People may disagree about racism, immigration, gender, and so on. But one thing we have in common is money. Most of us see our living standards decline, as wealth is transferred to fewer and fewer pockets. Most want higher taxes on the rich, properly-funded public services, and caps on rent. Only the left is offering this change. But the mega-wealthy oppose it, so they fund parties, think-tanks, and personalities to divert attention from the left’s economic policies to points of potential disagreement: gender, feminism, immigration, and internationalism, which the right blames for declining living standards.
Their strategy works. Fifty-four percent of Britons (to 23 per cent) favour some form of authoritarianism. Brexit voters were more likely than Remainers to believe that feminism, the environmental movement, and globalisation are responsible for their socioeconomic decline. In 2019 and led by the racist PM Boris Johnson, the Tories won a landslide after the Brexit Party entered into an informal alliance by standing candidates down in Tory constituencies.
Far-right figures and ultra-nationalists who play on identity politics flooded the Tory party: the English Defence League’s Tommy Robinson, Britain First’s Paul Golding, the agitator Katie Hopkins, to name but a few. It turns out that many of these self-professed patriots are funded by foreigners: most of them American billionaires.
Brexit and Tory radicalisation
Brexit became a uniting cause for ultra-nationalists: Britain First, the EDL, UKIP, and later the Brexit Party. But Brexit was designed by and for a small number of mega-wealthy asset managers and hedge funders who wanted to avoid EU restrictions on their ability to profit from the kind of market speculation that hurts working-class people.
In the years leading up to Brexit, the billionaire hedge funder, Arron Banks, and the billionaire asset manager, Stuart Wheeler, funded UKIP, an organisation popularised by Nigel Farage and known to be full of racists. Banks and Wheeler surely knew that UKIP couldn’t win a general election, but it could (and did) pose an electoral threat to the Tory party by robbing them of votes. These and other pressures, particularly the formation of the Brexit Party by a mega-wealthy investor, Richard Tice, led to the adoption of hard-right policies by the Tories under the advice of Wheeler’s friend, Dominic Cummings.
The pro-Brexit Robert Mercer is a US hedge fund billionaire who reportedly believes that the US Civil Rights Act 1964 was a mistake. In 2013, he effectively co-founded the data-mining and propaganda firm, Cambridge Analytica, with fellow American millionaire and Islamophobe, Steve Bannon: Donald Trump’s future strategist. Cambridge Analytica worked with UKIP and on Brexit with Cummings’s Vote Leave group.
English nationalists in North America
Beginning 2009, the presence of far-right Islamists in Luton gave “Tommy Robinson” (Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) a raison d’être and led to the formation of the English Defence League. Robinson’s hate is part of a successful business model which, in addition to being a landlord, made him an estimated £1.3m. In 2018, Trump’s ambassador, Sam Brownback, reportedly lobbied the Tories to release Robinson from prison.
The millionaire Katie Hopkins trained with the British Army Intelligence Corps before graduating from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS). Business Insider, which interviewed Hopkins, says that many of her “beliefs” and “opinions” were formed in the Army: “Her strong sense of nationalism, lack of empathy, and relish of confrontation appear to come directly from her superiors at [RMAS].” After Hopkins was banished from UK media for advocating “gunboats” against desperate refugees and calling for a “final solution” for Muslims, she became a star of North America’s far-right.
But Robinson and Hopkins were funded by foreigners: Canada’s Rebel Media and its American backer, the Islamophobe Robert Shillman. Founder of the billion-dollar Cognex, a machine visuals and barcode giant, Shillman (who swears he’s not against Muslims) funded Rebel Media via his tax-exempt Shillman Fellowship, a position awarded to both Robinson and Hopkins. Disillusioned Rebel Media camerawoman, Lucy Brown, said: “It’s just about getting [YouTube] views and retweets. This is a business and your outrage … will be monetised.”
Jim Dowson apparently made money from Christian groups and property purchases. He funded the BNP before founding Britain First (BF). BF started in 2006 as a campaign to Buy Back Britain. By 2011, with Dowson’s money, it became a self-described “patriotic campaigning group” dedicated to leaving the European Union, preserving Christianity, bringing back capital punishment, supporting the ban on gay people donating blood, and prohibiting Islam.
By now a millionaire with links to far-right groups in Eastern Europe, including paramilitaries, Dowson resigned from BF and profited by promoting Trump on social media via his Patriot News Agency. Trump later shared three BF videos on Twitter. After Dowson left BF, its sources of funding became more obscure, such as the shell company Albion Promotions Limited.
Britain First boasted that 5,000 of its members joined the newly-ultra-right Tories. Leader Paul Golding said that with a Johnson government: “we can achieve Brexit and hopefully cut immigration and confront radical Islam.” He added: “Boris referred to Muslim women wearing the burqa and niqab as letterboxes, so he is obviously a populist nationalist.” Johnson had made his “letterbox” and “bankrobbers” remark after an apparently advisory phone call with Steve Bannon.
Spiked Online and The Kochtopus
Mega-wealthy individuals like Bannon, Mercer, Shillman, Trump, and the Koch Brothers (David decd.) know that they cannot run a political campaign to transfer wealth to themselves. They try instead to deflect from their economic policies by promoting divisive identity issues, including gender, race, and internationalism. The right-wing invents or weaponises terms like “cultural Marxism” and “woke politics” to inflate the differences between left and right and distract from common economic concerns.
Except for a brief period when its editors wrongly believed that Labour, under the traditionally Eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn, might have backed Brexit, the function of Spiked has been to attack the Labour party, promote the idea that there is a “war on whiteness,” dismiss concern for transgender rights as “lunacy,” and deny climate change.
Worth $100 billion, the Koch Brothers made their money in energy. Their tentacles, known as The Kochtopus, stretched to political campaigns, donations, and think-tanks with the simple aim of making themselves more money by attacking the left, demanding lower taxation, and funding climate change denial. They are largely responsible for transforming the Republican Party from a right-wing fossil to an ultra-right cult led by Trump.
In 2016, the Charles Koch Foundation’s Toleration and Free Speech Program gave Spiked’s US branch $150,000: reportedly more than its declared $137,000. The Foundation also gave $20,000 in 2017. Spiked editor, Brendan O’Neil, also writes for Reason, whose Foundation received $1m from the Koch brothers between 2016 and 2018. Spiked dismissed the evidence as proof of a “McCarthyist” witch-hunt against libertarians.
Progressive, internationalist government
The international solidarity shown to Black Lives Matter is a chance to shift the political spectrum from the racist right to a more inclusive style of politics. Racism, xenophobia, and disrespect are everywhere, but the strategic use of division brings this ugly side of humanity to the fore. Mega-wealthy promoters of “ultra-nationalism” (read: selling out to US corporations) want to undermine social security and transform public utilities into assets for their own profit. But economic stress compounded by COVID-19 has forced many people to claim social security and forge closer community bonds, regardless of their identity. At the next general election the public might, this time, be ready for a progressive, internationalist government.