Never have I ever been as ashamed to call myself either British, English or Geordie after the scenes we saw over the weekend in what some of the media called anti-antiracist protestors descending in cities such as London [Pictured above with the image from Sky News] and Newcastle in quite frankly horrendous and embarrassing.
This was, in the immediate sense, in response to vandalism that had been seen the weekend before during the Black Lives Matter protests. The Churchill memorial had been vandalised (not for the first time), a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston as toppled in Bristol which prompted some councils to take discussions about the statues they have in their local authorities. The same Churchill memorial, as well as a host of others, had been boarded up in anticipation of another wave of protests.
Though why this was the case in Newcastle I don’t know. They gathered defending the monument to Earl Grey, a statue to the Prime Minister at the time of the abolition of slavery. Perhaps because it had been temporarily on the topple the slavers interactive map before being removed but even if there was a real threat to it, how on earth would someone bring it down? It is over 100ft in the air. Only a lightning strike has ever accomplished that. It was absurd and the videos of chants ‘you’re not English anymore’ to Black Lives Matter protestors; purely for having a different view is sickening.
While this was undoubtedly the right thing to do to avoid any further damage, the perceived narrative was that British history is under threat and who can blame them when the Prime Minister sent out a 251 word, 8 tweet thread about the boarding up of Churchill’s memorial. The tweet was done to prevent further damage but the language was inflammatory to a cliché that really do believe they are besieged…
‘The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square is a permanent reminder of his achievement in saving this country – and the whole of Europe – from a fascist and racist tyranny. It is absurd and shameful that this national monument should today be at risk of attack by violent protestors. Yes, he sometimes expressed opinions that were and are unacceptable to us today, but he was a hero, and he fully deserves his memorial. We cannot now try to edit or censor our past. We cannot pretend to have a different history. The statues in our cities and towns were put up by previous generations. They had different perspectives, different understandings of right and wrong. But those statues teach us about our past, with all its faults. To tear them down would be to lie about our history, and impoverish the education of generations to come. As for the planned demonstrations, we all understand the legitimate feelings of outrage at what happened in Minnesota and the legitimate desire to protest against discrimination. Whatever progress this country has made in fighting racism – and it has been huge – we all recognise that there is much more work to do. But it is clear that the protests have been sadly hijacked by extremists intent on violence. The attacks on the police and indiscriminate acts of violence which we have witnessed over the last week are intolerable and they are abhorrent. The only responsible course of action is to stay away from these protests.
The Twitter thread was far longer than anything the Prime Minister has tweeted out officially on coronavirus which open sum up to suggestions that defending statues and creating a culture war is more important than public health. Note also, how dissenting voices from the scientific community are not being allowed to attend the daily briefings regularly now. We haven’t seen Professor Van Tam since stating ‘the rules apply to all’ on May 29th. I wonder why that is? The Prime Minister has not helped to dampen the flames, but its biggest instigator is on the other side of the Atlantic whose narrative Johnson seems to have closely followed.
Yes, that means the President of the United States, Donald Trump.
I haven’t yet published any writing on Trump’s spell as President on this blog but I felt he should have been convicted at his impeachment trial in January. Once he survived it, I felt he would go onto secure a second term in office in Novembers election on the back of a him vs the establishment narrative.
Then came coronavirus. Trump’s handling of the pandemic has been nothing short of shameful. From falsely blaming inadequate governors in states that were struggling to saying they should be appreciative of his help playing golf when the death toll hit 100,000. His input was certainly not helpful when he suggested people could use disinfectant to cure coronavirus and shamelessly promoting anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment, even admitting to taking it despite the dangers. The only thing worse about that drug is that the UK bought £35m worth of it.
It has been disgraceful but if coronavirus is not Trump’s downfall then hopefully it is his reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. Having said that, after his reaction to NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee instead of standing for the US National anthem in 2016, his reaction to Black Lives Matter protestors has been predictable but embarrassing.
