Thu 21 January 2021

After the targeting of a Byline Times writer and then death threats against the author of a parliamentary petition, it looks like right-wing publications are pandering to the incitement tactics of the extreme Far Right – fake claims of violence.

Just over a month ago, Byline Times writer Mike Stuchbery helped crowdfund a legal letter, claiming defamation of a young Syrian refugee, to be sent to the home of the Far Right activist, ‘Tommy Robinson’. The letter was delivered in daytime by one person, and handed to waiting police officers.

In response, the Far Right activist visited Stuchbery’s home several times overnight on the 4 March, accompanied by friends, live streaming banging on his doors and windows and making a number of threats and defamatory accusations. He later claimed in a videoed interview that Stuchbery had sent a car load of six ‘masked Antifa’ (anti-fascist activists) to his home.

This ‘reverse terror’ tactic became the basis of a month long campaign of intimidation led by other figures linked to international Far Right movements.

Now it seems the trend has accelerated, with right-wing blogs and newspapers actively copying the incendiary terror tactics of extremists.

Lucy Brown, a right-wing ‘journalist’ (recently interviewed for a BBC 4 Radio documentary) claimed that Stuchbery incited protesters to attack her at a Generation Identity conference in early 2018. There is no evidence Mike Stuchbery did this. Generation Identity recently came under scrutiny in the wake of the deadly attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, two weeks ago, as the killer repeated much of the group’s rhetoric in his manifesto and was reported to have made a donation.

(Brown has since told the Byline Times that she never claimed Stuchbery incited the violence against her, though there are many tweets associating him with the attack on her by a “close associate” and being an agitator engaged “in the promotion of political violence” both before and after 4 March.)

Another self-described journalist, Nick Monroe (AKA Nick Tomasheskhi) manipulated old Tweets to make it appear as if Stuchbery condoned violent attacks on political opponents, such as the German AfD politician, Frank Magnitz, who was assaulted in Bremen in January. These were rapidly spread on Twitter along with details of Stuchbery and his partner’s home address.

Blaming the Victim – Putting Lives at Risk

Such tactics of disinformation and personal targeting have been commonplace among fringe groups, especially during the EU referendum and Trump campaigns which weaponised the speed and ubiquity of social media. But in the case of Britain’s most successful ever Parliamentary petition, this technique has now been joined by the tabloid press.

Amid the parliamentary crisis around Theresa May’s failure to secure a majority for her withdrawal agreement, a petition to revoke article 50 was posted on the UK Parliament’s website that went viral in late March, rising to 4 million on the eveof a large protest in Central London to demand a ‘people’s vote’ on the outcome of withdrawal negotiations. It currently stands at over 6 million signatories.

The disinformation campaign around this petition originally suggested most the signatories were foreigners of ‘Russian bots’ and when that failed, the focus turned to the woman who had initiated it.

LBC host Shelagh Fogerty talking to Margaret Georgiadou

Margaret Georgiadou, a former college lecturer from West Yorkshire, started the petition without any expectation that it would gain more than a few thousand supporters. As the petition began to attract support, Georgiadou was reportedly targeted through Facebook when someone gained access to her private friends page. On the Friday before the march she  received three death threats on her phone and closed her Facebook account.

Most of the threats came in response to an article on the website of well-known political blogger Guido Fawkes, followed up by the Mail Online. Fawkes’ influential right-wing blog found one quote on Georgiadou’s private Facebook page about “shooting the PM point blank”. This was clearly a reference to the metaphor of Theresa May holding a ‘gun’ to the head of MPs in January about a ‘No Deal’ Brexit.

The uncredited ‘Guido Investigation’ took this blatantly metaphorical firearm and combined it with another discussion between Georgiadou and a colleague about how to deter looters in the event of catastrophic no deal with a harmless but painful paintball gun.

Hunted: Incitement by Proxy

Georgiadou told Byline Times that Guido Fawkes “doctored… two different conversation subjects, and totally out of context” to suggest the 77-year-old and her associates were planning acts of violence against MPs. The cries of “traitor” ensued from then on, in Facebook messenger messages and Twitter replies, ranging from “I hope you get cancer, and die” to “’Someone will get you one day and I’ll be glad”.

The inflammatory Fawkes version with its doctored content was taken up by the Mail Online with the headline:

‘I’d shoot her point blank’: Former college lecturer behind cancel Brexit petition threatened to shoot Theresa May as series of her shocking posts are unearthed’

Though Georgiadou’s supporters claim the Mail article, credited to Joseph Laws and an unnamed Mail Online reporter, was misleading, inaccurate and unfair by the standards of the editor’s code, the piece stands uncorrected. Georgiadou is still considering her legal position but would prefer any money raised to be “donated to food banks and the rough sleepers, as a sort of slap in the face for the Daily Mail.”

“Why waste good money on lawyers for the sake of the Daily Mail?” she told Byline Times.

A Rising Tide of Political Violence

Neither Stuchbery nor Georgiadou posed any physical threat to Theresa May or the Far Right activist, the former protected by the security services and the latter with a phalanx of bodyguards, made up of former EDL colleagues. But Stuchbery and Georgiadou now live in fear with daily threats to their lives.

This ‘reverse terror’ tactic became the basis of a month long campaign of intimidation led by other figures linked to international Far Right movements.

With political tension rising in the three years since Jo Cox was murdered during the EU referendum, there has been simultaneously a spike in racist hate crimes and a large rise in extreme right-wing related terror incidents. In January, a UKIP member called for the pro-EU lawyer and activist Gina Miller to be beheaded.

According to the latest statistics released by the Home Office, in 2017/18, there were 94,098 hate crime offences recorded by the police in England and Wales – an increase of 17% compared with the previous year. 76% of these were race hate crimes.

Two months ago the head of the Metropolitan police’s counter-terrorism operations, Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, warned that right-wing news outlets have created a “permissive atmosphere” for violent extremists.

Now it seems the trend has accelerated, with right-wing blogs and newspapers actively copying the incendiary terror tactics of extremists.

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