By Daniel Brennan
The rise of far right, anti-immigrant rhetoric across the world in recent years has been astonishing – with the election of Donald Trump in the US inspiring the alt-right online, the Brexit saga in Britain, as well as the rise of far-right figures to positions of power in Italy and Brazil, they are no longer just a funny footnote at the bottom of the election results that no one pays any real attention to; they are a real threat.
British journalist Owen Jones has been one of the far right’s harshest critics for several years as one of the biggest anti-fascist personalities online, using his articles in the Guardian as well as his YouTube channel and Twitter page to spread awareness of the hateful politics of the far right.
His assault a few weeks ago, as he left a London pub – an attack he believed to be politically and homophobically motivated, as Jones is openly gay – demonstrated again that the far-right threat isn’t just a bunch of keyboard warriors trying to own the libs on twitter. Groups like the EDL are not afraid to try to silence those that oppose their white nationalist and fascist views with the use of violence, be it against members of the media like Jones, or more generally against members of marginalised groups in society, a point he was not afraid to make himself when asked about the incident.
Jones said, when speaking to The Guardian, that he’s, “Just a symptom of a wider phenomenon, an emboldened, increasingly violent far right”.
He was very quick to avoid victimising himself in a BBC News interview days after the attack, instead shining the light further on the prominence of far-right violence against the most vulnerable in society across the world: “I’m a white guy with a media platform. There are people out there – members of minorities in particular – who are being targeted and physically attacked. There is an increasingly violent far right in British society and abroad”.
Owen also put blame at the feet of the media for legitimising far-right fascist views as acceptable by giving hateful politicians air-time in spite of how racist, homophobic and disgusting their views may be, and indeed how dangerous allowing the broadcast of their backwards ideals to millions may be.
This far right violence has manifested itself within Ireland recently, as Ireland has among the highest percentage of hate crimes against minorities reported in the EU. Statistics taken from various reports by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) in the past few years demonstrate some frightening trends: for instance, a 2017 study revealed that Ireland had the highest rate of hate crimes against people of an African ethnic background, with 21% of those surveyed for the study stating that they had been physically assaulted six or more times within the five-year period leading up to the survey – compared to an average of 9% across the EU. Another FRA study from 2014 found that 13% of transgender people surveyed had been sexually or physically assaulted, the second-highest rate in the EU.
These trends are already scary as is, but the far-right in Ireland has itself inspired hate crimes in recent months. Gemma O’Doherty has gained notoriety as an online “journalist”, spouting amongst other insane far-right conspiracies, openly racist rhetoric across her social media channels in a similar fashion to the likes of the infamous Alex Jones.
Days after a tweet where O’Doherty called for her followers in a Facebook Live video to “burn any hijabs (they) see”, two young Muslim girls were assaulted in Dundrum, having their hijabs ripped off by their attackers in a shocking video that went viral across social media.
The threat of far-right violence is very real, not only in Britain, where Owen Jones was attacked, or indeed in America, following the recent spate of politically and racially motivated mass shootings; the threat is very real at home too.