Following the January 6 attack on the Capitol in the States, many far-right groups have left Parler to go to platforms such as Telegram. The far-right trend has subsequently been felt all over the world with groups like QAnon gaining attraction. So how and why has this sentiment reached the UK?
Growing far-right sentiment coming from overseas on niche social media platforms
This year has seen a rise in conspiracy theory enthusiasm, and groups such as QAnon (who believe that “President Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media”) have been on the rise. Following the 6th of January Capitol attacks, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook “purged users they deemed responsible for having incited violence or spread disinformation”. This led to an exodus of these users onto niche platforms that hold better encryption regulations, thus making them fully anonymous and untraceable. That is how Telegram, Gab or MeWe have gained more and more followers with far-right messages spreading on the other side of the Atlantic. Telegram saw “the largest digital migration in human history”, with 25 million new users almost overnight, and Gab’s owner declared that “Gab is happy to announce that we will be welcoming all QAnon accounts across our social network, news, and encrypted chat platforms”. Moreover, the organising power of such apps was shown to be crucial as several Telegram users were placed at Capitol Hill on January 6.
Influence in the UK
The influence of far-right US platforms has been felt in the UK with, for instance, “the U.S.-based “The Trumpist” channel [asking] its 281,000 followers to subscribe to the “Britain First” channel on January 27”. Considering the nature of algorithms of these apps, the user could get into a ‘funnel effect’ with such channels being “maybe two or three accounts removed from some incredibly white nationalist white supremacist platforms which are by far worse”. Gab is known for being used by Robert Bowers, “who in 2018 opened fire on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, killing 11 people and citing the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jewish people were complicit in a white genocide”. British groups like ‘StandUpX’ have gained momentum, especially on Telegram where they want “to create an online army” and in real life, through their “weekly anti-lockdown protest marches in cities”. StandUpX channels can be found “in Germany, Australia and Ethiopia, among other places”, showing the impact of transatlantic connections when it comes to far-right and conspiracy-based sentiment. Piers Corbyn, the leader of the group, has gathered over “£45,000 in donations since he began spreading conspiracies about COVID-19”, which reflects a strong, organised and potentially harmful network.
When whiteness and conspiracies create a dangerous global trend
The prominence of conspiracy theorists and far-right groups since the beginning of the pandemic are connected. It has been proven that “Militant groups like Christian Identity, Boogaloo and neo-Nazis will start to recruit from the pool of QAnon followers”. The aftermath of the Capitol coup has shown a growth of far-right groups being recruited among QAnon believers: on 11th of January, Proud Boys’ — labelled as a terrorist group by Canada — Telegram channel, promoting “a far-right, fascist group with a history of violence, had grown by nearly 6,000 users in four hours”. The surge in far-right adherence has shown to be global and linked to events of violence: in the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre, adherence to such groups grew on Telegram and “80 per cent of a select sample of 374 far-right Telegram channels and groups were created between the March 15 massacre and October 30, 2019”. Right-wing extremism is almost built for the internet, as it thrives through global connections, anonymity and permanency. National borders have been scrapped to now “identify the white race [as a] global brotherhood with very diverse national chapters.” This dangerous global white supremacist agenda needs to be dealt with accordingly, without hesitating on labelling them as terrorists.
At JAN Trust, we work tirelessly to fight radicalisation and racist far-right attitudes. We see daily the abuse that minorities and vulnerable people suffer, especially in terms of racism and Islamophobia. Our work aims to fight hate crime, online extremism, and to support vulnerable and minority women. Our Web Guardians™ programme aims to build community resilience, educate and empower mothers to counter extremism and gangs online; our Another Way Forward programme supports and educates young people on the threats posed by online radicalisation, including both Islamist and far-right extremism.