In November 2015 I went undercover to the Britain First party conference, posing as one of the group’s many young Facebook supporters. I had expected a big conference hall full of young xenophobes, I had expected debate and I had expected to fear for the future. Instead I ended up sat in on what I can only describe as Islamophobes Anonymous, a gathering of about 30 people with greying hair and loose polo shirts talking about how much they hate and/or fear Islam.
They searched my phone, emptied my pockets and interrogated me about my beliefs before I could gain access. There was some loose conflict symbolism, with the meeting choosing to change Paul Golding’s role of leader to “Commanding Officer”. At one point Golding even warning of "a bloody civil war".
The rhetoric sounds scary. But after leaving, I found it difficult to fear Britain First.
It consists of only about 30 to 40 real members, many of whom I recognise from the conference in this week’s video of them invading a halal slaughterhouse. None of them struck me as very physically or mentally threatening.
In fact, what I found most interesting about the group was that it seemed almost a parody of itself. When you expect militaristic nationalism, they march in with army regalia and do the Lord’s Prayer. When you expect soft filler music, they play the Shire theme from Lord of the Rings in an un-ironic attempt to hark back to a whimsical England about as real as Tolkien’s middle-earth.
Thankfully I may not have to convince people of Britain First’s irrelevancy for much longer, as Golding’s run for London mayor looks set to get less than 1 per cent of the vote, despite the campaign begging for money since April. Even at the end of their videos they’re telling people to focus on the slightly more winnable, but still unattainable, London Assembly seat.
So the best way to view the racist and Islamophobic invasion of a slaughterhouse is as the death throes of a small and nasty far-right group, who just so happen to have a strong social media presence including 1.3 million Facebook likes.
Hell, in a world where the video of a man singing in Korean and doing that strangely iconic horse-riding dance can get 2.5 billion views on YouTube, 1.3 million becomes a bit of an empty number, doesn’t it? Pressing like on a Facebook page requires less thought, less commitment and less accountability than signing up to a political party. A tiny fraction of them would ever actually mobilise.
So maybe Paul Golding was sad when only 0.003 per cent of his supposed support turned up to the conference. But more likely, Golding knew they wouldn’t turn up and didn’t care. Fully aware that the majority of the 1.3 million don’t have to agree with their policies, that they just have to agree with the xenophobic memes they put out, and that this gives Britain First the power to call themselves a political movement rather than a racist drinking group, too old and overweight to do anything but intimidate members of the public and lose elections.
It’s tempting to look at the social media clout of Britain First and convince yourself that you see a genuine threat, especially as this number amounts to more than three times any other political party’s membership. It’s easy to envision 1.3 million racists going to the ballot box and making Britain First a new political force.
As I have learned, the best way to deal with Britain First is to completely ignore it, see it as a group project and an online message board for the angry and bitter, and move on. Trust me: we have very little to worry about.
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