08/02/2016 11:46 GMT | Updated 08/02/2017 05:12 GMT

The Far Right In 2016: Smaller But More Violent

2015 was a year of violence and humiliations for the British far right.

The general election proved its political impotency, the EDL continued its steady decline into oblivion and, while the number of far-right demonstrations increased (especially in the north of England), the overall numbers involved in the organised far right declined.

On the surface, it really should not be like this. Difficult economic conditions and austerity policies, compounded by the refugee crisis which has resulted in the biggest ever movement of refugees into Europe, have produced a toxic mix that the far right should have been able to exploit.

Similarly, the terrorist attacks in Paris, coupled with feared attacks in Belgium and Germany, have fed the worries of homegrown Jihadism and even of the incompatibility of Islam with Western Civilisation.

Anti-Muslim hatred is being mainstreamed, too, both among the far right as well as on social media and in certain media outlets.

Yet even this weekend, the former EDL leader 'Tommy Robinson' (real name: Stephen Lennon) attracted fewer than 200 people to his latest rebranded adventure, Pegida UK, in a wet car park near Birmingham.

This decline in fortunes has marked a shift to increased desperation and violence, as noted in our new State of Hate 2015 report, which we launched today.

Smaller but more violent

2015 saw a rise in far-right demonstrations (61 in 2015 compared to 41 in 2014) and violent clashes between far-right activists and their anti-fascist counterparts. This is likely to continue into 2016.

The most active group on the far right is probably the North West Infidels (NWI), who were involved in violence with anti-fascist protesters in Dover on 30th January this year.

The Infidels is a network of regional fascist gangs which split from the EDL and which pursue a far more confrontational and violent agenda.

Linked to this growing violence, 2015 saw a growth in far-right activists involved in survivalist, outdoor training and martial arts groups. These include the Misanthropic Division, led by a former member of the fascist Azov Battalion in Ukraine and the Italian nazi group, Casa Pound.

Others, such as Sigurd Legion (Legion), have released videos documenting men stripped to the waist punching each other as they practice unarmed combat while others train with knives.

National Action (NA), which tried to stage a "white man march" in Liverpool last year (which was routed by anti-fascists), is one of the most organisationally sophisticated neo-nazi groups, possessing its own internal internet forum and regularly using the 'Dark Web'.

Foreign activists, from Italy, Ukraine and Poland, have also all been active in leading violence here in the UK over the past year, attacking both Muslims, Jews and anti-fascists.

One of the most active groups currently in Britain is called Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski, meaning "the national rebirth of Poland". Dozens of UK-based Italian fascists are active in the British nazi music scene.

Collapse of the old guard

The British National Party (BNP) and the anti-Muslim street movement, the English Defence League (EDL), are both shrinking and have fractured several times.

A significant reason for the far right's disastrous showing was UKIP, which stole the media limelight and most of the BNP's voters. While it won one parliamentary seat, over four million people voted for the party and gained 14% of the national vote.

The BNP, meanwhile, stood just eight candidates in 2015, compared to 338 in 2010, and averaged just 0.5% of the vote where it stood.

Britain First's year was one of stagnation, too. Its huge social media footprint was not translated into any growth in offline activism and the group failed to mobilise more than 200 people for any single event.

Anti-Muslim hatred

The new far right is increasingly adopting a 'counter-jihadist' narrative - that Muslims and Islam are spreading, seeking to "take over" - in direct contrast to the racial nationalism (and often open anti-Semitism) of the "old" far-right groups.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing trends of 2015 was the seeming normalisation of this far-right rhetoric, especially in connection immigration and Muslims.

Papers such as the Express, Sun and Daily Mail have all published articles on the refugee crisis that would not have been out of place in the propaganda of the BNP or the NF.

Notable low points included Katie Hopkins' Sun article describing migrants as a "plague of feral humans" and claiming that "Some of our towns are festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum seekers".

Another low was the Daily Mail cartoon that portrayed migrants as rats swarming across the border in an image not just reminiscent of but very close to the Nazi antisemitic propaganda of the 1930s.

State of Hate 2015 available to order here