In 2014 a senior Home Office adviser told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Government is putting an emphasis on the “global jihadist agenda” while potentially ignoring the growing threat from the far-right at home. He went on to issue a stark warning: “I wouldn't want to get to the point where something happens and we look back and think actually, we should have addressed that as well.” In response to this, an Association of Chief Police Officers spokesman told the MailOnline: “We are not seeing an increase in right-wing extremist attacks or activity.”
Two years later, Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered in her own constituency by the neo-Nazi fanatic Thomas Mair.
At the start of this year, Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope not Hate, warned of an increase in anti-left wing harassment and attacks. He stressed that “political and economic conditions for right-wing extremist groups could hardly be better,” and called on the government to do more to “get to grips with the growing threat posed by far-right violence.” Figures recently released by the National Police Chiefs Council under a freedom of information request from The Sunday Times show the number of far-right Prevent referrals for extremism increased by 74 per cent in the last year, from 323 cases in 2014-15 to 561 in 2015-16.
Responding to the report, Matthew Feldman, co-director of the centre for fascist, anti-fascist and post-fascist studies at Teesside University, said: “Over the last decade, governmental and media focus has been overwhelmingly concentrated upon the threat from jihadi Islamist extremism and terrorism… Given finite resources and time, this has necessarily meant that less attention has been trained upon the radical right, which has increasingly turned to the lowest common denominator of anti-Muslim bigotry since 7/7.”
This is backed up by an extensive study into “countering lone actor terrorism” warning that the focus on Muslim-related extremism overlooked the growing threat from the far-right. And that far-right extremists were much more lethal and harder to detect. Mair, by all accounts, was a “lone wolf” attacker. But he didn’t single-handedly create his ideology. Aided by material conditions and mental vulnerability, it was developed, learnt, shared and cultivated by a growing global network of far-right extremists, only to be egged on by the rhetoric of politicians and publications with their own political agendas.
A perfect storm has been created in the aftershock of the 2008 financial crash and 35 years of neo-liberal neglect. Add austerity, cuts to public services, lack of affordable housing, depressed wages, globalisation, 15 years of perpetual war and ever-increasing terror, with all the racism that entails – and the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War – and you have fertile conditions for fascism to grow. From Brexit to Trump to Le Pen, fear dominates the Western landscape. Politicians manipulate anger with rhetoric while right-wing media outlets act as the perfect wingmen.
The Daily Mail chose to not feature Jo Cox’s murder trial, a terrorist assassination of a sitting MP, on their front page this morning. If Isis flags had been found in Mair’s flat instead of Nazi paraphernalia, it is safe to assume this would not have been the case. You had to turn all the way to page 30 to read about the trial, passing a full page story headlined “Laughing migrants” on page 25 as you go.
The media and politicians will continue to play their part. It’s time we stepped up a gear and played ours, inspired by the work of Jo and words of her extraordinary husband Brendan: “Those in politics, the media or in our own communities who seek to divide us will face an unassailable wall of British tolerance and the articulation of Jo’s belief – that we hold more in common than that which divides us.”
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