It’s a trope of Western media that (white) terrorists and murderers are “lone gunmen” (from Oswald to Brievik to Mair) and never part of a political or cultural movement. As we get deeper into the mire that mythology has become untenable and we need to trace the pathology of violence that’s at the heart of the new right.
There’s a whiff of fascism in the air this Autumn. From our prorogued parliament to Dominic Cummings lecturing people about the advantages of Jo Cox’s murder, to the bellicose racist Prime Minister swaggering in entitled incoherence. Boris Johnson’s bizarre speech from outside 10 Downing Street is like a scene from V for Vendetta, or a paragraph from a David Peace novel. But we don’t really talk of the violence of the right, we are asked to worry about Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-semitism or Nicola Sturgeon’s divisive nationalism. We are asked to consider Lone Wolves and Shoot Nationalist Foxes.
News that the white supremacist David Parnham who was behind “Punish a Muslim Day” hate campaign, is to be sentenced today at the Old Bailey is to be welcomed, but it once again raises the issue of the endemic violence of Britain’s fascist and far right-wing groups. We are living in perhaps the most right-wing era since the 1970s with racism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia and other movements of hate being fostered and driven by the propaganda industry. Globally we can watch the rise of the far-right in Europe, the Trump movement in America, the rise of Bolsonaro in Brazil, with Erdoğan of Turkey, Putin in Russia, Assad in Syria, and Duterte in the Philippines, we are seeing a reactionary surge as elite rule fails and systems falter. It’s the default position of collapsing systems.
We see this manifest in the courts and streets each day.
In October 2016, David Parnham send letters containing white powder stating “the clowns r coming 4 you” and were intended to reach the Queen and Theresa May, the court heard. In December 2016, Parnham sent a fan letter to Dylann Roof, a white supremacist responsible for murdering nine black parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina.
He told Roof: “I just wanted to thank you for opening my eyes. Ever since you carried out what I’d call the ‘cleansing’ I’ve felt differently about what you’d call ‘racial awareness’.”
In February 2017, Parnham sent letters to various mosques and Islamic centres around the country. A letter to Berkeley Street mosque in Hull contained a drawing of a sword with a swastika on it cutting someone’s head off, with the words: “You are going to be slaughtered very soon.” It was signed “Muslim slayer”.
We are not immune to this in Scotland or in the wider UK — where the fascism of Thomas Mair or the now proscribed neo-Nazi National Action youth movement are the end-point of a deeper right-wing resurgence with UKIP, the Brexit and Tory party’s all part of the continuum.
Much of this actual violence has been facilitated and nurtured by the language of violence, the condoning and apologising for fascists and for creating a Hostile Environment to minorities and a hospitable environment to facists and racists. Whether it’s Jacob Rees-Mogg dining with Gregory Lauder-Frost or the racist bile that spills from the mouth and pen of our current Prime Minister or the torrent of racism that poured from the UKIP Party, or the hysterical Leave rhetoric about “traitors” — all are scene-setters and enablers. We know for example that there was a 375 per cent increase in Islamophobic attacks the week after Boris Johnson wrote a column in the Telegraph comparing Muslim women to letterboxes and bank robbers.
Examples of the new right are everywhere.
Ukip candidate Carl Benjamin, also known as his YouTube name Sargon of Akkad, became infamous for his rape “jokes” he directed at Labour MP Jess Phillips, for which he refused to apologise. Thomas Mair uttered the words “ Britain First “ and “keep Britain independent” as he shot and stabbed Jo Cox . Tommy Robinson has been the spearhead for a movement that has found other outlets for its toxicity and petered out into the nether regions of the internet. It’s true that the founder of the EDL has seen his electoral career founder, but he still has allies and a sub-culture of support. Earlier this year Jack Renshaw was foiled in a plan to kill Rosie Cooper and several members of National Action were jailed. Last month Ian Couch, a pro-Brexit former Royal Marine was jailed for 24 weeks for threatening the remainer MP Heidi Allen online, including posting aerial images of her home on social media. As James Goddard is arrested tonight a female voice can then be heard shouting, “Communist scum, off our streets,” before chanting “We love you Boris, we do.”
In Scotland xenophobia, British nationalism, anti-Irish racism, sectarianism and loyalism converge in a swirl of abusive hate. It is there in the transphobia and misogyny of everyday online interactions. It is there in the masked men in Govan and is there in the shouting down of Jackie Kay or the denial of the unearthing of Scotland’s colonial and slave-trace-enrichment past. It is there in the collusion with Assad and Putin and it is there in the attempts to mirror the tactics of UKIP and the Brexit Party.
What we need now — NOW in these next days and months — is maximum solidarity and connections, against this common foe of real fascism and racism.
As if anticipating these times and these threats Jay Griffiths last year wrote:
“Fascism begins as something in the air. Stealthy as smoke in the darkness, easier to smell than to see. Fascism sets out an ethos, not a set of policies; appeals to emotion, not fact. It begins as a pose, often a deceptive one. It likes propaganda, dislikes truth, and invests heavily in performance. Untroubled by its own incoherence, it is anti-intellectual and yet contemptuous of the populace even as it exploits the crowd mentality. Fascism is accented differently in different countries, and uses the materials — and the media — of the times.”
“Easier to smell than to see” … “contemptuous of the populace even as it exploits the crowd mentality.”