National Action, a far-right group that was banned in 2016 by the Home Secretary Amber Rudd over its support of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, who was shot and stabbed to death in 2016 by neo-Nazi Thomas Mair. The group was not disbanded, however and continued to operate under the cover of front groups.
“A prejudice, unlike a simple misconception, is actively resistant to all evidence that would unseat it.” Gordon W. Allport
The plot to murder Rosie Cooper
The leader of a neo-nazi group was arrested following a police investigation into a murder plot to target Labour MP Rosie Cooper. He has been given an eight year sentence.
Cooper, the MP for West Lancashire, has thanked a former neo-Nazi group member for saving her life after he exposed the far-right terrorist plot to murder her with a machete.
The National Action group is a far-right neo-Nazi organisation based in the UK. Founded in 2013, the group is secretive, and has rules to prevent members from talking openly about the organisation. “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain” became a slogan for the group after being said in court by Thomas Mair, who was glorified in online propaganda calling for “murders.”
Police had no intelligence that the extremist National Action member was preparing to kill Rosie Cooper until one of the group members, Robbie Mullen, sounded the alarm to a campaign group, Hope Not Hate, who passed the information on to Rosie’s fellow Labour MP Ruth Smeeth. The group’s former chair and plotter, Jack Renshaw, was later arrested.
The 23-year-old extremist Renshaw has admitted plotting to kill his local Labour MP and had already bought a 19 inch machete, which investigators found hidden in an airing cupboard at his home. He had also researched his targets’ movements.
Cooper said: “I think it’s awful that any public servant – teacher, nurse, doctor, police, MP – should be targeted and threatened with violence simply because of the job they do. To that end, I’d like to thank Robbie Mullen whose information saved my life.
“I’d also like to thank Lancashire and Merseyside Police and the counterterrorism police who have supported me greatly, and who have kept me, my staff and the general public safe.”
Mullen had been in contact with Hope Not Hate for several months as he tried to find a way out of the terrorist organisation, which went underground following the government ban.
His fears that its repulsive rhetoric against Jews, non-whites and “race traitors” would tip over into bloody action were confirmed when the group met in a Warrington pub on 1 July last year. Renshaw felt antagonised after being arrested on suspicion of sexually grooming a child and for stirring up racial hatred with two of his speeches in Blackpool and Leeds. Seeking revenge on both the police and “establishment”, he told fellow fanatics of a plot to kill both Rosie Cooper and a female officer who had investigated him.
Mullen said that Renshaw felt that police officers were “destroying his life and trying to make it sound like he was a paedophile”.
Jack Renshaw pleaded guilty to preparing to engage in an act of terrorism by buying a knife to kill the politician and threatening a police officer. Renshaw, from Skelmersdale in Lancashire, has also been convicted of inciting racial hatred in speeches in 2016.
He was accused of being a member of National Action, but the jury failed to reach a verdict.
They also failed to reach verdicts on Andrew Clarke, 33, and Michal Trubini, 35.
Garron Helm, 24, was acquitted of the same charge.
National Action is the first extreme right-wing group to be banned by the government since World War Two and had recruited up to 100 members.
The court heard that the group planned to “wipe out” non-white people” by “any means necessary”.
Head of Investigations for Counter Terrorism Policing in the North West, detective superintendent Will Chatterton, said: “Today’s result has enabled the spotlight to be shone on the sickening activities of the banned extreme right-wing organisation National Action.
“During the trial, one of those jailed today stood before the court and openly denied the Holocaust had taken place – an unimaginably horrific event that resulted in the murder of millions of Jews at the hands of the Nazi regime.
“Today’s result is a body blow to extreme right-wing organisations such as National Action.
“It sends out a clear message that counter-terrorism officers and partner agencies will rigorously identify and investigate any violently extreme individual or group who seek to bring a reign of terror to our shores.”
London’s Old Bailey heard: “Renshaw stated that if he was charged, he was going to kill Rosie Cooper, his local MP. He explained his plan was then to take some people hostage in a pub and when the police arrived he would demand to speak to DC Victoria Henderson.
“When the officer arrived, he would kill her. Renshaw said that after he had killed Ms Henderson he would then commit ‘suicide by cop’ by pretending to have a suicide vest on.”
Prosecutors said the would-be terrorist intended to make a “white jihad” video stating that the attack was carried out in the name of National Action that would be released after his death.
