Britain First, unlike the multitude of other far-right, antiquated, Neo-Nazi groups has a surprisingly visible presence online. Whilst it is true that other far-right groups (such as the American “Stormfront” collective of various White Nationalist Groups) are large online they are not nearly as visible to people who aren’t searching specifically for their ideology and beliefs. Britain First, on the other hand, seems to be ubiquitous online, especially on Facebook, where one can regularly stumble into their propaganda. I am almost certain it is because of Britain First’s almost genius use of traditional British symbols and values to attract people to their more nefarious and ideological posts.
From what I understand of it, Britain First’s posts tend to fit into three different categories; Attraction Posts, Ideological Posts, and Administrative Posts. The Administrative Posts are the simplest of the three kinds, merely outlining meetings and rallies and the details that their members might need to know. The other two kinds of posts are more complicated and, whether unintentionally or intentionally, ensure that Britain First is noticed and thus in the popular consciousness.
Attraction Posts tend to, at least on their face, be perfectly normal. They tend to feature the usual kinds of cyber detritus that one would find on Facebook; posts saying things like “How many likes can our soldiers/heroes get”, or comments (following the recent Air Disaster above the Sinai Peninsula) that “Egypt is not safe”. People will like these posts, probably without even looking at who posted them, and thus spread the posts made by Britain First to their friends’ feeds.
These posts, whilst seemingly harmless on the face of it, have two extremely dangerous aspects to them; the first is the simple fact that these posts (however innocuous) do link to the far more sinister posts on the party’s main page. The second is the very subtle undercurrent of racism (particularly Islamophobia) which features in many of these posts; the soldiers they show images of are primarily fighting wars in the middle east, and the images on their “Egypt is not safe” post is a stock photo of a turban adorned mask wearing jihadi rather than anything one would actually find on the Sinai peninsula where the trouble is. They are deliberately, and subtly, designed to create the subconscious impression that Muslims are evil jihadists and that those who kill them must be heroes.
The second kind of posts (the ideological posts) are more blatant and as a result far less sinister (although still malicious and undoubtedly evil). These posts display the party’s evil ideology; showcasing their hatred of Muslims in the form of images and text posts, or in the form of videos of their rallies, and showcasing their extreme, right-wing, interpretation of Christianity in the form of oblique comments about sin, references to the “threat” Christians are under (in our majority Christian society), and comments on how we should remember that we are sinners (although particularly liberals, socialists, or anyone who isn’t white straight, British, and Christian).
But I have spent too long explaining the strategies of racists and neo-Nazis to you, now I want to do something slightly more controversial; I want to explain why these people are propaganda geniuses. They have abandoned the traditional imagery of Nazism and the far-right; spurning the swastika and skull in favour of the cross and poppy, and the harsh Germanic flags of the past in favour of a more moderate (and patriotic) Union Jack. They have done this and, in doing so, transformed their image from being something radical and different to simply being the mainstream; they have clothed radicalism in the symbols and ideals of traditionalism.
The Union Jack, whilst just a flag, reflects their wider appropriation of British cultural values; their main claim against Islam seems to be that it stands in stark contrast to the liberal and egalitarian values of British society, when they themselves hold those values in disdain. They preach fear of those who wish to destroy our tolerant and altruistic society whilst seeking to destroy it themselves; they use fear of the other as a weapon whilst simultaneously making themselves seem to be the normal and traditional.
Through appropriation they do something fascists struggle to do; they get their ideas into the mainstream subtly and make people think about them. Whilst, thankfully, they are too small, factional, and disrespected that they themselves cannot act on this they have certainly created something of interest; a proto-propaganda machine to replace the pamphleteering and newspaper intimidation of the early twentieth century. The replacement? A slick digital machine that has dropped loud, hate-filled, speeches with the subtle manipulation of the populace into accepting their ideas as just another part of the discourse, and one inherently linked to their culture’s traditions and values.
By doing this Britain First can guilt people who might not necessarily believe in their values into accepting and spreading their online content; the social pressure to accept “Traditional British values” like the praise of veterans and a dislike of those who “Oppose Christian morality and/or a tolerant society”. It is hard to go against years of our culture entrenching these values into your mind, and very, very, easy for you to click that button and show your support for these “values” (and also, incidentally, the progenitor of the posts) to all of your friends.
And for those who disagree with these posts? They will be so enraged by the appropriation of things that they are seeing that they will go down to the bottom of the post and leave a comment. What the enraged forget is that this will then bring the post into their feed, sharing it with other people who might like or comment on it, spreading it even further. And they will do more than just this, they will talk about it elsewhere (as, and the irony has occurred to me, I am doing now) and further spread their ideas.
This is yet another part of the genius of their methods. Both those who like it and those who hate it will, ultimately, do something to spread it. They attach their ideals to conventional symbolism and values, causing them to spread in a memetic fashion; jumping from mind to as they stir up anger (whether it is towards the Islamophobic bogeymen they create, or towards the group itself) and cause people to rave against something, spreading the message far more than if these people had all just stayed calm and viewed their posts objectively (a phenomenon first observed by Richard Dawkins, and explained neatly by CGP Grey). They create strong feelings in order to hijack the psychology of the individual and thus infect a larger group with their ideas.
Such is the power of this campaign that you regularly see people who you think are intelligent and sensible “liking” their content on Facebook and spreading it. Social pressure and a desire to fit in with the “norm” have been weaponised in fascism’s war for domination of our political culture. For now we are safe from the likes of Britain First; Neo-Nazism is considered evil at worst and a joke at best, but their methods are not exclusive to them, and in the future a far more subtle brand of far-right extremism could use the same techniques to a far, far fouler effect. The tactics of Britain First are, currently, fused to the corpse of old fashioned, thoroughly dead, fascism but it may be appropriated in the future by a new kind of fascism, one far more effective at differentiating itself from the negative stigma of fascism’s horrendous past. Old fascism is dead, but Memetic Fascism is only just beginning.