Willard Foxton, Telegraph, November 4, 2014
You may not have heard of the pound-shop fascists of Britain First. They are, in many ways pathetic losers of the Oswald Mosely type–right down to having uniforms, flags, driving around in what they boast are “armoured land rovers” and even going on “invasions” of local mosques.
However, Britain First differ from your classic two-bit paramilitary hate group in one crucial way–they have developed a formidable social media presence and are using it to scoop up charitable donations.
The way this works is they’ll typically share an image which reaches out to decent people’s patriotism–a classic is an aged Normandy veteran kneeling over some poppies on a beach with a message like “SHARE if you support veteran’s rights”. Of course, many people who support veteran’s rights will see it and immediately share the image. Variations include dogs wounded in dog fights, with messages like “SHARE if you want to end animal cruelty”, or recently, “RIP Actress Lynda Bellingham. Britain First”. As blogger Thomas G Clark points out in great detail, these images are “honey traps”.
As soon as you like or share these images, you’ll see more of them–Britain first usually post 20 or so images with provocative titles on them a day. As a result of these tactics, 500,000 people have “liked” them on Facebook, giving them an estimated reach of 20 million people–a third of the UK.
Just under a quarter of these images are requests for funding in one form or another–be it donations to “prevent animal cruelty” or selling a wide variety of ugly clothing which I can only describe as “skinhead chic”.
Of course, there’s not a huge market for fascist fashion–“marine green” jackets and polo shirts and the like–to most of the decent people Britain First are selling to. Hence, they’ve started to use a symbol more usually associated with the Royal British Legion, the poppy. As well as using the poppy symbol on things like their jackets, they advertise a variety of overtly poppy-themed products through an organisation called “Lionheart GB”.
On Lionheart GB, you can find lots of remembrance pin-badges and so on, selling for about £5 a time. As someone from a service family, who lost relatives in the First World War, it absolutely turned my stomach to see the poppy used by a violent, intolerant far-Right group, as a way of conning people into funding them.
Ultimately, the core of this problem is social media–we need to be much more careful about what we “like” and “share”, and inquire about where that material comes from. Over the last few months, I’ve had to point out to friends and relatives that the apparently inoffensive material they are sharing comes from a BNP-fascist offshoot.
Talking about similar schemes in the USA, Daniel Borochoff, president of Charity Watch, said “They get away with it because it’s a hero charity. It’s an emotional give; people make snap decisions. They don’t do their homework.”
If you know what Britain First is, you should confront people sharing their images too. If you don’t, then they’ll keep spreading their message of hate, and keep stealing donations intended for veteran’s charities.
A Royal British Legion spokesperson said: “The Royal British Legion does not authorise the use of the red poppy for political or partisan use. The poppy is a symbol of remembrance and hope, which is a trademark of The Royal British Legion used for supporting our Armed Forces community. We ask consumers to make sure the products they purchase are official poppy merchandise supplied through our licensed partners or www.poppyshop.org.uk.”