THE TERRORIST ATTACK IN CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand, in which 50 Muslim worshippers were murdered in cold blood, lifts the lid on something the left needs to wake up to quickly: the emergence of far right white supremacist violence as an international phenomenon.
The perpetrator of this mass murder came from Australia, where the public discourse demonising Muslims and migrants has shifted from the intolerant to the rabid. The detention of refugees in poorer neighbouring countries has become a bipartisan policy. Australia’s fulsome participation in the war in Iraq has encouraged anti-Muslim sentiment. Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp, which has a media monopoly in much of the country, has ratcheted up the hostility, with soft interviews of leading far right figures and its mainstreaming of white nationalist obsessions.
But there is nothing uniquely Australian about these developments. Fox News and other channels have helped legitimise extremist views in the US, just as Newsnight here gave a platform to Benjamin Jones, the leader of Generation Identity’s UK branch.
President Trump himself has peddled fears about the US becoming a “white minority country” and referred to white nationalists as “very fine people”. Meanwhile there has been an explosion in the number of white nationalist groups in the US, with almost all extremist murders in 2018 carried out by the far right.
This is not an aberration. There is now a sizeable section of the conservative movement in the US and elsewhere that rejects not just the social and economic egalitarian movements that democratic elections sometimes empower, but the very process that might bring this about. Rather than allow the unequal distribution of wealth and capitalism itself to be challenged, liberal democracy itself is rejected by these forces. Elite authoritarianism is the end - racial nationalism is the means that might build a popular base for this goal.
This helps explain why so much money is pouring into web-based sites that advocate hate. It explains why so-called ‘Tommy Robinson’, a figure with little popular support in the UK, is the best-funded politician in the country, receiving £350,000 in just two weeks. A recent report suggested moral and material support for him came from a range of non-British outfits, including US think tanks, right wing Australians and Russian trolls.
The violence advocated by far right social media is having a real impact on politics. Just a day before the Christchurch attack, a Green member of the New Zealand government was physically attacked on his way to work. Jo Cox MP was murdered by a man shouting British nationalist slogans during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign. Jeremy Corbyn was recently attacked in his own constituency. Seemingly random acts of violence - but all in a context where the far right is methodically organising again at football grounds, with ‘Tommy Robinson’ and anti- Muslim speakers addressing gatherings of the Football Lads Alliance.
External financing helps these narcissists find a purchase. But the ground is prepared by Tory politicians who compare Muslim women to “letter boxes”, the Home Office that hires vans to tell illegal immigrants to go home, the right wing media that legitimise Islamophobia - and monster journalists like Owen Jones who challenge this - and governments that recruit soldiers to bomb and wreak devastation in Muslim countries in pursuit of oil and empire.
Last year, for the first time in living memory, the far right was able to outnumber counter-fascist demonstrators on the streets of London. The rise of hard right extremism poses an existential threat to the ability of the left - and anybody else - to function on the most basic level, without being violently disrupted. And things are about to get a lot worse; US money and political support from the likes of Steve Bannon, former Trump adviser, are expected to fuel big gains for the far right across Europe in the upcoming elections to the European Parliament, building on the gains at national level of Orban in Hungary, the French National Front, German Alternative fur Deutschland and Italian Lega.
This poses a colossal challenge to our movement: to organise to ensure that we, and others in pursuit of democratic goals, can function safely. We need to build the broadest possible movement in support of democratic values and human rights, moving beyond formal elite democracy to strengthen civil society on the basis of greater social and economic equality. Ethnic and cultural minorities must be central to this coalition, along with a leading role for women, also targeted by the deeply misogynistic culture of the extreme right, as part of a mass anti-fascist movement that must reach into every aspect of society.
In the 1930s, a decade of economic depression nurtured fascism. We may be seeing a similar development and the stakes could be just as high.