Far-right 'citizen journalists' and organisations are campaigning hard on the issue of migrant arrivals across the channel, targeting migrant boats and accomodation
Last week, the tragic story broke of Abdulfatah Hamdallah, a Sudanese migrant found dead on a French beach. He had gone missing while trying to make his way across the English Channel in a small boat. The harrowing news resulted in a brief pause in, but likely little reflection on, the ever-increasing fear of “invasion” and competitive “tough talk” from politicians that has greeted the arrival of migrant boats in recent months.
Especially keen to exploit events and whip up anger and fear has been Nigel Farage, who has released a series of videos about the issue, covering the arrival of small boats and the housing of migrants in hotels around the country.
However, while the story of cross channel migration has hit the national headlines in recent weeks, with journalists flocking to the south coast, the issue is not a new one for the UK’s far right, who have long been animated by the supposed invasion of migrants. It is worth remembering that in 2016 the Port of Dover played host to an anti-immigration demonstration that saw some of the worst far-right violence in recent decades.
Since then the south coast has witnessed sporadic visits by far-right activists from numerous different groups, hoping to garner political capital from being “on the front line”. Chief amongst them have been Britain First who, despite being very small, have long been successful in projecting a much larger image through social media stunts.
In Autumn last year they launched “Operation White Cliffs”, which promised around the clock patrols but amounted to little more than a few photo opportunities, with leader Paul Golding looking out to sea. They also made an ill-fated trip to Calais to tell migrants they were not welcome in Britain, which unsurprisingly ended in them fleeing a hail of stones.
Of course, Britain First are by no means the only group who have engaged in beach patrols in recent years. In early 2019, we saw the launch of the Romney Marsh-based South East Coastal Defence, which set out to monitor the coast from Deal to Dungeness. Founded by Elaine Renton, they resolutely rejected any accusations of racism, but counted former English Defence League activist Glen Saffer amongst their handful of members.
This summer Britain First have stepped up their activism around the issue and recently claimed to be “the only political movement anywhere in the world with its own navy” when they launched, to widespread mockery, “HMS Alfred the Great”. In reality, it was a small yacht captained by one of the group’s leading activists Samuel Cochrane, who was recently detained at Belfast International Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The boat is currently being repaired but Golding promises it will be back on the seas soon.
However, this past weekend saw Britain First sink to new lows when roughly 8 activists stormed into a hotel in Birmingham, currently being used to house refugees and migrants. Cameras in hand they walked down the corridors, banged on room doors and confronting resident when they opened. Similarly, BF leader Paul Golding went to Epping and harassed migrants at a hotel there which has already been the target of For Britain activists in recent months.
Keen not to miss out on a chance to stoke up anger and exploit the current situation is Anne Marie Waters and For Britain, who held a poorly attended demonstration outside a hotel in Cheshire and then another event down in Dover on Sunday that saw roughly 20 people in attendance.
Right Wing “Citizen Journalists”
While it is no surprise that the issue of cross-channel migration is causing anger within the far right, one novel element that has emerged this summer is the role of right wing “citizen journalists”.
Since early May, a handful of figures have spent large amounts of time filming the arrival of boats and various locations used to house arriving migrants, such as hotels. Their videos, which have sometimes included chasing migrants with cameras, have quickly spread across far-right social media platforms and whipped anti-immigrant activists into a peak of anger. Each new video seeks to confirm the far right’s existing belief that Britain is currently under attack.
Most notable amongst this group of right-wing content creators is Alan Leggett (AKA Active Patriot UK), who has quickly accrued over 40,000 YouTube subscribers due to his now daily livestreamed videos which have attracted thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands, of viewers. On 6 August, he was arrested while filming in Dover for breach of the peace, and is due to appear at Sevenoaks Magistrates Court on 8 October. In the past week Leggett has begun to focus more heavily on visiting migrant accommodation with livestreans from hotels in Runcorn, Hull, Newcastle and Sunderland.
Leggett has been active within the UK far right for several years now, being one of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon’s (AKA Tommy Robinson) most ardent supporters. In fact, much of his viewership comes via Lennon, who has taken to referring to him as “our man on the ground” and regularly promotes his videos.
Since 6 May Leggett has been accompanied on numerous outings by Nigel Marcham (AKA The Little Veteran), who has posed his own footage from Dover. While he has accrued just over 100,000 views since starting his channel in 2018, he has become increasingly well known in far-right circles in recent months, spending long periods on the south coast living out of his car and making videos about arriving migrants.
His newly acquired profile resulted in an invite to speak at last weekends’ far-right demonstration in Nottingham, which saw an array of figures and organisations, including some extreme figures from the neo-nazi Blood and Honour scene, coming together to protest against a range of issues, including veteran’s affairs, Muslim grooming gangs, and illegal immigration.
Alongside Leggett are a group of other smaller content creators, including “Tyrant Finder U.K” from the West Country, and Chris Johnson, whose Facebook videos have been shared by Yaxley-Lennon on his Telegram channel.
Worrying Times Ahead
Unsurprisingly, this daily drip feed of anti-migrant content has led to increasing calls for action within the far right, and the announcement of a demonstration in Dover on 5 September. Details about the event are currently confused, with different parts of the UK far-right scene planning concurrent events. Some, such as Marcham, are planning people to block the streets around the port, while other, more extreme elements are likely to take a confrontational approach. While unlikely to attract large numbers, the protest could prove to be a dangerous and possibly violent flashpoint where an angry and frustrated far right take to the streets once more.
No ones to miss an opportunity, the racial nationalist group Patriotic Alternative have now also announced a plan for banner drop in Dover in the coming weeks.
The issue of cross channel migration will likely continue to garner headlines and cause debate and discussion. However, we must ensure that the hysterical and prejudiced voices of the far-right are not legitimised or normalised through this delicate and difficult issue. Far-right citizen journalists claim to be telling the real truth unlike the supposedly biased ‘mainstream media’ yet all too often the two aren’t as different as they should be.
Head of Research
Dr Joe Mulhall is Head of Research 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