Monday, December 11

UK hotspots targeted in bid to calm post Brexit tension



A nationwide strategy to calm community tensions and challenge the post-referendum surge in racism will be launched on Monday amid fears that an emboldened far right could provoke rising racial conflict in the wake of the Brexit vote.

The anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate will unveil an initiative involving more than 100 unity meetings in identified racist “hotspot” communities, the start of a summer-long campaign to tackle intolerance that has seen reported hate crimes soar during the past week.

The #moreincommon initiative – partly funded by the Jo Cox campaign, which has raised almost £1.5m from nearly 44,000 donations since the MP was murdered shortly before the referendum – coincides with evidence that rightwing extremists feel legitimised by the Vote Leave victory.

Figures released by senior police officers show that hate crime increased fivefold to 331 recorded incidents during the week after the referendum; officials suggest that the figure is vastly under-reported.

On Saturday, Tell Mama, which collates reports of anti-Muslim abuse, said it had identified a “cluster” of 66 incidents during the past week directly linked to Brexit. During an average week the organisation would expect to receive between 40 to 50 incidents of Islamophobia stemming from a broad range of triggers.

Nick Stevens, South Yorkshire organiser of Hope Not Hate, said the strategy is particularly needed in traditionally Labour-voting areas where the anti-immigrants message propagated by the Ukip leader Nigel Farage had gained traction.

“It’s about shifting the narrative away from the horrendously negative into one of solidarity and a celebration of Britain, turning the tide against some of the racism and xenophobia that’s going on,” said Stevens.

A separate scheme organised by the grassroots community alliance London Citizens will stage more than 30 unity events across the capital tomorrow, with volunteers gathering outside transport hubs to tell commuters how they can report hate crime.

One place targeted by Hope Not Hate’s campaign is Rotherham in South Yorkshire, a town repeatedly targeted by the far right, who have attempted to inflame tensions against the Muslim community after court cases exposed the extent of child-grooming rings. During the past 18 months there have been 15 far-right demonstrations in the town, including by the anti-Muslim English Defence League (EDL), the ultra-right nationalist group Britain First, the neo-Nazi National Front and a regional nationalist group called the North East Infidels. The anti-Muslim group Pegida UK is due to return at the end of next month led by the UK’s most high-profile far-right activist, the former EDL leader Tommy Robinson.

“These excursions come at great financial and social cost. In the days after far-right incursions in Rotherham we see kids fighting at school, people fighting in the street, horrible incidents,” said Stevens. Following the referendum he said that two organisations from Sheffield and one from Leeds had contacted him asking how they could best challenge the far right.

Latest analysis of the far right reveals that at least 25 extreme groups are active throughout the UK, with members often switching between organisations or creating splinter groups. Recently another group emerged when members of the National Front and the regional nationalist organisation the Northern Patriotic Front formed a new outfit called the Northern Nationalists.

Matthew Collins of Hope Not Hate said: “It’s a race war, the neo-Nazis want a race war, the EDL and Britain First see it as a religious conflict, but they all have these Armageddon philosophies, a sense of inevitability that some sort of judgment day is coming.”

He estimates a hardcore cohort of 500 far-right members are currently “active” in the UK, with up to 2,000 “involved” in the sense that they might turn up for meetings or marches.

Tell Mama, which revealed last week that incidents of anti-Muslim abuse rose by more than 300% in 2015, found that a much larger number of individuals linked to the far right are active online. Fiyaz Mughal, founder of Tell Mama, said that “tens of thousands” followed far-right groups on social media and he aired concerns that, in broad terms, rightwing views had hardened since the Brexit vote.

Of 364 cases of anti-Muslim abuse examined by the group, almost half – 165 – were found to have verifiable far-right support. Only in 62 cases could no links to the far right be found.

Campaigners fear that worse may follow the 23 June vote. “Brexit has left them feeling legitimised, their bigotry normalised, and their views have hardened towards immigration, multiculturalism and the Muslim community,” said Mughal.

Of 207 online perpetrators of anti-Muslim abuse, 63 followed Nigel Farage’s Twitter account, according to Tell Mama analysis. However, among extreme far-right groups Farage and Ukip are viewed with contempt, mainly because such groups believe that Farage has stolen and successfully popularised some of their views. “Ukip are seen as neocons who stole their respectability and their palatable policies,” said Collins.

The surge in racism prompted prime minister David Cameron to tell parliament on Wednesday that the government would be publishing a hate-crime action plan. Monitoring of the far right is undertaken by the National Counter Terrorism Policing Operations Centre, with daily assessments currently being made of the potential for the far right to “engage in violence or terrorist activity”.

Although the unit refuses to disclose how many individuals it is currently monitoring, the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit said it had 2,627 individuals on its database – including leftwing and animal-rights extremists – in a response to a Freedom of Information query two years ago.