For a country that even Boris Johnson called a ‘bastion of freedom’ in the House of Commons, seeing the use of tear gas and riot gear on protestors is a depressing sight. Streets in the US have looked like a warzone, scenes you would expect to see from a tyrannical dictatorship, not supposedly the greatest power in the world. The president has had police use tear gas to clear the streets of protestors so he could pose for a photo opportunity in a nearby church with a bible in an unconstitutional one according to The LA Times and now holds the notorious record as the first US President to sleep in the White House bunker. I’m sure we don’t need any reminding what 20th Century dictator was famous for that near the end.
During the protests, Trump has been more than keen to use the national guard and celebrated their apparent successes when they went into Minneapolis.
Other Democrat run Cities and States should look at the total shutdown of Radical Left Anarchists in Minneapolis last night. The National Guard did a great job, and should be used in other States before it is too late!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2020
It is interesting to see how different he sees these protests compared to the reopen protests the other month. In Detroit, you had large groups of largely white individuals protesting against lockdown imposed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer for the sake of haircuts and armed crowds storming the Michigan public building. That really looked intimidating. Yet, Trump gave them support, claiming them to be ‘good people’ and when black people are protesting for equality and their basic human rights; they’re anarchists.
It is all part of the narrative they want to set, these protestors are the bad guys and I don’t remember hearing much about Rudy Giuliani’s ‘when the looting starts, the shooting starts’ line he was pushing in his fiery interview with Piers Morgan…
Of course, he still loves Twitter and that has been the most revealing of his character and none more so than this tweet on May 31st though. His colours are laid bare…
The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2020
It is not the first time Trump has tweeted about Antifa, saying last year in a Tweet he wanted to label it as a terrorist organisation and has been labelling some opponents as this since his inauguration. He has continued his campaign by claiming that 75-year-old Buffalo protestor Martin Gugino who was knocked down by police was an ‘ANTIFA provocateur’. There is one logistical problem for Trump.
Antifa is not one single organisation. It has no leadership and because it is not an organisation, it cannot be labelled as a terrorist organisation. It is broadly a concept of being anti-fascist. They are opposed to fascism. Fascism is a far-right nationalist, authoritarian style dictatorship that promotes nationalism and typically scapegoats others. It is the same political doctrine that 20th-century dictators such as Francisco Franco in Spain, Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany subscribed to. In my eyes is one of those things that you are either align yourself with it or against and if you are in between you are indirectly complicit.
Former US Secretary of Labour Robert Reich has long refused to use the word to describe Trump but he has now…
I have held off using the f word for three and a half years, but there is no longer any honest alternative. Trump is a fascist, and he is promoting fascism in America.— Robert Reich (@RBReich) June 3, 2020
Historian Robert A Paxton argued in his “Five Stages” essay that fascism could only appear when a society that has known democracy and the people can be disillusioned with it. However, these movements often need a huge moment of crisis to capitalise on, hardening into fascist regimes when they are given the opportunity by enfeebled conservative elites hoping to hold on to power. That was certainly the situation in Germany when Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933 with the German conservative elites fearful of the spectre of Communism.
In the 1930s it was the Great Depression, in the present, it was the aftermaths of the 2008 banking collapse that saw a rise in the modern far-right. Disillusionment with democracy came in the UK which resulted in Brexit and was only exasperated as Westminister struggled to get their head around it under Theresa May. The vote was seen to be giving a kicking the establishment. A weakened establishment in these situations will turn to fascist individuals or at least someone more extreme fearing change. In Jeremy Corbyn, Labour had the furthest left leader they have had in a generation. Brexit toppled both David Cameron and Theresa May, so is it any wonder they turned to a charlatan like Boris Johnson; Johnson who has facilitated racism and division through comments such Muslim women looking like letterboxes. In the US, after eight years of Obama in the White House, it looked like the Republicans would go with another tired name in Bush; this time Jed. That did not happen as Trump came in from the outside and surprisingly took the nomination and the presidency against another tired name; Clinton, this time Hilary.
I suspect it is more likely the case with Trump than Johnson, especially after the latest claims made by John Bolton regarding China’s detention camps and the fact he did it with migrants in his country. Johnson, on the other hand, is a populist and a racist, but a fascist I’m not so sure. Either way, they have both sowed division for the far right to capitalise on further. Remember, it was the far-right themselves claiming Johnson’s victory in December, which in itself was a shift to the right, as a victory for them.
