The story of HOPE not hate’s research

Research has always been at the heart of HOPE not hate’s work. Our CEO Nick Lowles explains more.

Research is at the heart of HOPE not hate’s work. It enables us to understand our opponents, it gives us the information and ability to challenge and counter hate, it directs and supports our community organising and campaigning, and it provides vital background to shaping our educational work.

Our research comes in many different forms. We infiltrate extremist groups, with anti-fascist volunteers joining far right organisations to collect information and we work with existing far-right activists to reconsider their views and then tell us what they know about the world they have been part of. We read far right publications and websites from the mundane to the obscure. We have our own bespoke tools to monitor social media accounts, blogs and podcasts. Working in tandem with our other HOPE not hate teams and our supporters, we also pick up vital information from local communities.

One of our biggest successes of recent years have been foiling a plot by a far right activist to kill Labour MP Rosie Cooper and a police officer in July 2017, which was only days away from happening. Jack Renshaw, who was 22 at the time, eventually pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey and was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison. As a result of the information we provided to the police, several other far right activists were convicted under terrorism legislation, including the leader and deputy leader of the proscribed far right terrorist group National Action.

Our annual State of Hate report is our research team’s most important publication, providing us with the chance to review far right activity across the UK over the previous year, profile the most important individuals and organisations and assess and explain key developments and trends.

Far right terrorism has become an increasing focus of our work in recent years, and our research has led to several far right terror networks being broken up and people convicted. Among them was British Hand, a group of 15-20 people led by a 15-year-old from Derbyshire. Our exposé of the group led to the launch of a police investigation and three far right activists have been convicted under terrorism legislation.

We work to ensure our research reaches vital audiences, who will benefit, disseminating it through a wide variety of channels. We produce one-off research reports, like those exposing the UK chapter of the European far right group Generation Identity or the teenage terror group, British Hand. We work closely with the media, supplying background information, analysis and interviews, and we write regular blogs and research documents for our website and magazine. We recently launched Radio 43, a weekly podcast which gives a useful round-up of current far right activity.

The far right threat has changed dramatically in recent years, with looser and more fluid alliances and single issue movements replacing the traditional far right political parties of the past. The committed far right continue to maintain ideas of racial superiority, and harbour deep hatred of Jews, Blacks and other minorities However, the public facing narrative they peddle has seen a move away from racial nationalism (anti-immigrant racism) and the adoption of an anti-Muslim narrative and a greater engagement in so-called culture wars, especially around aggressive misogyny and transphobia. Covid-19 has seen an explosion in interest and support for conspiracy theories, and while much of this is relatively harmless, it has provided a gateway to more extreme ideas and traditional antisemitic conspiracies which were more difficult to access previously. In addition, we have also witnessed the mainstreaming of hate, with antisemitism in the Labour Party and Islamophobia particularly affecting the Conservative Party, and the increasing blurring of boundaries between right wing and far right commentators and activists. Our research team has had to change accordingly to meet these new challenges.

Over the last few years we have pressed social media companies to do more to remove hateful and illegal content from their platforms. Often, this has led to our team having to provide background analysis, explainer documents and even the evidence to these companies to ensure action is taken. While we believe in freedom of speech, we believe that this comes with some responsibilities to prevent content that encourages violence or terrorism and hateful content that is designed to inflame community relations.

The HOPE not hate research team was instrumental in getting Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson, removed from many social media platforms, which has severely restricted his ability to spread his divisive message to millions of people, and his ability to fund himself. We provided the background information that got Covid conspiracist and antisemite David Icke and several British-based QAnon propagandists removed from Facebook and Twitter.

Much of our research output might appear much more mundane, but is no less important. It supports our community organising and campaigning by providing background information and explainers, as well as alerting them to potential flashpoints so we can intervene more quickly and effectively. Over the past year we have also supplied background information and intelligence to the wider migration and refugee sector, and we have a similar but separate project underway in Northern Ireland, where we supply community and civil society groups with research and advice on the activities of the paramilitaries and far right groups.

The research team runs the HOPE not hate archive, which is one of the most important collections of historical fascist and anti-fascist material in the UK.

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