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By Jason Michael
THE BLOOD WAS STILL WET, the news was just beginning to work its way through Scotland and over the world, when Nigel Farage posted that update to his social media page. A young man had been shot and killed by armed police in a Glasgow hotel after he had gone on the rampage with a knife, seriously injuring a number of people including a police officer. ‘It looks like there has been a terrorist attack in Glasgow,’ a friend informed me on the phone. We were shocked. We assumed, of course, this was a terror attack. With little information to go on, the British media’s frenetic coverage of everything terror related since 9/11 has conditioned us to expect the worst.
It certainly didn’t help matters that this had all happened in a hotel being used to house asylum seekers in the city, and no sooner had this become known than Farage was digging out his phone to share what is probably one of the most despicable comments we have seen from a political figure in the United Kingdom since Enoch Powell:
Horrible tragedy in a Glasgow Hotel housing illegal immigrants. All over the UK, hotels are filling up with young men who are coming across the Channel every day. It is a massive risk to our wellbeing – yet the government does nothing.
In fewer than fifty words he had tied in all the themes of the right-wing threat narrative – everything from terrorism to xenophobia and white genocide – and was leaping on this awful and as yet largely unreported tragedy. So much credit has to be given to the people of Glasgow – well, people make Glasgow – and the whole of Scotland; they didn’t buy his obvious race baiting comment, and in short order told him what to do with his pathetic racist opinions. But, then, this tweet wasn’t directed at Scotland. Farage knows how poorly he’s thought of in our country. Farage, in a style characteristic of the racist far-right, was sending up a flag for his British nationalist, pro-Brexit, and neo-fascist support base south of the border. Linking this to his ongoing campaign at Dover, what was clear was that he was exploiting this incident in Glasgow to incite and mobilise the British right.
Horrible tragedy in a Glasgow Hotel housing illegal immigrants. All over the UK, hotels are filling up with young… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) June 26, 2020
But this wasn’t terrorism, and the Glasgow police were keen not to treat it as such until they new more of what led to the tragedy. We still don’t know all the details, but what we do know is that this all happened in a residence for asylum seekers – who are, by definition, not ‘illegal immigrants’ – where people have been locked up in close quarters during the pandemic crisis. In an environment like this, tensions are bound to run hight and violence is always a possibility. Perhaps, as a society, we ought to think about how we treat those who come here fleeing persecution in their own homes.
But there is more to this obnoxious tweet, and this is something we have to discuss. Farage recently attended a Trump rally in Tulsa, where the US president Donald Trump has begun turning up the dial on his race baiting – no doubt to whip up his angry white support base ahead of November. Days ahead of the Tulsa rally and in the midst of mounting Black Lives Matter protests, Trump retweeted a video of an assault in a retail store – in which a black man is seen punching a white man – posted by Matt Walsh, a men’s rights activist and anti-immigration campaigner who describes himself as a ‘theocratic fascist.’ Entirely without context, Walsh explains the video:
This guy brutally assaulted a Macy’s employee because of his race and then slandered him by claiming he said the n-word, which was a lie. This is a horrific hate crime and if the races were reversed it would be the only thing we talk about for days.
It doesn’t require a rocket scientist to figure that this act of violence does not and cannot compare to the history of systematic and programmatic abuse suffered by African Americans at the hands of a hostile and racist state. This was not an officer of the law kneeling on a man’s neck until he died. This was horrible, but it’s not the same thing. Donald Trump is no rocket scientist, however, and he shared this tweet, adding: ‘Looks what’s going on here. Where are the protesters? Was this man arrested?’ Later that same day (23 June) Lori Hendry, the pro-Trump blogger behind the Unapologetic Conservativism from a Lady Patriot website (‘Proudly RTed by the President’), threw some fuel on the fire by tweeting the most mind-bending historical revisionism I have seen in quite some time, and that’s saying something: ‘Racism was almost dead before Obama.’
Racism was almost dead before Obama.—
LORI HENDRY (@Lrihendry) June 23, 2020
Either by accident or by design, Trump had signalled to the political right that open race baiting was now fair game. Right-wing commenters and social media influencers got to work; they were going to capture the headlines ahead of the rally by banging the drum that the whites were the real victims in this imagined race war. It gets more difficult to believe this was an accident the moment Farage starts race baiting at the soonest opportunity in the UK. Had Farage been briefed on a new strategy while in Tulsa? Was this a ‘Problem, Crisis, Solution’ thing where the right, having manufactured a race ‘problem,’ waited for a ‘crisis,’ before presenting its ‘solution’ to the world? It certainly looks as though something like this has happened, and our suspicions were only further raised when, almost the moment people started to react to his tweet, Twitter and Facebook were flooded with far-right sock puppet accounts – many of which were only created in ‘June 2020’ – attacking everyone who spoke out against the scapegoating of asylum seekers.
There’s a PhD in researching this phenomenon – someone’s likely done it already. After being created for the purpose or after lying dormant for months, these thousands of bots are unleashed to distract and derail the genuine public outrage sparked by the right. As astroturfers, they attempt to give the impression there is wide grassroots support for these toxic opinions. They use the most disgusting language to intimidate the outspoken or to lure them into long, pointless discussions. Every time we witness this, the purpose is the same – to protect whatever the original racist sentiment was by silencing online opposition and conjuring up the illusion that the anti-racists are actually the minority, the radicals, the extremists. The agenda behind it too is quite transparent; fictional ‘uncontrolled and mass immigration’ is the tool being used by the ‘cultural Marxists (the Jews)’ to bring about the ‘Great Replacement (white genocide).’
