The Vortex: fascism, racism and the social media mob

boylan

Behold the vortex of Ireland’s public discourse. A 4FM DJ, who provides a platform to fascists from Identity Ireland, takes the former Tánaiste for her response to Jo Cox’s murder by a Neo-Nazi, because male politicians get online abuse too.

Why has Boylan put “murdered” in inverted commas? Is he suggesting that Jo Cox was not really murdered? After all, he does claim the man was ‘deranged’, rather than note that his reported actions to date -from the attack on an internationalist and anti-racist politician, to the grandiose declaration in court that his name was ‘death to traitors, freedom for Britain’- are entirely consistent with those of a fascist agitator fully conscious of their aims and intended effects. But it could also be that Boylan doesn’t know how to write properly.

Burton, meanwhile, treats Jo Cox’s murder as primarily a question of misogyny directed at female politicians, particularly on social media. Yes, there is an element of misogyny to Jo Cox’s murder. This is because fascism is inherently misogynist. As Robert O. Paxton highlights in his authoritative The Anatomy Of Fascism, fascism needs ‘authority by natural chiefs (always male), culminating in a national chieftain who alone is capable of incarnating the group’s historical destiny’. But there are many other elements to it that make it far more than just a matter of social media abuse directed at women.

Paxton concludes his study by stressing that further fascist advances toward power depend ‘in part on the severity of a crisis, but also very largely upon human choices, especially the choices of those holding economic, social, and political power’. But what we have seen in the wake of Jo Cox’s murder is a widespread refusal, on the part of people who do hold such power, to even call it by its name. Do they even know what it is?

If we’re being charitable in Burton’s case, the fact that she herself drew parallels with fascism when her car was surrounded by anti-water charges protesters in Jobstown may be down to her own ignorance. To spell it out: the Jobstown protest was motivated by the introduction of a regressive tax in the context of a deep austerity programme that is an effective transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich and stewarded by a political party that claims to represent the working class. It came to an end without anyone getting injured. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fascist ‘pursuit of redemptive violence without ethical or legal constraints’ (Paxton again). To draw such parallels, apart from anything else, is to deny the danger posed by fascism in the here and now.

By all means, let’s recognise that fascism and racism can be strengthened through electronic communication. But it’s both mistaken and harmful to contend that uncivil and even abusive online communication is the origin of fascist and racist activity. It is all too convenient to do so, as it lets elite groups off the hook for their decisions and their complicity. And if it all can be boiled down to the matter of the untutored mob being afforded too much freedom, well, there are plenty who take this concept of an elite exercising their rule regardless of what the weak-minded mob think a lot more seriously, and some of them are in Britain First.

Paxton notes that ‘”giving up free institutions,” especially the freedoms of unpopular groups, is recurrently attractive to citizens of Western democracies’. If people cannot recognise that the motive behind Jo Cox’s murder was both fascist and racist, and that the conditions that give rise to such acts of violence have to do with the identification of particular groups -in Britain, specifically, Muslims, refugees and migrants- as threats to the primacy of the nation, then similar acts will continue to occur. But a large part of the response has been to attribute the murder to vindictiveness about such matters as politicians’ hairstyles (The Times, Irish edition), and the dehumanisation of politicians more generally, with lots of commentators stressing that politicians are actually quite decent people, contrary to what the mob might be inclined to believe. The trouble is that the same people raising the alarm now about the dehumanisation of politicians have rarely had anything to say about the widespread dehumanisation of such groupings as Muslims or refugees or migrants, which is where fascist groupings such as Britain First seek to forge common cause with the mainstream.

Perhaps it is to be expected, but it is no less jarring for that, that there is such a widespread refusal to draw any distinction in elite political and media circles between, on the one hand, genuine indignation at the harm done to societies hit by austerity measures enacted by a political elite serving big business and big finance first and foremost, and, on the other, anti-political resentment, which is carefully fostered by a right-wing press geared towards stripping away what remains of public services and social and democratic rights. Such anti-political resentment is stoked systematically by the very same media outlets that warn of the danger posed by those elements of the population who constitute the enemy within. If there is no room made for such a distinction to be drawn, then the latter is likely to thrive, with dire consequences for the democracy that people in these circles claim to respect.

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