The English Defence League tried to push an “anti-Islamic extremist” schtick which soon enough revealed itself to be old-fashioned xenophobia. Salma Yaqoob was interviewed and said that she would rather Muslims did not rise to the provocation, since street punch ups are, in fact, what the EDL are looking for. This debate on confrontation v ignore it and hope it will go away will no doubt continue.
What I found interesting was the role of the internet in right wing fringe, and by extension, any fringe politics.
For the authorities it means flash demonstrations, which are difficult to police:-
“The whole new dynamic here is the internet. All the communication and discussion goes on across the internet. At the last minute people can come together and form up and do whatever they choose really anywhere.”
That from the West Midlands Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Rowe who argued that the laws on public order need updating. She’s looking for more powers of course, to ban the EDL from protesting and also to ban the counter protesters.
(According to today’s Sunday Herald the Strathclyde Police are going to ban the newly formed Scottish Defence League from demonstrating in Glasgow.)
For the far right the internet brings together and politicises the disaffected who would once have moaned quietly in twos or threes in pubs.
Allan Urry (the presenter):- “The web is a big factor in how those on the right organise and speak with each other, validating their viewpoint. And it’s not just the EDL.”
Edmund Standing, the author of The BNP and the Online Fascist Network, was interviewed:-
“The internet has opened this stuff up to a wider audience. Anyone can get hold of this stuff and you don’t even have to join a wider group. You don’t have to know a single person. All you have to do is go on there and the ideological and intellectual justification for carrying out attacks, terrorist attacks, racist violence. . We don’t live in a society where people would tolerate people openly walking round the streets and tolerating Nazi ideas, race war and that kind of thing, so the Internet is re-invigorating it cos it’s easier getting it out to a wider audience, making it easier to connect to each other in a way that you couldn’t do in the past. . . ”
Edmund Standing went on to talk about how websites with recommendations for violence create an atmosphere encouraging the lone wolf would-be terrorist, which he thinks more dangerous than organised groups as they are harder to trace. Neil Lewington (possession of explosives) and Martin Gilleard (four home-made nail bombs) were both caught by chance.
The beauty of the internet is that it puts the like-minded in touch with each other, even though they may live in different cities or different countries. But the like-minded includes racist nutters, and racist nutters united are stronger than racist nutters alone. Racist nutter speaks unto racist nutter in cyberspace, then meet in the real world for a little aggro, or a solitary racist nutter has fantasies of himself as a hero cheered by websiters if he leaves a home-made explosive by a mosque.
Another feature of the internet is that as in places of recreation for wearers of gimp masks with safe words you can disguise your identity and get up to things you would rather other people didn’t know about. There is a fair amount of social stigma for Kevin Smith being seen to leave a Fascist meeting. On the web you can call yourself Akitsaws or Battle88 if you like, and bang slogans and diatribes from your keyboard. You can even get something of the excitement of being in a whipped up crowd as you hammer your keys, as is evident on many blog threads. In the 1930s the far right were famed for their quasi-military style marching and mass meetings where hecklers were chucked out with kickings and beatings. That sort of mass meeting has been replaced by the vituperative comments thread with abuse and counter-abuse, shared bigotry and violent fantasies.
Disseminating propaganda (yours) and information (mine) has become much cheaper. Statements like this one from the introduction of Steve Cohen’s book (1984) That’s Funny You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic will soon sound archaic:-
Even in draft form, the book has been attacked by individuals on the Left and the Right. However, what has made it possible and worthwhile has been the tremendous encouragement from so many different people (many of whom I have never met). Not least are those who have donated the entire cost of the production. . . .
That’s Funny is pamphlet size and prints out comfortably as a PDF. It was as a PDF that I read Edmund Standing’s The BNP and the Online Fascist Network. Costs of production and distribution hardly come into it now every person is their own publisher. (I would recommend Standing’s report if only to read the selected ravings of Lee John Barnes, who is given to obscene violent fantasies, sub-sub-sub Neitzschean abuse of Christianity and soft humankind in general mixed up with an Odin-worshipping paganism. Barnes is also a legal adviser to and occasional spokesman for the BNP. Having such an embarrassing loon in a position of power would be destructive to any mainstream party, but this all seems to be water off a duck’s back as far as the BNP crowd are concerned.)
So the internet has opened up debate to a far-flung audience and made disseminating information easier. But its anonymous nature presents difficulties, eg gauging how much of what is expressed on blogs is fantasy, wind up merchants, mischief makers, trolls, or infiltrators. In Canada the Human Rights Commission used to send out pseudo-Nazi provocateurs to see what they could elicit on Nazi hate sites by being more Nazi in their comments than the Nazis. Counter far right activity could include infiltrating their sites and spreading a few scurrilous rumours around, with some misdirection thrown in. If nothing else, it would piss them off.
Another aspect of anonymity is how to turn diatribes on threads in cyberspace to action in the real world, which includes keeping pressure on backsliders. BootFoot and HeadSkin swear to smite the foreigners then are no shows. An EDLeaguer who was one of the few who turned up to the 11th September Harrow protest complained (comment 155):-
“we had an almost non-existant turn out on sunday from the EDL, many of us were left with our dicks swinging in the breeze. Thanks to everybody who couldn’t be bothered to get out their pits and shout for the cause. i’m begining to think this is just an armchair warrior organisation. If you can’t be bothered to turn out to help us, go and join Granny Murrys kniting forum. With so few of us on sunday it was dangerous. Once again, Thanks.”
How the blog and the password-for-initiants forum will affect politics is still in the early stages, but as a start authoritarian governments try to control the internet and arrest bloggers as they have always seized printing presses and arrested writers. Advances in communications technology affect the dynamics of politics as advances in weapons technology affect the dynamics of war. The invention of printing, the growth in literacy, cheap pamphlets, photographs from the frontline of the American Civil War, the radio, the televised beatings of Civil Rights protesters and the napalm in Vietnam - all of them affected the politics of their times.