As far-right ideas enter the political mainstream, three new books can help us confront them—and stop extremists setting the terms of the debateby Daniel Trilling / February 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Donald Trump’s retweeting of Britain First videos in November last year illustrated in miniature the relationship between mainstream politics, the media and the far right. A racist political group built up a following far larger than its tiny group of real activists by using social media to broadcast anti-immigrant propaganda. The social media company in question makes money from audience “engagement”—people producing content; sharing, praising, condemning—and has been reluctant to take an editorial role in policing what appears on its site.
The group’s claims were then co-opted by a populist politician in order to boost his claims about the nature of the world. In the row that followed, traditional media outlets offered hurried interviews with a spokesperson for Britain First. The result? Britain First gaining yet more attention.
Does it matter? Trump is the most powerful politician in the world, whereas Britain First has no more than a thousand active supporters, receives a derisory vote in elections and holds poorly-attended rallies. The group is fundamentally parasitical; its widely-shared memes and videos recycle fears about Muslims and immigration that, however exaggerated, can also be found in major newspapers.
But there are two principal reasons why we should be paying attention.
The first is that groups like this do pose a threat in their own right. Britain First has its roots in the UK’s fascist tradition—its leader Paul Golding is a former long-term member of the British National Party (BNP), which itself was founded by veteran neo-Nazis—and also Christian fundamentalism. It encourages extreme nationalism not only through online propaganda but by staging provocative rallies and “direct action,” often at mosques.
Unlike National Action, a neo-Nazi organisation that was recently banned by the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, the group does not appear to have been directly involved in violent attacks. But like all extreme right-wing groups, it provides a supply of ideas and slogans for those who are.
A notorious example of this is Thomas Mair, who shouted “Britain first” as he murdered the Labour MP Jo Cox in June 2016. Darren Osborne, convicted in February of driving a van into worshippers at the Muslim Welfare House in north London, was radicalised by Britain First material. (Golding and his deputy Jayda Fransen are currently on trial for religiously aggravated harassment.)