Far-right activism in Yorkshire moves off the streets and onto Youtube - but grassroots movements not dead yet

Far-right activism has moved off the streets of Yorkshire and onto YouTube and other social networking sites, a new report has claimed.

Monday, 2nd March 2020, 8:08 am
Updated Monday, 2nd March 2020, 8:10 am

Two prominent users of the video-sharing platform in Yorkshire have been identified by advocacy group Hope Not Hate as being at the forefront of a “youthful, leaderless, online community” bringing the views into the mainstream. It suggested far-right ‘vloggers’ could even inspire terrorists to carry out attacks.

But with Yorkshire previously being a hotspot for grassroots organisations - while also being one of the areas with the most real-world rallies held last year - it has been suggested activity offline is not extinguished fully and may even see a resurgence.

Nick Lowles, Chief Executive of Hope Not Hate, said those with far-right views were younger than in the past, and he warned groups such as the Yorkshire Patriots and the English Defence League were still active in the region.

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Stock photo of a person using YouTube. Photo: PA

He said: “One of the things that’s really concerning is the age of the people, some of the people sent to prison in Leeds last year were 18 or 19. As a whole young people in the UK are more tolerant [...] but what our data is showing is there has been a small but growing increase in people not just holding more intolerant views but also in their ideas of violence as well.”

The Hope Not Hate report, released later today, found these younger people were “increasingly being driven by personalities and peer-to-peer online engagement”.

But Laura Towler, a Yorkshire-based YouTuber who is named in the State of Hate report as one of the eight most influential far-right vloggers in the UK, said the trend is actually reversing because of “Draconian censorship” on Youtube.

Miss Towler, who has 47,400 subscribers and has amassed more than two million views, said: “Youtube has some great features but due to the increasingly draconian censorship on there, it’s no longer a popular place for people to share their political views.

“If you make pro-British or pro-European videos, it’s likely that your channel will end up being suspended or your videos will be demonetised or put into a limited state. Because of the

lack of free speech on mainstream social media platforms, recently, we have instead prioritised forming real life communities.

“If you stop people from being able to communicate their beliefs and concerns online, they’re not going to abandon those beliefs, they’ll instead just find different ways to communicate them.”

Hope Not Hate’s report claims the far-right terror threat is growing globally, and is “being spurred on” by accounts such as Ms Towler’s and Leeds-based self-confessed Nazi sympathiser and former British National Party (BNP) Head of Publicity Mark Collett.

The group says far-right ideas are becoming more and more part of the mainstream as a result of digital culture.

And they said the rise of the movement online coincided with the traditional movement being at its weakest for decades, with a decline in membership, events and attendance.

But Yorkshire still had a high concentration of far right political marches or demonstrations last year, including by the Yorkshire Patriots in Dewsbury in May and October last year.

Plus Yellow Vests demonstrations were held in Hull in January and March.

And Ms Towler said activists like her were now looking to pivot back to real life meetups, rather than depending on sites such as YouTube.

She said: “Our priority is now real life activism rather than depending on YouTube.”

And she added the accusation that accounts like her were encouraging terrorism was “simply ridiculous” and she was “flattered” to be featured in the Hope Not Hate report.

She said: “If you’re on the wrong side of an organisation like Hope Not Hate, then you must be doing something right.”

And added: “There is nothing dangerous or hateful about loving your people and nation and wanting to keep them safe,” pointing to figures showing the majority of terrorist attacks in the UK since 200 had been carried out by Islamic extremists.

She said: “If Hope Not Hate were genuinely concerned about terrorism, they’d be focusing their attention on the biggest threat.”

Normanton, Castleford, and Pontefract MP Yvette Cooper, a supporter of Hope Not Hate, was at the centre of threats made online last year, and a 25-year-old man was jailed for the messages in February.

Joshua Spencer, of of Eddystone Rise, Knottingley, West Yorkshire, had described Ms Cooper as a “wh***” before saying, “I'm already organising to hurt her”.

Mr Lowles said it was an example of seeing language formerly used by the far-right seeping into every-day discourse.

He said: “There are community tensions in Yorkshire,” and added that those on the far right tapped into those tensions, pointing to the Brexit Party receiving 30.4 per cent of the vote in Barnsley Central and 29.2 per cent in Barnsley East in the December General Election compared to two per cent nationwide.

But he said: “I think the dangers are with Youtube and online is it’s attracting people into it from not a traditional perspective, these days more people are getting involved in the far right from the anti-Feminist movement and the conspiracy theories.”

He added: “The reality is the vast majority of it is harmless enough, the problem is it draws people in. And the stuff we’ve seen on some of these platforms such as Telegram [a heavily-encrypted messaging service], I’ve never seen anything like it and I’ve done this for 30 years.”

Ms Cooper, who along with Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock will launch the Hope Not Hate report today, said: “This is an important and sobering report from Hope Not Hate which is a challenge to all of us.

“Here in Yorkshire we have seen the impact of far right extremism in the awful murder of Jo Cox four years ago, killed just for doing her job and leaving a young family behind. That’s why we have to challenge those who try to spread far right extremism, prejudice and hatred or who end up radicalising others.

“The report shows that too often social media is being used by far-right extremists to spread division and hatred just when we should be coming together instead. Social media companies need to take action against violent threats and incitement.

“For example huge Facebook closed groups are being used to organise threats and targeted harassment with no action being taken. And on YouTube, the algorithms that suggest which videos to watch often push people towards ever more extremist material. These companies are among the richest in the world, they should get their act together and sort it out.”

YouTube was contacted for comment but did not reply ahead of publication.