Having spent years advocating for the rights of Muslims to be curtailed, the far-right is suddenly big into civil liberties. Specifically, they're uniting to defend their right to spout bullshit to whoever will listen.
On Sunday, hundreds of far-right activists descended on Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park to hear Tommy Robinson defend "freedom" by reading a racist speech by the leader of an ethno-nationalist group.
The far-right's recent celebration of free speech started with a few instances of border enthusiasts having some trouble with borders. On the Friday before last, Martin Sellner – one of the leaders of white supremacist group Generation Identity (GI) – was deported after trying to enter the UK, along with his alt-right vlogger girlfriend Brittany Pettibone. Sellner had been planning on giving a speech at Speakers' Corner, but he and Pettibone were denied entry on the grounds their presence could inflame tensions between communities in the UK.
The following Monday saw alt-right YouTuber Lauren Southern get stopped at Calais under the Terrorism Act while trying to enter the UK, after addressing a far-right meeting in Belgium. Southern was told she couldn't enter the country because her actions here would present a "threat to the fundamental interests of society".
Having joined the ranks of Tyler, the Creator and Busta Rhymes in being denied entry to the UK, the alt-right trio are now shacked up in Vienna, planning to launch legal action against the British government because they think the UK is less safe if they’re not allowed to visit.
As Sellner and Pettibone were learning firsthand how inhumane and brutal the UK border regime can be, former EDL leader Tommy Robinson was having a fight in a McDonald's car park with a group of masked attackers. All of these incidents, combined with the disruption of some talks at universities, have convinced the far-right that their right to free speech is under attack. Robinson even released a video claiming, in characteristically understated manner, that he "won't be around for much longer".
Tommy Robinson is wrong about nearly everything, but he's not wrong that the British state is clamping down on the far-right's stirring up of racial tensions – which may have something to do with a shift in perception about how dangerous this brand of hate speech is. In the trial of Darren Osborne, it was revealed that the Finsbury Park Mosque killer had printed-out tweets of Robinson’s on the dashboard of his van as he ploughed into worshippers. Rather than taking stock and toning down his hysteria, Robinson has doubled down and played the victim. The far-right have nothing if not a persecution complex, so all of this is giving them something to unite around.
At the rally on Sunday, as attendees shivered in the cold, a banner reading "censor Islam not speech" gave some idea of the kind of wholistic, nuanced vision of freedom these guys were peddling.
Robinson delivered the speech Sellner had wanted to give. Given the large turnout, it was nearly impossible to hear a word he was saying, but for those who could hear, the speech went down pretty well.
In fact, there were loads of far-right alliances being formed. The rally was attended by activists from Generation Identity, the Football Lads Alliance, veterans of the English Defence League and its various splinter groups, like the South East Alliance and Pie & Mash Squad, not to mention individuals from various far-right hooligan groups such as the Chelsea Headhunters.
After being turned around at Calais, Southern visited the European Parliament, where she was feted by UKIP MEPs, including Nigel Farage. Meanwhile, former UKIP leader Lord Pearson has been getting chummy with Tommy Robinson, who went to the Houses of Parliament to interview the swivel-eyed Lord. They discussed UKIP doing something to tackle Islam, with Pearson referring to Muslims as "Muhammedans", as if he was coming live from the 18th century. This came a week after Hope Not Hate revealed that senior UKIP figures have been in talks with the FLA and its splinter groups, and that UKIP's interim leader is set to speak at one of the FLA's splinter group's meets in Birmingham next weekend.
Despite all the fanfare, Robinson was only in the park for around half an hour before heading off in a minibus for a sesh with his alt-right YouTuber friends and Breitbart London's Raheem Kassam, who was wearing a Union Jack waistcoat for the occasion.
The British state may have banned Sellner, Pettibone and Southern from the UK, thinking it would decrease inter-communal tensions. But the move may have backfired: thanks to the internet, none of the trio need to physically be in the country for their words and actions to have an impact on our society. The Robinson-UKIP-FLA-GI coalition may have been forming anyway, but the government's ban looks like it's accelerated the process. It also makes it look like the ideas the anti-Muslim trio are pushing are dangerous because they're "rebellious", rather than the truth, which is that they're dangerous because they're stupid.
Correction, 21 March 2018: A clumsy sentence meant this article previously implied Raheem Kassam departed Hyde Park in a minibus with Tommy Robinson. In fact Kassam only arrived in the minibus with Robinson. This has now been corrected.