No small number of these accounts set in about me when I responded to the Farage tweet. It was obvious this was a concerted assault on anyone calling Nigel Farage out. They don’t follow me – or us – and so would not have been able to see what we were saying unless they were searching for keywords or scrolling down the hashtags we were using. What this was, was a hunting party, and this in itself reveals that there’s money behind it. Someone somewhere is funding it.
One in particular stood out to me. Usually, I am good – well practiced – at ignoring them. I know what their game is, and so I simply block on sight. But every now and then one just interests you. This was a user going by the name ‘Buck .RN.,’ an account trying to give the impression of having a link to the British Royal Navy. He dropped in on a conversation I was having with a friend in which I had shared I was upset by Farage’s tweet. What he said was ugly:
You sad cunt. Grow up.
Ugly and clever. We have friends and family interacting with us on Twitter. Some of us also have employers and work colleagues. These trolls know that rather than risking having those close to us or those who employ us see these tweets, many will simply disengage and shut up in future – it’s a shock tactic. My employers all hate me anyway and I have most of my family blocked from my social media. I don’t care. This one definitely interested me and so I thought I would pop open the hood and have a little peek at the machinery of this little creature.
He retweets UK-based media personalities and looks to be a big fan of Nigel Farage. He is no stranger to race baiting and has been hyperactive during the Black Lives Matter protests in London. ‘Just look at the animals looting,’ he tweeted at Maajid Nawaz. ‘Black lives matter my arse. They are resorting to type.’ You know, that ‘type’ that makes all black people violent animals! Sometime Sky News talking-head, Alex Deane (another right-wing race warrior), tweeted:
We live in a time that places a great premium on tolerance and inclusivity and diversity. Bear these values in mind if there’s one player who dares to decline to ‘take a knee.’
Buck .RN., our little British sailor, replied: ‘Fuck black lives matter. They spread division and racism.’ And there’s that narrative again; that it is the victims of racism, the people out protesting the murder of another young black man by a police officer, who are the real racists. The whites – our vulgar mariner’s people – are the real victims.
But it is only when we look at who is following them – their social networks – that things begin to get really interesting, and I mean really interesting. Buck .RN. has only 87 followers on Twitter, making him a minnow by any reasonable assessment. Nothing wrong with having 87 followers, but one does not expect political activists to have such a modest following and neither does one expect to see a small account followed by the new David Jones account – the pro-Brexit sock puppet account linked to a Russian troll farm in St. Petersburg during the Brexit referendum campaign. But yes, David Jones – now with over 100 thousand followers and a locked account – follows Buck .RN., and that’s interesting. You can split his followers into three easily recognisable groups; British nationalist and Pro-Brexit, US right-wing Evangelical and pro-Trump, and Zionist and pro-Israel accounts – a triple alliance we are seeing all over the political right. Sure, he’s even followed by the verified Twitter account of The Israel-Britain Alliance, an ‘organisation that celebrates Britain’s relationship with the State of Israel.’
Perusing Buck .RN. – or ‘Andrew’s’ – followers takes you into a world where we are only one or two steps from scary white nationalism and the foot soldiers of the neo-Nazi ethno-state, so why are Zionists and people who ‘love Israel’ part of this nightmarish mix? There are a number of reasons for this, and Denijal Jegic interrogates this very well in an opinion piece he wrote for Al Jazeera back in January. Israel, he points out, has been courting the European and American far-right:
The Israeli regime has long positioned itself within the global political right and, particularly under Netanyahu, proudly collaborates with the far-right. It even glorifies some prominent far-right figures, such as Italian politician Matteo Salvini, as ‘great friends of Israel.’
And the far-right can accommodate Israel and Zionism just as easily:
Far-right parties have increasingly joined the established political spectrum throughout Europe. Austria’s far-right “Freedom Party” (FPO), and Germany’s far-right AfD have incorporated Zionism into their regressive ideologies, viewing Israel as a model for the creation of racist/racial hierarchies. Both parties include outspoken anti-Semites.
There’s the link, the common thread that links white nationalism in the States, British nationalism, and Zionism – the fantasy of the ethno-state. Online, they are collaborating, feeding and feeding off one another, and in the real world of international politics they are working together.
It’s easier to see now why Farage was in the States when he was and why he said what he did when he did. This was a whistle to the British nationalist cause in the UK and a signal to his racially pure allies abroad that he is on-side. When he calls asylum seekers ‘illegal immigrants’ and links them to the ‘hordes’ of ‘young men’ coming over the Channel, what he is saying is that they are all the same – dangerous and the wrong colour. He is wilfully and consciously appealing to the fantasy of British nationalism and neo-imperialism that the white man is under threat from the black man and the brown man. He is feeding the fiction that there is a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to displace the ‘white race’ and turn his beloved Britain into a beige Islamic state.
This interesting little troll got me thinking. We may not see it in its full flower in Scotland – and for that we must count ourselves fortunate – but all across Europe the racist right is rising, it is on the march, and it is organising. It is subtle and not-so-subtle and with the elections of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson it is being normalised in our corner of the world. We have seen the openly fascistic behaviour of Trump and already Johnson is stripping away the civil service. Everyone can see where this is going, and every move it makes further emboldens the far-right – a deeply anti-democratic and violent movement. At some point we have to ask ourselves when we too are going to unite and take a stand, when will we think it is right to tober these thugs. The lessons from the past couldn’t be clearer; if we are too slow to take a stand we will cross a threshold where resistance becomes futile.
How Ukip normalised far-right politics