In February, neo-Nazis flooded a UK livestream for a Labour Party leadership debate hosted by Sky News. The debate, featuring Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey, began at 8PM. By 8:04PM, the link to the YouTube stream had been shared in a group-chat on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, named "The Patriotic Groyper Public Chat". Participants were instructed to post "DEMOGRAPHICS in the chat".
As the leadership hopefuls debated the future of the Labour Party, anonymous fascist YouTuber "The Iconoclast" started posting "DEMOGRAPHICS" – a reference to a far-right conspiracy theory that white people in the West are being "replaced" – in the comments section. Others soon followed. The chat on the stream was then flooded with alt-right and neo-Nazi comments: the frog face emoji was posted repeatedly, someone declared, "DESTROY COMMUNISM", while another wrote, "VOTE PATRIOTIC ALTERNATIVE", voicing support for a new British far-right political party.
Back on Telegram, activists coordinating the ambush were pleased. "The chat on sky news labour debate is going very well gents," said one, as another declared, "The field is ours!" The link to the chat was shared again with the instruction: "Flood with demographics." The trolling continued. When the debate was finally over, the far-right Telegram users celebrated: "Absolutely smashed it there lads!", "Top groyping gents."
This is just one example of "groyping" – a new far-right tactic to ambush unsuspecting spaces on the internet and radio airwaves, and flood them with far-right, racist conspiracy theories and jokes.
"Groyping" is named after a badly drawn cartoon toad – a white nationalist rival to the alt-right's famous frog, "Pepe" – and originated in the US during the so-called "Groyper Wars", when alt-right activists attended events linked to mainstream conservatives and asked questions which typically advocated anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
In the UK, radio shows have been a favourite target of groypers: neo-Nazis pose as ordinary callers with uncontroversial opinions to get past the screening, and when they get onto the air they go on racist diatribes, pushing conspiracy theories as if they're Russian bots made flesh. Groyping is supposed to serve a political purpose, but it's also meant to be fun, essentially a gamified form of trolling. By putting in a call you enter the game, and if you express a far-right talking point you win.
One target was Mike Graham, a host on talkRADIO, a phone-in radio station. Callers repeatedly reached his show and tried to promote neo-Nazi ideas, or tweeted abusive messages at him. Clips of these calls, or screenshots of social media spats, were then uploaded to video-sharing sites, where they were put out as racist propaganda, encouraging others to engage in the same kind of activity.
In one call, Graham is told, "Indigenous British people will be a minority in England by 2060". Unimpressed, Graham makes his disagreement clear – loudly snoring over the caller in panto fashion – but he nevertheless gets drawn into a protracted argument about about the far-right conspiracy theory that the UN is behind a plan to replace white British people, which he describes as "an absolute and utter pile of tosh".
It may be a difficult job to police who calls a talk show, and it won’t be made any easier by the fact these calls are part of an organised campaign. It is unfortunate, however, that talkRADIO then cut the conversation into a neat package and published it as a video on YouTube, under the provocative title: "Are white British people being 'replaced' by immigrants?" A far-right talking point had been turned into a clip with a baity headline, and attracted over 26,000 views.
Graham was not alone in being targeted by these neo-Nazis. Maajid Nawaz, a presenter on the radio station LBC, has also had to deal with the same "replacement" conspiracy theory. "Ozzy in Kent" called talkRADIO to praise anti-extremism organisation the Anti-Defamation League while expressing several far-right conspiracies about Mossad. Some of the calls are made with a heavy dose of irony; one caller asked talkRADIO's Iain Lee if he is a Stormzy fan, describing the grime star as "the modern Shakespeare" – a sarcastic joke about what the far-right perceive as over-the-top praise for the Black celebrity.
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage's LBC show – which was cancelled last week after a backlash against Farage's comments about Black Lives Matter – has also been targeted. "Let's go to Adam, a new caller from Canterbury," says Farage, fielding the call. Adam admits to being a bit nervous about calling a radio show for the first time, and is reassured by Farage. Adam has called up to give an opinion on the Labour Party, but quickly reverts to conspiracy theories about white people becoming a minority in the UK, as Farage tries to steer the conversation away: "I don't think that's true, not a minority, Adam." Adam refuses to let it go: "No, I'm talking about white Britons. Majority of them vote for Conservatives, and ethnic minorities, the majority of them vote for Labour. By 2066 white Britons will be a minority."
The conspiracy theory that white British people are going to become a minority is one of the key messages being pushed by groypers. This particular bit of racist crankery comes from some demographic modelling conducted in 2010 by the highly controversial Oxford professor David Coleman. Coleman created several demographic projections, one of which suggested that white Brits could become a minority by 2066. This speculation was widely covered by the media in 2013, but very few outlets mentioned Coleman had been a member of the Eugenics Society and was a co-founder of anti-migrant campaign group Migration Watch.
Neo-Nazis are now pointing people back to these 2013 news stories and claiming the prediction is a nailed-on fact. Rob McNeil, deputy director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, who published Coleman's original report, told VICE News: "The projections don't show – or claim to show – exactly what will happen in the future, they are data modelling exercises based on trends at the time of the research. Neo-Nazis interpreting data-points to suit their ideology is no great surprise. There will always be people who choose to interpret – or misinterpret – data in ways that suit their existing prejudices or political perspectives."
