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Britain’s far-right keyboard warriors are taking advantage of our complacency

Some of the biggest alt right activists are now British. 

Throughout the post-war period, the ability of the British far right to exert influence beyond the confines of the political fringe has very much depended on its cohesiveness and size, neither of which has been taken as a given.

Today, though, there is an autonomous mass of far-right activists propagating hate independently of formal far-right organisations, some of which we have outlined in our new report out today, State of Hate 2018. Some of the biggest names in this world are from the UK and they have global audiences. Many of the largest and most influential far-right sites in the world are visited by huge numbers of UK activists.

It is unwise to measure the importance or danger of the far right purely in terms of electoral strength or number of feet on the street – it only takes one right-wing extremist to bomb a pub or murder an MP. But at the same time, the far right’s ability to influence mainstream political debate, especially on issues like immigration and integration, has generally been tied to the relative importance and scale of political parties and street movements.

However, the explosion of social media during the past decade has also created a momentous shift in the political world. This is especially true for the far right.

In recent years, we have seen the rise of far-right social media personalities who, despite not being part of traditional activist organisations or parties, now have the ability to reach unprecedented numbers of people.

A right-wing alternative media has emerged, stretching from the edges of the mainstream (such as former Trump advisor Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News Network), to scores of YouTube vloggers, Twitter accounts and professional media outlets like Rebel Media and InfoWars. This framework allows activists to propagate their views without the need for traditional structures such as a party.

In November, appearing on an episode of InfoWars’ The Alex Jones Show, former English Defence League (EDL) leader Stephen Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) claimed that in a four week period his tweets reached 193 million people and his Facebook videos were viewed 49 million times. Similarly, Paul Joseph Watson, the British editor of InfoWars, who frequently posts content like “The Islamic State of Sweden” and “Staged Video Shows Refugee Fake Drowning”, has claimed over 1.1 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. Each of his videos receives hundreds of thousands of views and some well into the millions.

It has to be recognised that these players are reaching a global audience, with much of their viewership outside the UK. The Scottish alt-right vlogger Colin Robertson (aka Millennial Woes) – one of those we focus on in our forthcoming undercover film into the movement – claims that just 20 per cent of his audience resides in the UK.

However, estimates (via services such as SimilarWeb and Alexa) of UK web traffic to extreme far-right sites suggests that there are thousands of people actively engaged in far-right politics, just semi-autonomously, outside formalised organisational structures and sitting behind computer screens and keyboards.

After the US, the UK provides the most traffic to almost every major alt-right website in the world., the website of American white nationalist Greg Johnson, received 206,887 unique visitors in November 2017 with 6.41 per cent (13,000) of the traffic coming from the UK.

When it comes to one of the largest white nationalist websites in the world, Stormfront, Similarweb estimated there were one million visitors before the domain was terminated, with 11 per cent of those coming from the UK. That means there have been 110,000 visits from the UK to an explicitly white nationalist website. Stormfront Britain is the site’s second largest section after Newslinks and Articles with over 111,746 threads as of December 2017. This is before one even considers the Daily Stormer, which has superseded Stormfront to become the most prominent white nationalist bolthole on the web.

For most of the post-war period, “getting active” required finding a party, joining, canvassing, knocking on doors, dishing out leaflets and attending meetings. Now, from the comfort and safety of their own homes, these extremist keyboard warriors can engage in far-right politics by watching YouTube videos, visiting far-right websites, networking on forums, speaking on voice chat services such as Discord and trying to convert “normies” on mainstream social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

And we know that in the case of Finsbury Park mosque attacker, Darren Osborne, who killed one and wounded a dozen others last year, that he rapidly self-radicalised online after gorging on content provided online by Tommy Robinson, Britain First and others.

The fact that this can all be done anonymously hugely lowers the social cost of activism. There is now a veritable online army of far-right activists acting completely anonymously without the danger and risk of being ostracised for doing so.

This relatively new means of engaging in political activism also facilitates a more international outlook.

We would be foolish to be complacent despite facing what appears, in terms of the traditional far right, to be a fractured and splintered movement.

If we wait for a period of far-right unity so that we can once again mobilise en-masse against this enemy, we risk society being changed by thousands of people gnawing away at it and propagating the whole package of far-right ideas in the meantime.

