Blog post

In the polls, in the streets and in the Army: the fortunes of contemporary fascists

Huw Lemmey 3 September 2012

"Forget about ideas and think about selling them" was Nick Griffin's advice to the BNP party faithful at the beginning of his decade long campaign to make fascism bland enough for the British political palate. In Bloody Nasty People journalist Daniel Trilling follows the BNP from its electoral heights to its human depths, as Griffin attempted to cover-up his "boots and fists" past as a street-fighting thug and rebrand himself, and his party, in the model of Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Front National, France's successful fascist organisation.

In his review of Bloody Nasty People for the Scotsman, Gavin Dowd notes how Griffin's turn from ideology to marketing has collapsed, with the BNP führer mimicking "his hapless fascist predecessors in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory", with shambolic media performances being matched by equally dismal results in the polls. If the British far-right is accomplished at one thing, however, it is splintering and relaunching; "It is one of the many merits of Trilling's book", writes Dowd, "that he punctures any complacency about the threat of the extreme right in Britain."

Indeed, this weekend saw a demonstration in Walthamstow by the English Defence League, a far-right grouping that has been somewhat more successful in evading being called out as fascist by the mainstream press. As Dowd notes, "New Labour and Conservative attempts to triangulate and capture the high ground on the issue of immigration and asylum seekers only helped the far right", and the EDL have made political ground by echoing the anti-Islamic rhetoric of mainstream politicians like Jack Straw.

Still, the EDL look to join the glittering pantheon of dead fascist groups, as each demonstration pulls out dwindling numbers of supporters facing growing crowds of anti-fascists, trade-unionists, socialists and, most importantly, local working-class people. Saturday's EDL march, like last autumn's march in Tower Hamlets, failed to even reach its rally point thanks to local people who blocked the streets, and the EDL retreated to their coaches under a hail of insults and flowerpots from residents. Chatter from far-right social media suggests growing discontent from rank-and-file fascists with their Barbican-dwelling commanders. "Well wot a day" wrote Roy Bexley: "It was humiliating to say the least... Im having time out I've had about as much a i can take".

Elsewhere in Europe fascists have been suffering similar difficulties in marketing themselves as patriotic defenders of freedom. In Holland EDL darling and leader of the PVV (Freedom Party) Geert Wilders found himself under pressure after a coincidence drew unintended focus on his anti-immigration PR campaign. After weeks of advertising and rhetoric advocating the rights of "Henk and Ingrid" (a fictional "John and Jane Doe" couple) over their muslim neighbours, a racist attack by a real-life couple named Henk and Ingrid against their Turkish neighbour left 64-year old Aziz Kara dead, and was an uncanny reminder of the violence that follows in the shadow of racist and xenophobic rhetoric.

Fascists in the United States have generally steered clear of the populist democratic route to power, instead focusing on paramilitary militias and street gangs. Whilst fascist groupings in the UK and Holland are haemorrhaging members, the US has a different sort of "recruitment problem": the increasing number of neo-nazis in their military ranks. In his new book Irregular Army journalist Matt Kennard delves deep into the culture of racism and violence that pervades the US Army, and looks at how the need for "boots on the ground" in the War of Terror led the military to relax entry restrictions so drastically that Marines serving in Afghanistan fight under the Stars and Stripes (officially) and the twin bolts of the SS (unofficially). In a fascinating extract of Irregular Army featured this week in the Guardian, Kennard writes:
In the relatively halcyon days of the first Gulf warin 1990, the US military blocked the enlistment of felons. It spurned men and women with low IQs or those without a high school diploma. It would either block the enlistment of or kick out neo-Nazis and gang members. It would treat or discharge alcoholics, drug abusers and the mentally ill. No more. While the Bush administration adopted conservative policies pretty much universally, it saved its ration of liberalism for the US military, where it scrapped many of the regulations governing recruitment.

Many of the wars' worst atrocities are linked directly to the loosening of enlistment regulations on criminals, racist extremists, and gang members, among others. Then there are the effects on the troops themselves. Lowering standards on intelligence and body weight, for example, compromised the military's operational readiness and undoubtedly endangered the lives of US and allied troops. Hundreds of soldiers may have paid with their lives for this folly.
Both street fascists and electoral demogogues are suffering in parts of northern Europe. However, in the US and across much of the rest of Europe (the rise of Golden Dawn in Greece, for example) outward displays of violent Nazism and fascism still find a receptive audience. As Dowd writes in his review of Bloody Nasty People, "The "brown beast" is down but far from out."

Visit the Scotsman to read the review in full.

Visit the Guardian to read the extract from Irregular Army in full.

Filed under: excerpts, reviews