Another National Action member, Matthew Hankinson, said Renshaw should target a synagogue – even if there were children inside – because “all Jews are the same, they’re all vermin”. During the conversation, Renshaw said that he had purchased a machete to use in the attack, which was found days later hidden in a cupboard at a home where he was staying in Skelmersdale.
After stating his intentions, he wrote a series of ominous Facebook posts saying he was “past caring” and “it will all be over soon”.
One comment said: “I’ll laugh last but it may not be for the longest.”
Matthew Collins, the Hope Not Hate researcher who was contacted by Mullen, said police “knew absolutely nothing” of the plot. He told the Independent:
“They didn’t monitor them [after the ban on National Action], “They thought that because they were a bunch of skinny little white boys that when they banned them they would go to bed like naughty children. But they had an ideology that developed like a sickness, they developed a lust for violence and an attack was inevitable.”
Renshaw admitted the plot, while fellow neo-Nazis Christopher Lythgoe and Hankinson were also jailed for terror offences. Lythgoe declared himself national leader of the terrorist group, while Hankinson organised security and gave a speech calling for Nazis to “split the people into two groups, the racially loyal nationalists and the traitors”.
A jury deliberated for 20 hours to find Lythgoe guilty of membership of National Action but clear him of involvement in the terror plot, which he was alleged to have approved by telling Renshaw not to “f*** it up”.
Jailing the 32-year-old for eight years, Mr Justice Jay said he “did nothing to stop or discourage” the plot to kill Ms Cooper, adding: “You are a fully-fledged neo-Nazi complete with concomitant, deep-seated racism and antisemitism.”
The judge described National Action as having a “truly evil and dystopian vision” of waging a race war and said that without Lythgoe’s obsessive determination it would have “withered and died on the vine”.
“Fortunately… the truly evil and dystopian vision I am describing could never have been achieved through the activities of National Action, a very small group operating at the very periphery of far-right wing extremism. The real risk to society inheres instead in the carrying out of isolated acts of terror inspired by the perverted ideology I have been describing.”
Hankinson, 24, of Newton-le-Willows in Merseyside, was also found guilty of being a prominent member of the terrorist group and was jailed for six years. The Old Bailey jury acquitted Garron Helm, 24, of Seaforth in Merseyside, of being a member of National Action after it was made a proscribed organisation.
It failed to reach verdicts on Renshaw, Andrew Clarke, 33, and Michal Trubini, 35, from Warrington, for the same charge.
Cooper, who was in court for the verdicts, later thanked Jeremy Corbyn, the prime minister and “every single member of this house for the kindness they have shown me” in an emotional address to parliament.
Theresa May replied: “Can I first of all say how very good it is to see her in her place and I know from the response that is a view that is shared across the whole of this house.”
However, I have written previously more than once about how the extremely divisive approach of Conservative governments has provided a space for far-right groups to flourish. The Thatcher era also saw the rise of neo-Nazi groups like the National Front. White supremicist thinking, be it from the likes of academics like Charles Murray or ordinary UKIP members, seems to be a key symptom of a broader disease – competitive individualism, which lies at the heart of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is a system that enables a handful of ‘winners’ and many more ‘losers’. That is, after all, the nature of competition.
However, the public would be unlikely to accept a socioeconomic system that benefits so few people unless it was sold to them with the idea that anyone may benefit, providing they deserve to do so. Neoliberalism is therefore sold as a system of opportunities. We are led to believe that there is room at the top for everyone, and those at the bottom are there because of their own personal flaws, rather than because the system itself inevitably distributes opportunities very unequally and demands the establishment of a hierarchy comprised of a few ‘winners’ and many more ‘losers.’ Furthermore, it’s a system that enables winners to keep on winning. This continued winning is facilitated by dispossessing everyone else.
Neoliberalism, competitive individualism and racism
“What is familiar tends to become a value.” Gordon W. Allport
The myth of meritocracy – the idea that an individual’s personal qualities, skills and character may justify social inequality is itself an endorsement of the differential values placed on social groups by government and society, establishing a hierarchy of human worth. Notions of meritocracy have whitewashed historical forms of dispossession. Individuals are blamed for their poverty or held in esteem for their wealth and power, even when at least a third of very wealthy people inherited their wealth, regardless of their personal qualities and character.
