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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Heiling a New Dawn - England's 'Patriotic Storm Troopers Targeting Invaders & Traitors'

Most people will have heard of the Greek organisation The People's Association – Golden Dawn, usually simplified to Golden Dawn, but its British counterpart is almost unheard of. The Greek Golden Dawn was founded in 1980 by ex-convict Nikolaos Michaloliakos,[1] and is an extremist, far-right blend of populist street movement and political organisation that has gained media coverage due to its electoral success and violent campaigns against immigrants, ethnic minorities, and increasingly ‘left-wing’ Greek nationals. Maria Margaronis from The Guardian described it as ‘a party, a movement, a subculture; a vigilante force; a network inside the police and the judiciary, [whilst]  Vasilis Mastrogiannis of the Democratic Left, a former senior police officer turned politician, describes it frankly as “a criminal organisation.”’

In last year’s election in Greece, Golden Dawn finished fifth, while more recent polls suggest they would come third were an election held tomorrow.[2] However, despite its seemingly wide support base, the group’s campaign for a white homeland for ‘indigenous’ Greek people has been widely condemned as being neo-Nazi, racist and xenophobic by the international media and academics. Indeed, the country’s Prime Minister and BBC journalists have both drawn parallels between the rise of Golden Dawn and that of the Nazis in the 1930s.

Michaloliakos denies any suggestion of The Golden Dawn being a neo-Nazi party, preferring instead to define its policies as ‘nationalist and racist’, reminiscent of the authoritarian nationalism proposed by Ioannis Metaxas. However, the veneer of respectable and legitimate nationalism Michaloliakos attempts to portray dissolves under even the gentlest of scrutiny. In 2000 the Monastirioton synagogue, a memorial for Holocaust victims and Jewish cemeteries in Thessaloniki and Athens were vandalised and Golden Dawn's symbols were allegedly found at all four sites. Party members wear black shirts reminiscent of Italian fascists and the SS of Nazi Germany, and the party’s symbol is a Hellenistic reworking of a swastika.[3] Key figures within the party have praised Nazi figures, and when Michaloliakos was elected to the Athens city council in 2010 he celebrated with a fascist salute. If any more evidence was needed, Michaloliakos wrote an article entitled ‘Hitler for 1000 years’ in a 1987 edition of the Golden Dawn magazine, in which he supports Nazism and white supremacy:

"We are the faithful soldiers of the National Socialist idea and nothing else… WE EXIST, and continue the battle, the battle for the final victory of our race… 1987, 42 years later, with our thought and soul given to the last great battle, with our thought and soul given to the black and red banners, with our thought and soul given to the memory of our great Leader, we raise our right hand up, we salute the Sun and with the courage, that is compelled by our military honour and our National Socialist duty we shout full of passion, faith to the future and our visions: HEIL HITLER!"
The group also advocates violent protest and its supporters have been blamed for a recent spike in inner-city street attacks against mostly Asian immigrants. One of the party’s policies is the planting of landmines on the Greek border to kill illegal immigrants, and their 2012 election campaign involved television adverts with the slogan ‘let's rid this country of the stench’.

Support for the Golden Dawn comes from national and international sources, but worryingly, one quarter of the comments left on their website were from British contributors offering messages of support and encouragement. One such post stated: ‘we also hope one day to have our own Golden Dawn’, and late last year that wish was fulfilled when ‘England’s Golden Dawn’ (EGD) came to the UK via social media. The EGD Facebook page was created on 14/11/2012, and although it is still in an embryonic stage, it gained 168 ‘likes’ in less than a month. The page is designed to ‘bring [us] the news from England's fight against militant Islam, sex attacks on women, child grooming, and the building of mosques, Sharia law and hate preachers’, and plans to ‘target enemies of England when they least expect it’. 

