMA and its director Fiyaz Mugal. This gentleman is well know in the Asian media for making the most exaggerated claims and he regularly bombards journalists and TV station with stories that cannot be substantiated. This isn’t the first time he has been in the spotlight for claiming a massive ” spike” an racist and xenophobic incidents. His last foray led to the Home Office not renewing a grant it had made to his organisation. The details are here.

    Before there is an attack on Gilligan because he works for a Tory paper and before that another Tory paper The London Evening Standard let’s look at his track record. The Chilcot enquiry is a complete vindication of his investigation into the claims of weapons of mass destruction which led to the Iraq war. He was then the hero of the left. He quickly became the villain when he exposed the massive financial corruption at the Ken Livingstone Greater London Assembly subsidiary the London Development Agency which had allowed Lee Jasper and friends to allocate about £3.5 million to black groups none of which seemed to be accounted for. This scandal lost Livingstone the 2008 mayoral election.

    He next went on to expose the corrupt ballot rigging regime of Lutfur Rahman in Tower Hamlets for which he won a journalism award and the even more virulent hatred of parts of the left. He was completely vindicated again when an electoral court removed Rahman from office and banned him from standing for any kind of election for five years. Gilligan is a careful researcher and cannot be lightly dismissed.

    The word ” spike” is regularly used in relation to events like the murder of Lee Rigby and Brexit but an examination of the sources, as Gilligan does, shows that most of these incidents occur online and are brought to attention by groups and individuals with an interest, usually financial, in proving that there is a situation that needs to be addressed by those in authority wwho will need the assistance of the groups providing the evidence. I am in the process of conducting an investigation into the whole matter which will take some time but which I believe needs to be done.

    As the writer of this article points out the violent far right, and the not so violent, are tiny and growing smaller. It does nobody any good for well meaning and some not so well meaning individuals on the left to talk up a situation for which there is very little actual real evidence.

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