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‘Building for a long time’: How the global far right jumped on Dublin’s anti-immigration riots

The anti-immigrant riots in Dublin have sparked the interest of right-wing US commentators including ex-Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson and former Trump aide Steve Bannon

On Tuesday right-wing US broadcaster Tucker Carlson used his new show on X, formerly Twitter, to discuss the causes of the riots that engulfed Dublin last week.

Ireland is a “powder keg” and its Government is “trying to replace the population ... with people from the third world”, said the former Fox News host, repeating a version of the anti-Semitic “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory.

He was then joined by “old friend” Steve Bannon, former chief strategist to Donald Trump, who explained there is no real opposition party in Ireland, except for Sin [sic] Féin, whom he claimed are “more and more taking on a nationalistic bent”.

The men went on to lament that gardaí are investigating Irish MMA fighter Conor McGregor, who has made several inflammatory posts about the violence, and to denounce the forthcoming hate crime Bill, falsely claiming it will make it a crime to criticise Government policy.

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The pair’s political analysis drew mockery online from Irish social media users, but also celebration from some who delighted in prominent US figures paying attention to migration in Ireland.

Carlson and Bannon were far from alone. Since the stabbing of three children and a woman on Parnell Square in Dublin and the subsequent riots in the city, Ireland, and specifically immigration into Ireland, has been taken up as a cause celebre among many prominent figures on the international far right.

An analysis by Moonshot, a company that monitors violent extremism for clients including the UK government, found dozens of posts by prominent international figures in the far right referencing Dublin during and immediately after the riots.

“These are leading figures and influential figures among the extreme right,” said Moonshot chief executive Ross Frenett. There were thousands more posts by their followers.

The volume of online discussion was “extremely high” and centred around anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments, he said. Much of the commentary linked the violence to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, including allegations the stabbing attack was “Jewish-funded terrorism”.

This didn’t come from nowhere, Frenett says.

“This is the culmination of something that has been building for a long time. Migration to Ireland has been referenced regularly over the past year by some of these influential figures in the UK. It’s something that has been bubbling away under the surface for the last while.”

Last week’s events sent these discussions into overdrive and not just in the UK, where prominent far-right figures such as former British National Party president Nick Griffin and anti-Muslim provocateur Tommy Robinson have been regularly discussing the violence.

In France, commentators immediately seized on the stabbing as evidence of the dangers of immigration. Over the following days far-right protests took place in several French towns and cities. Reuters quoted a French intelligence official as saying the Dublin riots were a “trigger” for the protests and that there was a will among far-right activists to be “as good as the Irish”.

In the US, commentators on far-right social media platforms voiced support for McGregor and criticised the Irish Government over immigration.

In one popular post on Gab, a user suggested Americans should “run guns” to Ireland, while others said attempts by the Garda to suppress the riots were efforts at white erasure, according to an analysis by the not-for-profit research group Advance Democracy.

“The whole ecosystem is very international and these far-right extremists are really well networked together. So when the Irish far right puts stuff up on [social media] it is very quickly picked up globally as talking points,” said Professor Jane Suiter, a disinformation expert at DCU.

Much, but by no means all, of the interest of the international far right in Ireland can be traced to a young Roscommon man. Keith O’Brien, who goes by the name Keith Woods, has built up a massive online following in the US and regularly appears on American extreme-right media.

The self-described “raging anti-Semite” is a close associate of prominent American white supremacist Nick Fuentes, who is perhaps most famous for briefly serving as Kanye West’s campaign manager during the rapper’s ill-fated presidential campaign.

In August, O’Brien appeared as a speaker at a conference organised by the white supremacist organisation American Renaissance and has also collaborated with neo-Nazi Richard Spencer along with other figures on the extreme fringes of US politics.

Since last week’s violence in Dublin, his profile in the US has grown grew even bigger thanks to an appearance, alongside Irish Freedom Party founder Hermann Kelly, on the podcast of Jenna Ellis, a lawyer who worked with Trump to attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

“There was justifiable anger amongst the population of Dublin,” O’Brien told Ellis.

In response to queries from The Irish Times, O’Brien said he “called on people to direct their frustrations at the Government’s failed immigration policies toward peaceful political activism.

“I have repeatedly spoken out against political violence, intimidation and hatred of any kind, and instead advocated making change through lawful activism and advocacy,” he said.

