A tale of two (or more) freedom movements

Yesterday and today, online adverts calling for “mass gatherings” against the lockdown received a fair bit of coverage in the mainstream media. They called on people to join the “UK Freedom Movement”, saying “no to the coronavirus bill, no to mandatory vaccines, no to the new normal and no to the unlawful lockdown”. Supposedly there are going to be demos in multiple towns and cities up and down the country this Saturday.

So this name “UK Freedom Movement” sounded familiar to some people. Or perhaps it just sounded suspicious. Also we have had our suspicions primed by the far-right Trumpist anti-lockdown protests in the USA which have had significant coverage over here. So people on twitter got busy, did some digging and discovered that Jayda Fransen, famous as co-leader of fascist outfit Britain First had registered a company in April 2020 called “Freedom Movement Ltd.” Seems like a bit too much of a coincidence right?

From that point, it went all over twitter that Britain First were behind these anti-lockdown protests. It looked like we were in for what some of us had been dreading – the spread of the far-right anti-lockdown movement from the USA to here.

I saw this, liked it and retweeted it, glad that someone had exposed this nefarious fascist ploy.

However, there was something about it that didn’t appear to quite add up. 

The evidence being circulated was a screenshot of the ad for the demo saying “UK Freedom Movement” on it and then another screenshot of a company registered to Jayda Fransen as “Freedom Movement Ltd”. But there didn’t appear to be anything further to link the two apart from the similarity of the name.

Some people from an outfit called scramnews.com did a bit more research and realised Jayda Fransen does have a ‘group’/YouTube channel called British Freedom Movement but no longer has anything to do with Britain First and there is also no real link between her and the demos on Saturday.

They pointed out that there is a far-right group called “UK Freedom Movement” [Broken link: ukfreedommovement.org. uk] which has been around for a while and appears mostly to consist of a guy called Richard Inman. It’s pro-Brexit, anti-Islam, Tommy Robinson-esque stuff.

So – mystery solved, right? Its not far-right Jayda Fransen but far-right Richard Inman who is behind the protests.

However… Inman’s UK Freedom Movement didn’t appear to mention these anti-lockdown protests on their website or social media, which was a bit odd for a group supposedly organising nationwide protests in two days time.

Now to a lot of this stuff, people might say – so what? It’s all splitting hairs which exact fascist group Jayda Fransen is in this week. Fair enough, yes, for the purposes of opposing them, it doesn’t much matter whether it’s Britain First, British Freedom Movement or whatever – all their politics are more or less interchangable. However, it’s still important to get the facts right. Good research and knowledge is important for anti-fascism, otherwise eventually no one believes anything you say.

Richard Inman himself eventually found out that the internet was saying he was organising demos up and down the country on Saturday and he took to YouTube to say that it was nothing to do with him. He said the police had been in touch with him to warn him off the illegal gatherings.

So, there are going to be demos on Saturday and they are organised by something called the UK Freedom Movement. But it’s not Jayda Fransen or even Richard Inman’s UK Freedom Movement, but a different unrelated UK Freedom Movement which is mostly made up of anti-vaxxers and conspiracists.

According to Hope not Hate researcher Patrik Hermansson it contained plenty of anti-semitic conspiracy type stuff, but it wasn’t promoting either Fransen or Inman’s groups and didn’t appear to share many members with either of these groups.

It would appear that two separate groups of people just happened to seize on the same very generic name.

SOME CONCLUSIONS

One moral of the story here is the unwillingness of people online to back down or consider their own position. People get very quickly entrenched and assume if you are asking for evidence however gently, that you must be hostile. I got blocked by people on my own side because I was asking questions. I guess they thought I was some sort of fascist apologist.

Another notable thing is the quick spread of some not-very-sound information. All this flurry of tweeting got picked up by some large and supposedly authoritative anti-fascist organisations with considerable reach. UAF tweeted about it promoting the supposed link to Richard Inman and to Jayda Fransen, and Stand Up to Racism have put out a press release mixing up all the various bits of the story, saying UKFM were an anti-vaxx group, whose director was Jayda Fransen.

So obviously there’s the danger of crying wolf and declaring people fascists when then aren’t, which then means no one believes you when the threat is real. There is also a danger of people potentially utilising tactics appropriate for fascist groups against more ambiguous targets. 

AGAINST CONSPIRACY

This not to dismiss the mass gatherings planned for this weekend, although they appear if anything to be closer to the left than to the right, they are extremely worrying in a number of ways.

Britain has the second worst death toll from coronavirus in the entire world because of our irresponsible far-right Tory government. And now that same government is following Trump’s lead and wants to end the lockdown and send us all back to work to save the economy. At least working class people in manual occupations are to be sent back to work, while middle class people sitting in front of laptops can continue to work from home. This will result in an even greater death toll, which will fall disproportionately on the poor, the working class and BAME communities.

These anti-lockdown protests play right into the hands of the Tories who want us all to die for the economy. Also they are promoting dangerous conspiratorial thinking and opposition to either any potential vaccine against the virus or indeed the notion of a virus at all. This again risks adding to the death toll of people like bus drivers, care home stuff and construction workers – all of whom are dying from coronavirus at a greater than average rate.

Also conspiracist thinking is inherently fuzzy with no defined edges or basis on which to accept or reject any information. It functions in many instances as a gateway drug to the far-right. You start off being skeptical about fluoride and wake up one day tweeting anti-semitic Rothschild conspiracies with no idea how you got from one to the other.

For mutual aid and co-operation against the virus and social solidarity and struggle against the state and against capitalism.

4 thoughts on “A tale of two (or more) freedom movements

  1. […] There are a number of reasons why the story spread the way it did. The initial image told a simple story that fit into an easy narrative and played into fears of far right anti-lockdown protests similar to ones that have taken place in the US and Germany. The mechainisms of sharing information on the internet are also relevant. Despite an avowed commitment from social media companies to tacking fake news, preference is still given to the virality of a post, rather than it’s source. A final contribution was made by the sameness of the names of the organisations involved. The average information consumer would likely not feel need to check further to see if Freedom Movement Ltd and the UK Freedom Movement were different organisations, in fact the similarity of names would be evidence enough. By the time antifascist researchers had properly vetted the story it was too late. Some were even blocked by those on their own side for asking for more evidence for the story! […]

  2. Basso says:

    Thanks for this article, it confirms the research I have been doing into the background to these moronic demonstrations. A bit difficult to see how you come to the conclusion ‘although they appear if anything to be closer to the left than to the right,’ though – I would be interested in any evidence you have in this regard.

  3. […] There are a number of reasons why the story spread the way it did. The initial image told a simple story that fit into an easy narrative and played into the fears of far right anti-lockdown protests similar to ones that have taken place in the US and Germany. The process of sharing information on the internet is also relevant. Despite an avowed commitment from social media companies to tacking fake news, preference is still given to the virality of post, rather than it’s source. A final contribution was made by the sameness of the names of the organisations involved. The average information consumer would likely not feel need to check further to see if Freedom Movement Ltd and the UK Freedom Movement were different organisations, in fact the similarity of names would be evidence enough. By the time antifascist researchers had properly vetted the story it was too late. Some were even accused of being fascist sympathesiers for questioning the story! […]

  4. Yvon Barker says:

    “…it’s still important to get the facts right.” Thank you very, very much for this shred of reason in an insane world. Your research is much appreciated!
    I confess I was too horrified when I first saw this flyer to get past “anti-vaxxer lunatic fringe” going round and round in my head. Your analysis has let me breathe and investigate this rationally.
    The potential for social change is so close in this crisis that I want to weep that it will be ignored…

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