There has been this feeling in for a while in the way he dismisses journalists stories as ‘fake news’ or critical of their ratings as if it delegitimises them, is as you would expect from someone who sees himself as a dictator hellbent on silencing all criticism to him. Trump has been accused of fascism before with his election based on heavily nationalistic rhetoric.
Trump’s tweets have an impact. As such a high profile public figure his words from slogans such as MAGA (Make America Great Again) to fake News, his words are quite often regurgitated. Even across this side of the Atlantic, fake news, a concept he introduced to the public lexicon in 2016 is now well used and that same has been happening with ‘Antifa’. That is a phrase I have seen on social media, picked up on by right-wing nationalists.
They are amplified by the press and his other allies. Trump’s narrative of the far left hijacking the Black Lives Matter protests have been used too by the likes of Johnson but also the British press. I was surprised to see The Times running that narrative too with Star was actor John Boyega featuring in headline image. Equally, The Telegraph has jumped on it too by criticising Black Lives Matter for being neo-Marxist as part of a narrative that anything on the political left, is bad news. That is where Germany was during the 1920s and early 1930s as the media and judiciary placed a heavy bias towards the political right.
Front page headlines of tabloids such as The Sun and The Daily Mail have for years been scapegoating immigrants or any asylum seeker as abusing the system. Years of misleading headlines regarding the EU eventually contributed to Brexit and helped the rise of the far-right in this country. By amplifying the voices of the likes of Trump, Johnson, Robinson instead of calling their comments out for what they really are. It is not just the Murdoch tabloids either.
The BBC is also guilty of being complicit in this rise by giving them a voice and therefore legitimacy. Question Time allowed former BNP leader Nick Griffin a slot on their show and given Nigel Farage a spot on the show 32 times by March 2018 despite never being an elected MP despite 7 attempts. Yet, he walked away from UKIP when it went too racist even for him but the immigrant-bashing narrative and the infamously shocking ‘enough is enough’ billboard has contributed more than enough to the rise of the far-right. They have helped normalise it.
This has all contributed to the rise of the far-right and the advent of social media has only made it easier for such views exploiting peoples anger and feeling besieged to be shared. How else would someone like Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley Lennon), founder of the EDL have gained such a following so quickly? Robinson posted a video claiming he would be attending protests in London calling on ‘Every single man should be in London next Saturday or forever don’t call yourself a patriot‘ in a bizarre video he posted online blasting anyone he could, including pop group Little Mix. It was quite bizarre. The very idea of him being there meant it would be trouble, just look at the protest he was able to organise from his jail cell at Belmarsh.
He did not attend in the end but even without his attendance, the damage was done.
The scene was set and they were shocking. With Black Lives Matter movement withdrawing their planned protest, the far-right racists were left to their own devices with nothing protest against than the police. The people who were protecting the statues such as Churchill and the Cenotaph now had to protect the statues from the very same people who’s stated aim was protecting the statues. It is baffling. The impact of Robinson is indirect but it compelled people to come from as far away from London as Sunderland; one such individual arrested for kicking a police officer.
A video was posted of showing these ‘protestors’ charging at police in front of the cenotaph with some of them throwing Nazi salutes. That is disgusting. The BBC reported on this as ‘people raising their arms’. Why not call this out for what it really was? The Nazi salute. I mean really, all those who sacrificed in that war would have been reeling in their graves if they could see what was happening in their country in 2020.
Let me make this bluntly clear, they wanted to defend the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country in war, including the second world war yet here they are embracing the same evil, the same hatred and the same toxic ideology. They fought to defeat fascism in Europe, yet they are embracing the same evil. It is sickening, disgusting and an outright disgrace!
On Sunday, the Mail on Sunday of all papers ran the headline ‘What happened to tolerant Britain’. I’m afraid they need to take a good look in the mirror. As Owen Jones mentioned in his Guardian column two years ago, the media have been helping legitimise them. If you want a return to a more tolerant Britain then our leaders need robust fact-checking Twitter has already started that with Trump), the far-right nationalists, the racists, fascists need to not have a platform or be called out for what they really are…