As 2023 draws to a close, we have analysed the key trends of far right anti-migrant activity, and had a look forward to what we may see in 2024.
The far right have continued to exploit asylum and immigration in 2023 as the issue through which they pave their way into the mainstream. We saw continued mobilisation around temporary asylum accommodation in particular, with so-called ‘migrant hunters’ and other far-right groups continuing to visit sites, aiming to whitewash their image to gain a foothold within communities to then stir up hatred and radicalise.
This reflects the red carpet laid out for them by the Conservative Government, whose own rhetoric has increasingly overlapped with traditional far-right tropes. The legitimacy this has given far-right groups is reflected in their return to street activism in numbers we haven’t seen for years, indicative of their newfound confidence to operate above ground and within communities.
This year has seen volatile infighting and dramatic fractures across the organised far right.
Patriotic Alternative (PA) was most rocked by splits this year, with a breakaway of ex-members forming the new Homeland Party in April, aiming to engage in “community politics” in a longer-term and more concerted manner. Other offshoots include Alek Yerbury’s National Support Detachment, as well as the tiny Independent Nationalist Network and Highland Division. Despite these splits weakening PA, it remains the biggest fascist group in the UK.
This infighting has noticeably hampered the far right’s ability to organise and mobilise. However, there have been calls for greater coordination across the extreme fringes. In May, the Independent Nationalist Network organised a “Unity” meeting in Leeds. Amongst attendees were PA leadership, figures from the fascist British Democrats party, the tiny but openly Nazi Highland Division, and Donna Brookes of the anti-migrant “Midlands Says No” campaign.
This self-described “patchwork coalition” has voiced its intent to pool resources into fewer protests to ensure they are “better attended”. The groups involved are highly fringe, and disputes remain among them; so far, little significant collaboration has emerged. Nonetheless, this effort to establish an extreme right “united front” demands close attention in 2024.
Phase 1: Content generation
In 2022 and early 2023, a number of groups and individuals within the far right were committed to ‘migrant hunting’. Posing as journalists, these activists turned up at accommodation centres and hotels to threaten and harass migrants, asylum seekers and staff – usually filming in the process to share online. They leaflet in the area, drop banners and try to expose the locations of hotels in online forums and chats, stirring up appetite for demonstrations and marches outside hotels or in the town and cities where migrants and asylum seekers are housed.
All of this is broadcast and shared online over social media platforms, with the aim being to draw attention to the issue to stir up a general base of support for anti-migrant activity across the country.
Phase 2: Wider community engagement
Over time, different far right actors developed their own playbooks for anti-migrant activity dependent on their wider agenda.
Patriotic Alternative and its offshoots – the Homeland Party and the National Support Detachment (NSD) – for example, who intend to harness their activity into formal political campaigns, have focused on masquerading as members of the ‘local resistance to blur the lines between their own activities and campaigns led by local residents.
This differs from the prototype of ‘migrant hunting’ because of the shift in focus from simply generating anti-migrant content for an online audience to aiming to get a foothold in communities to steer local concern towards a wider far-right worldview and recruit supporters.
Tactics include disseminating leaflets, infiltrating local community Facebook groups, residents meetings and protests, or establishing their own made to appear as local community run.
This engagement was somewhat successful. We recorded and monitored numerous anti-migrant demonstrations organised by local groups with no official links to the organised far right.
However, this strategy was not achieving many of the longer term objectives that the far right had. Whilst their sporadic interactions with communities may have stirred up hate and caused tensions within their target communities, we also saw communities objecting to what they perceived as the far right opportunistically hijacking their local opposition groups.
Additionally, some larger hotel sites and villages were visited by the same actors on multiple different occasions, but the scattered and infrequent nature with which they were being targeted was not diligent enough to actually reverse any decisions about the use of hotels as asylum accommodation. Many campaigns also just fizzled out over time.
Phase 3: Targeted community campaigns
This analysis of their activity, although also due to the unsurprising decline in energy and money to travel to multiple towns every weekend from March, prompted discussions about better targeting resources.
Groups like Britain First, who are still motivated by their national electoral strategy, are continuing to prioritise widespread geographic engagement, however we have seen other groups pivot to targeted campaigns prioritising community buy-in.
This was most successfully undertaken in Llanelli. Over a period of months, far-right actors dipped in and out of local protests against the use of the Stradey Park Hotel, building up connections with local opposition activists. This more organic form of community engagement aided their successful integration into the community, a community that then became increasingly more extreme as the far right gained legitimacy locally. The withdrawal of plans for the Stradey Park by the Home Office in October has re-energised many far-right actors, who now see this method of organising as the “Gold Standard of community politics in action”, and a blueprint for radicalising communities.
The unique geographic and weather conditions of the Llanelli camp means that whilst copycats are likely, success is not guaranteed (the Llanelli camp was at the end of a single road leading in from town and there was just one main entrance which was easy to block). Our monitoring of the camp outside Scampton RAF base so far gives little indication of the same potential for activity.
Whilst this targeted strategy of community engagement is prioritised by much of the far right, a small but increasingly radical rump remains willing to travel. Therefore whilst the number of demonstrations has reduced from the February – April period and attendees are often outnumbered by counter protesters, those that remain are increasingly extreme and potentially primed for violence.
As expected when temperatures drop, in-person events have already begun tailing off for the Autumn/Winter season. Whether this picks up again in the spring, or whether the far right will turn to a new method of anti-migrant organising, remains to be seen.
What we do know is that in the lead up to the 2024 election, whether that be in May or October, the Conservative Government, and subsequently right wing media, will double down on anti-migrant rhetoric to escalate the culture wars for electoral gain. Our research earlier this year found statistical proof that far right anti-migrant activity escalates alongside activity in the political mainstream. We anticipate therefore that anti-migrant organising will remain high on the list of priorities for the far right.
Additionally, the General Election presents an opportunity for far right actors to move into political spaces. We initially reported this a few months ago, when we identified an uptick in discussions within far-right groups about political activity. As we get closer to the election, we anticipate that more may try to register. Whilst the changes of electoral success are very slim, it is expected that they will use this opportunity to campaign and give themselves a platform. We will be keeping an eye on how this is received by communities.
Among registered parties, we can expect UKIP, Britain First and the British Democrats to attempt to exploit anti-migrant sentiment in certain constituencies; in Llanelli, for example, UKIP have selected the Voice of Wales activist Stan Robinson as their candidate. Also attempting to register with the Electoral Commission are the PA splinter Homeland, and Alek Yerbury’s prospective “Great British National Workers Party”. However, each party will have to decide whether to focus on more winnable council seats in the local elections or immediately attempt the steep and expensive task of fighting for a seat in a General Election.
We also expect the far right to continue targeting organisations that support migrants and asylum seekers, particularly as debates about Rwanda reach boiling point. As the Conservative Party expectedly lean heavily into divisive discourse about the ‘tofu-eating wokerati’ ahead of the election, the far right will undoubtedly be mobilised to escalate their own attacks. Whilst most of these efforts so far have taken place as coordinated social media slurs, we would encourage all organisations to check their existing security procedures. Please ensure you are screenshotting any online activity of concern and reporting to police if threats escalate.
We will continue to monitor and update on this activity next year. As ever, please get in touch with us with any concerns you have about anti-migrant far right activity by emailing [email protected].
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