Most posts on the Facebook wall are concerned with ethnic minorities, immigrants (‘Eastern Europeans have destroyed the building trade in this country’), ‘left wing trolls’ (‘can everyone inbox the page with any info on left wing scum; we can target places of work, places of study, home addresses & phone numbers’), and of course Muslims, which mirror the rhetoric of far-right groups already established within the UK. However, there are several differences between EGD and groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and the English Volunteer Force (EVF) that make it particularly advisable to monitor England’s Golden Dawn despite its current minute size. They are addressed below.

EGD’s overt racism is the first major variation between it and the classic ‘counter-jihad’ (aka anti-Islam) groups operating in Britain today. In contrast to the EDL’s slogan ‘Black and White Unite’, and the existence of non-white Casuals and Combined Ex-Forces members, EGD has stayed true to its Greek brethren’s ideology and has posted photographs on its Facebook page of flags adorned with ‘Odin’s Cross’ – one of the most popular symbols for neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Next are numerous postings from the admin team praising Emma ‘heroine of free speech’ West – ‘if only everyone had her heart we would not be in this mess’ – followed by the bold statement, ‘she was trying to protect us but the Muslims spout hate at us and yet they get away free while she says something and ends up in jail for something she didn’t do’. (This logic comes from someone who also posted: ‘the P*ki yellow c*nts don't like it f*ck of back to your own curry stinking f*ckin country f*ckin rag heads’.) Emma West is a particularly vile and bigoted character, and considering the numerous videos of her racist rant on YouTube, each with several hundred thousand views, in addition to the fact she went to prison because of it, I think we can assume that she did in fact commit the crime. The racism continues with a post by EGD admin of a You Tube link to The Clash’s famous song ‘White man in Hammersmith Palais’, with the comment ‘not any more’.  Finally, ‘anti-white’ conspiracy theories are a defining characteristic of far-right ideology, and EGD’s does not deviate from the norm:

"Schools & the media dumb down the white kids! They make us feel guilty for the historical role our race has played! They do this so when the time comes for the change in power, the white kids won’t have the brains to fight back! It’s already happening! White kids forgetting the history & pride of their race to copy the way the black community speaks/dresses!"

The violence promoted and alluded to on England’s Golden Dawn Facebook page also sets them slightly apart from the classic British street movements. For example, despite their reputation for violence and disorder, the EDL appears keen to shed this image and claims to only advocate peaceful protest. In comparison, the language and imagery used by EGD is overt and ultra-violent; more reminiscent of their Greek counterpart. There are many videos posted entitled ‘Neo-Nazi Golden Dawn attack a Pakistani’, ‘Golden Dawn’s ultra-violence’, and ‘Golden Dawn attacks multicultural vendors’.  All of these have many ‘likes’, and show that far from playing down the violent, neo-Nazi associations as Michaloliakos has done in Greece, the EGD embraces and promotes them. Other comments include ‘the day will come when red filth will be hanging from motorway bridges all over the country’ and ‘we want to get our hands dirty and strike fear into those that threaten our land’. Even more sinister are the allusions to violence already committed – ‘good friends of ours have sorted a Yorkshire Muslim grooming gang tonight, well done all involved’ – and to future threats: ‘please share the page so we are at strength for direct action in January under the cover of darkness, taking the streets back’.

Anti-Semitism is an interesting element for while the Greek Golden Dawn is widely defined as a neo-Nazi group, its English counterpart appears to make comparatively little reference to Jew-hatred. The only indicators of EGD’s anti-Semitism are that the party’s symbol, which is the same reworked swastika as the Greek party’s, and the fact that admin has ‘liked’ the National Front, British National Party, and White People Count[4] on their Facebook page. In fact, EGD’s ideology seems to more closely reflect the populist Islamophobic thought found in Great Britain today, which has replaced anti-Semitism as the more ‘acceptable’ face of fascism today. There are no indicators of members harming Jewish people or landmarks, offensive slang, or mentions of Hitler; all of which can easily be found in the Greek GD online presence. (Whilst I feel it is fair to say that most of the language used by EGD is not overtly anti-Semitic, some of the theories proposed on its Facebook page appear to be reworkings of Hitler’s ‘solutions’, but applied to what they see as its own (parallel) problems – namely Muslims and immigrants.)

