As solidarity demonstrations occur in the UK, the British far-right is also looking across the Atlantic
With America now entering its ninth day of protests following the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer, the whole world is watching the events unfold; some inspirational, others tragic and terrifying. Inspired by the demonstrations across America, people have taken to the streets across Europe to show solidarity and raise awareness about racial injustice closer to home. Thousands have gathered in Paris, London, Berlin and Amsterdam, amongst others, to join in the chants of ‘I can’t breathe’.
While the international unity amongst those fighting against racism and injustice has been inspirational, there has also been international far-right unity. While now is a time to talk about structural and systemic racism and oppression rather than focusing on just the far-right, we must also be alive to how the most overt manifestations of organised hate are seeking to exploit the current situation for their own gain.
Like everyone else, the European far right have followed events in the US closely, seeking to exploit them for their own domestic gain and provide international support to Donald Trump and the US far right more generally.
The UK far right have sought to push several convenient though often contradictory narratives. Due to the incontrovertible video evidence of Floyd’s death, most have been left with no option but to condemn the actions of the specific police officer in question. Paul Golding, leader of Britain First, describes the event as ‘barbaric and despicable’ in a live stream on the Russian social media platform VK for example. Though he did also claim ‘On an occasion or two, I’ve had the police treat me in a similar manner’.
However, while most have condemned the killing, many on the far right are quick to reject any idea that there is a racial element to it. ‘No this was not a racial incident, okay. This was nothing whatsoever to do with race. This was a rogue, badly trained policeman using excessive force against someone in custody’, added Golding. By denying the racial element of Floyd’s death and the broader context of centuries of oppression of African American communities, they are then able to condemn the supposedly unnecessary and ‘falsely’ racialized demonstrations that have followed.
White Lives Matter
Despite denying the centrality of race to the events in America, this has not stopped elements of the British far right mimicking their American counterparts and seeking to co-opt the issue of racist murder. Britain First have released numerous images of Lee Rigby, Emily Jones and Charlene Downes, all white murder victims, with text overlaid reading ‘White Lives Matter’. The hashtag #WhiteLivesMatter has also trended in the UK in recent days, though admittedly much of the traffic is in condemnation of its use.
Similarly, on Tuesday the name of Lee Rigby, the British soldier murdered by al-Muhajiroun activists on the streets of London, also began to trend on Twitter. Many on the far-right have sought to draw false equivalency between the two tragedies. Katie Hopkins for example tweeted, ‘Outrage. Available in any colour, As long as it is black #leerigby’.
By using the international discussion of racial injustice that has been spawned by the events in America, the UK far-right has worked to deny or downplay the scale and uniqueness of anti-black oppression and promote their longstanding belief that the true victims of societal racism are actually white people at the hands of multicultural and politically correct elites.
Unable to deny the reality of George Floyd’s killing, much of the UK far right have adopted the rhetoric of the conservative and far-right in America by reframing the spontaneous mass outbreak of righteous anger as a case of ‘legitimate’ protest being exploited by subversive left wing forces.
This echoes the rhetoric of President Trump and his allies who have painted the demonstrations as the result of well-orchestrated and planned left-wing groups, most notably the catchall bogeyman of ‘Antifa’ which he announced is to be designated as a terrorist organisation. Calls for Antifa to be described as domestic terrorists have long been a staple of the far right’s anti-left-wing agenda but the fact that Trump has gone this far only proves further the symbiotic relationship between the current President and the international far right.
Despite Antifa not being an organisation – Trump’s declaration is akin to saying he wants to designate vegetarians as a terrorist organisation – his announcement was greeted by enthusiastic agreement by his far-right supporters in the UK. Quick off the mark was Nigel Farage who tweeted:
Appalling that the tragic death in the USA is being hijacked by Antifa, who would replace our Western democratic values with something more extreme than those they accuse. Antifa are the real fascists.
Similarly, Paul Joseph Watson, tweeted about America burning ‘at the hands of ANTIFA extremists who have latched onto the George Floyd backlash’ and Golding described the events as ‘highly orchestrated’ by the left wing.
Britain First have even launched a petition on their website to proscribe Antifa as a terrorist organisation in the UK. At the time of writing they claim to have amassed over 108,000 signatures, a figure that seems extremely unlikely as it has only been shared 1700 times across all social media.
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon’s (AKA Tommy Robinson) website has a whole article by his Australian sidekick Avi Yemini highlighting the role of Black Lives Matter and Antifa in fostering violence in the US. Interestingly, the official Tommy Robinson Telegram channel shared anti-Antifa posts by the violent western chauvinist group Proud Boys, undermining any supposed opposition to violence.
At a time of record levels of arrests for far-right terrorism in the UK, this is all part of a wider attempt to paint the left wing and anti-fascists as the real violent threat.
One especially egregious tactic being used to ‘condemn’ the violence is to misuse the legacy of Martin Luther King himself. Numerous far-right figures have decontextualized and then highlighted King’s commitment to non-violent protest as a way to attack the current US protests. This is just the latest example of the contemporary far right’s increasing co-option of the language of human rights and the history of struggle against real oppression. Others to get a mention are Gandhi and Mandela.
While events are moving fast and the main focus needs to stay on the ongoing struggle in America, it is worth remembering that the far right is also looking across the Atlantic and seeking to exploit the events for their own domestic gain. These events are now increasingly global and we must be vigilant against their co-option and abuse by domestic hate peddlers.
Dr Joe Mulhall is Senior Researcher at HOPE not hate. Formerly he was a visiting lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London where he also completed his PhD on the postwar far right. He has published extensively on the international far right and discussed his research on the BBC, CNN and Channel 4 news among others. If you have a tip, get in touch at [email protected]Twitter