Dr Joe Mulhall is senior researcher for HOPE not hate @JoeMulhall_. HOPE not hate’s State of Hate 2018 report is launched today.

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I’ll miss the youthful thrill of Claire’s Accessories – but the tween Mecca refused to grow up

From an adolescent rite of passage to struggling to stay open: how the tackiest shop on the high street lost its shine.

The first day I was allowed to go into “town” (hailing from rural Essex, that’s the local shopping centre, not London) with a friend – unsupervised by a parent – was a real cornerstone of my childhood.

We were 13, and looking back, we had neither mobile phones nor contingency plans, and my mum must have been sat at home for the entire two hours scared shitless, waiting for when she could pick me up again (by the Odeon carpark, 3pm sharp).

Finally free from the constraints of traipsing around department stores bound by the shackles of an adult, my friend and I had the most grown-up afternoon we could imagine; Starbucks Frappuccinos (size: tall – we weren’t made of money), taking pictures on a pink digital camera in the H&M changing rooms, and finally, making a beeline for tween Mecca: Claire’s Accessories.

As a beauty journalist, I’m pretty sure Saturdays spent running amok among the diamante earrings, bow hairbands and fluffy notebooks had an influence on my career path.

I spent hours poring over every rack of clip-on earrings, getting high on the fumes of strawberry lipbalm and the alcohol used to clean freshly pierced toddlers’ ears.

Their slogan, “Where getting ready is half the fun”, still rings true for me ten years on, as I stand on the edge of dancefloors, bored and waiting until my peers are suitably drunk to call it a night, yet revelling in just how great my painstakingly applied false lashes look.

The slogan on a Claire's receipt. Photo: Flickr

On Monday, Claire’s Accessories US filed for bankruptcy, after they were lumbered with insurmountable debts since being taken over by Apollo Global Management in 2007. Many of the US-based stores are closing. While the future of Claire’s in the UK looks uncertain, it may be the next high street retailer – suffering from the surge of online shopping – to follow in Toys R Us’ footsteps.

As much as I hate to say it, this is unsurprising, considering Claire’s commitment to remain the tackiest retailer on the high street.

With the huge rise of interest in beauty from younger age groups – credit where credit’s due, YouTube – Claire’s has remained steadfast in its core belief in taffeta, rhinestone and glitter.

In my local Superdrug (parallel to the Claire’s Accessories, a few doors down from the McDonald’s where we would sit, sans purchase, maxed out after our Lipsmacker and bath bomb-filled jaunt), there are signs plastered all over the new Makeup Revolution concealer stand: “ENQUIRE WITH STAFF FOR STOCK”. A group of young girls nervously designate one among them to do the enquiring.

Such is the popularity of the three-week-old concealer, made infamous by YouTube videos entitled things like “I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CONCEALER!” and “FULL COVERAGE AND £4!!!”, no stock is on display for fear of shoplifters.

The concealer is cheap, available on the high street, comparable to high-end brands and favoured by popular YouTube “beauty gurus”, giving young girls a portal into “adult life”, with Happy Meal money.

It’s unlikely 13-year-olds even own eye bags large enough to warrant a full coverage concealer, but they’re savvy enough to know that they can now get good quality makeup and accessories, without going any higher than Claire’s price points.

They have naturally outgrown a retailer that refuses to grow with them; it’s simply not sustainable on Claire’s part to sell babyish items to a market who no longer want babyish things.

Adulthood is catching up with this new breed of teenagers faster than ever, and they’ve decided it’s time to put away childish things.

Tweenagers of 2018 won’t miss Claire’s Accessories if it goes. The boarded-up purple signage would leave craters in shopping centre walls soon to be filled with the burgundy sheen of a new Pret.

But I will. Maybe not constantly – it’s not as if Primark has stopped selling jersey dresses, or Topshop their Joni jeans – it’ll be more of a slow burn. I’ll mourn the loss of Claire’s the next time a pang of nostalgia for blue-frosted shadow hits me, or when it’s Halloween eve and I realise I’m bereft of a pair of cat ears. But when the time comes, there’s always Amazon Prime.

Amelia Perrin is a freelance beauty and lifestyle journalist.