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Just as neo-Nazis in America have tried to rebrand themselves, the same is happening with the Generation Identity (GI) white supremacist movement in Britain.
In a recent article in the Sunday Times, journalist Andrew Gilligan claimed the Generation Identity (GI) movement in Britain was looking to ‘rebrand’ the radical right and thereby ‘normalize’ its extremist ideology and views. While acknowledging this fact, Gilligan’s article gave scant attention to the extremist views GI espouse. Somewhat more bizarrely, Gilligan instead focused upon the backgrounds and fashion of those currently leading Britain’s GI movement. Describing them as ‘hipster fascists.’ the article attracted criticism online and across social media. And rightly so, given how the article trivialized the very real danger and threat posed by GI and the radical right milieu more widely. In fact, the article’s somewhat flippant tone, and emphasis upon fashion seemed to contribute toward exactly what GI was hoping to achieve: stripping away any sense that they posed a very real threat, in preference to making GI and its supporters sound dangerously ‘normal.’
The desire to be ‘normal’ as a means of acquiring social acceptability and legitimacy is far from new among Britain’s radical right. When Nick Griffin took over as leader of the British National Party (BNP) in 1999, he oversaw the transformation of how the party and its representatives looked. Adopting the wearing of business suits to look more like mainstream politicians, Griffin undertook what he called ‘modernisation’ in order to try and make the party electable. While the English Defence League (EDL) never aspired to electoral success, it too aspired to be normalized and, thereby, socially acceptable. Shifting its ideology of hate from notions of race to religion – notably, Islam and Muslims – an embryonic EDL in 2009 simultaneously combined rhetoric about it being multicultural with developing links with minority groups that may have had historical antagonisms toward Islam and Muslims. In doing so, it was able to distance itself from the wider radical right scene and the extreme views many in society would normally reject. More recently, National Action routinely combined images and logos of streetwear brands with Nazi iconography as a means of capturing the attention of a youthful demographic. While different, all had similar outcomes of social acceptability in mind.
Further demarcating Dupré and his fellow activists from the usual stereotypes, Gilligan emphasized how they wore skinny jeans and New Balance trainers, apparently proof enough to warrant describing them as ‘hipster fascists.’ When considered in the context of how the original print edition of the article was headlined “Heil Hipsters” and accompanied with a photo that was more akin to a boyband than a radical right movement, there is much to consider – and duly criticize – as regards the motivation and message of the piece. In this respect, GI was presented as being overwhelmingly ‘normal.’
Describing Milo Yiannopoulos as the ‘celebrity’ of the ‘fascie pack,’ the article played down another activist, Tomi Lahren, being repeatedly accused of racism on the basis she was ‘slim [and] pretty.’ Dismissing the alt-right’s unfounded and extremist views – with many embracing notions of racism or white supremacy – the Evening Standard article presented the movement as a fashion trend and its main actors as style icons. While new to Britain, it is worth noting that similar articles appeared in the United States, in the The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and Politico, among others.
Far from conveying the message that radical right activists are without doubt extremists, they instead convey a message of acceptability. Likewise, focusing upon such trivial issues as the style, clothes or brands worn position movements and their supporters in contexts that fail to acknowledge them as highly politicized actors. Embracing issues normally attributed to celebrity culture not only trivializes them, but could also result in those who would not normally be attracted to the radical right wanting to know more.
This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world.