Coleman’s demographic research was popular with the fascist British National Party (BNP), which described him as "a very distinguished demographer whom we trust". His research re-emerging in the 2020s can also give us a clue as to what is behind the groyping trend.
Groyping, and Coleman's research, are both being pushed by Mark Collett, a former leading figure in the BNP. Collett was seen as a rising star in the fascist party and had been anointed as a future leader, despite setbacks he faced in 2002 when he appeared in a documentary on Channel 4 called Young, Nazi and Proud, and on an episode of Russell Brand’s Re:Brand show called "Nazi Boy". Collett was publicity director for the BNP at a time when it became the most successful fascist party in British history; in 2009, the party won 55 councillors' seats and got two MEPs elected, hitting a high point of just under a million votes.
Daniel Trilling, author of a popular book about the BNP, told VICE News: "Mark Collett has a long history of involvement in neo-Nazi politics and was a key organiser in the BNP during its period of electoral success, helping coordinate the party's attempt to pass its ideas off as benign when they were in fact as fascist as ever."
Collett left the BNP in 2010 following reports he had been attempting to oust then-leader Nick Griffin. He was subsequently questioned by police over an alleged threat to kill Griffin. Over the past couple of years, Collett has been making a comeback – building his presence on social media and YouTube. Over the last two years, Collett has built his YouTube audience from 20,000 subscribers to just under 100,000. His videos have been viewed more than 7 million times, which has earned him thousands of pounds in payments from the platform.
Collett is behind the importation of groyping to Britain. Speaking on his weekly YouTube show in November of 2019, during the height of the "Groyper Wars", Collett called on his supporters to visit general elections hustings and ask questions "pertinent to our cause". Collett wanted his followers to film these exchanges and then upload the footage to YouTube.
Collett has also made a point of grooming far-right YouTubers, and has helped to launch the careers of several. One of these, Nick Cotton – who is also a DJ who used to go by the name "F-Block" – enthusiastically took up the cause. When approached by VICE about his role in spreading groyping, Cotton replied with "14", which refers to the "14 Words" – a neo-Nazi slogan derived from Adolf Hitler's autobiography Mein Kampf by a founding member of the murderous neo-Nazi terrorist group The Order.
Cotton hosts daily livestreams where he has attempted to co-ordinate the online mob of far-right activists who follow his streams. Cotton has suggested targets for the online mob and appears to revel in encouraging his supporters to down-vote the videos of his political opponents, or to flood the chats of their livestreams.
Another far-right YouTuber and Collett follower who has been involved in coordinating "groyping" is Tommy Robinson's former camerawoman, Lucy Brown. Since leaving Robinson’s employment, Brown has drifted further to the right and is now associating with figures who push extreme neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic views. Brown was an administrator on "The Patriotic Groyper Public Chat", one of the main groups organising "groyping" on Telegram, but appears to no longer be an admin of the group.
In one message posted in the group, Brown says, "Our long term goal is for ordinary people to be aware of the demographic trajectory of this country." In other messages she used racist slurs to describe members of ethnic minorities. This is despite the group carrying a description explicitly asking members not to "talk about anytjing [sic] that can be construde [sic] as NS[Nazi]/antisemitic, racist or sexist".
Posts in the group frequently express extreme anti-Semitic ideas. One user even suggested the problem with Hitler was that he allowed Jews to serve in Germany's Army during the Second World War. Another posted the neo-Nazi slogan "gas the k*kes", which was featured on neo-Nazi terrorist forum Ironmarch.
Back on talkRADIO, Rose from Birmingham called in posing as someone who supported the Conservative Party's stance on immigration, but then said: "The only party that would stop [immigration] is Patriotic Alternative."
Patriotic Alternative (PA) is a new British fascist party launched by Collett and supported by many of these far-right activists. PA appears to be trying to replicate the one-time success of the BNP, building the party in deprived areas and campaigning in local government elections on issues that matter to white residents. PA is currently setting up regional branches around the UK, and Collett has been encouraging his new wave of followers to develop experience of talking to the public on the streets, which will prove useful when his followers start canvassing on doorsteps.
PA has so far been unable to register with the Electoral Commission, a spokesperson for the Commission told VICE News: "We were not satisfied that the party’s constitution met the requirements set out in law. We were also not satisfied that the party had adopted its financial scheme as required by law. We took the decision to refuse the application to register Patriotic Alternative on this basis."
Political parties aside, spreading neo-Nazi propaganda is being treated as a game by these activists – part of a growing trend, according to counter-extremism researcher Julia Ebner, who told VICE News, "We've seen a shift in recent years from gamification of propaganda and recruitment only to the gamification of attacks and the gamification of harassment campaigns, including the terrorist attacks from Christchurch, Poway and El Paso, to [the synagogue shooting in] Halle, where we saw gamifying elements of the acts of terrorism themselves, which is a completely new era of extremism.
"These new Telegram groups seem to be following a similar trend. A disinformation campaign, spreading conspiracy theories, but also gamifying attacks on critics or political opponents."