May 30, 2009

BNP puppets are not the real threat

Underground art and music are far more effective recruitment tools for the far right

A few days ago the youth BNP's charmless Billy Brit appeared in my Facebook feed. There was something both bizarre and inept about the clip: a pale cream sub-Sesame Street puppet speaks in a castrato voice in front of a backdrop that looks like it's been set-dressed by the guy who does beheading videos. The puppet reads an old-fashioned tum-tee-tum rhyme, name-checking a canon of white heroes, the kind of stirring stuff a nostalgic middle-aged BNP activist might remember learning by rote at school. It's both awkward and hectoring; Edward I is catchily described as "a tall articulate giver of law", a garbled phrase that sounds like it was cribbed from a prewar textbook. "Physics and maths" are glossed as the "essential stuff" which made racial hero Isaac Newton such an upstanding chap.

As an effective recruitment tool for Britain's under-13s, Billy Brit must rank about as high as BNP-branded conkers or a chance to sit on Nick Griffin's knee. The injunction to vote at the end suggests that it's not really aimed at kids at all, but is a viral come-on to the highly ironised stoner constituency who surf YouTube looking for the next Peer Pressure or Numa Numa Boy. Inevitably, Billy has already been parodied on the internet and the threat he represents to the nation's youth is surely slight. Despite the hand-wringing, I also find it hard to get exercised by the recent "revelation" that BNP activists are trawling social networking sites such as Bebo and Facebook. Everyone's online these days, from amputee fetishists to coffee-coloured burka-wearing Francophile miscegenaters like myself. The young generation of "internet natives" has grown up wandering through the digital forest, exposed to the shadows to a degree their parents don't yet comprehend.

This isn't to say I'm complacent about fascists sniffing round the fringes of youth culture. Like paedophiles and science fiction fans, the far right were quick to wise up to the internet, and since the early 1990s I've occasionally surfed my way through their offerings, intrigued by the constantly mutating subculture of white nationalism. Worried liberals usually invoke the image of the skinhead thug, but there's always been a second strand to fascism, a culture that's less big boots and more socks and sandals, a cranky, vegetarian, pagan, back-to-the-land folksiness that in its current incarnation has real potential appeal to environmentally conscious, anti-globalist young people.

You get hints of it even in mainstream BNP material. The party has done a good job of getting its members out of acid-wash and into Austin Reed, and anyone near a camera has hair of a reasonable length, but they can't quite stamp out the runes. Griffin, their leader, has released an album of folk songs, whose cover is like something from a Norwegian blood metal band, complete with runic title and an image of the black sun, a pagan occult symbol much beloved of neo-Nazis. It's hard to say exactly what it represents to this reasonable middle-of-the-road politician, but his party maintains links with racist neopagan groups around Europe, many of which profess a version of Odinism or Icelandic Asatru where the black sun features as a religious symbol. More Odinist than most are the Tempelhof gesellschaft, an Austrian outfit which believes that the Aryan race is of extraterrestrial origin (Aldebaran, since you ask), destined to dominate the other races, due to the "vril" energy pumped out by the black sun. If Griffin's actually from Aldebaran, wouldn't that technically make him an asylum seeker?

Taking the mick out of fringe Nazi occultism is like shooting fish in a barrel, but in the US, racist Odinism has become a major force in the prison system, compelling authorities there to recognise it as a legitimate religion. The glamour of Nordic myths has long been an influence on the overlapping youth cultures of heavy metal, fantasy, and role-playing. As an obsessive teenage Dungeons and Dragons player I drew sigils on my exercise books and invented characters with horned helmets and multisyllabic names. Though (self-evidently) I was a giant nerd, I never became a metal fan. I did go through a Tolkien phase, during which it never occurred to me there was a racial dimension to his borrowings from Norse and Anglo-Saxon. So I felt a little soiled to discover that since the release of the movies, a huge white nationalist Tolkien fanbase has developed.

Only a fraction of the users of Nordic imagery are racists, but this culture is a much more credible recruiting tool for disaffected white kids than a sock puppet. There are strands within industrial music, goth, neofolk and emo which flirt with fascist imagery. This is nothing new (as any Joy Division fan can attest) and doesn't necessarily amount to anything more sinister than a wish to shock, shared by teenagers since the dawn of time. A tiny minority of bands are overtly "political", but it's not hard to detect a certain, um, tendency in the aesthetic of labels such as Slaughter in Art, whose blurb for the album Blut Unter Den Fahnen describes it as "apocalyptic war music ... a homage to the victims of allied bombardments, and in particular to the town of Dresden. Martial post-industrial, orchestral, neoclassical with dark ambient. Heroic imagery with some German historical excerpts."

There are more mainstream tendrils to socks-and-sandals fascism, which should concern voters considering the BNP as a protest vote in Thursday's EU elections. Next to Billy Brit, the youth BNP site offers a video in which a young man explains that "nationalism is not only an idea for the conscious mind but for the subconscious mind, what is more commonly known as the heart, the soul, or the folk soul." The idea of a racial soul, operating at a preconscious "blood" level, will be familiar to students of Germany's Völkisch movement - which provided much of the ideological impetus for national socialism. This was a huge cultural tendency, which also gave rise to such things as Steiner schools and biodynamic farming, and many neo-Völkisch sects survive today across Europe, united in little but their hatred of modernity, immigration and multiculturalism. The BNP describes itself as "Britain's only real Green party", and claims that overpopulation, driven by immigration, is the main cause of our ecological woes. These "green" policies are really the tip of a Völkisch iceberg, and around Europe a Völkisch paganism is being refurbished to appeal to young people who crave some kind of rebirth or revolution, and often look for it in the anti-globalisation movement. The idea that the destruction of the environment is linked to the repression of ethnic identity is particularly insidious. When accompanied by the notion, common to certain strands of fascism and environmentalism, that through technology, modernity has not only destroyed nature, but also the spiritual dimension of life, you get the beginnings of a politics that could really speak to the next generation, brought up within the current pale green orthodoxy. Personally I'm far more bothered about that than a stupid puppet.


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