It didn’t take long for the Irish far right to push its favoured narrative after gardaí shot George Nkencho in Dublin on 30 December. Across the online ecosphere which extremists inhabit, a clear order was given for racists and trolls to harass activists and spread lies about Nkencho.
This isn’t surprising. It’s become a regular occurrence whenever a Person of Colour ends up in the news or is a public figure of some kind. It doesn’t matter that the lies the far right spreads are ludicrous and egregious. All that matters for such people is shaping the narrative in such as way as to inflame, for all intents and purposes, racial tensions.
And Nkencho’s death at the hands of gardaí gave extremists the opportunity they wanted.
A large part of the organising took place on public Telegram channels. The social media site is a hive of extremist activity. Blatant antisemitism is commonplace alongside racism and xenophobia. Conspiracy theories, especially the “Great Replacement”, are a popular topic of conversation amongst the far right there. Anybody not considered white or right-leaning enough is seen as a traitor to be targeted. And this is just on the Irish-based channels.
When gardaí killed Nkencho, the Irish far right sprang into action on Telegram. After activists created a hashtag on Twitter to express solidarity with Nkencho’s family and the Black community, members of one channel were told to “jump on it” and “expose” him. The admin of the same channel wrote that the incident would “show to people the dangers of multiculturalism”. They went on to describe migrants as “New Colonists” with the result being that the “Irish will once again become an oppressed minority”.
In the same post the admin wrote of Nkencho’s apparent criminal record. To them this somehow warranted the gardaí shooting him to death. Details of prior convictions were spread across various Telegram channels. It was also widely available on Facebook and Twitter.
But it was just a lie the far right spread in an attempt to somehow justify the shooting. In fact, the gardaí took the step of publicly stating that Nkencho had no criminal record whatsoever. This was particularly unusual given the notorious secrecy of the organisation and its traditional reluctance to officially comment on ongoing cases.
Another Telegram channel posted clear orders for racists as to how they should “troll” others online. The admin of the page encouraged people to anonymously “abuse” Black people on social media simply to cause a reaction. But this was just the start. As the admin wrote, the intent was as follows:
If you annoy them online they’ll take that anger onto the streets and direct it at An Garda Síochána. Make memes, dig up stats, turn on your VPN and get trolling.
In a follow-up post the admin told people to “Abuse the absolute shit out of all” Black people living in Ireland. They told them to “Be as callous as possible”, again with the intent to cause the anger to be “directed onto the streets”.
The admin also created a number of memes for people to post on social media. In one image the creator photoshopped a Celtic Cross — a symbol white supremacists have co-opted — over a picture of the garda Armed Response Unit (ARU). They also wrote text on the image referring to the ARU as the “Aryan Response Unit”. Similar images portray Nkencho as a criminal and congratulating the gardaí for shooting him.
A popular tactic of the far right is to accuse those they see as their enemies of being criminals. Nkencho was no different. In the minds of extremists, this somehow excused the gardaí of shooting him. But, unsurprisingly, the information was false. The only explanation for why it was spread was that it was an attempt to sully the man’s reputation; to make it seem as if he was deserving of his death.
It was, unfortunately, successful to a degree. Across social media the false information was widespread. Even Dublin Live referred to Nkencho as a “thug” in a headline for a report about the incident.
Another tactic used was the sharing of a photo of a man who was the victim of a knife attack. Anonymous far-right accounts on Twitter claimed that this was the shopkeeper that Nkencho had attacked during the mental health crisis which resulted in the shooting outside his family home. But the photo is actually of an Everton fan who was attacked by Millwall supporters while on his way to a soccer match.
Having had their disinformation campaign hit a fairly substantial roadblock, the far right resorted to another common strategy: That the lies extremists planted and spread in the first place was actually part of a left-wing conspiracy. Far-right zealots claimed that the photo of the Everton fan was planted by “reds [who] are infiltrating nationalists chats”. And that it’s being done “so they can accuse us of misinformation later on”.
Activists saw this before in the aftermath of the Barrow Street protest in 2019. Hundreds had gathered to voice their opposition to elements of the far right occupying the footpath outside the entrance to Google whose HQ is on the street. Having had free rein for weeks on end, anti-racism activists had enough. During the rally a number of far-right activists gathered opposite the assembled crowd. And one of them, whom people have since christened “Nazi Boy”, was filmed giving a Nazi salute.
Although people had clearly seen him interacting with known members of the Irish far right, this didn’t stop the latter going into conspiracy mode as the footage of him giving the Nazi salute went viral. Initially they claimed that the left faked the photos and video of him. Then they decided he was a plant, or an agent provocateur, or that he wasn’t actually Irish. Finally, extremists settled on him being part of a conspiracy alongside left-wing counter-protestors that the left designed to discredit them. In reality, “Nazi Boy” embarrassed the far right at Google. He was too upfront about his beliefs, so they had to quickly disavow the incident and the man himself.
After a member of the National Party attacked activist Izzy Kamikaze while she was observing a far-right rally in September, the same pattern emerged. Photographs and video of an injured Kamikaze with blood pouring down her face from a head injury went viral.
But, like the case with “Nazi Boy”, the far right claimed it was part of conspiracy. Dozens of accounts on social media relentlessly insisted that Kamikaze had somehow staged the incident. The conspiracists argued that the blood was fake or that she’d not been as badly injured as she was. When gardaí arrested National Party member Michael Quinn in connection with the assault they largely fell silent.
Modern fascism is generally more subtle than the clichéd types we’re used to seeing in fiction or in black and white footage of Nazi Germay. It comes in the form of YouTube videos in which the narrator speaks calmly and authoritatively and supporters who know the talking points inside and out. The days of skinhead neo-Nazis storming through the streets are gone, at least in the initial stages of far-right organising and recruitment.
Incidents such as the just described are seen as damaging to the movement. So when the far right was caught spreading lies in order to justify the gardaí killing a Black man going through a mental health crisis, it resorted to an old — and desperate — tactic.
From online to the streets
But no matter the desperation of the far-right’s lies, it’s clear that it’s highly networked and organised. It moved quickly into the breach caused by the shooting. Extremists took advantage of how easy it’s to create multiple accounts on Twitter. An almost countless number of new accounts popped up which pushed the racist and ableist narrative; a narrative based on lies the intention of which is simply to inflame racial tensions with the endpoint being a race war.
The latter might seem fantastical but this is what they want. It’s already a war in their own minds. Taking it to the streets is their eventual hope. For now though, it’s a propaganda war and about laying the groundwork for what they hope will come. And they’ve already laid plenty.
Without a second thought politicians openly regurgitate far-right talking points about asylum seekers, migrants, and left-wing politics. Mainstream media is also happy to platform extremist figureheads, as RTÉ did with Steve Bannon in November.
The idea then that the far right in Ireland isn’t active and isn’t a threat is naive at best and dangerously ignorant at its worst. George Nkencho’s death at the hands of the gardaí and the attempt by the far right to use it to inflame a race war that it’d relish should be a wake-up call for many. Unfortunately, it likely wasn’t.
As long as such intentional blindness continues lives will be at risk. All it takes is for one person the far right has radicalised online to cause untold damage. We’ve already seen a sample of that on Irish streets in the last two years. Expect more of it. And expect worse.
Featured image via Pexels