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A group with ties to the far-right is planning to target a socialist festival this weekend – and is set to be far outnumbered.
Students Against Tyranny (SAT) has been called ‘far-right’ by anti-racism groups, in part due to their targeting of anti-fascist demonstrations.
Byline Times has learnt that the group plans to protest at the Marxism 2023 Festival of Socialist Ideas in central London on Sunday.
Last week, SAT turned out to support the right-wing group Turning Point UK’s rally in Honor Oak, Lewisham.
They have held numerous protests around the country since their inception in 2021, including one at the University of Manchester on 10th June, which was outnumbered by a spirited counter-protest by a collection of anti-fascist groups and unions.
Organised by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the Marxism 2023 festival will host speakers including Jeremy Corbyn, Noam Chomsky, Chris Smalls (President of the US Amazon Labor Union) and Phoebe Plummer (Just Stop Oil), among others.
In a call to action on their Telegram channel, Students Against Tyranny said: “Marxists have been attacking our right to free speech for years, it’s time we fight back. Join us as we fight back against Commie Marxists infiltrating universities and shutting down free speech.”
With all the talk of ‘communism’ versus ‘fascism’, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped 100 years back in time. What’s going on?
Students Against Tyranny
James Harvey was 18 when he founded SAT as “a platform to connect like-minded young people in their areas so they don’t feel so isolated in their opinions and beliefs”.
Now 19, Harvey has amassed a following of around 8,000 followers on his personal Twitter and the group has 35 regional Telegram channels, with a national channel consisting of nearly 2,500 members.
He can often be found at demonstrations proudly sporting an SAT T-shirt that reads: “I am anti-antifa”. Harvey describes himself as a “civic nationalist” and a “right-wing, conservative, liberal student” fighting for the right to ‘free speech’.
“Anyone who knows me knows I’m the furthest thing from ‘far-right’,” he assures this newspaper. “Unfortunately, the way Marxism has infiltrated our universities; all of these students believe that if you disagree with them on any topic whatsoever – whether that be about drag queens, 15-minute cities, immigration – you’re immediately called far-right.”
Harvey is also outspoken in advocating for the removal of the legal classification of a “hate-crime” or “hate-speech” from UK law because he believes it infringes on people’s freedom of expression.
Hate-speech is classified under various legislative bills in the UK. Among them is Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986, which outlaws the “threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour that causes, or is likely to cause, another person harassment, alarm or distress”.
Harvey said: “I don’t think it should exist.” He has however claimed that SAT would not support ‘ethno-nationalists’, saying: “That’s not our values.”
The group had previously booked one such speaker for a previous protest, Katie Fanning, before cancelling her appearance, apparently after discovering her political affiliations.
“She still has a right to free speech, we just don’t want her values to be representative of our whole organisation. But that’s also about protecting our brand,” Harvey said.
However, a delve into SAT’s private channels suggests recurring themes and motifs used by the far-right. Members of SAT can be seen in their group on encrypted messaging app Telegram (a digital messaging site) characterising people defending a Trans Story Hour in Australia as “pro-paedophile activists”.
Another example, reposted from the group ‘Patriots of Britain’ (who feature in Hope not Hate’s ‘State of Hate’ report), refers to anti-fascist protesters at Honor Oak as “the paedophile protection squad”.
And in a video posted to SAT’s Instagram, Harvey and a few other supporters enter a shop and identify a product they take issue with: a tin of playdough with some naff drag-queen marketing on it.
Harvey and his supporters can be heard identifying the “suitable for ages 3+” label as the product being marketed towards young children, which they describe as “disgusting” and “absolute filth”.
The label is a choking-hazard warning.
He denied any possible links between calling a pride parade “degeneracy”, as he has done on Twitter and the increase in violence experienced by trans people.
And he insisted that his use of such language was to describe the “public display” of sexuality “in front of children”. In the video, the manager can be heard offering to remove the product from the shelves.
I asked Harvey how he thought his freedom of speech was respected in this scenario in the shop. “Oh, it was fully respected.”
