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Tragedies like the Knowsley riot and Brianna Ghey’s murder show scapegoating minorities is a deadly game

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We need to fight the Tory-emboldened fascist threat. Support strong counter-narratives, grassroots organisations, and resist the rapid regression we can all feel.

15 Feb 2023

left: Chris Paige, middle and right: Gavin Lynn

Content warning: murder, transphobia, racism, xenophobia, sexual assault.

Now there will be a search for someone to blame. This week has been one denoted by several tragedies that illustrate the rapid regression of Britain as a nation. A white gang attacked a black schoolgirl while parents stood by, trans teenager Brianna Ghey was murdered in a Cheshire park, and rioters screamed anti-migrant chants amid a frightening inferno outside asylum seeker accommodation in Merseyside. But of course, these groups – ethnic minorities, people of marginalised genders and refugees – are routinely the targets of constant negative propaganda in right-wing media and Conservative party policy. 

At a time where Britain is the only G7 country whose economy is yet to return to its pre-pandemic size, it’s not a coincidence that the New York Times’ view is that we are an island hell bent on self-destruction. The government has done nothing about the fact that food bank users are scared to take home potatoes as they can’t afford the energy costs to cook root vegetables. But they did make constitutional history in stepping in to block Scotland’s progressive Gender Recognition Reform Bill. 

“Minorities are being used as part of the dead cat strategy in an era-defining transfer of wealth and abandonment of the very idea of society”

Shell made more profit as Brits froze this winter. If Jesus earned £44,000 a day since his birth, he would still not touch the $40bn Shell made in 2022. Meanwhile, we have a crumbling health service where 500 deaths a week are being caused by A&E wait times, yet the UK government chose to spend £12 million on failed deportation flights instead. Minorities are being used as part of the dead cat strategy in an era-defining transfer of wealth and abandonment of the very idea of society. 

16-year-old Brianna Ghey was stabbed to death in a park in Cheshire. While the police say there is no evidence yet to suggest the attack was a hate crime, even the reporting of her death has been indicative of the way transgender people have been dehumanised in Britain. The Times edited the news article to deadname the victim of the violent crime. This is the same paper that ramped up transphobic coverage during the Covid-19 crisis. Where there were countless tales of Covid corruption to be told, The Times and Sunday Times instead published over 300 articles about people who do not identify with the same gender as their sex registered birth. “Almost one a day, and they were all negative,” Shon Faye, author of The Transgender Issue, told CNN. That’s a disproportionate amount of hysteria for a group that represents under 0.5% of the population according to census data

This scapegoating only emboldens the far right

For many northerners, the Merseyside borough of Knowsley is known as the location of the safari park you’re taken to see on school trips. Over the weekend it was the backdrop to bestial rage, as a crowd of xenophobic zealots set the streets ablaze outside an asylum seeker hotel. Posters that read “this is our city” were at the scene. A police van was torched, and a police officer was injured after the crowds threw missiles, including lit fireworks, during the clash. 

According to organisers of the protest, the backlash arose because of a video of an interaction between a local teenager and a man, whom they allege is a refugee, who allegedly is propositioning her to which she responds: “I’m 15”. It’s hard to identify the man from this video, harder still to ascertain whether he was staying at the Suites Hotel, which is currently being used to house asylum seekers. Initially, some reports stated that the uprising was linked to Patriotic Alternative, a far-right group that had recently visited the location. The group was founded by Mark Collett, the former leader of the BNP’s youth wing and self-proclaimed neo-Nazi. However, the group has denied involvement on their social media platforms.

Even if the group did not organise or attend this particular protest, they’re actively targeting migrant hotels around the UK. They also seem to be using the aforementioned video as an opportunity to boost their opposition to the housing of migrants in the country which is extremely worrying. As is, of course, the safety of children and the problem with violent misogyny against women and girls. Catcalling and sexually propositioning children is clearly abhorrent from any individual or organised group. However, it feels like an opportunistic leap to target a whole host of migrant hotels – that are housing men, women and children fleeing from their homelands – based on the actions of one unidentified man in a video. It’s been reported by Care4Calais that the asylum seekers staying in Merseyside are “scared to go outside” in fear of being targeted in retaliation. 

But is it fair to target a whole group of people for an individual’s actions? The press has already helped embed the debunked idea of Muslim grooming gangs into the public psyche – rather than amplify the sexual offences of Tory MPs, or royalty, or the police. For example, it’s public record that Patriotic Alternative, who is currently mobilising around the absurd allegation that white people will become a minority in Britain by 2066, has reshared videos of the people who were present during the clash professing that they were there in order to protect the safety of local children. 

“The rising popularity of these fascist extremist groups can be directly linked to the moral panic sparked by our ruling the party and the newspapers that parrot culture war soundbites”

It is also quite easy to find that a recent Patriotic Alternative walk in Kent was attended by convicted sex offender James Shand. Or that women who were formerly involved with the organisation described having “suicidal thoughts” after they were threatened with rape. By the logic of why the events in Knowsley unfolded, there are concerns of sexual offences spanning across the far right spectrum. But this is not evoking the same pyrotechnic rage and riot. Why?

Patriotic Alternative are also currently protesting against programming at the Tate Britain. Most recently, they gathered outside of the gallery where a drag queen storytelling event was underway. They agitated outside, with banners that read: “leave our kids alone!” and “let kids be kids”. This illustrates the link between xenophobic hate, racialised hate and the hate directed towards the LGBTQIA community under the guise of warding off sexual predators – a homophobic trope with a long history. 

Remember, this is not the first time fascists have wreaked havoc on minority communities in the name of protecting women and children from sexual violence. Lynch mobs often used (false) accusations of sexual violence against white women to murder Black men and boys, like the case of Emmett Till

The rising popularity of these fascist extremist groups can be directly linked to the moral panic sparked by our ruling party and the newspapers that parrot culture war soundbites

Where do we go from here?

Firstly, we need to resist the toxicity of the Tories. Suella Braverman described the arrival of asylum seekers to the UK as an “invasion” just a day after a fascist terrorist threw fire bombs at a Dover immigration centre. Words matter. We need constituents and MPs to push for right wing extremism to be just as much a part of Prevent’s anti-terrorism strategy as Islamist extremism

As the demonstration raged in Knowsley there was a counter protest of pensioners, trade unionists, anti-fascists and faith groups. Groups like Unite Against Fascism and Anti Racism Day, and Merseyside Black Lives Matter Alliance are planning protests. There are other counter protests planned on 18 February outside The Holiday Inn in Rotherham and St George’s Hall in Liverpool. There will be marches elsewhere in London, Glasgow and Cardiff on 18 March.

There are nationwide vigils planned for Brianna Ghey across the coming days, you can find a full list here. Organisations to follow and support include Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids, Galop and Trans Action Bloc.