After Brexit, many on the liberal-left started panicking about the far right. Neo-fascists would be emboldened by Brexit, they said. Following Donald Trump’s election, they played the fear card again, claiming white nationalism, which is apparently a variant of Nazism, had returned to power in the West.
‘Talking about fascism might make you sound hysterical. Do it anyway’, said one headline. In the heart of the Trump voter’s soul lurks a ‘grinning white supremacist’, wrote Paul Mason. We’re living in a ‘new world’, said Zoe Williams, with far-right leaders ‘up with the lark to hail the new fascism’. ‘Europeans are quite capable of sitting calmly in the bubbling water of cultural bigotry until it boils away every shred of compassion we have left’, wrote one commentator, indeed sounding hysterical.
The panic about a resurgent far right was most pronounced after the awful murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in June. Cox’s death was followed by calls to silence far-right ideas. ‘We must no longer [allow] this growing environment of publicly viewed vocal hatred and threats of violence’, wrote Cox’s fellow Labour MP Jess Phillips. ‘Language matters’, said the Independent: ‘In Jo Cox’s memory, in solidarity with all those whose human rights depend on it, it’s time to face up to the challenge before us and defeat this insidious evil – starting with calling it out for precisely what it is.’
What’s really going on here? Is fascism back? Hardly. You wouldn’t know it from the headlines, but neo-fascists remain a minuscule force. National Action, a nasty, wannabe-neo-Nazi group that tweeted in support of Cox’s murderer, Thomas Mair, and has recently stuck a few pro-Nazi stickers around Liverpool, has been the focus of much of the freakout over the far right. But you could count its members on your fingers. It had to call off its ‘White Man March’ in Liverpool because its pathetic gathering was outnumbered by anti-fascist protesters. In the US, far-right extremists are basically the alt-right – nose-picking professional trolls who dwell in dark bedrooms and get their rocks off by being as rude as possible. Hardly a national threat.
The truly scary thing about the cries of ‘fascism is back!’ is what it reveals in the liberal-left and the commentariat: an unwillingness to engage with political views they don’t share. In essence, ‘fascism’ now simply means ‘views I don’t like, held by people I loathe’. That observers see fascism everywhere reveals far more about their own fear of people who think and vote differently to them than it does about the real state of the far right.