Bearing this in mind, why is EGD named as such and why is the group targeting the UK if blatant anti-Semitism has little traction here compared to Islamophobic sentiment? At present it is hard to gauge how similar, or indeed dissimilar, EGD truly is to the Greek original, and therefore whether they should share the Golden Dawn name. The groups do have comparable ideologies but the overt neo-Nazism and reverence for Hitler that defines the Greek organisation appears to be missing from EGD. (This may be due to the newness of the group and the fact its presence is so far restricted to the internet, or it may simply be well disguised at present. When the group becomes physically active in an offline capacity this may change, but until then I feel Nazism is not a major definitive factor.) Instead, EGD more closely resembles the established ‘counter-jihad’ organisations rather than an ultra-racist, Nazi group à la its Greek namesake. Its rhetoric and symbolism mirrors grassroots anti-Islam, anti-immigration groups already active in the UK, and it seems more likely that disenchanted, ‘white working class representatives’, have decided to cash in on the success of the Greek Golden Dawn and name their party thus, irrespective of whether their policies are the same. (To my mind it is debatable whether Greece’s Golden Dawn even knows of the existence of its English sister group, let alone has given permission for their name to be used. Again, time will be a great revealer in this case.)

The reasoning behind why England’s Golden Dawn has targeted the UK is another key question that depends on the group’s identity – whether it is a legitimate sister organisation of the Greek Golden Dawn with a shared ideology, or if it is unaffiliated group that has simply adopted the same name. If the former is correct then it may indicate that EGD sees Britain as a fertile recruitment ground for those with strong anti-immigration and anti-Semitic beliefs. This would imply a shift in Britain’s right-wing consciousness to include anti-Semitism into public discourse in the same way Islamophobia has crept into populist thought. The situation differs again if the group is not affiliated but has simply adopted the name to give status and share the brand, but does not share the same ideology. There is a large Greek diaspora in the UK which EGD may be courting, and as the Greek party has a wide support base amongst Greeks, the creation of an English ‘branch’ may be tactical to try and tap into a perceived ready-made support base.

Whatever the reasons for EGD targeting the UK, the overriding question refers to whether they are making any real traction or if they are simply an internet scare group. Several academics have spoken about how the threat caused by EGD is minimal, but I believe the very existence of the group is cause for concern. The ideology driving the Greek Golden Dawn is a bigoted one of hatred, and if EGD intends to spread the same message of violent action across the UK, it could be disastrous for inter-faith and community relations and very dangerous for religious and ethnic minorities. Although membership numbers are unknown, if the group develops it has the potential to become another hub in the right-wing network, linking Britain with the rest of Europe and North America. However, only time will tell if EGD will mirror the success of the Greek Golden Dawn or simply disappear into obscurity as so many far-right groups have done previously. Whilst time determines the outcome, I believe this group should remain firmly on counter-extremism radars.
[1] Michaloliakos has been arrested multiple times. First was in July 1974 for his involvement in a protest outside the British embassy in Athens, against Britain’s stance towards the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.  The second arrest was due to him assaulting journalists covering the funeral of Evangelos Mallios, a policeman who was assassinated for torturing prisoners during the Regime of the Colonels. His most recent incarceration came after he became a member of a far-right extremist group, and was sentenced for illegally carrying guns and explosives.
[2] Interesting article to suggest that this polling position does not mean the Golden Dawn is as popular as the numbers imply:
[3] The party states its logo is a traditional Greek meander, rather than a Nazi symbol, but even if this were true, the similarly it so undeniable that if the party was genuinely not anti-Semitic, surely it would have been prudent enough to choose an alternative symbol to represent them.
[4] This may seem like a standard racist group, but amongst white supremacists and hard-line racists, ‘white’ only refers to light-skinned, non-Jewish, European nationals. According to Don Black who runs the ultra-racist website Stormfront, even Ashkenazi Jews, who often have blonde hair and light eyes and may be ‘visually undetectable’ as being Jewish, cannot be categorised as ‘white’ due to their religious beliefs.

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