My grandparents, like the relatives of many readers, fought Nazism. However, as with other infectious diseases, the battle must continue until the pathogen is eradicated.
Just as viruses mutate and spread into naïve populations, pathological human cultures like far-right movements, adapt and infect new hosts. Therefore, destroying them completely is a long and challenging mission for societies.
Nevertheless, we owe it to our grandparents, great grandparents and those brave souls still alive who took on Hitler and his far-right pathology, to continue the battle.
Just as the pathological culture of the far-right has morphed into a myriad of mutations, from Daesh (which easily fits the model of far-right movements) to street mobs like the EDL and Britain First (which claim to be fighting the former), approaches to tackling them have needed to change.
What is required to fight an ultra-conservative death cult like Daesh is different from what needed to tackle drunken street mobs – while slick Hitler-haired ‘alt-right’ white supremacists spreading poison on campuses and across social media might require other approaches.
Just as there are overlaps between the ideologies of groups – which each push division, spread hate of arbitrarily defined ‘enemies’, and perpetuate false narratives about reality – core elements of the battle against the pathology are relevant for each strand of the cultural virus.
The first is a willingness to see movements for what they are. For example, let’s not let far-right hate-mongers rebrand themselves by using a term like ‘alt-right’ without challenge. No amount of hair product or talks at universities changes the fact that the ‘alt-right’ is just a social media-age expression of old-fashioned white supremacism.
Another key weapon in this battle is intelligence. In our world of 24-hour-a-day information bombardment, we don’t need to be intelligence or police officers to become aware of material that incites hatred or is supportive of related crimes.
For instance, the neo-Nazi group National Action was reported to the authorities by many people I know within minutes of it tweeting praise for far-right murderer Thomas Mair, when he assassinated MP Jo Cox. Twitter removed some National Action accounts rapidly and the Home Office subsequently proscribed the network as a terror group. National Action member Zack Davies had previously attempted to decapitate a dentist because he “looked Asian”, and legal proceedings are active for several more people linked to National Action, which limits what I can write today.
There are so many people spewing threats and hate speech on social media that is hard to know which should be taken seriously and followed up. This is an issue for concerned citizens just as it is for the security services. While many are just pitiful people trying to antagonise, any one could be the next Thomas Mair. Being a pitiful person is not incompatible with becoming a killer.
I am bombarded by many angry rants from the far-right on Twitter. I ignore most but share a few with relevant professional contacts. Given the ignorance of many of the far-right, you might wish to enlighten them rather than block or mute. However, ‘debating’ with a 17-follower far-right ranter gives them the attention they often crave. If you have more followers than they do, you could be multiplying their reach.
Twitter has taken positive steps in recent months to limit far-right extremists’ ability to use the platform to spread hate. Taking away verified ticks from people like white supremacist Richard Spencer and former EDL leader Tommy Robinson caused outrage among the far-right. Then near the end of 2017, two Britain First leaders were suspended from the platform, soon after Donald Trump had retweeted the group. These events led to many tweets from supporters claiming an attack on freedom of speech.
Given the enthusiasm the far-right has had for burning books, this outrage is ironic. However, when blocking people who would use your Twitter following to spread hate to a bigger audience, or when we are supportive of Twitter for tackling extremism, it is important to keep in mind that these things are NOT attacks on free speech. Freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Human Rights Act, does not mean everyone has the right to hijack any medium. You might believe God is a giant slug with the face of Steve Bannon, but this doesn’t entitle you to go on the TV news to tell everyone.
A key nonsense from the far-right that needs challenging more clearly than it has been is that they are tackling extremists. I have seen far-right thugs attack innocent people, but I don’t see them fighting Daesh. As I have said elsewhere, far-right thugs and Daesh are two aspects of the authoritarian far-right – and by pushing divisive narratives, they help one another.