Since the Covid pandemic, there has been a rise in conspiracy theories that have bled over into the far right. Pat Stack writes about one such example, The Light newspaper, as well as a community campaign to counter its influence.
The growth of the far right has taken a number of different forms and sprung from sometimes unlikely roots.
In Ireland for instance there seemed to be an absence of far-right activity, but in the last few months a growth of anti refugee protests and acts of violence against refugees, and a peculiar but threatening protest outside the Dáil (the Irish Parliament) has shown that there is now such a presence. It may be relatively small, but it is real and dangerous.
Speaking to anti-fascist activists in Ireland, it appears that what had been a tiny far right began to get a hearing during the protests against the government’s Covid measures: anti lockdown, anti vaccine and so on.
This side effect of the Covid experience, a tendency to conspiratorial obsessions about government plots and vaccine dangers, along with resistance to mask wearing, seems to have spawned quite a lot of right-wing website activity, which in Ireland at least has gone on to create a threatening street movement.
In Britain, the far right is still dominated by more traditional style organisations, but there are also weird and worrying developments on the fringes.
This is perhaps best personified by the conspiracy theorist paper The Light.
I have to admit that I was largely unaware of the paper’s existence until contacted by a friend from my student days who lives in Stroud in Gloucestershire saying that the paper was regularly being distributed in the town, that its content was highly reactionary, and it seemed to be getting a hearing.
She and other activists in the town were putting together a campaign to counter the paper and prevent it from being handed out unchallenged. She asked if I would help with some input into a mission statement, and leaflets, which I agreed to do.
As a result, I endeavoured to find out more about the paper.
The first thing that struck me was its unusual targets for distribution. It did not go to the usual geographical localities for distribution. By and large, it has had little impact in major cities. Instead it has tended to target places like Stroud, Totness in Devon and Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria. On a visit to a friend in the little village of Chagford in Devon, I found it had been pushed through my friend’s door there, and I heard people discussing it in the village pub.
Also unusual was the target audience, which seemed to be a generation of new age travellers who had long ago fallen out of love with government and state institutions and had traditionally been seen as on the liberal left side of things.
The Light initially sold itself to this market with an anti-government interference stand on Covid, along with hostility to the medical profession, scientists and so on. It supplemented these articles with pieces about the value of hemp and crystals and the like, and clearly began to get a following.
One anti-Light activist in Totness told a BBC reporter that when the Light began appearing in the town a large gathering of locals told the small number of Light distributors that they weren’t welcome, but that some time later when the two confronted each other again, although still the minority, it was noticeable that amongst the Light’s supporters were people who had previously demonstrated against them.
In part, it could gain an audience by claiming to neither be on the left nor the right, just anti all the conspiratorial things governments, institutions and official society do. It’s understandable that there is an audience for this because governments of course do all kinds of awful things. Gradually however the hemp and crystal stuff faded into the background, apart from paid advertising, and was replaced more and more by blatant right wing propaganda and contributors championing outright right-wing prejudices.
Amongst its contributors have been:
Anne-Marie Waters, who has written for them several times. Until recently, she was leader of the ‘For Britain’ political party. In 2017, She was a co-founder and key figure of Pegida UK. Pegida was a Europe-wide, anti-Muslim street movement. Her views are so extreme that even Nigel Farage called her and her supporters “Nazis and racists”.
Out-and-out fascist Tommy Robinson, seen recently leading right-wing anti-Muslim mobs to ‘protect the cenotaph’ while hundreds of thousands marched in solidarity with Palestine.
Katie Hopkins has also featured. Well known for racist rants so extreme that they cost her jobs with mainstream right-wing media outlets. Infamous examples are comparing migrants to cockroaches and calling for a “final solution” for Muslims. Hopkins left the Mail Online ‘by mutual consent’ in 2017 after giving a speech to far right groups in which she attacked Muslims
Then there is the contribution of ‘Lasha Darkmoon’. This pen-name is also used by a frequent contributor to Nazi websites. Their bigotry and conspiracies cover antisemitism and racism towards Muslim people and non-white migrants. The article itself champions Holocaust denial and describes it as “the number one heresy of our day”.
Similarly, the issues the paper have covered have been anti refugee, anti-gay rights, anti-women’s rights, anti-trans rights, anti-immigration, defence of holocaust deniers, and as with many conspiracy obsessives, a thread of antisemitism runs through much of it.
The Light is also an enthusiastic supporter of right wing governments in Italy, Brazil when Bolsonaro was president, Poland and Hungary. Hungary is particularly significant because the government of Victor Orban did actually use lock down to impinge on political freedoms, and has kept many of the repressive measures he introduced ‘in response to the virus’ on the statute book ever since. Interesting that the paper that most feared lockdown as a political tool supports the government that did actually use it for that.
The Light is of course still very much on the fringe of things, however it claims to hand out 100,000 copies a month from 30 hubs. It is estimated to cost them £240,000 per annum, which editor Daren Nesbitt claims is paid for by advertisement and donations.
It also has international links to Ireland where the Irish version is edited by Gemma O’Doherty and John Waters two well known ultra reactionary right-wing journalists, and in Germany it is closely linked to Demokratischer Widerstand (Democratic Resistance), a far right conspiracy theorist paper which again became prominent during Covid.
Unlike in Ireland, the Light and its German equivalent haven’t become key focal points for the far right, but their sales pitch of ‘we’re not really political’ and ‘we are just a small self funded publication of like-minded people’, has clearly pulled people into the orbit of the far right who you would not normally expect to be there.
As someone said to me in Stroud, they don’t look like the people you see on far-right marches like the recent one at the cenotaph; they look like you and me.
Of course, their claims of what they are don’t really bear inspection. They are highly political, they have a number of established international links, and it would be interesting to see a proper inspection of their financing to test their funding sources.
To finish on a high, I was asked to go to Stroud to chair a meeting organised by the local campaign against them. Over 100 people turned up to hear left-wing lawyer and author David Renton, and local activists James and Emma, speak.
James and Emma, along with my good friend Denise and a number of other activists, had organised a superb counter campaign called Community Solidarity Stroud District, and the size of the meeting and the enthusiasm of the audience bore this out.
Fighting the far right in all its forms is vital, and the real success that the anti-Light movement has had in places like Stroud and Totness in exposing them for exactly what they are needs to be replicated wherever they show their faces.Original post