A van swerved into a group of people in Finsbury Park last night. Within minutes of the news breaking, the right-wing internet started playing out the same script they always trot out in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack. “It’s another peace truck again” said one Twitter user, having assumed the perpetrator had been Muslim. A chorus of Pepe the Frog avatars began offering their least funny anti-Islam puns, my favourite being “Ramavan”. This is the script. Right-wing accounts gleefully insult Muslims with badly Photoshopped memes and somewhere along the line Katie Hopkins ‘accidentally’ calls for another genocide.
And yet, when it was revealed that this was an Islamophobic terror attack carried out by a white male on worshippers outside Muslim Welfare House, something very strange happened. A swathe of social media went silent. Only in the past couple of hours, has Infowars’ boy wonder Paul Joseph Watson expressed his take (TL;DR: “Islam is bad”). As more and more details of the events became clear, other right wing characters – Hopkins, Stefan Molyneux, the YouTuber who likes to pretend he’s a Mesopotamian king – noticeably proffered far less of their expertise on terror attacks than they normally feel they ought to. Whether this was out of remorse, or confusion, we’ll never know. But what is for certain is; the events of last night were not random. In fact, it’s likely that said right-wing figures might hold significant responsibility for the horrific events that took place.
Over the past few months – and particularly following the London Bridge terror attacks – right-wing factions of the web have been furiously lamenting the UK’s “Islamic problem”. Whether this ‘problem’ manifests itself in the guise of supposedly religiously-sanctioned grooming gangs, unfounded and bizarre accusations of terrorism being funded through halal meat, or Muslims planning a verbal jihad by speaking another language on public transport, right-wing internet personalities have made a good buck convincing their viewers that Europe and the United States are on the brink of becoming massive Sharia courts and that we will all be legally required to wear burkas.
For the most part, these people haven’t been taken particularly seriously by a mainstream media who believed the ‘alt-right’ to be a kooky American phenomenon which would eventually fade out. Don’t pay them any attention and they’ll soon go away. Besides, when was the last time a white nationalist carried out a terror attack? Never mind the fact that they have been the fastest-rising group to be referred to the British government’s counter-extremism programme.
The blasé attitude toward this group meant that more extreme videos could be made and distributed freely and unchecked. In the last few weeks, right-wing YouTube channel Rebel Media have been posting videos featuring former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, in which he calls for the reinstatement of internment camps and warns of domestic vigilante groups taking out Muslims. Other right-wing personalities have expressed similar sentiments – opinions that don’t call directly for violence, but leave viewers in a state where they haven’t been told how to respond to their perceived problem. Videos like “Islam is a threat to western civilization”, “England under Islamic siege” and “EUROPE IS OVER, ISLAM IS COMING”. You can find all these videos on one YouTube page, and once you watch a few, there’s plenty more, all with the same argument: dark-skinned, bearded men are coming to take your fair-skinned white women. These commentators have built their careers and reputations around convincing their readers of the impending caliphate will take reservation when blamed for contributing to today’s massacre. They will likely say that they never advocated violence, that all they wanted to do was promote free speech.
If anything, this argument demonstrates the cynical lack of conviction held by so many of these pundits. They illustrate a problem, position themselves as an authority, but then are entirely dishonest in their solution. It’s all well and good to say that Europe must “wake up” or that British men must protect their wives and kids from the “invading Muslims” - but in pretty much all these cases, the commentators and pundits stop themselves conspicuously short in describing how they would go about achieving this. Is it any wonder, then, that out of the thousands of people that consume this media on a daily basis, at least one could eventually be convinced to take the “defence” of their culture into their own hands, even if that means committing one of the worst acts imaginable?
As we learn more about this attack, it should be clear that we shouldn’t simply treat it as an isolated case, or something without precedent. Let it be known that the conditions which allowed this attack to take place are now very much mainstream – after all, the distrust and suspicion of British Muslims has even been encouraged by well-known writers and columnists. It is imperative we recognise that, in turn, this has paved the way for once-fringe commentators to become acceptable faces and voices for daytime television, despite these ideas having the power to destroy lives. We are now aware of the very real dangers behind right-wing ‘talking points’ concerning Islam, and how they can manifest. It would be ideal if simply ignoring these people could make their agendas dissipate. But it’s becoming increasingly important to take them to task, now more than ever.