From the Archive: The Far Right and Animal Welfare
30/11/2020 - David Lawrence
David Lawrence delves into the HOPE not hate archive to explore how the British far right has sought to use animal welfare issues to radicalise and recruit, in particular by opposing “ritual slaughter”.
In April 2018, Morrissey, former frontman of The Smiths, condemned halal slaughter as “evil”, claiming that it “requires certification that can only be given by supporters of Isis”; he also agreed that the production of Jewish kosher meat is “very cruel” and “must be banned”. He quickly went on to proclaim his support for For Britain, a minor far-right party headed by the anti-Muslim activist Anne Marie Waters. In the singer’s eyes, the party has:
“the best approach to animal welfare, whereas no other party even bothers to mention animal welfare. The EU will not protest animals from halal or kosher practice”.[i]
For Britain does indeed loudly proclaim its support for animal welfare, and Waters has a history of opposing halal, which she considers a “medieval, barbaric cruelty”.[ii] This stance is, however, far from exceptional on the far right; an expressed support for animal welfare, and in particular opposition to halal and kosher meat – produced by the so-called “ritual slaughter” or “religious slaughter” of animals – has been a facet of the British far-right discourse for decades. The policy of banning such slaughter is shared by most significant British far-right movements today.
This article does not comment on the ethics of halal and shechita slaughter, nor meat production in general; neither does it wish to tarnish animal welfare and animal rights causes with association to fascism. Rather, it seeks to draw attention to the ways in which the British far right, from the 1930s to today, has justified its hatreds, and cynically sought to redirect genuine compassion for animals towards the hatred of minorities.
Arnold Leese and the Extreme Right
As explored in our article on eco-fascism, there is a longstanding tradition of support for animal welfare among the most extreme elements of the far right.[iii] This fact may initially seem surprising; as philosopher Brian Klug writes, “a tender concern for the weak and vulnerable might not be a conspicuously fascist trait”.[iv] However, a voiced concern for animals can coexist with a strong strain of misanthropy, and can be used to demonise minority groups as barbaric, uncivilised and outdated, held in contrast to supposedly civilised, humane Aryans/Christians/Brits. The far right’s ventures into animal welfare is sometimes coupled with “green” politics and a form of nature mysticism, which is often also imbued with antisemitic and/or racist themes. Jews and immigrant populations are portrayed as cosmopolitan, rootless, urbanising people, devoid of respect for, or spiritual connection with, the land, and thus imperil indigenous wildlife and the rural way of life. The alleged threat that Jews and Muslims pose to animals is thus paradoxically presented as something both savagely ancient and destructively modern. Such rhetoric enabled leading Nazis, including Hitler and Himmler, to condemn animal cruelty whilst simultaneously formulating plans for genocide.
In the years immediately preceding and following WWII, much of the British far right was still obsessed with its traditional enemy, the Jews. One influential figure in this milieu was Arnold Leese (1978 – 1956), a world-renowned camel veterinarian, founder of the Imperial Fascist League and, in the words of Dr Joe Mulhall, “the most notorious British antisemite of the 20th century”.[v] By his own account, Leese maintained “a great and sympathetic love of animals” throughout his life, and, despite being a meat-eater himself, he was particularly appalled by shechita slaughter. Shechita, which he saw as a sadistic practice, bolstered his belief in the blood libel myth, and he fixated on the idea that Jews were kidnapping and murdering gentile children, claiming in his book Jewish Ritual Murder (1938) that “what would be Murder to an Aryan is only Slaughter to a Talmudic Jew”.[vi] Leese appealed to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) to ban shechita slaughter, and was obsessed with the consumption of such meat by unknowing gentiles.[vii]
As animals are defenceless and underserving of violence, fascists are able to present their own violence against supposedly culpable minorities as the noble defence of defenceless innocents. Leese’s solution to the supposed threat posed by Jews to European “Aryans” and livestock was to deport them to Madagascar, killing any Jew found away from the island.[viii] Whilst his own organisations were small, Leese was a significant figure in the development of the British extreme right, in part due to his status as a mentor to Colin Jordan, leader of the British Movement and the World Union of National Socialists.