Since coming to prominence, O’Brien has cultivated a reputation among the far right as a deep thinker and a philosopher. A review of his social media posts, many of which have been deleted, reveal a preoccupation with anti-Semitic cartoons and conspiracy theories, many relating to the Holocaust.

O’Brien attended the University of Galway, where he studied philosophy and took part in the debating society. According to an interview he gave in 2019, he went from being a “lefty Sinn Féiner” to someone trying to convince his friends of ethno-nationalism and “national socialist principles”.

During the same interview, he criticised the lack of willingness of Irish “nationalists” to work with the international white nationalist movement in its fight against the “enemy”.

He told The Irish Times he is not a national socialist but is “an ethno-nationalist, in the long tradition of Irish nationalism”. His post describing himself as a raging anti-Semite was a joke, he said. Many screenshots of his supposed comments circulating online are fake while other posts were made in the context of “the very ironic and sarcastic milieu of young right-wing social media culture,” O’Brien claimed.

“O’Brien has extensive links with white supremacists in US, Britain and Australia, and could be regarded as one of the brighter lights in an international movement not known for producing intellectuals,” said Mark Malone, research lead with Hope and Courage Collective, an Irish anti-extremism group.

“In the past O’Brien has spoken frequently about his disdain for women and so he has many fans in the online incel [involuntary celibate] community.”

Unusually among Irish far-right activists, O’Brien maintains “an almost exclusively online persona and rarely turns up at events in Ireland”, said Malone, although he has attended at least one National Party event.

“He particularly plays up his involvement in hate movements in Ireland for his large US audience in order to maximise donations. Many on the far right in Ireland have criticised him for building a large profile and income stream for himself while doing very little to support them.”

By far O’Brien’s most significant international contact is Elon Musk, one of the richest men in the world and owner of X. Along with many other Irish right-wing extremists, O’Brien was previously banned from the platform only to be reinstated when Musk took over last year.

Since then, the two have been in contact on numerous occasions. Musk seems particularly interested in O’Brien’s campaigning to “ban the ADL”, in reference to the Anti-Defamation League, a US organisation focused on combating anti-Semitism.

In response to queries, O’Brien said his only interaction with Musk “in this period was replying to some of his posts”.

The ADL has been a target of Musk since it criticised the growth of anti-Semitism on the platform after the billionaire took over.

“ADL has tried very hard to strangle X/Twitter”, Musk told O’Brien in September in response to the Irishman’s claim the ADL was trying to “extort” the social media platform.

Musk has also taken a keen interest in the Irish Government’s proposed hate speech laws. “This is a massive attack against freedom of speech,” Musk told O’Brien when he criticised the bill last April.

O’Brien, who has nearly 150,000 followers on X, is not the only person from the Irish far-right Musk has been talking to. In recent days, he has discussed the hate speech bill with Waterford anti-immigration agitator Michael O’Keeffe, who was one of those who called for people to take to the streets after the Parnell Square attacks.

O’Keeffe was also one of the people who wrongly identified an entirely innocent immigrant man as the stabbing suspect in a tweet which received almost 180,000 views before being deleted. The falsely accused man is now under Garda protection.

However, O’Brien, with his vastly larger following, finds it easier to get Musk’s attention. In fact, his interactions with Musk form part of a lawsuit against the billionaire by Ben Brody, a young Jewish man who was falsely accused on X of being an undercover federal agent who took part in a brawl among neo-Nazi groups in Oregon.

Musk amplified the false claims on his X account. In legal papers seen by The Irish Times, Brody’s lawyers cited his interactions with O’Brien, “an Irish white nationalist”, as evidence of Musk’s frequent interactions with well-known bigots.

The tech mogul is facing scrutiny in Ireland that goes beyond his courting of Irish extremists. Unlike other social media companies, his platform did not co-operate with gardaí in taking down “vile” posts during last week’s riots, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee told the Dáil.

“They did not engage. They did not fulfil their own customer standards,” she said.

However, Musk’s credibility among the Irish far right has never been higher, with some seeing him as a potential source of revenue for future campaigns.

This week, the chairman of the Irish Freedom Party Michael Leahy wrote to Musk begging for funds to support a legal case by his party against the hate crime Bill.