Far right violence from Charleston to Mold Tesco

Last week saw the horrific attack by Dylann Roof on a black church in Charleston. There has been lots of debate about whether his actions should be named "hate crimes" or "terrorism" or not, which I won't comment on, except to say that the far right, in its various guises, has killed quite a lot of people in America in the past decade. Depending how you count it, there have been well over a hundred incidents of multiple homicide or attempted multiple homicide - see, from different political perspectives, reports by the ADL, SPLC and PRA.

One of the reasons these incidents tend to get classed as "hate crime" rather than "terrorism" is that they are typically carried out by "lone wolves", often "self-radicalised" rather than networked. But typically they have made connections - sometimes online, but often face-to-face - with far right groups. It is far right ideology, not (just) visceral racist hate, that inspires them to mass murder.*

Worth noting is that conspiracy theory, and almost always antisemitic conspiracy theory, rather than racial prejudice, that is usually at the heart of their ideology (as John-Paul Pagano shows here, exposing the antisemitic conspiracism central to Dylann Roof's worldview, in which blacks are the manipulated pawns of Jews, the real enemy).**

Although Fox News and its ilk like to portray the left as full of hate, there have only been a small number of comparable left-wing attacks in the last decade or so: Joseph Andrew Stack and Lee Malvo, and earlier Ted Kaczynski, the eco-primitivist Unabomber.*** It's striking, though, that their worldviews were conspiracist too, and that they shared more memes with survivalists and fringe right groups such as the militia movement and sovereign citizens than with the socialist far left.

British liberals like to chuckle and sneer at American political wackiness, but this is a British problem too. This week we have seen the trial of Zack Davies, Britain's would-be Dylann Roof, who carried out a machete attack in a Tesco's supermarket in Mold, on a Sikh man he thought was Muslim, attempting to behead him as Lee Rigby was beheaded. Thankfully, a former soldier bravely intervened and saved Dr Bhambra's life.

Davies is not the first. Since David Copeland's nail-bombings at the end of the last century, we've had Robert Cottage, Martyn Gilleard, Nathan Worrell, Neil Lewington, Pavlo Lapshyn, Ryan McGee. In 2013, the Home Secretary
disclosed that one in ten cases referred to a Home Office scheme to stop youngsters being caught up in terrorism related to the Far Right. Seventeen right-wing extremists are serving prison sentences linked to terrorism, including a man who built up the biggest arms cache uncovered recently in Britain, two men convicted of preparing to use home-made poison in an attack and another jailed for circulating terrorist literature.
For some reason, these attacks are not newsworthy in Britain in the way Islamist terrorist attacks are, which is why many of the names I've listed might not ring a bell.

Again, most of these British attackers are "lone wolves" - but most have connected to far right organisations. McGee, for example, had a mum who was active in the EDL.

Zack Davies was connected with a particularly unsavoury far right group, National Action.**** Matthew Collins writes about him and his NA connection here. While Davies thought his victim was Muslim, the heart of National Action ideology (paralleling Dylann Roof) is conspiracist antisemitism.

Davies also admired ISIS in a twisted way, and at his trial clearly emphathised with Lee Rigby's killers even as he claimed he wanted to avenge Rigby's death. This is not so surprising: Davies' fascism mirrors jihadi Islamism in many ways. It is disappointing that many anti- and "counter"-jihadis fail to take the far right seriously, just as many anti-fascists fail to take Islamism seriously.


*For more detail on Roof's brand of white supremacism, see Matthew Lyons.

**This is an aside, but it is interesting the lengths that some "anti-Zionists" who like to think that antisemitism is dead will go in their denial. Max Blumenthal rightly identifies the relationship between Roof's ideology and views that circulate on the fringes of the American ultra-conservatism. But he wrongly claims that Roof loathes leftist and liberal Jews for their "agitation of the black race". It is not leftist and liberal Jews (the good, exceptional Jews of whom Blumenthal presumably includes himself) that Roof loathes; it is Jews in general. And Blumenthal's buddy David Sheen managed to make it about Israel by writing 1000 words about an obscure Israeli site that shockingly expressed empathy for the Charleston victims, thus committing the awful crime of "hasbara", even though churches are attacked in Israel too. CJ Werleman went a step further, claiming, against all the evidence, that Zionism is one of the ingredients of Roof's white supremacist ideology.

***Thanks to Manfred Rosenbauer and Just Quoting for these examples, via Twitter.

****I'd like to say more about the interesting variant of fascism that National Action represent, including their mimicry of anti-fascist and anti-capitalist style, a phenomenon which Czech antifa have named "the big neo-Nazi crib". But that's for some other time. 


Paul Seligman said…
I was with you till the last section. Anti-Zionsit Jewish activists like Max Blumental and David Sheen are not unaware of real anti-semitism, nor do they defend the attacks on churches and mosques in Israel, indeed they have done much to publicise such attacks.

I can't see why you are attacking them in this context.
bob said…
Paul, I was probably being too flippant in that footnote. I know they don't defend attacks on churches and mosques in Israel and that they have publicised them. I think those attacks are horrific too of course. The italicised bit was paraphrasing Sheen, who claimed that it is cynical for Israelis to express sympathy with the Charleston church-goers when other Israelis are attacking churches in Israel. His logic seems to me completely flawed, and based on the doctrine of collective responsibility. Just as Muslims can clearly emphathise with racist attacks on a church without having to mention the Muslims who have also attacked churches, so too do Jews understand what it's like to be attacked in your place of worship by racists. Sheen's monomaniac obsession with the crimes of Jews is such that he is unable to think about anything without turning it into being about Israel, Israel, Israel.

