THE BLOG
18/01/2019 16:49 GMT | Updated 18/01/2019 16:49 GMT

Who Are The UK Yellow Vest Protesters?

In the chaos of Brexit, it is both worrying and a possible harbinger of things to come that far right groups have been so eager and quick to capitalise on existing protest movements

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Despite the best efforts of more moderate groups to adopt the mantle of the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ protests currently dividing France, it is clear that in the United Kingdom it has been the far right that has been most successful in rallying supporters to their side in hi-vis vests.

Recently, many of us have seen footage from both outside the Houses of Parliament and bridges across London, where a band of protesters have been using live-streaming, blockades and harassment of pro-Brexit MPs to slowly grow supporters. The protesters are ostensibly in favour of a ‘Hard Brexit’, but also offer their support to a number of causes peddled by the far right, including: Islamist terrorism, migration levels, supposed protected pedophile gangs and high taxation.

Tracy Blackwell has been a mainstay of the London ‘Yellow Vests’, bringing supporters with her via her ‘Justice For Our Boys’ campaign, which focuses on a supposed cover-up surrounding the death of her son in a tragic drink-driving accident early in 2018. She has attempted to keep the movement in some sort of cohesion, as other activists bicker among themselves.

James Goddard, who notably confronted Tory MP Anna Soubry, has existed for months at the periphery of the far right scene, slowly building a following using live-streamed confrontations and regular YouTube hangouts broadcast via a number of channels. A previous speaker at Tommy Robinson’s rallies, his rhetoric now more resembles that of the American ‘QAnon’ conspiracy theory, adopting their key phrases and hashtags in his social media postings.

Following his arrest last weekend, Goddard has been banned from venturing inside the M25 as part of his bail conditions, although social media posts suggest that he may be planning to break these in appearing at a rally on Saturday, the 19th.

Another figure gaining traction as a professional protester is ‘Danny Tommo’, real name Daniel Thomas. A convicted attempted kidnapper, over the past few months he has risen to prominence via his association as a close associate of ‘Tommy Robinson’ during his travels.

Thomas has regularly live streamed from ‘Yellow Vest’ protests outside Parliament and at Trafalgar Square, and has confronted activists and journalists such as the Guardian’s Owen Jones. He too was arrested on the weekend, only to be released shortly afterwards. He’s been making claims of a conspiracy against him ever since.

In the last few days, a site has also appeared called ‘Wake Up UK’ that appears to be an attempt to start an alternative social media network for Far Right ’Yellow Vest supporters – the site’s logo even features a human figure in a Yellow Vest. A glimpse at the newest postings on the site shows a slew of extremist, far right propaganda, usually involving Islam, and notable recent sign-ups include former Britain First activist Jayda Fransen.

Of most concern, however, may be co-opting of the ‘Yellow Vests’ by the Identitarian movement. A proto-fascist network of national youth movements, that coordinate with one another, they are known by different names – ‘Generation Identity’ in the UK, ‘Generation Identitaire’ in France, and ‘Identitaeire Bewegung’ in Germany.

Jan Moudrak, an activist who describes himself as ‘New Right’, and who has significant links to both UK Generation Identity and European equivalents, has been adopting the Yellow Vest and visiting the protests outside Parliament, handing out leaflets and attempting to interview various Pro-Brexit activists along with his compatriots.

A cursory look at Moudrak’s leaflets reveals much of the same rhetoric for which the Identitarian movement is known. Reference is made to ‘damage’ to the UK’s ‘ancestral homelands’, an echo of the nativist view that is at the very heart of the Identitarian philosophy.  

More disturbing perhaps, is a positive reference to ‘homogenic rule’ and ‘homogeneous populations’, coded language used by Identitarian groups to describe white, European societies free from migrant populations. Chillingly, the leaflet also makes reference to ‘repatriation’ – the removal of groups from Britain. This is policy that is mentioned on the Generation Identity UK site, although they’ve been careful to qualify it with the term ‘illegal migrants’.

The leaflet also describes Moudrak’s iteration of the ‘Yellow Vest’ movement as being against ‘degeneracy’. This is a term with a long history among the Far Right, and indeed had its roots in Nazi Germany. It was used to describe anything that the Nazis felt was subverting German society – art, music, literature, in addition to racial intermarriage, homosexuality, lesbianism and transgenderism. The term has had a dark renaissance of sorts, particularly among some of the more extreme white nationalist movements in the United States, and it is worrying to see it here.

In the chaos of Brexit, it is both worrying and a possible harbinger of things to come that far right groups have been so eager and quick to capitalise on existing protest movements. It is clear that more needs to be done both to monitor and expose those who would use the recent political turmoil to recruit and increase their influence. The alternative – allowing Far Right street movements the freedom to act that they haven’t enjoyed in decades – is not one worth considering.