Harvey has previously claimed that anti-racism campaigners are “milking” the racist murder of black Londoner Stephen Lawrence in 1993. He has also been accused of downplaying the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
The advocacy group Hope not Hate has previously written about SAT in their ‘State of Hate’ report which describes them as “essentially the student-focused arm of Voice of Wales (VoW).”
Voice of Wales is another far-right organisation infamous for its various stances against LGBT+ and asylum seekers as well as anti-vaccination campaigns, climate change denial and other conspiracy theories.
In a statement Hope Not Hate said: “Students Against Tyranny are a very small but highly active group that pushes extreme anti-migrant politics and conspiracy theories. The group remains fringe on university campuses, failing to attract students to their cause.”
The report warns: “We are likely to see a large number of small events organised by SAT throughout the coming year, which will make it a more prominent name within the British far right.”
Organiser of Marxism 2023 festival and SWP figure Lewis Nielsen echoed this sentiment to Byline Times: “For us, Students Against Tyranny are a bit of a joke. They seem to have one student, the rest of them seem to be 50-year-old men.
“They are getting a lot of confidence coming from the Tories, particularly (Suella) Braverman talking about ‘cultural Marxism’ and too much immigration.
“We stand for everything they hate – anti-racism, LGBT+ rights, trying to change the world. That’s why they’re protesting us. They got humiliated and outnumbered in Manchester.”
“They are dangerous in trying to provide an outlet for the far-right. They have so far been very unsuccessful. You can see them gaining momentum, so we plan to stop them.”
He added that the group is likely to be far outnumbered again: “Around 3,500 people are coming to our conference.”
In response, SAT said: “It’s funny – the SWP claim we only have one member, and then simultaneously mention they’ve seen my Instagram, which includes tonnes of pictures of the SAT lads … way more than just ‘one member’.
“We’re not against anyone’s rights. We just don’t think LGBTQ+ propaganda should be introduced in schools, shoved in children’s faces, and that biological men should be able to use women’s bathrooms.
Harvey has previously said: “The thing is about free speech – I don’t care what anyone says. If any of Antifa got kicked out for their free speech, I’d stand with them 100%.
“If there was an ‘eth-nat’ (ethnic-nationalist) student who got kicked out of university – I’d stand with them 100%. Because the issue is about ‘free speech’. Either everything is ok to say – or nothing is.”
On the Fringe
One of SAT’s Manchester speakers was ex-charity worker Nick Buckley MBE, who used the opportunity to announce his plans to run for Mayor of Greater Manchester.
“These are the real fascists!” he cried, pointing out from his platform at the anti-fascist counter-protesters on the other side of a heavy police cordon. Buckley made an unfortunate gesture while he said this.
“I know I’m not a fascist, and I know most of you aren’t fascists. Know how I know? Because we’re not socialists. To be a fascist – you have to be socialist to begin with,” he added.
In defence of ‘free-speech’ Buckley gave his policy suggestion: “If I am elected as Mayor of Greater Manchester, I will commission the Free Speech Union to make a ‘free-speech charter’ – which will outline what people can and cannot say.”
Documents and email correspondence obtained by Byline Times in 2021 confirmed that the Free Speech Union is part of an opaque network sponsored by the Charles Koch Foundation. When we pressed Buckley on the links between the Free Speech Union and the Charles Koch Foundation, he said: “I don’t know anything about that.”
SAT have previously said they won’t share a platform with “anyone that advocates for violence or harm to other people”.
At the Manchester protest, SAT speaker Tom Shaw said: “Free speech doesn’t come without responsibility. If you’re going to say something that will wind someone up or aggravate them – then you should expect a proportional response.”
Sarah Ensor, a branch secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, joined the counter-protesters in Manchester.
She said: “They are posing as ‘free speech activists’ but actually they want to create division, transphobia, racism … Just because you call it “freedom” doesn’t make it freedom. These people want the freedom to be transphobic, to be discriminatory…We’re not fooled by it.”
Marxism 2023 will take place on 2nd July at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London and around 3,500 people are expected to attend.
With additional reporting from Josiah Mortimer.