These justifications of inequalities have been normalised since the Thatcher administration, though Conservatives have traditionally been elitist. Institutional discrimination has somehow sidestepped the issue of traditional marginalisation and dispossession of some social groups, and the hate crimes with which it is historically associated. The culture of individualism itself is both a blind justification for and an explanation of social injustice and inequality.
Neoliberal ideology demands that every aspect of social life is brought (or bought) within the competitive market place, including relationships, thus objectifying and dehumanising, transforming norms, moral and ethical values, culture, ideals and principles – such as democracy and even the environment – very planet we live on.
It is the basis of how neoliberal ideology determines worth, allocates a category, a numerical and moral value, depending on how a person, human group, resource or geographical area stand up to the neoliberal test – their potential exploitability for profit. Justice, health, welfare, education, opportunity, the means to meet basic human needs and human potential itself are reduced to commercial commodification.
Within this overarching neoliberal framework, we have witnessed the rise of ‘us’ and ‘them’, the reoccurrence of virulent parochialism and nationalism, of pathologising, scapegoating and dispossession of disadvantaged groups and the rapid expansion of injustice and inequality. The world in its entirety exists solely for the benefit of the neoliberal market. Those not buying are being sold.
The ability to deflect public anger away from the architects of inequality and direct it at a variety of politically constructed scapegoats, demonstrates the consistent pattern for neoliberal demagogues – the government perpetually blames others for the failings of neoliberal dogma and policy.
Anti-racist scholar Robin J DiAngelo has argued that the discourse of individualism functions to: deny the significance of race and the advantages of being white; hide the accumulation of wealth over generations; deny social and historical context; prevent a macro analysis of the institutional and structural dimensions of social life; deny collective socialisation and the power of dominant culture (media, education and so on to shape our perspectives and ideology; function as neo-colourblindness and reproduce the myth of meritocracy; and make collective action difficult.
Furthermore, being viewed as an individual is a privilege only available to the dominant group. He argues that while we may be considered individuals in general, white insistence on individualism in discussions of racism in particular functions to obscure and maintain racism. Racists tend to see others as a threat to individualism, their perceptions and their own culture. Individualism tends to undermine regard for communities.
From internationalism to nationalism
The Conservatives (and those further right) have parochialised both explanations of and responses to the global economic crisis, reducing us to a gossiping around the parish-pump type of politics. Parochialism entails neglect of the interests of identified “outsiders”, and this kind of isolationist tendency has also provided a political platform for nationalism.
Parochialism tends to support inter-group hostilities, and it tends to lead to violations of human rights, as we are currently witnessing. Parochialism directly opposes a fundamental set of [internationally agreed] principles that constitute these rights: namely that all humans beings are of equal worth, and that human rights are universally applicable – they apply to everyone.
Even to the social groups that you may not like.
The whole point of human rights is that they apply universally, and that they are not simply provision for the already wealthy and powerful. They are a mechanism that is designed to hold the wealthy and powerful accountable.
The Conservatives have suspended the human rights of some disadvantaged communities, and made a “hostile environment” the norm for its policy strategies directed at marginalised social groups. The policies that extend the hostile environment are founded on the government’s traditional prejudices. In doing so, the government have normalised those prejudices, legitimised discrimination and role modelled behaviours and attitudes that are not only fundamentally unacceptable. They are dangerous.
The subtext of discriminatory policies permits the open expression of social prejudices. The message presented to the public is that some communities should not be included in our society, they are not worthy of human rights, nor should they be treated with dignity and respect. Furthermore, the punitive nature of Conservative policies aimed at disadvantaged groups signals that punishing others is acceptable.
The Conservatives have historically hated trade unions, and have launched a raft of laws to disempower the trade union movement. Recently, the far-right launched an unprovoked violent attack on senior RMT official Steve Hedley after he and thousands of other anti-fascists had turned out in central London to oppose a “free Tommy Robinson” march.
It seems extraordinary that working class Tommy Robinson supporters are turning acts of violence on an official of an organisation that promotes working class rights and solidarity, and fights oppression.
Sometimes the oppressed are very oppressive too.