If Blumenthal and Sheen are genuinely aware of real antisemitism, I've missed where they've written or talked about it - I don't follow them at all closely, so I'd be happy to concede if you can show me examples. However, in the Blumenthal tweet, it is striking he slides over Roof's antisemitism, and pretends it's a hatred of left/liberal Jews (like himself).
Paul Seligman said…
I don't know that much about David Sheen, to be honest. But here's a recent speech by Max B that clearly states his position an anti-Semitism (it exists and it's a threat) and the misuse of this by Zionism
bob said…
I'm afraid I don't read that incoherent rant as taking antisemitism seriously. It does not for instance take seriously the real pain and fear that antisemitism causes most Jews - most of whom call themselves Zionist. It accuses "Zionists" of instrumentalising antisemitism to beat anti-Zionists (which does of course occasionally happen) - while itself instrumentalising antisemitism to beat Zionists. This is like Sheen's claim that "Zionists" are cynically exploiting black suffering in Charleston as a way of cynically exploiting it himself. If cynical instrumentalisation of suffering is bad, then it's bad, whatever the cause. Whether they are right or not about Netanyahu (they're probably right) or about the obscure Israeli site that commiserated with black suffering (they're probably wrong), their consistent MO is to make every issue about Israel. Anti-racists instead, real anti-racists, should seek to understand racism - all racisms - as they manifest in the world, to take it seriously prima facie, should resist it - not trivialise it, instrumentalise it, apologise for it, or relativise it.
levi9909 said…
I'm glad you admitted to your flippancy here but you've still made some very problematic assertions:

What was incoherent about Max Blumenthal's speech? Was there something you didn't understand? He spoke perfectly calmly so how did it amount to a rant?

You say most Jews suffer pain and fear of antisemitism. Where did you get that from? I mean what was the question put to people that most would answer "yes"?

You say most Jews call themselves Zionist? How is Zionist defined, what was the question and who was it put to?

Are you saying that most Jews support Jewish supremacist statehood? Are you saying most Jews support the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians to establish and maintain a commanding Jewish majority in Palestine?

Are you saying that if most Jews subscribe to an ideology then it becomes anti-Jewish to oppose that ideology? Are you saying that this is how most Jews are reporting their pain and fear regarding antisemitism?

The idea that most Jews self-define by reference to an ideology borders on essentialism and the idea that if correct then the rest of humanity has to accept that ideology doesn't tally with being a "real anti-racist".

BTW, regarding David Sheen's article, he was referring to a twitter account called @ILNewsFlash which has a following of 20.9 k. Not mega but hardly obscure and he was condemning them for making the Charleston massacre about Israel and not about its victims.

For all you claim that Israel's critics are obsessed you seem to be venting your own obsession here. Nothing wrong with that per se but at least be self-aware.
bob said…
I didn't want this to be the main issue of the post. It was a footnote below the fold, and explicitly introduced as an "aside". Perhaps raising it at all is evidence of my "obsession" (with what? with Israel, which I have not blogged about for literally dozens of posts, since last Autumn? or with antisemitism?).

I didn't watch Blumenthal's speech, just read the transcript. Maybe it was calm not a rant, but it read as totally incoherent, a sequence of non-sequiturs.

I am pretty confident, both from Jews I know and from all the polling data, that almost all Jews feel a certain amount of pain at antisemitism, even when they are not the direct victims, and that a pretty big proportion feel at least some fear. The poll the CAA conducted was extremely un-robust, but the FRA polling is strong: 48% in the UK say it is a "very big" or "fairly big" problem here, with much higher levels in all other countries. Rightly to wrongly, 68% perceive it to have increased in the last 5 years.

We don't have recent data on UK Jewish attitudes to Israel, but the 2010 JPR study was methodologically strong. It found that 72% of British Jews categorize themselves as "Zionists"; 21% do not see themselves as Zionists, and 7% are unsure.

Everyone defines Zionist differently. Anti-Zionists (on the left and right) define it as something like "support Jewish supremacist statehood". Most people who call themselves Zionists define it as something like "believe in national self-determination for Jews in the land of Israel" or even just "believe in the right to a Jewish state". Push them on whether that requires what you call ethnic cleansing and I'm sure the picture would be quite mixed.

I don't think anything I said implies I think it's anti-Jewish to oppose Zionism simply because most Jews call themselves Zionist. (It might be anti-Jewish to oppose Jewish self-determination if you support it as a general principle, but that's not what I was arguing here.) Rather, what I am saying is that taking antisemitism (or any racism) seriously means not refusing prima facie to listen to the perceptions and concerns of those who are its victims. Sheen and Blumenthal, it seems to me (and maybe I've missed something they've said which might persuade me otherwise) almost always assume bad faith when expressions of antisemitism are raised and routinely deny that things most Jews perceive to be antisemitic are antisemitic. Here, Roof's blatant antisemitism is glossed as dislike of liberal Jews, which seems to me a basic denial of antisemitism.

On Sheen's enormously long article about Charleston: I've never heard of @ILNewsFlash before and never noticed anyone I know RTing it. I don't think anyone can say it's a major opinion forming website or somehow exemplary of the "Hasbara" scene as a whole. I just looked again at Sheen's piece. What he took issue with was a single tweet, that was retweeted by just over a 100 people, including Sheen himself. The image actually comes from the black Zionist Chloé Simone Valdary, which I don't think Sheen mentions, perhaps because it might undermine his argument. Maybe Valdary and @ILNewsFlash were being cynical and didn't feel empathy about Charleston, who knows, but building a 1000-word denunciation of "Zionism" on the back of that one tweet seems pretty tendentious to me, especially given Sheen almost never comments on anti-black racism outside Israel.

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