Backlash, Conspiracies and confrontation

A year in a lockdown has driven many into the arms of poisonous conspiracy theorists

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Chapter : Backlash, Conspiracies and confrontation

While tech-savvy neo-nazis seek to exploit tensions over Black Lives Matter and anti-migrant tensions. Nick Lowles and Joe Mulhall warn that politicians must take note of the gathering clouds as a nation emerges battered and bruised from the pandemic.
Nick Lowles, Joe Mulhall – DD MM YY

2020 WILL forever be marred by the global pandemic. We were locked in our homes, forced to hide our faces, as millions around the world lost their lives or were left with debilitating symptoms. Many millions more have lost jobs, struggled to pay their rent or mortgages, and been left isolated and lonely.

As we enter 2021, the death toll from the disease continues to rise, though the arrival of numerous vaccines has provided a much needed glimmer of hope. However, the ramifications of the pandemic will continue to be felt for years to come, not least the impending economic crisis set to grip the world economy.

Yet, it has by no means been all bad news. In the face of these many tragedies communities have come together, neighbours and strangers helping one another and examples of heart-breaking sacrifice, love and hope.

2020 was also a year of anger, with millions of people around the world hitting the streets to chant “I can’t breathe”, protesting against the murder of an African American man, George Floyd, by a white Minneapolis police officer and demanding racial justice. Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests erupted in over 60 countries across all seven continents, pushing the issues of racism and systemic inequality up the political agenda. Statues fell, street names changed and national conversations about racism, imperial and colonial legacies filled column inches and TV screens.

Polling: Need for Racial Justice

People from different culture and races protest on the street for equal rights – Demonstrators wearing face masks during black lives matter fight campaign – Main focus on mask

The need for racial justice is evident in exclusive polling of BAME (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) Britons for this State of HATE report. Almost half of respondents (45%) had either experienced or witnessed racial abuse over the last 12 months and 40% had experienced or witnessed racial violence.

For the British far right, the last year has been a difficult one. Locked in their homes like everyone else, their ability to organise offline, meet and campaign has been severely curtailed. However, it was also a year of opportunities. With everyone locked indoors on their computers, the chances of reaching and radicalising new people online grew.

Exploiting the gateways offered by digital technology, far-right groups continued to proselytise, promote and recruit via online gaming, voice chats on social media and even in (online) film clubs. Some also tried to exploit home schooling as a way of pushing their divisive politics towards young people.

Importantly, with the explosion of conspiracy theory content, last year the far right sought to exploit new ways of radicalising others by exploiting various (non extreme-right) conspiracy theories related to COVID-19.

Because the unique circumstances of 2020 demanded innovation, many older, traditional far-right groups and individuals appeared to do very little, while the younger, more tech-savvy elements of the movement made a much greater impact.

In recent years HOPE not hate has increasingly talked of the threat posed by the ‘post-organisational’ far right: thousands of individuals across the globe, offering micro-donations of time and sometimes money to collaborate towards common far-right goals.

Although this has not replaced traditional far-right organisations with their leadership structures and formal memberships, the rapid growth of the digital landscape – and especially social media – has helped foster the growth of an alternative organising model. In turn, this has led to the creation of a growing number of decentralised and transnational far-right movements. This trend continued and even accelerated over the past year.


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