Former members of the far-right organisation Generation Identity (GI) are using a front group which talks about localism and the environment to push their racist “identitarian” message.
“Local Matters” describes itself as a group for “activists agitating for radical, cross-spectrum policies for an environmentalist, regionalist, direct-democratic England.” In October the group took to the streets of Liverpool, Leeds and Rochester to encourage people to shop locally, warning that the COVID lockdown could cause small businesses to collapse.
An email seen by VICE World News makes it clear that the real purpose of Local Matters is to promote identitarian politics – which claims that white Europeans are a people under threat from multiculturalism – while not attracting attention.
The email, sent by Charlie Shaw, the former north-west leader of GI, says Local Matters is, “a political project with a softer face; a face so soft that numerous members, including myself, have it on their CV. The ideas are certainly identitarian, but it’s presentation removes any interest that a group like [anti-extremism research group] Hope Not Hate or Antifa might have.”
“Everyone is properly vetted, properly cared for, and the content is not alarming enough to attract unwanted attention,” Shaw says in the email, originally obtained by Red Flare, an anti-fascist research group.
GI favours “remigration” – a euphemism for the deportation of migrants and non-white people to their supposed place of origin. Its Austrian leader Martin Sellner, described as an anti-Islamic extremist, has been permanently banned from the UK by the Home Office in the interests of preventing social harm and countering extremism. GI was banned from Facebook in 2018.
GI’s UK branch dissolved in January amid infighting. The Local Matters website was registered that same month.
In discussions on Telegram taking place at the same time, some ex-GI members described how some members had wanted to find a way to make the group's messaging more palatable to the general public, talking less about “remigration” and more about the environment. Others saw this as diluting the message too much – or “cucking” to “optics” as one person put it.
On the 22nd of March, the day before the government announced the first national COVID lockdown, Local Matters was positioning itself as a coronavirus support group by distributing leaflets offering to support people who were self-isolating. “Our local communities have looked after us, it’s time we gave something back,” the leaflet says.
Local Matters social media accounts, which show several former GI members attending its events, celebrate the historic counties of England, British cuisine and the environment. Among the more innocuous seeming content are posts which push a clear identitarian message.
The first post on the Local Matters Instagram page claims that “millions of foreign workers are imported to England” which “erodes the homogeneity of our nation, and increases the burden on our infrastructure”.
The post says this is because “globalism is a political ideology which has sold out our nation and its people in return for economic gain.”
An article on the Local Matters website, “A Choice: Environmentalism or Capitalist Mass-Immigration,” says that it is necessary “to comprehensively put a stop to immigration in its entirety.”
Another on “Culture and Diversity” warns that a “reconciliation of culture and diversity will be necessary if we are to avoid future clashes.”
And an article on regional identities celebrates the fact that, “Nascent expressions of regional identity based on the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy are gaining footholds”.
A spokesperson for Red Flare said: “Some of their messages may seem harmless, but you don't have to go far on the Local Matters website to find calls for a ban of all migration into the UK.
“The bland style represents an attempt to recruit and radicalise those from outside the traditional far right, much as Generation Identity used relatively innocent looking ‘patriotic’ Facebook pages to find new members.
“It is also a deliberate strategy to avoid scrutiny from the media and anti-fascists. Make no mistake – Identitarianism is white supremacy by another name.”
“In recent years 'globalism' has been used on the far right as a code for supposed insidious Jewish influence. As such it is part of the old core conspiracy of anti-Semitism long propagated by fascists.
Shaw denied that “globalism” was being used as an anti-Semitic trope by Local Matters. “The implication that this is somehow related to Judaism is not one that I or Local Matters supports,” he said.
“Local Matters was formed by a variety of people with an interest in genuine Localist ideas, including myself and a small minority of former GI UK members, but the large majority of Local Matters activists were never associated with GI UK, and the organisation is a completely separate entity,” Shaw wrote in an email when contacted for this story.
“Local Matters is a collective of people who share the view that the basis of politics is found and realised at the level of local communities where the individual and his/her decisions matter.”
Shaw said Local Matters is “not a white supremacist, or ‘ethnonationalist’, organisation – nor do we advocate for Orwellian policies of discrimination or deportation. However, a policy of remigration… is ultimately necessary to tackle the negative impacts from our migration policy, both for ourselves and the homelands of these migrants.”
Local Matters’ identitarian message is well hidden, however, and as a result the group is followed on Twitter by accounts which generally support mainstream political parties. Among them is former Green Party leader and member of the House of Lords, Natalie Bennett, and Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack.
Bennett said she stopped following Local Matters, after being approached by VICE World News. “My Twitter policy is that I follow accounts that follow or interact with me (eg RT) after a very quick visual check that they aren't obviously a cause for concern” she said.
“Obviously that is a risk, but I do it in an attempt to be as democratic as possible, so people can DM me and I can see and I regularly try to RT something interesting I see from an account with few followers to magnify impact. I am sometimes alerted to problems by other followers or friends and I deal with that then.”
Womack also stopped following the group but did not provide a comment.