The National Front
Over time, the public condemnation of overt antisemitism, but the considerable public hostility toward the arrival of non-white immigrant communities, caused large sections of the far right to shift the focus of their attacks towards the new arrivals. In the 1980s, the focus began to shift again from all immigrants, with an emphasis on Afro-Caribbean people, towards a more specific anti-Muslim politics. Antisemitism remained at the core of much of the British right, but anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim politics were viewed as their ticket into the mainstream, and became a core tenet of their campaigns.[ix]
For the National Front (NF), the most significant British far-right party in the post-war period until the emergence of the British National Party (BNP), this approach included a vocal opposition to ritual slaughter. By the 1980s, the NF was a diminished force, and pivoted to animal welfare as part of a broader “Green Front”, adopting a more pronounced anti-globalist, anti-capitalist, ruralist and environmental politics in the hope of exploiting the protest movements and radical subcultures of the time. This adjustment was partly a result of the influence of the NF’s “Third Positionist” clique, most notably Nick Griffin, Derek Holland and Patrick Harrington, the latter of whom had a particular fixation on ritual slaughter. The ideologically-driven trio also brought a new form of fascist esotericism to the party, which would prove divisive, and in 1986, they split from the NF to form their own faction. Other sections of the far right, such as the European New Right publication Scorpion, similarly delved into green politics in the same period.
Whilst the likes of Harrington, who claims to be a lifelong vegetarian, may have nurtured a genuine concern for the wellbeing of animals, for others it was purely cynical. Brian Klug describes the far-right strategy during the 1980s:
“Looked at one way, the issue of ‘ritual slaughter’ concerns an aspect of Muslim and Jewish culture. Looked at another way, it is about the treatment of animals. The strategy used by neo-fascist groups is to try to merge these two points of view.”
In this way, “what starts out as a purely technical question about different methods of slaughter turns into a stark confrontation between Us and Them.” [x] Throughout the 1980s, NF publications regularly produced superlative-laden items on ritual slaughter, alongside concerns such as vivisection, hunting, the fur trade and the destruction of wildlife.
The NF’s push into animal welfare was not confined to the writing of articles; for example, in 1983, the group muscled their way into a wrangle between the Bradford Animal Rights Group (BARG) and the local council, which was the first local authority to provide halal meat for Muslim students in school meals.[xi] The NF also held a September 1984 demonstration in Brighton against ritual slaughter, initially planning to start the event outside a Jewish retirement home.[xii] In 1984, a Searchlight article on the NF’s forays into animal rights reported:
…the Front and other like-minded fascists are blending into the animal rights’ movement’s most extreme wing which raids laboratories and farms. A series of attacks this year on halal and kosher butchers has indicated racist influence in animal liberation groups as well as fascists’ willingness to carry out their own attacks in the guise of animal rights campaigners.
These attacks included the bombing of butcher shops in Newham and Redbridge in East London.[xiii]
The group even sought to use front organisations to gain political influence. In 1988, Mike Griffin contested a local election in Essex under the name of the “Havering Animal Welfare”, calling for a ban on “ritual slaughter” because it is “cruel” and results in “an unwitting gentile public buying ritually slaughtered meat”. Without their permission, his literature also included messages from the animal rights groups, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection’s (BUAV).[xiv] Griffin’s campaign was organised by Graham Williamson, the NF vice chair at the time. Griffin was sharply rebuked by both BUAV and CIWF, and was also rejected by the public, receiving a dismal 14 votes in the election.[xv] This would not stop an NF activist standing under the “Havering Animal Welfare” banner in a local election the following year, as well as another NF front group, “GreenWave”, sparking a campaign from local animal rights activists.
The NF, an increasingly marginal force on the British far right, left a toxic legacy that was continued by other groups into the 1990s and the 2000s. For example, in 1998 Troy Southgate, a former member of the NF and Griffin and Holland’s International Third Position group, established the National Revolutionary Faction (NRF). The group, as Graham Macklin writes, carried over the “desire to create a decentralized volkisch identity” that had inspired the NF throughout the 1980s, and also drew on radical green anarchist traditions.[xvi] The group aimed to exploit existing radical movements, in Southgate’s words: “The NRF uses cadre activists to infiltrate political groups, institutions and services”.[xvii] Members of the group, which campaigned against “alien ritual slaughter”, were present at a spate of animal rights demonstrations that year, including some marred by violence. Southgate has continued to be an active, though very marginal, force in the British far right.
The NRF also claimed to have infiltrated the radical, direct action-focussed Hunt Saboteurs Association.[xviii] If their claims are correct, they were not the first far right group to do so; in 1988, Searchlight reported that Margaret Flynn, wife of the neo-Nazi Terry Flynn of the November 9th Society, was involved in the Bedforshire and Buckinghamhire branch of the Hunt Saboteurs.[xix]
The Modern Far Right
As the 2000s began, the September 11 attacks, combined with a series of race riots in Northern English towns, further encouraged the British far right to mine the vein of Islamophobia running through British society.[xx] This approach continues today, with a reference to ritual slaughter now almost obligatory in the manifestos and websites of far-right groups.
Groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) have portrayed halal as not only cruel, but acting as a kind of “Islamising” contaminant on the British populace, due to its supposed entry into the wider foodchain. Combining prejudices, Britain First has run campaigns erroneously linking halal meat to the funding of terrorism. The BNP, which for 15 years was under the leadership of one-time “third positionist” Nick Griffin, claims it will “ban the inhumane ritual slaughter of animals on religious grounds”, as well as tripling the maximum jail sentence for animal cruelty. Patriotic Alternative, the fascistic, antisemitic movement run by former BNP figure Mark Collett, claims that “the way we treat animals is a measure of our quality as human beings”, promising a “complete ban on the non-stunned slaughter of animals, including Halal and Kosher slaughter”. And, of course, there is For Britain, a party which includes numerous former BNP figures as leading members.
On the extremes, terroristic Nazis have continued to exploit radical animal rights networks, with former leading members of the now-banned National Action having sought to infiltrate Hunt Saboteur groups in recent years.[xxi] As we have explored elsewhere, a global eco-fascist subculture has emerged, advocating a violent, genocidal revolution in the face of a looming ecological collapse.[xxii] Eco-fascists commonly threaten the violent enforcement of animal rights, using slogans such as “Love Nature, Kill Non-Whites”, “Save a Seal, Club a Kike” and “there’s only way to deal with animal abusers”, alongside images of lynches. In 2019 a short-lived, tiny eco-fascist group calling itself “The Green Brigade” emerged, combining Nazism with the desire to destroy “the system that exploits our land, animals, and people”. The group has been linked to the arson of a mink farm in Sölvesborg, Sweden; activists have also distributed posters in London and Scotland.[xxiii]
Whilst the fashions, tactics and strategies of the far right are changeable, mutating with time, a voiced concern for animal welfare, and especially a vocal opposition to halal and shechita, has proved fertile ground. It goes without saying that the growing public concern for environmental issues, and the accompanying shift in awareness about the realities of meat production, is both welcome and long overdue. However, we must remain vigilant of the bigoted fringe that seeks to corrupt noble causes, shift blame towards minorities, and divert good intentions into cruelty of another kind.
[i] Steven Morrissey, quoted in: “There Is A Light That Must Be Switched On: MORRISSEY TALKS TO JOHN RIGGERS APRIL 2018”, Morrissey Central (16 April 2018).
[ii] Anne Marie Waters in: “The Greens and animal welfare // For Britain // Anne Marie Waters”, The For Britain Movement, YouTube (9 September 2019).
[iii] David Lawrence, “The Regrowth of Eco-Fascism”, HOPE not hate magazine Issue 40, HOPE not hate Ltd (Autumn 2019).
[iv] Brian Klug, “Ritual murmur: The undercurrent of protest against religious slaughter of animals in Britain in the 1980s”, Patterns of Prejudice, 23:2 (1989).
[v] Joe Mulhall, British Fascism After the Holocaust: From the Birth of Denial to the Notting Hill Riots, 1939-1958 (Abingdon: Routledge: 2020)
[vi] Arnold Leese, My Irrelevant Defence: Meditations Inside Gaol and Out on Jewish Ritual Murder (London: The I.F.L. Printing & Publishing Co., 1938).
[vii] Graham Macklin, Failed Führers: A History of Britain’s Extreme Right (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020).
[viii] Macklin, Failed Fuhrers.
[ix] Joe Mulhall, “Modrnising and Mainstreaming: The Contemporary British Far Right”, HOPE not hate Ltd (July 2019).
[x] Klug, “Ritual Murmur”.
[xi] Klug, “Ritual Murmur”.
[xii] Unattributed, “A weekend away with the “political soldiers”, Searchlight (November 1984).
[xiii] Graham Trickey, “NF Green with envy”, Searchlight (October 1985).
[xiv] Staff Reporter, “NF support for Havering man”, Jewish Chronicle (15 January 1988).
[xv]Unattributed, “Not Waving – Drowning!”, Searchlight (April 1989).
[xvi] Graham Macklin, “Co-opting the counter culture: Troy Southgate and the National Revolutionary Faction”, Patterns of Prejudice, 39:3 (2006).
[xvii] Troy Southgate quoted in: Daniel Foggo, “Neo-nazis join animal rights groups”, The Telegraph (3 September 2000).
[xviii] Macklin, “Co-opting the counter culture”.
[xix] Unattributed, “Animal Crackpot”, Searchlight, February 1988.
[xx] Mulhall, “Modrnising and Mainstreaming”.
[xxi] Matthew Collins, “Far Right Round Up”, HOPE not hate Ltd (16 August 2018).
[xxii] Lawrence, “The Regrowth of Eco-Fascism”.
[xxiii] David Lawrence, “The Terrorgram Network”, State of Hate 2020, HOPE not hate Ltd (March 2020).