Hopefully last Wednesday’s chaos outside Leinster House will be a turning point in countering hate on our streets. Now we have footage of a recognisable politician needing garda assistance and an escort from his place of work. But it’s not like he was the first person to face this rage, which has been bubbling up for years.
Yet last May, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said the far right wasn’t growing. Simon Harris, then filling in as Minister for Justice, backed him up, stating it was “not for us to second-guess” Garda tactics. This was, ironically, an anti-democratic statement. Of course people are entitled to question Garda strategy. Last Wednesday again showed it isn’t about numbers at a protest, it’s about the propensity of a particular gathering for violence. Small numbers can do a huge amount of damage. They already have.
I find the commentary that states “if this doesn’t stop now, someone will get hurt” infuriating. People have already been hurt. Two years ago, the activist Izzy Kamikaze was attacked outside Leinster House during another of these maelstroms. Her attacker was jailed for two years. “A lot of people came to their senses about how dangerous it is to ignore far-right protests,” she said in her victim impact statement. Not enough people, clearly. Innocent people fleeing war saw crowds gather outside their temporary accommodation screaming “get them out”.
Bullies blockaded buildings where asylum seekers and refugees were to be housed. A row of tents where asylum seekers were sleeping was burned out in Dublin 2. Librarians are abused at transphobic protests outside their workplaces. Drag queens are harassed and intimidated. People of colour described an atmosphere of fear on our streets coinciding with racist anti-immigration protests. As transphobic rhetoric increased, a rise in street violence against LGBTQ+ people was widely documented. The violence was already happening.
Politicians have also reported an uptick in harassment, abuse and intimidation – not just online, but outside Leinster House, and at their constituency offices. Many decent people have been countering racism in their own communities, establishing local groups that demonstrate the type of empathy and solidarity Ireland is known for. Largely left to their own devices, they scrambled to diffuse the nihilistic, misdirected rage and bigotry intentionally and strategically stirred up online, and by agitators travelling the country. Where are the tech companies headquartered in Dublin in all of this? Why aren’t their well-paid executives in front of Oireachtas committees answering questions about their roles in the hate they’re platforming? Politicians also need to look inside the gates of Leinster House as well as outside. It’s not like there aren’t senators and TDs spouting conspiracy theories and far-right talking points online and off.
In Naomi Klein’s latest book, Doppelgänger: A Trip into the Mirror World, she cites William Callison and Quinn Slobodian’s work on “diagonalism”. In an article in the Boston Review in 2021, Callison and Slobodian wrote: “At the extreme end, diagonal movements share a conviction that all power is conspiracy… They attack ‘totalitarian’ authorities, including the state, Big Tech, Big Pharma, big banks, climate science, mainstream media, and political correctness… It would be easy to dismiss such mobilisations as manifestations of conspiratorial thinking… But as the cultural theorist Jeremy Gilbert recently pointed out, ‘conspiracy theory’ has many of the failings of the earlier category of ‘populism’: it is too often used prematurely to foreclose a form of politics as illegitimate and, by othering it, can grant it the mark of martyrdom its followers seek… What makes the current situation combustible are precisely the freelance media hustlers, movement messiahs, and entrepreneurial contrarians who have every motivation to sharpen social tensions as they seek to create new poles of authority and often self-enrichment.” Sound familiar?
Some reporting on the growth of this ecosystem has been excellent. However, one of the problems in media commentary in Ireland is its failure to grasp the far-right playbook and the connected conspiracy theory ecosystem. The media are largely disconnected from the tools, tactics and online communities utilised by the fascistic-conspiracy-theory nexus, and are not often enough on the ground observing behaviour, participants and messaging within anti-immigration protests. In some cases, this led to some commentators dismissing the threat of what we have come to broadly characterise as the far right. Others blithely took up the tune of the dog-whistling, particularly with regards to transphobic “talking points”.
What I find insidious about this attitude is that it contains within it an obvious bias regarding who is actually sounding the warnings.
The political entity that has countered this threat on our streets, in communities, and in parliament most consistently, is Solidarity-People Before Profit. There appears to be a bias within Irish mainstream media commentary and the broader political system, that when warnings are being sounded by the left, they are seen as somehow less legitimate, overblown, or perhaps even leaning into an assumed victim complex projected on to the left.
Why weren’t those who monitor the far right across the political system, activist networks, and civil society more generally, as well as those initially targeted by their rage, listened to? As a society, we don’t just need to reflect on what happened last Wednesday as an outrage, we need to reflect on what took media, the mainstream political sphere, and indeed Garda strategy so long to take the threat ofviolence seriously.