Broadband Terrorism: A new face of fascism
Matthew Feldman |
The sentencing of the aspiring far-right bomber Neil Lewington to at least six years in prison serves as a wake-up call. Although neo-fascism has followed the web into the 21st century, policies to counteract it remain stuck in the 20th. Indeed, Lewington's case illustrates just how far the far-right has moved. Not in terms of politics, but tactics. Put another way, virtual fascism is to contemporary British society what Oswald Mosely's East End marches were to the mid-1930s: threatening demonstrations against the spirit of democracy and the reality of multicultural society. The latest permutations of fascist hatred no longer march through Cable Street in serried ranks of militants, but swarm through cables in gigabytes of information.
As an expert witness at Neil Lewington's trial, what I described as 'broadband terrorism' played an explosive role in Lewington's arsenal, one nevertheless clearly situated within fascism's historical trajectory. The passage of generations since fascism launched the Second World War have not removed the stigma of revolutionary nationalism; far right ideologues have long accepted this. It is fascist tactics, rather than its worldview, which have been modernised since its heyday in the 1930s, when fascism could mobilise many thousands into thronging parade grounds and marches. The principal threat of the far-right now is as likely to derive from 'lone wolf terrorists' like Lewington as it is from political organisations like the British National Party (BNP).
Witness the 'Waffen SS UK Members Handbook', much noted in press accounts following Lewington's conviction. These twenty pages included a declaration of violent intent, initiatives for terrorist bombings, and a catalogue of counter-surveillance techniques. The latter is particularly noteworthy given that Lewington was first arrested for a Public Order offence, drunk and urinating on a train platform, whilst carrying two explosive devices. The unheroic circumstances of his capture are deeply ironic considering the following statement, which occupied a page of its own in Lewington's handbook: 'NO LONGER WILL THE WEAKLINGS RULE THE WHITE MAN BY LIES AND DECEIT, BUT, THE WARRIOR WILL MAKE HIS COMEBACK, AND, RULE BY STRENGTH, HONESTY AND LOVE FOR HIS RACE'. This bile was cribbed from the far-right skinhead, Ian Stuart Donaldson's, introduction to the Skrewdriver Songbook, firmly locating the 'Waffen SS UK Members Handbook' within the context of the neo-Nazi, 'Blood and Honour' network founded upon Donaldson's death in 1992.
It is the added comma after the word 'BUT' that gives away Lewington's actual source, an addition not in the original Skrewdriver Songbook, but derived from the Combat-18 website. Originally set up as a protection force for BNP speakers in 1992, C18 (the numbers representing 'A' and 'H' in the alphabet, intentional shorthand for 'Adolf Hitler') broke away from the more moderate, party-political membership to carry on paramilitary violence. Encouragement of right-wing violence of the sort that Nick Griffin has been so careful to avoid publicly is still the stock-in-trade of C-18 / Blood and Honour groups (the two are now virtually indistinguishable). This, too, is evidenced by a range of neo-fascist texts available on the latter's website: the notoriously racist fiction by William Pierce, The Turner Diaries, or explicitly paramilitary manuals like 'The B&H Field Manual' and the 'NS Political Soldiers Handbook'. These are DIY guides for right-wing extremists acting alone and without recourse to a fascistic umbrella organisation like the BNP.
In this way, 'lone wolves' such as Lewington may represent a greater threat of violence than organised neo-fascist parties like the BNP or the recently-formed British People's Party. Lewington learned from his mentors, far-right terrorists Timothy MacVeigh and David Copeland, that staying under the radar enabled them to carry out their murderous bombing campaigns in the 1990s, even before the web became such a breeding ground for hate. Policy needs to evolve still further to overtake this new phenomenon. There are policies to combat paedophiles' online activities, but not yet for those inciting racial and religious hatred.
Currently, the web hosts an array of extremist materials capable of turning disaffected, lone racists into politicised terrorists in a manner inconceivable only fifteen years ago. In the largely faceless yet globally-visible world of 'broadband terrorism', incitements to hatred can now be advanced by anyone capable of running Wordpress. As the nail-bomber David Copeland already showed a decade ago, armed with no more than a search engine, a seemingly ineffectual 'loner' can now turn a suburban bed-sit into an individual terrorist 'cell'. A few judicious mouse-clicks enable the assembly of everything from radical right doctrines to bombs. Of course, this is true of all ideological revolutionaries, not only neo-fascists. But the far-right is well ahead of the online curve when it comes to peddling revolutionary politics.
As no UK watchdog exists to combat what the BBC recently called 'The Rise of Hate 2.0', this remains, regrettably, far from an academic problem. One need only glance at Raymond A. Franklin's excellent website to appreciate this online proliferation. The Hate Directory currently lists 163 pages of internet bigotry in English, from racist video games and podcasts to mailing lists, blogs and newsgroups. Many hundreds of websites are listed, typically with chilling titles like 'Politics and Terrorism', the 'Aryan Liberation Army', or several by the name of 'Jewish Ritual Murder'; others are far too offensive to recount here. Franklin's database has substantially increased since its 2008 edition. It will almost certainly do so again next year. Without doubt, such virtual fascism has the potential to produce horrific consequences for unsuspecting victims at the hands of lone-wolf terrorists. This new face of fascism must be politically confronted, and where proven to be facilitating ideological violence, legally interdicted.
The real issue is whether British society has the foresight and resolve to confront the far-right's racist continuities, as did those who flocked to Cable Street in October 1936 to stop Mosley's Blackshirts from marching. If fascist ideology was bellowed from the podium at Nuremburg Rallies and the balcony of Italy's Palazzo Chigi prior to 1945, it was reduced to a low murmur for the rest of that century. But the ubiquity of the web has changed all that. The headlong changes in modern history must not be allowed to blind the guardians of liberal democracy - that is, all of us - to the new guises and subterfuges adopted by its old enemies, but should instead make us more vigilant than ever.Please note: Views expressed are those of the author.