The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We have become insufficiently vigilant. If there is one thing we should have learnt by now it is how thoroughly the popular narrative can be manipulated by control of the media. And it is manipulation of the popular narrative which has made the anti-freedom of hate crime palatable to the public.
On Friday 6th January 2017, BBC Radio 4’s PM programme aired a long interview with Gerry Gable of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight (available here, 44:00 to 57:00). I found it chilling, but not for the reason the BBC was hoping. The interview concerned the activities of Searchlight in opposing and infiltrating organisations described in the programme as far-right extremists. The groups National Action, Britain First and EDL were mentioned, as were the alt.right and Breitbart. (National Action has, I believe, been banned in the UK).
I am not a supporter of any of these groups. Indeed, apart from having read the odd Breitbart article, I know nothing about them. But I am not inclined to visit the web sites of the first three organisations, or even Google their names, for fear of ending up on a GCHQ list. This fear is not unrelated to the burden of this article. I’m happy to confess to being socially conservative, but apparently my political compass is somewhat left of centre. I would prefer not to bother with politics at all, but that is a luxury which is no longer morally justifiable.
We were not long into the PM interview before it was claimed that the alt.right, and Breitbart, exerted an influence on the election of Mr Trump (no doubt in league with Vladimir Putin) and also on the Brexit vote. Tut, tut (runs the sub-text) these are not the correct people to be influencing the electorate. Forgive me, but the electorate has the right to decide for themselves by whom they are influenced.
It became difficult to tell whether the PM discussion was about organisations like National Action, Britain First and EDL, or about US president-elect Trump’s personal confidants. The language made clear that this conflation was deliberate. “These people” are now close to the White House, we were warned. Should we not be concerned that “people like this” are gaining influence, thus justifying “fighting this sort of person”?
Mr Gable had the answer. These far-right extremists are operating sophisticated web sites. GCHQ, he opined, has the means to address this. We should “treat them like paedophiles”, he suggested. We should raid their premises and confiscate their computer equipment – repeatedly if necessary. We should “hit them in their pockets”. Internet service providers should be encouraged to “fight shy of dealing with them”. These people should be given “punitive sentences” (an example of football hooligans being given 18 years was mentioned as an illustration).
So what exactly is my problem? Surely these racist scum-bags deserve such treatment, do they not? Perhaps they do, I would not know. What I do know, though, is that the authorities should confine their activities to enforcing the law. You see, what was missing from the PM programme was any mention of breaking the law.
True, Mr Gable was sent a letter bomb – but that was 22 years ago. And there was a vague reference to violence, or threats of violence, but that related to a period in the 1960s which Mr Gable said was worse than the current situation.
To motivate the punitive, and rather unorthodox, measures suggested by Mr Gable it was apparently sufficient that these groups were – in his opinion – “far-right extremists”. And by broadcasting the likes of this interview, the BBC are softening up the public to accept that groups espousing any views which they have been taught are “incorrect” can, and should, be treated in this manner. Whether they have broken any laws seems not to be the point, only whether they have upset Searchlight or the BBC or any other upholders of approved correctness.
Unfortunately, in the concept of hate crime we have a convenient mechanism for criminalising the “incorrect”. We have already seen in Nottinghamshire how lobby groups, working to ‘train’ the local police force, can make de facto justice depart from de jure justice. Who cares if a few fascist types are treated a bit harshly, you might think. The answer, of course, is that it might be you next. Oh, and the old freedom of speech thing. And some people might cling to the quaint notion that some form of due process should be followed, rather than attacking groups based on opinion and using methods like “hitting them in their pockets” by stealing their property.
Have you ever had an incorrect thought? Be frightened.
Brexit and Trump were like poking a tiger with a stick. It can be expected that the tiger will attack. This tiger attacks with propaganda. We can expect more conflating of incorrect thoughts with “far-right extremism” to come in 2017. Watch out for it. Be vigilant.