Off the Hook: How the HIJACKED LABOUR Conspiracy Theory Defends the Radical Right

Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

On December 7th 2019, Tom Newton Dunn, political editor of The Sun, published an editorial that promoted the conspiracy theories of the HIJACKED LABOUR (HL) project. Dunn praised the former intelligence officers behind HL for exhaustively charting Jeremy Corbyn’s “spider’s web of extensive contacts [that] stretch from Marxist intellectuals to militant groups and illegal terrorist organisations.” The now-defunct HL website claims that their research “presents a shocking image of how the Marxist radical left is intimately linked to Labour’s leadership and threatens the British way of life.”

Almost immediately, people started to point out that many of the alleged connections in this network were tenuous and inconsequential. Even more disturbingly, the chart cited several far-right sources, including the British People’s Party’s Aryan Unity and the antisemitic conspiracist website The Millennium Report. Daniel Trilling, author of Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain’s Far Right, characterized HL as the latest plot-twist in “the right’s narrative [to] make Labour [appear] not only objectionable but democratically illegitimate.” In an article for Tribune, journalist Daniel Finn recalls the ideologically-motivated murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2017, and speculates that HL may inspire more acts of far-right terrorism against prominent left-wing figures.

Trilling, Finn and others identify HL as a project that seeks to inject far-right talking-points into mainstream political discussion. They contend that the purpose of this metapolitical project is to vilify and imperil left-wing political figures. Yet, none of these commentators pick up on HL’s attempts to deflect criticism of the radical right and discredit organized resistance to right-wing extremism. Here, I address and analyze these overlooked aspects of the HL conspiracy theory.

Neo-Marxists in the Universities

HL’s researchers proclaim that the British higher education system has become infested with “neo-/cultural Marxist thinking.” They define “neo-Marxism” (which they also call “postmodernism”) as an ideology that permits people to tell lies whenever they want to get whatever they want. Whereas the HL researchers are valiant and impartial truth-tellers, university professors are deceitful and duplicitous subversives who aim to hasten the “communist” takeover of the UK.

Interestingly, they devote special attention to the Centre for Fascist, Anti-Fascist, and Post-Fascist Studies at Teesside University, formerly co-directed by CARR’s Director, Professor Matthew Feldman. Although HL claims that “there is no suggestion that the good professor and his staff are radical left,” they hint that “the study of ‘far-right’ groups . . . suggests a certain bias.” The strangely deferential and euphemistic remark carries two implications. First, the quotation marks around the phrase “far right” implies that academic researchers use this label unfairly and indiscriminately. Second, HL insinuates that those who research fascism or the radical right must be driven by some hidden and potentially “pro-communist” bias. Ultimately, these implications create the impression that the higher education system is full of “neo-Marxist” academics who cannot be trusted to tell the truth about the far-right.

Fascist Heroes and Antifascist Villains

HL does not believe that prejudice towards right-wing politics is confined to the universities. According to their chart, the “Militant Left” seeks to spread misinformation and cause chaos under the pretext of “antifascism.” The HL researchers portray the British antifascist archive and magazine Searchlight as a “hard left mag,” and allude to Gerry Gable’s (Searchlight’s founder and former editor) involvement in a BBC libel case from 1984. Instead of referencing a credible account of the “Maggie’s Militant Tendency” libel claim, HL chose to cite an article on the Aryan Unity website that appeared originally in a 1996 issue of Vanguard, the successor magazine to the National Front’s Nationalism Today. Although HL is hypersensitive to the Labour Party’s “extremism,” they seem indifferent and oblivious to any clear sign of fascist leanings. To turn HL’s logic against them, their use of a fascist website as a trustworthy source suggests a certain bias.

Additionally, HL posits the existence of a global “Antifascist Network” that orchestrates Antifa protests in the UK and US. They assert that Antifa’s “tactics of bullying, obstruction, violence [and] aggression” are identical to “those used by . . . the Italian fascists and the German Brown Shirts.” This is a typical instance of the “antifascists are the real fascists” calumny, which confuses tactics for ideology and flouts any scholarly definition of fascism.

Yet, HL’s hackneyed criticism of Antifa takes a deep dive into the warped world of online conspiracism when they reference a supposed “critique of Antifa” from The Millennium Report. The article features a meme from davidicke.com that depicts Antifa as “the elite’s proxy army to destroy your freedom,” and alleges that George Soros (characterized as “the ultimate anti-national identity bankroller”) has been covertly funding Antifa activism around the world. Countless right-wing conspiracy theorists paint Soros as a type of twenty-first century “Elder of Zion,” and recycle antisemitic tropes to accuse him of attempting to destroy Western Civilization. Consequently, this so-called critique of Antifa serves as a defense of the radical right groups that attempt to thwart the elite’s clandestine plot to enslave humanity.

Dual Strategies

As Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons observe, conspiracism is a “particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames the enemy as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm.” Yet, HL adds another element to the formula. Along with scapegoating “the left” and valorizing their own research, HL attempts to exculpate and normalize radical right movements. Whereas the democratically-elected members of the “hard-left” Labour Party are the “real threat to the UK,” the radical right are portrayed as innocent victims of “neo-Marxist” pseudoscholarship, Searchlight smears, and Antifa aggression.

The case of HL demonstrates that right-wing conspiracy theorists tend to use a dual strategy of attack (i.e. scapegoating) and defense (i.e. exoneration). They launch an offensive to invalidate criticism and opposition from academia and Antifa, which, in turn, validates the activity of their political allies from the radical right. Scholars of the radical right must be prepared to combat this metapolitical strategy of redefining the “normal” and “extreme,” and make sure that old articles from fascist magazines and antisemitic conspiracy theories play no part in the public sphere.

Mr Andrew Woods is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and a Doctoral candidate at Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism, University of Western Ontario. See his profile here.

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