June 16th, 2016, Yorkshire – Jo Cox MP, a 42-year-old member of parliament campaigning for the UK to retain its EU membership was walking towards her monthly surgery in Batley and Spen. Moments later, her constituent Thomas Mair ambushed her. She was shot in the head three times and tortured to death with a dagger, while the assailant cried the words “Britain First.”
The Brussels’ regime that Jo Cox sought to work with had ruled what it undeniably looked down upon as provincial backwaters – like Greece and England – with unrelenting authority for nearly fourty years, but that does not absolve the fringe of nationalistic, reactionary opposition groups who had discovered a decisively more destructive way to make their grievances heard than Jo Cox, with her diligent “Better To Improve Than Leave” ethos. They used weapons and declared war, under the guise of half-baked theories of self-determination.
“More In Common,” a sorrowful but sweet solidarity campaign, raised millions of pounds for charities dear to her heart in just a week after Jo Cox’s murder. The spirit of tolerance Thomas Mair had so ruthlessly tried to suppress began to find its voice around the world, with his crude weapons impotent to stop the force of a more sophisticated philosophy of love and tolerance that reverberated on a deeper, more fundamental level than any crooked slogan in a thug’s arsenal, inspiring eulogies from young children in Yorkshire and Barack Obama alike.
The U K was not alone; from England to Poland, the far right has been fomenting extreme violence throughout Europe. Recently Gdansk mayor Panel Adamowicz grabbed his torso and collapsed, later dying in a hospital, after a vicious stabbing at a charity event in the city. The assailant bore the same hatred of tolerance and multiculturalism that spurred on Mair, citing similar reasons for his senseless murder. The Night of Long Knives, a tremendous wave of Nazi violence that set the scene for continued repression of dissidents in 1930s Germany, was made possible by the far right monopoly on government, media and public platforms that enabled them to determine a violent, oppressive new path for their society.
In the context of recent demands by Labour Party MP Tom Watson to YouTube to take down Britain First poster boy Tommy Robinson’s vlog, which disseminates his jingoistic agenda, this begs the critical question: are the far right, as targets in a campaign against all anti-government dissidents, martyrs of free speech, or are they hateful opportunists who abuse free speech and bandwagon off more genuine human rights oppressions?
Millions of Facebook likes; 8 years in politics; 1 network connecting more fascist sympathisers in England and Europe than since the Moseley era. It is arguable that Britain First represents a significant percentage of the popular will, at least insofar as it is constituted by Facebook likes at all; today it may well do.
There is further cause to reflect on the possible censorship of Britain First is censorship of the lumpenproletariat, who, fooled though they are by the outdated racial categories of neo-fascist divide and rule, yet have the same rights to free expression and association as everyone else. On the other hand, Paul Golding and Freyda Jansen’s upcycling of BNP politics has, precisely through its appeal to the white proletariat, become a fundamental platform for isolating, attacking, disenfranchising already hindered minority ethnic voices in society, making their participation in politics harder than ever. So, it seems satisfyingly persuasive to say that, because it suppresses intersectional politics, movements that normalise fascism in the working classes are the antithesis of free speech axioms which determine that it must be shared and accessed equally by everyone at all times regardless of social stratification. More free speech for fascists isn’t more free speech for everyone.
It isn’t easy to answer whether it is right to shut down far-right speakers on the internet, especially when their prejudices are unchallenged, acceptable when couched in more couth rhetoric by the Tories, who get away with it and then shift the blame squarely to Britain First when they are also at fault. With the organisation moving decidedly away from BNP class elitism to embrace ordinary people surfing social media, the main source of Britain First’s support, it seems their main crime from the eyes of the establishment is nothing worse than being uncouth.
There is, though, the counterpoint that the discourse on the relationship between the web matrix and free speech isn’t yet sophisticated enough to know whether freedom of speech constitutes the freedom to stoke mass hysteria with hateful memes. Memes have become a Mecca for islamophobic smear and advertising – by connecting consumers to popular prejudices and delusions of white persecution, Britain First has helped to articulate Nazi philosophy for the 21st-century British internet and enrol ever more disenchanted grifters into its swelling ranks. Its importance for spreading fringe messages of Euroscepticism and racial hatred into the political mainstream is immeasurable; the Conservative party’s genuflecting to demands for an EU membership referendum in their cynical, opportunistic 2016 manifesto is a testament to this.
Free speech is the exchange of ideas. Anyone who claims to have hard and fast answers about what is right by the principles of free speech hasn’t spent long enough thinking about the nuance. In an age of rampant no-platforming, reverse no-platforming, it is easy to assume there is a crusade of intolerance of tolerance. If the tolerant are those who value unrestricted rights to self-expression for everyone, the tolerant are those who oppose the way Britain First make it harder for minorities to exercise their civil liberties. The intolerant are those who wheel out tired, banal platitudes about the freedom to defend Britain First against a righteous boycott. Boycotts are essential in a democracy, and it’s high time we remembered that.
Article by: Meg Sherman
Tommy Robinson is a violent and controversial man. Founder of the EDL and Supporter of Britain First, he is widely regarded as a Racist, Fascist and an Islamophobe. It’s important that we recognise his poor actions and condone any positive press he receives.
Editor: Samuel J. Booker
Samuel J. Booker is the Director of Social Media and Marketing at TPN. He edits and writes alongside his other duties. At just 16 years of age, he has founded a political youth movement and has high hopes for a future political career. He to have a positive impact on the world through international communication and cooperation.