Saturday saw the public debut of a new attempt to “unite the right”. A new organisation called “Hearts of Oak” held its inaugural demo in Parliament Square. The backers of this new organisation makes it look like an attempt to reboot the coalition that emerged around the “Day for Freedom” in May 2018, which saw a coming together of the Tommy Robinson/EDL/DFLA crowd, less thuggish but no less racist UKIP supporters and a newer force of alt-right fans of YouTube provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos and Sargon of Akkad. At the time this demo drew around 5000 people and looked like a really dangerous new coming together of the far-right.
Saturday’s demo, on the contrary, had the big screen and some of the same ‘big name’ speakers, but drew a mere 100-150 people. This is certainly a relief, as anti-fascists had been expecting worse. Tommy Robinson had backed the demo and spoke via video link having “fled” to Spain to escape a made-up arson attack on his house. Normally he can get at least 1000 of his supporters on the streets just on his word, so it had been expected that there would be at least 1000 potentially violent Tommy-fans out in central London today.
On June 13th an extremely violent crowd of 2000-5000 “statue defenders” gathered in central London to take on Black Lives Matter partially on Robinson’s urging. Deprived of any opposition to attack, they attacked police and journalists and abused members of the public, until what remained of their demo was chased off the streets by BLM protesters. Off the back of this, there was certainly a worry that today could have seen a large and menacing far-right crowd and perhaps the birth of worrying new far-right movement. So what went wrong for them?
Cult of personality
It would appear this is all tied up with the cult of personality around Tommy Robinson (Stephen Yaxley-Lennon to his mum). He has a personal following which is able to galvanise large groups of people – hence the worry when he lends his support to anything. The protests to “Free Tommy” when he was sent to prison demonstrate this – they were the largest far-right events of any form since the Second World War. However, Yaxley has recently been disappointing his fans. He posted absolutely splenetic video rants about the modifying of Churchill’s statue, ordering his supporters to turn out in London against BLM, and then failed to show himself. He was eventually tracked down on holiday in Spain. He then was due to appear at this Hearts of Oak launch, but bailed on that too, claiming the reason he had been in Spain for several weeks was because of a previously unmentioned arson attack on “my property … my wife’s property” which had caused him to permanently flee the country with his family and seek asylum in Spain. The suggestion was that “it wasn’t Muslims who done this, it was after all the BLM stuff” quickly unravelled as there are no records of any such arson attacks.
In the past, as with the “Free Tommy” phenomenon, his attempts to paint himself as a martyr have proven very successful and lucrative for him, boosting his fame and his bank balance. This attempted martyrdom does not appear to have been so convincing or successful. It would appear rather that Robinson’s actions might be more motivated by worries over his upcoming defamation trial against Jamal Hijazi and the possibility that he could (like Katie Hopkins, lest we forget) lose his house if a big payout is required.
The problem with a cult of personality is that you are totally dependent on that person’s actual personality. Given the Robinson is largely concerned with number one and a little too fond of the high life and the cocaines, this creates a problem for the cultists, especially when, as in this case, he appears to have abandoned his supporters and fucked off the Spain. I would suggest it is largely this which is responsible for the lower than expected turn out today.
Feminism not racism is the answer to sexual violence
The hook they were hanging this demo on was a call to deport the “Rochdale 3” – men jailed for child sexual exploitation offences in 2012 who are now out of prison. This sees the resurrection of the highly racialised far-right narratives of Muslim “grooming gangs” targeting “our” girls which have proven so successful for the far-right in the last few years. The patriarchal and racist assumptions underlying all of this have been picked apart by a number of commentators and also directly challenged by the Feminist Anti-Fascist mobilisations that occurred at the end of 2018. These mobilisations made it clear that feminism not racism is the answer to sexual violence and abuse and that the far-right’s exclusive focus on white victims and Muslim perpetrators excuses and enables any abuse that doesn’t fit this model.