Steve Hedley, following the unprovoked violent attack last weekend
However, it’s also worth bearing in mind that fascists never stop at discriminating against and persecuting the one social group of your choice. Fascists are fascists and tend to discriminate almost indiscriminately. However, fascists generally spare the establishment, curiously enough. Pastor Martin Niemöller famously observed public complicity and the consequences of bystander apathy and silence when he wrote: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist…”
Of course Britain is not divided by race and culture: it’s divided by wealth inequalities fueled by the government’s ideology, policies and austerity programme. Blaming people who are unemployed, sick and disabled, refugees and immigrants for the failings of the government has fueled misperceptions that drive support for the far-Right. People complain they can’t get council houses, surely the only really honest question an honest politician ought to ask is: “Why aren’t there more council houses?”
And when there are large numbers of people receiving unemployment benefit or tax credits, then the only honest question to ask is: “Why is the economy failing to provide enough jobs, or ensure that employers pay adequate wages?”
As a society that once promised equality and democracy, we now preside over massive inequalities of wealth: that’s a breeding ground for racism, classism and other vicious resentments.
Hate crime directed at disabled people has risen over the past five years, and is now at the highest level it’s ever been since records began. That’s the kind of society we have become.
Austerity cuts and the steady and deliberate erosion of democratic inclusion have served to awaken the disgruntled beast within people, the one that feeds on anger, disempowerment, demoralisation, fear, resentment and uncertainty. And loss of a sense of meaning and identity.
And wherever antipathy and a degree of enmity exist, the far-Right have always tried to perpetuate, exploit and increase public rancour. The fascism of the 20s and 30s gained prominence because it played on wider public fears, manipulating them, and deflecting attention, as ever, from those who are truly to blame for dire social conditions: the ever-greedy elite. There’s a well-established link between political extremism, economic hardship and recession and social cleavages, with the far-Right “anti-system” parties now deceitfully winning the support of those who would never previously have thought of themselves as extremists.
The political right have always sought to divide sections of the poor and middle class and set them to fight one against the other; to have us see enemies in our midst which do not exist, so that we see economic policies – the Tory-rigged “free market” competition – as the solution rather than the cause of our problems.
Many people are disgruntled because of our socioeconomic circumstances. Prejudiced discourse is being used politically to divert attention from the fact that our socioeconomic organisation is the problem, rather than those that have been diminished and denigrated by it.
When you just feed the disgruntled beasts, you only end up with beasts.
I’ve often written about the right’s tendency to infrahumanise, dehumanise and create categories of “others”; scapegoating, using the media to stigmatise groups, create folk devils, and to extend the politics of division and prejudice, and hate-mongering rhetoric. I’ve also written about how Conservative governments always work to encourage the rise of far-right groups and a toxic climate of individualism and nationalism.
Thatcher’s government was no different. Now Conservatives need to take some responsibility for what that kind of context does to people’s sense of identity and mental health, to social solidarity and community cohesion. They need to take some responsibility for transforming what was a diverse and reasonably tolerant culture into one of labeling and bullying, and ultimately into one of murder and plots to murder. Perhaps the Conservatives need to read Gordon Allport’s work about how prejudice escalates and as a reminder from history about the terrible social consequences of that, again.
Gordon Allport studied the psychological and social processes that create a society’s progression from prejudice and discrimination to genocide. In his research of how the Holocaust happened, he describes sociopolitical processes that foster increasing social prejudice and discrimination and he demonstrates how the unthinkable becomes tenable: it happens incrementally, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries, and propaganda-driven changes in our attitudes towards politically defined others, that advances culturally, by almost inscrutable degrees.
Decades of research findings in sociology and psychology inform us that as soon as a group can be defined as an outgroup, people will start to view them differently. The very act of demarcating groups begins a process of ostracisation.
The process always begins with the political scapegoating of a social group and with ideologies that identify that group as the Other: an “enemy” or a social “burden” in some way. A history of devaluation of the group that becomes the target, authoritarian culture, and the passivity of internal and external witnesses (bystanders) all contribute to the probability that violence against that group will develop, and ultimately, if the process is allowed to continue evolving, extermination of the group being targeted.
Economic recession, uncertainty and political systems on the authoritarian -> totalitarian spectrum contribute to shaping the social conditions that seem to trigger Allport’s escalating scale of prejudice.
Prejudice requires the linguistic downgrading of human life, it requires dehumanising metaphors: a dehumanising sociopolitical system using a dehumanising language, and it has now become familiar and all-pervasive: it has seeped almost unnoticed into our lives. Because we permitted it to do so.
