“Hipster Fascists”: The Normalization Of The Radical Right Isn’t Just Happening In America
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.
Unlike the BNP, EDL, and others, GI’s origins can be traced to the continent. Initially established in 2012 as the youth wing of Bloc Identitaire in France, it has since established itself as a distinct movement that has spread well beyond its initial borders. While positioned within the international Identitarian movement, GI’s ideology has some overlap with other radical right groups and movements. Despite their emphasis on railing against what it sees as the liberal left’s dominance of European politics, GI does also adhere to a white nationalist agenda. Consequently, it advocates the need to preserve Europe’s ethno-cultural identity, thereby supporting the need for ‘remigration’ – meaning repatriation or what some activists dub ‘peaceful ethnic cleansing’ – and ‘ethno-pluralism’; the latter described by Hope Not Hate as a wholly racist venture seeking to separate and segregate people along ‘racial’ lines.
In this context, Gilligan’s article in the Sunday Times appears even more jarring. With an undue focus on Tom Dupré – co-leader of GI in Britain – the article was at pains to illustrate just how far removed both he and GI’s supporters were from the ‘bomber jackets and boots’ radical right stereotype. Setting out how Dupré was middle class and well-spoken, Gilligan went on to evidence this by explaining how he was also the son of an insurance broker, had studied at Bristol University and had since gone on to work in the City for Standard Chartered.
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.’
Gilligan’s article is not without precedent, however. In 2016, a similarly detoxifying article appeared in the London Evening Standard under the headline “Meet the ‘Fascie’ Pack.” Focusing upon America’s alt-right, and despite acknowledging its ‘incendiary politics,’ Phoebe Luckhurst’s preferred focus was instead placed upon the ‘impeccable grooming’ of the movement’s ‘young, articulate and presentable’ leaders.
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.
Such articles and representations in the mainstream media are problematic for a number of reasons. First, they play down – or even dismiss out of hand – the very real danger such individuals and movements on the radical right pose to society. Likewise, negating their divisive ideologies and the insidious activities many participate in overlooks or trivializes the very real effects that bigotry and hate has upon the lives of individuals, the cohesion of communities as well as that of wider society.
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.
And finally, these and similar articles undoubtedly advance the radical right’s desire to find legitimacy and a voice in the mainstream – and thereby appear ever more normal; and by consequence, acceptable. For this reason, the mainstream media cannot be seen to be complicit in this process. With this in mind, it is worth noting that, since the article’s publication GI has been banned by Facebook: a significantly different approach to that apparently one preferred by Gilligan and the Sunday Times.
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.