In Depth

How coronavirus and Black Lives Matter emboldened the UK’s far-right

Anti-racism protest in London called off over fears of clashes with hate groups

Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest organisers have cancelled a demonstration in London this weekend amid fears of violence by far-right demonstrators.

In a post on Instagram, the anti-racism activists said the protest in Hyde Park on Saturday afternoon was being called off because “many hate groups” were planning to crash the event. “We want the protests to be a safe space for people to attend however we don’t think it’ll be possible with people like them present,” the organisers warn.

Far-right groups have announced a counter “defend our memorials” rally at Winston Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square, and “claim they intend to prevent the landmarks from being targeted” by BLM protesters, reports The Guardian. But concerns have been raised that “marauding gangs of hooligans will seek out” the rival demonstrators at various anti-racism events still due to take place in London and other parts of the UK, the newspaper says.

How BLM protests rallied the far-right

Unsurprisingly, far-right groups have been riled by BLM protests taking place across the world in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

And UK police fear that the rival demonstrations by both sides that are set to take place in London this weekend  add up to a “perfect storm” for clashes, says The Sun.

Saturday’s Churchill statue protest has been organised by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA), a loose network that emerged in response to the 2017 terrorist attacks in Britain. 

The DFLA - which has been condemned as a far-right group by anti-racism campaigners - had lost momentum, but has been reignited by the BLM protests.

Ex-English Defence League leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who goes under the name Tommy Robinson, has thrown his support behind the far-right counter demonstration. 

Members of the far-right group Britain First are also expected to attend, after showing up at a BLM protest last week carrying banners reading “White Lives Matter”, reports MyLondon.

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How has coronavirus embolded the far right?

The Covid-19 pandemic has given far-right groups another issue around which to coalesce, with many touting long-debunked conspiracy theories on the origins of the virus.

An investigation by the BBC and UK counter-extremism think-tank Institute of Strategic Dialogue found that coronavirus disinformation being shared by far-right extremists relates to five key themes: immigration, Islam, Judaism, the LGBTQ movement, and elites.

A separate report by Zinc Network, a communications agency that tracks fake news and propaganda, says there has been a clear move among far-right groups in the UK, EU and US to “utilise the pandemic to bring new relevancy, attention and support for their key grievances”.

“The evidence we’ve uncovered shows that far-right groups in the UK are using Covid-19 to promote a British form of fascism,” Louis Brooke, executive director of research and strategy at Zinc Network, told The Guardian.

Populist politicians and other far-right figures who have achieved mainstream success are among those accused of exploiting the health crisis.

Far-right Italian politician Matteo Salvini has blamed the outbreak in his country on migration, and has called for “armour-plated” borders.

The leader of the Alternative for Germany party in the Bundestag, Alice Weidel, has also claimed that the spread of the virus in her nation is down to the “dogma of the open border”.

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