New NHS guidelines spark racist outbursts and Nigel Farage uses the lockdown to fear-monger about migrants

In this fifth COVID-19 & The Far Right round up, many of the trend observed in previous updates remain relevant, including opposition to the NHS, the prevalence of anti-East Asian hate and the spread of antisemitic conspiracy theory. However, in this update, we look at the promotion of biological racism in the wake of new NHS guidelines and how Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has attempted to use the pandemic to fear-monger about migrants.

On a more positive note; David Icke was removed from Facebook on Friday morning due to his campaign of dangerous misinformation regarding COVID-19 and 5G, and his promotion of antisemitic conspiracy theories and tropes. Icke has continuously denied the existence of a novel coronavirus, claiming that the pandemic is a hoax designed to subjugate the wider population. He has also declared that 5G technology will be used to create an “AI prison for your mind”, among other wild accusations.

Icke’s ideas still have a home on Facebook for the time being, however, with dozens of fan groups and pages set up to promote his beliefs. It remains to be seen whether Facebook will remove these amplifiers of his theories, and whether other platforms will now follow suit and deny Icke his means of spreading dangerous misinformation

Nigel Farage at Pett Level beach in East Sussex
Nigel Farage at Pett Level beach in East Sussex

Farage anti-immigrant video

On April 29th, Nigel Farage travelled 100 miles from his home in Kent to Pett Level beach in East Sussex, to film a video highlighting what he called the “scandal” of illegal immigrants travelling to the UK by boat. He justified this unnecessary journey by claiming to be a key worker by virtue of his ‘journalism’, despite the clear message from the government that only journalists delivering vital information on COVID-19 are considered key workers.

Farage’s desire to reignite debates around immigration is understandable. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vital role that migrants play in the industries that keep us fed, safe and healthy. He seems to have calculated that fear-mongering around the tiny number of migrants crossing the channel illegally might be a method of regaining some form of political relevance. 

In the video he also latches on to a common talking point of the far-right during the pandemic, which attempts to highlight an apparent contradiction between internal lockdown measures and supposedly open borders.

NHS frontline staff and biological racism

The NHS announced this week that staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds will be taken off frontline tasks during the pandemic, following evidence that BAME people might be disproportionately affected by the virus. Although the exact reason is yet to be determined, it has provided further material to the existing far-right critique of the institution and allowed it to spread an even more explicitly racist interpretation of the current pandemic.

The announcement prompted strong reactions from the British far right, as it was interpreted as confirmation of several talking points they have promoted in recent weeks. As we covered last week, it has increasingly united against a position that the lockdown is being exploited by the left to push an agenda that is “anti-white” and pro-migration, in part prompted by a video celebrating the important role of migrants and people of migrant descent in the NHS and other key professions. Some activists have gone so far as to argue that the “clap“ is part of a campaign to make the UK population more receptive to the “replacement” of white people in the UK, a conspiracy theory known as the “Great Replacement”.

Also Related to this is the ongoing critique of lighthearted videos posted on social media by NHS staff. Over the last few weeks, viral videos of NHS staff dancing during breaks have been used by the far right to spread distrust in the institution.

This week’s announcement therefore provided fodder for the far right to double down on its bigoted view of the current pandemic and gave it an opportunity to stoke up racism more generally in the wake of the crisis. While the exact reason for why BAME people appear to be disproportionately affected is unknown, and could be due to social factors and due to BAME people being overrepresented as frontline workers, the signs that different groups might be more prone to the disease has been latched onto by those who want to argue for biological racism. 

Alongside using the new guidance to argue that the NHS, and UK society at large, is “anti-white”, Laura Towler of the Patriotic Alternative used the news to explicitly argue for the existence of biological races, asking “how can genetic differences be a factor in relation to coronavirus death figures when race is allegedly just a social construct?”. 

This is an unscientific strawman: the scientific consensus doesn’t deny variance in susceptibility to some diseases based on ancestry, but nor does it support the existence of biological race. This comment displays Towler’s profound ignorance of the topics she obsesses over, but it has worryingly found some support in far-right channels.

Contradictory views on Sweden

Sweden’s reaction to the pandemic has been a frequent topic of debate in mainstream media due to its comparably mild lockdown measures. This has also attracted attention by the far-right, although in contradictory ways. The two opposing positions – arguing in support of, as well as heavily criticising, Sweden’s lockdown measures – highlight the significant differences that exist within the movement on the coronavirus pandemic.

Those that have been critical of lockdowns as attempts to infringe on peoples’ freedoms have come out in support of Sweden’s laxer measures, and used the country as a case to argue against the extensive UK lockdown measures. Even conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson, who has made criticism of Sweden one of his key talking points over the years, has tweeted and blogged in support of the lockdown measures in the country. Highlighting his own pivot Sweden, he tweeted: ”The impossible may have happened. Sweden may have got something right.”

However, there is another line of argument that takes the common far-right caricature of Sweden as an overly culturally progressive and leftwing country into the pandemic discourse. A Daily Mail article about an alarming number of deaths in Sweden has been shared extensively on Telegram with the caption: “FEMENIST [sic] SWEDISH GOVERNMENT USES ANTI LOCKDOWN APPROACH AND GETS PWNED”.

Canadian far-right Youtuber Stefan Molyneux expressed in a recent YouTube video that the “Swedish government is kind of infested with a whole bunch of Communists” who “hate freedom” and white people. In the video, he argued for the unfounded theory that the “Swedish government is acting, perhaps unconsciously, on its hatred of old white men” because they are “the people who are getting sick right now, the old white males in particular who are more pro-freedom”.

Further confusion was sown by Donald Trump who, having flip-flopped repeatedly on the need for lockdowns, criticised Sweden’s response on Twitter. His core supporters, many of whom are libertarian-leaning, have found it hard to keep up with his constant change of direction, having presumed his recent support for anti-lockdown protests would mean that he approved of Sweden’s tactics.