The other thing the far-right love to avoid talking about is the large numbers of paedophiles, sexual abusers and rapists within their own ranks. Famously, Richard Price, a co-founder of the EDL along with Tommy Robinson, was defended by Robinson when jailed for making images of child abuse. But this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Various sites have attempted to collate the long list of far-right abusers. Here are the main ones:
- pae-DL! The child abusers at the heart of Britain’s far right
- Far Right Sexual Offences
- Our Updated List Of Racists & Bigots Who Are Also Child Molestors
- Far-right sex offenders update
The Tommy fanboys also of course ignore the fact that their hero, while busy making a name for himself as a “journalist”, nearly caused the collapse of a one of these child sexual exploitation trials, thus clearly demonstrating his primary concern is notoriety, publicity and money for himself, rather than any concern for the survivors.
Hearts of Oak – threat or a joke?
Tommy Robinson has been through a series of new vehicles, attempted launches and abandoned organisations. He was a member of the BNP, then founded the EDL and also tried the British Freedom Party briefly. He left the EDL for Quilliam in 2013, decided to be a professional de-radicaliser, gave up that when it stopped paying, tried to found a British PEGIDA in 2015, and then abandoned that when it didn’t go anywhere. He reinvented himself as a journalist with Rebel News, left Rebel News, and tried to join UKIP but could only be an advisor, then tried to become an independent MEP and failed at that. So now its launch has been a damp squib, is Hearts of Oak set to be merely the latest in a whole series of cast-off projects? Or does it still have the potential to be a dangerous new far-right force? I guess the jury is still out on that, but the initial evidence of a boring and poorly attended demo is encouraging.
Their failure but ours too
However, before we give ourselves a big pat on back, anti-fascists and anti-racists also need to look at themselves a little. The failure of their demo was nothing to do with us, as their demo was unopposed. It is definitely a failure that there was no mobilisation against the launch of a new Tommy Robinson vehicle in central London. There was an idea to colonise their hashtags for the day and fill them up with content pointing out their hypocrisy and complicity in covering up sexual abuse from their own side. This was successful as far as it goes but is clearly a weak and limited strategy. Even if you are completely successful you risk just making their talking points more prominent.
If the far-right are not opposed on the streets, sometimes the embarrass themselves and implode to everyone’s great amusement, but far more often they get to feel confident and strong, and come back next time stronger in greater numbers. This can lead to a situation where they quickly seem to become too powerful to oppose. This was what happened back in 2018 after the “Day for Freedom” and then the “Free Tommy” demos, when suddenly we had far-right demos of 10,000 people in central London and no infrastructure or capacity to oppose them. It was only with huge amounts of work that the situation was pulled back by the end of the year to rough parity where we were able to mobilise roughly the same numbers as them.
Anti-racism and anti-fascism ought to be the same struggle
The far-right have been forced on to the back foot somewhat by the huge explosion of anti-racist mobilising around Black Lives Matter. They haven’t known how to respond to it and nothing has really worked for them. BLM is hard for them to oppose without coming out as overt racists. Tommy Robinson called on his supporters to turn out against BLM but then today Hearts of Oak tried to use the slogan “Black and White Unite”. June 13th was a show of force but also an embarrassment for them. Today has probably not improved matters. However, we must not forget the overall political climate is far more in their favour than ours – Brexit is happening, with no deal still a possibility and we have an extremely right-wing government of hardcore Brexiters, who have borrowed pages out of the Trump playbook and tried to out-Farage Farage to get where they are. When the sunlit uplands of Boris promised do not appear and a new wave of austerity hits where will the angry Leavers look for answers?
It would be a shame if the lessons of two years ago were forgotten. We need mass mobilisation, coalition building and to not let the far-right have any space, be that central London or anywhere else. It is absurd that in the year of BLM a racist demo in a city as diverse as London goes unopposed. The Black Lives Matter movement, anti-racism and anti-fascism ought to be the same struggle.
Some photos nicked from Seventh and Stéfan Weil
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