Welcoming the US President after he defended fascists would send a dangerous message.
Downing Street has said there are no plans to cancel Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK — despite the US President’s impassioned defence of white supremacists.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise. After all, Theresa May did not revoke Trump’s invitation when he banned citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering America. Nor did she say she would turn him away when he launched a Twitter tirade against London Mayor Sadiq Khan, instead of simply condemning terrorism in the aftermath of the London Bridge attack.
She remained unmoved when nearly two million people signed a petition against his visit and campaign groups promised to organise Britain’s biggest ever protest if he was allowed in, contributing to estimates policing his stay will cost more than £10 million of taxpayers’ money.
But surely sympathising with neo-Nazis should be a step too far, even for the Tory prime minister?
In case you’re not up to speed, earlier this week Trump delivered an angry rant in which he said the ‘alt-left’ was equally to blame for violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, at an enormous gathering of white supremacists.
Antifascist Heather Heyer was killed at the protest when a car drove into antifascists, crushing her and 19 others. The 20-year-old driver, James Alex Fields Jr, is alleged to have links to white supremacist groups.
A KKK leader has said he is glad Heyer died, and neo-Nazi websites have called on fascists to target her funeral.
While other public figures have been quick to denounce fascism and express outrage and sadness, the US President ignored witness accounts to insist both sides were to blame, in an angry rant that showed him inch closer towards explicitly condoning fascism.
“What about the alt-left,” Trump said on Tuesday — using a made-up term coined by the far-right — “who came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right, do they have any semblance of guilt?”
He then denied that all those at the protest were white supremacists, saying some were just there to protest the taking down of a Confederate statue — before indicating he sympathised with their position.
Trump has the biggest platform in the world — and he’s using it to defend neo-Nazis. He has actively tried to redirect blame away from white supremacists, including a murderer, and in doing so he has begun to normalise fascism as an extreme but legitimate political position. What is the difference between the alt-right and the ‘alt-left’, he poses, suggesting the two groups are comparable — a suggestion that belies the fact one group, simply put, are Nazis.
If we learn anything from the antifascist movement in the aftermath of Heyer’s death, it should be that silence is complicity. What message does it send to Britain if May does not speak up, and maintains that Trump is welcome to visit the country?
May needs to draw the line somewhere. She might sympathise with Trump’s measures to securitise US borders (she would probably like to emulate them), she might even enjoy holding his hand, but so far she has not indicated at any point in her political career that that she thinks fascism is ok. So why is she not speaking up now?
In the aftermath of Brexit we saw what the impact of rightwing figures spewing xenophobia is: a doubling in hate crime.
Right now, in light of Islamophobic acid attacks, bigotry in the meda, and all eyes on the government’s failure to protect the predominantly black and ethnic minority residents of Grenfell Tower, the Tories need to make it clear they reject racism. Letting Trump visit strengthens the message some think they have been sending all along: that they don’t really care.
Charlotte England is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
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