Everyone and no one is a fascist these days. Brexiteer? Fascist! England football supporter? Fascist! Believe in vaccination? Fascist! Zionist? Fascist! Jam before cream on a scone? Fascist!
We are lucky in this country to have never lived under fascist rule and we are rightly proud of fighting the Nazis, for not being swayed by Oswald Mosley and for never electing a fascist MP.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be wary of the far right, or think we are immune from its danger. Our first-past-the-post political system and mature democracy may have provided a bulwark against fascism so far, but if you want to see how quickly and effectively an extremist viewpoint can get close to power, you only need to look at Corbynism.
We’ve been reminded of Britain’s fascist past by Ridley Road, a BBC drama which finished on Sunday night, and which focused on 1960s neo-Nazi Colin Jordan. The series is fiction based on fact, and centres on a Jewish collective called the 62 Group who were inspired by the horrors of the Holocaust and were determined to destroy Jordan’s National Socialist Movement.
While the central story of a female hairdresser who infiltrated Jordan’s organisation to get evidence of the weapons he was amassing didn’t quite happen, almost everything else in the story did. The 62 Group did everything it could to find out and destroy the threat of Jordan and his thugs.
However, the series has upset some commentators who believe it was wrong to portray Jordan as a serious threat. The likes of Peter Hitchens insist that the man was a ‘national figure of fun’ and that fascism was never a real danger. But however amusing some may have found this Hitler-worshipping Cambridge-educated teacher and his mini-army, for the community he was terrorising he was anything but a joke.
I’ve interviewed many members of the 62 Group and for them he was a real threat. His thugs set synagogues and Jewish schools alight, leading to the death of one 15-year-old boy who jumped out of a window to escape a burning building. They were nasty thugs, intent on hurting people, who would beat up Jewish teenagers and daub ‘Perish Judah’ on the walls of Jewish buildings. And the reason Jordan didn’t have a larger impact is at least in part down to the people who forced him and his gang off the streets.
Fascism doesn’t need to take over a country to have an impact on some of its inhabitants. And in times of change or uncertainty, extremist views flourish. That’s why Jordan and his movement are a legitimate subject for dramatisation, and why all of us should be made aware of the dangers of the far right.
Jordan was just one in a line of extreme right-wing leaders in this country, of whom he was far from being one of the most successful – but that doesn’t mean his story shouldn’t be told. It is simply complacent to believe that British people couldn’t be attracted by the far right, or that they won’t pose a danger to us, especially when you see the success of far-right parties around the world.
The far right may have long been on the margins but they have always been with us. In the 1970s and 1980s the National Front was terrorising Asian and black communities, while their successors the BNP had over 50 seats in local government, one seat on the London Assembly and two Members of the European Parliament. Indeed, some 943,000 people voted for Nick Griffin’s party in the European elections of 2009.
That said, the far right don’t necessarily measure success, in this country at least, by how well they do in elections; it’s about how good they are at hurting the minorities they want to leave Britain. It’s true that when it comes to terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism poses a bigger risk and when it comes to anti-Semitism, the far left are a danger too. But it’s crazy to ignore the fact that the far right, attracted so often by the violence of the movement, are both dangerous terrorists and have anti-Semitism, as well as hatred for all minorities, at their core.
And while we don’t hear much about the far right in this country, that doesn’t mean they aren’t still around. In fact, they are in the ascendancy. Even as we mourn David Amess, whose murder is believed to be connected to Islamist terrorism, we are also thinking about Jo Cox, who was killed in 2016 by white supremacist Thomas Mair.
We should also remember the litany of recent atrocities perpetrated by far-right terrorists: the Pittsburgh synagogue attacks in 2018, which left 11 dead; the 2019 El Paso supermarket shooting in which 23 people were murdered; the 51 Muslims killed in the same year at their mosques in New Zealand; Anders Behring Breivik’s murderous rampage in Oslo just over a decade ago. These killers were all connected and inspired by each other online.
Last year the new head of MI5 Ken McCallum said that between March 2017 and January 2020 eight far right plots – 30% of the major terror plots it had disrupted at a late stage – had come from the far right. He added that far-right extremism was not ‘on the same scale as Islamicist extremist terror but it is growing’.
The movement is attracting young people via social media in what has been called the ‘gamification of mass murder’ by the CST, a Jewish group which monitors extremist behaviour. Attackers issue their manifestos about their aims, they wear videos on the helmets so they can live-stream their killing, as if in a video game, and they are awarded points for the numbers of dead.
We are living in a time of flux and confusion, when extremists are gaining more votes and power than they have for decades. The people who think we should ignore that are the real fools.
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