Britain First is a ‘radical right’, ultra-nationalist movementthat promotes anti-Muslim hostility and has incited racial and religious hatred. The group has been led until recently by Jayda Fransen and Paul Golding, both of whom are now serving a prison sentence for religiously aggravated hate speech that incited anti-Muslim hatred. Despite numerous concerns raised above about the group, on 29 November 2017 the President of the United States, Donald Trump, retweeted three videos from the Britain First account related to alleged Islamist violence. The videos purported to show a Muslim man destroying the Virgin Mary statute; another allegedly depicting a Muslim migrant attacking a boy on crutches; and a third of Muslim men pushing a boy off a building. These graphic videos are all horrific in nature, yet we know that none of the videos involved British Muslims. All were, in fact, ‘fake news’. The videos had all originally been posted by Jayda Fransen, co-leader of the radical right group Britain First.
Fransen took to social media to show her appreciation for Donald Trump, sending the following message to her followers:
“GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP!”
“GOD BLESS AMERICA!”
Trump’s decision to become a megaphone for anti-Muslim hate groups also led to worldwide condemnation from British political leaders like Sadiq Khan. The mayor of London responded to Trump in the following way: “Britain First is a vile, hate-fuelled organisation whose views should be condemned, not amplified.”
Furthermore, in a statement issued from Downing Street, British Prime Minister Theresa May stated: “Britain First seeks to divide communities by their use of hateful narratives that peddle lies and stoke tensions…”
Trump, however, responded via Twitter to the Prime Minister’s concerns by asserting that Britain should be focused on tackling “the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom.”
The current rhetoric surrounding Donald Trump’s election, Brexit and the political ascendancy of radical right parties in Europe and beyond means that endorsing such hateful behaviour is extremely damaging. It has the ability to ignite further racial and faith-based schisms, and can be divisive for those interested in promoting diversity. Another fear is that Trump’s actions will spill over onto the dark side of the net and allow those with radical right sympathies to capitalise upon such incidents in order to promote their own warped version of what it means to be ‘British’.
Hate Rhetoric Leads to Anti-Muslim Hostility
In an American context, Trump’s behaviour has led to questions about how political leaders can exacerbate hate. For example, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has now stated that Trump’s anti-Muslim sentiments are a contributing factor towards Muslims feeling increased levels of anxiety and apprehension. The Council specifically cites how Muslim women are now deciding not to appear in public wearing the veil, due fears that they will be targeted in anti-Muslim attacks. The Council also noted that President Trump’s failure to tackle white supremacism and Neo-Nazi violence was leading to a view that Muslims in America were second-class citizens.
In a series of instances, the rise of Islamophobia in the US has been steadily increasing fear and perpetuating anti-Muslim hostility. For example, Jeremy Joseph Christian became enraged when he saw a young Muslim woman wearing a hijab on a commuter train in the US, and began verbally abusing her and used a knife to kill two passengers who tried to intervene. Ricky John Best, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche were killed, while a third person, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, was seriously wounded. Jeremey Christian was charged with two counts of aggravated murder but defended the killings in a courtroom rant that included the following:
“Death to the enemies of America. Leave this country if you hate our freedom,” he said. “You call it terrorism, I call it patriotism.”
The rise of Islamophobic incidents in the US also show a revealing pattern of online and offline attacks that have been conducted against Muslims. Yet this is not restricted geographically by any means.
The Tommy Robinson Effect
As Twitter banned the Britain First Leaders, it also took steps to ban and suspend the Twitter account of Tommy Robinson. According to Twitter, Tommy Robinson (who also had blocked me) had breached its ‘hateful conduct policy.’
Unpacking some of the hate around Tommy Robinson is important. He has been arrested before, and was recently sent to prison for potentially prejudicing a court case. Yet Robinson’s hate against Muslims goes far beyond the world of social media. Indeed, if not challenged his behaviour can create a polarised society with deep-seated divisions which, unless tackled, help the radical right extremists to mobilise and recruit those disaffected individuals who are already on the edge.
In turn, the images and videos of ISIS or IS (Daesh, or the Islamic State) using the Internet to broadcast the beheadings of the US journalists, Steven Sotloff, James Foley and the British aid worker David Haines likewise helps create a recruitment drive for the radical right. The fear now is that such actions will not only indoctrinate new members to the radical right, but also lead to resentment and hate crimes committed against Muslims in Britain and elsewhere. This is worrying because the Internet can play a key role in providing a forum for radical right extremists and similar splinter groups who attempt to capitalise on such incidents.
For example, Darren Osborne, the man who carried out a van attack against Muslim worshippers in Finsbury Park – and had previously threatened to kill all Muslims – had searched for material posted online by both Britain First and Tommy Robinson. In fact, in court, it was even reported that Osborne had actually received messages from Robinson. One, sent in the aftermath of the Manchester arena attack on 22 May 2017, read: “There is a nation within a nation forming just beneath the surface of the UK. It is a nation built on hatred, violence and on Islam.” Interestingly, Osborne also received a direct Twitter message from the deputy leader of Britain First, Jayda Fransen, and he thereafter searched for material Fransen published online.
Whilst I welcome Twitters’ decision to suspend Tommy Robinson’s account, I believe social media companies should be doing more to tackle the threat posed by the radical right – before it spills offline and we see the rise in hate crimes and fear. Whilst Tommy Robinson maybe in prison, his message of hate and intolerance will continue to reverberate until we as a society play our role in countering this message of hate with tolerance and peace.
Dr. Imran Awan is a Senior Fellow at CARR, and Associate Professor in Criminology at the Centre for Applied Criminology in Birmingham City University. See his profile at:
© Imran Awan. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).