The government (and the media) have shown contempt for rational debate, democracy and for the opposition. They role model appallingly authoritarian, abusive and bullying behaviour for the public to see. Their language is dehumanising, referring, for example, to the left as a “cult”, and these strategies permit others to engage in the same behaviours.
The Conservatives have also tended to lump reasonable opposition, challenges, legitimate democratic dialogue and action into the same category as examples of abuse.
The government made a strategic decision to discredit, smear and delegitimise the official opposition, portraying Labour’s left supporters as “extremists”, “dangerous”, and “terrorist sympathisers”. Such an attack tactic has some very chilling and profoundly anti-democratic implications, because it leaves the left exposed as a dangerous internal enemy, which legitimises radical right wingers’ belief that the left needs to be “eliminated”.
The Conservatives then claim that the “hard left” are abusive to divert attention – this “abuse” accusation is one of many techniques used by the right to police the boundaries of “acceptable” political thought.
Jo Cox was murdered. This has been linked to the rhetoric employed by hardcore right-wing Brexit campaign. Others, including myself, have also linked it with a growth in wider social prejudice, and the social divisions which have been politically fostered, motivated and manipulated by the Conservatives. Lynton Crosby’s dog whistle racism and negative campaigning strategies have been a key feature of elections over recent years and have normalised below the radar “coded” racist messaging, with the inbuilt “safeguard” of plausible deniability.
Dog whistling is designed to trigger previously indoctrinated prejudice, bigotry and hatred without being recognised by outsiders as hateful speech in prejudiced communities. The legitimising of sentiment which has previously been considered inappropriate is one of Crosby’s trademarks, and this approach has steadily pushed at public moral boundaries, making hate speech and hate crime much more likely.
The philosopher Jennifer Saul has how the linguistic drift of increasingly intolerant speech can lead to racist violence. As we become habituated to a subject of speech, our standard of what is acceptable to say (or not say) shifts, which in turn opens up possibilities for how we may act.
Of course intolerant speech is that which creates categories of outgrouped others, and this process of othering hasn’t been confined to ethnic minorities. The Conservatives have also stigmatised disabled people, social security claimants more generally, trade unions, public sector workers, among others and have systematically demonised and personally discredited critics, opposition (including charities and academics), and especially, those on the left.
The government has consistently sent out a broader message, in the form of a series of coded emotive appeals and sometimes, quite explicitly stated, that the left has/will take your taxes and give it to “undeserving” minorities. Those “minorities” are disabled people, people in low paid work, people who have lost their job, as well as asyum seekers and migrants.
As opposed to tax cheating millionaires and rogue multinationals.
This is a government that has sneeringly labelled those reasonably calling for an end to austerity, adequate funding for our public services and adequate social security protection for disabled people as “unrepentant Marxists”, “Trots”, “the Hard Left”, “the Loony Left”, and who ran almost all of their election campaign as a strategic, pointed, deeply personal smear attack on Jeremy Corbyn and some of the shadow cabinet.
The Conservatives ran an election campaign that was almost entirely about character assassinations and smearing the opposition, rather than offered policies. It was also about telling the electorate who they must and must not vote for. They seem to have forgotten that it is the public who decide who is “fit” to run the country, not the increasingly authoritarian incumbent government. We live in a democracy, after all, not a one-party state.
We need to recognise their moral and rational boundaries are being politically manipulated and systematically pushed. That has consequences. Increasing inequality, poverty, prejudice, discrimination and social injustice and social isolation, decreasing democracy, social inclusion and civic rights are just some such consequences. There are many more, some happening at a profoundly existential level. All at a time when supportive provision is being steadily withdrawn, public and mental health services are in crisis because of the Conservative cuts to funding. And many people are dying as a consequence.
Against this backdrop, it’s also become almost normal for the far right to murder and plot to murder left-wing politicians. Those of us who object and challenge the way things have become are dismissed and labelled with derogatory terms like “scaremonger”, “virtue signaller” and so on.
Jo Cox was a dedicated Labour MP, who fought tirelessly for social justice. She was just 41 and was taken from a husband and two young children, as well as her friends and constituents. Her final words were “my pain is too much.” Jo’s grieving husband, Brendan, has urged us to “fight the hatred that killed her.” We must.
It must be time to recognise that each and every one of us bears some responsibility and has some positive contribution to make to the kind of society we live in.
To make it the one we want to live in.
And surely that society is not the one we witness today.
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