From the anti-migrant riot in Knowsley to the Tate Britain’s anti-drag protest, we take a look at the far-right extremists whipping up fury against migrants and queer people
On Friday evening (February 10), a far-right protest against asylum seekers in Knowsley, near Liverpool, turned into a riot. After a crowd of 400 people gathered outside a hotel that was housing migrants, there were clashes between protestors and the police, with a police van being smashed up and set on fire. While no injuries have been reported, at least 15 people have been arrested.
This incident came after weeks of far-right groups stirring up tensions in the area, exacerbated when video footage emerged of a 25-year-old man asking a 15-year-old schoolgirl for her details, which was widely circulated by people claiming the man was a resident of the hotel (there is no evidence that this is true.)
According to Hope Not Hate, a charity that campaigns against racism and fascism, organised far-right groups didn’t directly lead the protest, but had been active in stirring up tensions in the area. One group which had visited the hotel in recent weeks, reportedly promoting the demonstration through Telegram, was Patriotic Alternative, a fascist movement founded in 2019. While deputy leader Laura Towler denied any involvement, a prominent member of the group was spotted at the demo, while the previous week, a group of PA activists had delivered leaflets in the area with the slogan “5 Star Hotels for Migrants While Brits Freeze!”
The blame for what happened in Knowsley cannot be laid entirely at the door of Patriotic Alternative, which remains a fringe organisation with a membership in the low hundreds. The riot at Knowsley comes after a wider escalation of anti-migrant rhetoric by the mainstream media and both major parties. Last year the Conservatives introduced the Rwanda asylum plan, which was roundly condemned by human rights organisations, and Home Secretary Suella Braverman has spoken about “stopping the invasion on our southern coast” – rhetoric so inflammatory that an elderly Holocaust survivor took her to task at a public event.
The conservatives might be worse, but Labour’s hands aren’t clean: in a speech to business leaders last November, Keir Starmer vowed to wean Britain off “immigration dependency”, a move Nigel Farage applauded as an indication that “Labour are now to the right of the Tories on immigration”. Just today, deputy leader Angela Rayner signalled her support for electronically tagging asylum seekers, a draconian measure which effectively endorses the idea that migrants are potential criminals who need to be policed.
Huge mobilisation of far-right protestors outside a hotel for asylum-seekers in Knowsley, just outside of Liverpool. They've now set fire to a police van.— Benny Hunter (@BennnyH) February 10, 2023
This was taken in the last hour: pic.twitter.com/HDItBlnnVY
It is no coincidence that the last couple of years have seen an uptick in anti-migrant violence: far-right groups have stormed into accommodation to harass the people inside; a man lobbied petrol bombs at a migrant centre in Dover with the aim of “obliterating Muslim children”, and groups of far-right vigilantes have been patrolling the shores of Kent. Patriotic Alternative are a small piece of a much bigger picture, but it’s worth paying attention to them, because the targets they choose illustrate larger patterns in far-right politics.
For example, as well as going after migrants, they are increasingly turning their attention towards the LGBTQ+ community. Last week, they protested two events organised by Drag Queen Story Hour UK, a literary programme where drag artists read books to children. On Saturday (February 11) at Tate Britain, a story-telling session by drag artist and author Aida H Dee was disrupted by 30 far-right protesters – understood to be organised by PA – who stood outside bearing signs like “leave our kids alone!” and “No drag for kids!” A similar number of counter-protestors, organised by the group Stand Up to Racism, were on the scene in support of the event.
Londoners!— Trans Activism UK (@TransActivismUK) February 5, 2023
The far right are planning to protest the Drag Queen Storytime event at Tate Britain on 11th February. pic.twitter.com/bglzFVEJ1Y
Earlier in the week, a Story Hour event in Salisbury – also featuring Aida H Dee – had to move venues at the last minute after the organisers discovered that PA were planning a protest (which they went ahead with at the original location.)
Last summer, the UK saw a spate of similar disruptions against Drag Story Hour events, where far-right protesters hurled transphobic and homophobic slurs at parents and their children. At one event in Reading, protesters unfurled a banner that read “welcome groomers” and falsely accused the performer of being a paedophile. This form of far-right mobilisation is downstream from the US, which has seen a year of escalating violence against drag events, cheered on by media outlets and Republican politicians. While they are not the only far-right group involved in these incidents in the UK, Patriotic Alternative have played a key role in organising them.
Looking at the activities of Patriotic Alternative, it’s clear that trans rights and migrants are the two key issues around which the far-right is mobilising (being a drag performer and a trans person are not the same thing, of course, but the protests against drag events are explicitly tied in with a wider assault on trans rights.) Not only are these issues both subject to inflammatory and dehumanising media coverage, which always leads to violence, but there is a clear connection between them in fascist ideology. Far-right groups are preoccupied with ideas about “white genocide” and “the great replacement” (an increasingly mainstream conspiracy theory that posits that the white population is deliberately being replaced by people of different races).
While this is primarily about race, it also bears a direct relation to transphobia and homophobia. Gender nonconformity of any description threatens their worldview, which is based on fixed and immutable gender roles. Some fascist groups are welcoming to white gay people, but a larger portion believe that the queer community is partly responsible for declining white birth rates – some even suggest that a sinister global conspiracy is indoctrinating people into becoming queer for that precise reason. This means that white supremacy and queerphobia are inseparable: their hatred of LGBTQ+ and racialised minorities are motivated by the exact same set of beliefs. Just as Muslims and migrants are conceptualised as an external threat, queer people are an internal enemy destroying the social fabric from within. There is a unifying narrative of dispossession: migrants are coming to steal your country, LGBTQ+ people are coming to steal your kids.
There is a unifying narrative of dispossession: migrants are coming to steal your country, LGBTQ+ people are coming to steal your kids
It is no exaggeration to describe Patriotic Alternative as fascists. Many of their prominent members are old-school, dyed-in-the-wool neo-Nazis, the kind of people who have swastika tattoos and think that Adolf Hitler is unfairly maligned. They have a number of documented links with National Action, a far-right terror organisation that, in 2016, became the first neo-Nazi group to be banned in the UK. The group’s founder Mark Collett – formerly a leading member of the British National Party – has repeatedly expressed his admiration for Hitler, who he described as a “simple, humble painter”. Alongside antisemitism, the organisation’s members are viciously anti-Black and homophobic, and have filmed themselves shouting racial slurs alongside nooses, swords and Nazi iconography.
But despite their well-documented extremist ties and beliefs, they make an effort to appear reasonable and respectable, organising wholesome activities like bake sales and hiking expeditions. According to Hope Not Hate, the organisation’s public image is “carefully confected to conceal its underlying Nazi ideology and hardline antisemitism”. Still, the fact that PA is so blatant in its neo-Nazi affiliations will hopefully prevent it from gaining widespread public support. As right-wing as Britain can be, there is little appetite for swastikas and holocaust denial: a successful British fascist movement would be more likely to come draped in the Union Jack, eulogising Churchill rather than Hitler.
That’s not to say that we should be complacent. Patriotic Alternative is already succeeding in stirring up tensions against migrants and queer people, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t take that even further. But if the far-right gains further ground in Britain, it will be our mainstream media and politicians who have laid the groundwork.
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