Speaking to TRT World, Aristotle Kallis, an expert on fascism, says the group represents a significant, terrifying deeper threat as they normalise the most extreme racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic views.
Two members of the white supremacist group Hundred-Handers were arrested for public order offences across the UK's county of Sheffield on April 16. They had posted racist stickers on lamp posts, bins, bus stop signs and bollards, reading: "Borders Open, Pubs Closed" and “Open border, virus disorder,” linking the coronavirus to immigration in Britain.
Hundred-Handers take their name from giant creatures in Greek mythology, “hundred-handed ones”. The group operates online and encourages members to get their racist and political messages out through stickering.
They use inflammatory slogans in their stickers such as, “we’re under attack”, ”why are you second-class in your homeland?” “we’re more than a passport. Blood & Soil”, “it’s okay to be white”, “witness the reality of mass immigration”, “tired of anti-white propaganda?” “import the third world to become the third world”, “reject white guilt” and “do we want immigration? We were never asked.”
Some of their slogans are also anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic, reading “anti-Semitism is caused by Semitism”, “No 2 Kosher”, and “No 2 Halal.”
First seen in May 2018, Hundred-Handers adopts racist and anti-immigrant European extremist far right ideology. They carry out low level activism anonymously. They recruit through social media and QR codes on their stickers. Some of the QR codes direct scanners to white supremacist news, TV networks like Red Ice, and to an anti-immigration YouTube video entitled, “With Open Gates: the Forced Collective Suicide of European Nations”.
Previously, the group claimed through their Twitter account @HundredHanders, their stickers had been shipped across the world, including to Spain and Italy, with photos showing they have also appeared in the US. However, Twitter suspended the account for violating its rules.
Last July, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo launched an investigation into the organisation after white supremacist stickers were found plastered all across the city of Troy, containing slogans like “multiculturalism kills” and “You are white. Strike back.”
Last month, the Hundred-Handers announced they would be using coronavirus to exploit people’s fears, in an attempt to gain more recruits to spread their hate. With recent stickers linking Covid-19 with migration found in cities including York, Leeds and Hull, in addition to Sheffield, Hundred-Handers seem to be in action as per their prior plans.
Similar messages were posted on Telegram such as “nationalism would have prevented this”, and “we shall prosper”. TRT World spoke to Professor Aristotle Kallis who is a specialist in the historical and theoretical analysis of fascism and the radical right, with an interest in the formation of extremist attitudes and their relation to the ‘mainstream’, over the racist stickers.
TRT WORLD: Prof. Kallis, have you heard of the far-right, white supremacist group the Hundred-Handers that are behind racist stickers linking Covid-19 to immigration?
ARISTOTLE KALLIS: They have been active for a while now, on the local level but also forming part of a broader transnational loose network. The Hundred-Handers (HH) underline how ill-prepared the mainstream is with dealing with this kind of threat.
They are low-tech, loosely organised, anonymous, impersonal, un-human in many ways. They stir up passions that they know are already there. Their action is geared towards breaking taboos they know a lot of people are wishing disappeared. They represent little direct threat but a significant, terrifying deeper threat in that they normalise the most extreme racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic etc views.
But let us not lose sight of the broader picture. Their work is being done in the White House, in the daily briefings of the US government, through “mainstream” figures like Trump. This, in my opinion, is far more of a problem. The distance that used to separate mainstream radical and low-level extremist discourse has become so narrow that it points to a new culture of almost trivialisation of extremism, supported by what has been for a while a “silent” reservoir of radicalism among the general mainstream population.
TRT WORLD: Can you tell us more about the motive of these stickers and what are these far right extremists targeting to achieve? Do you think far-right groups are using the pandemic as an excuse to spread their xenophobic agendas?
AK: Yes and this is nothing other than predictable. Part of the issue here is that the UK, unlike many other countries, does not currently impose any restrictions to international travel. Other countries have closed down flights from particular destinations; we also have the EU model that preserves internal movement but bans external travel. Finally, this morning I read the US’s radical ’no immigration’ approach, which is the most ideological version of this narrative. Contrast this to the UK, with no restrictions and news coverage of east European inward migration for seasonal fruit-picking jobs. This is the kind of news item that maps onto the long-standing anti-immigration discourse - not just of the far-right but also of the mainstream UK right, see [Prime Minister Boris] Johnson and the entire ‘Vote Leave’ campaign during the Brexit referendum. Trump has provided the intellectual justification to speak of the ‘foreign’ virus and to conceptualise the problem as a matter of defending the national; community and the national territory from an ‘invasion’. That a similar invasion metaphor had been used for so long by the right across the world in order to demonise immigration and immigrants is well known. In this respect, that the far right is now exploiting it is nothing extraordinary, even if it is distressing and morally appalling.
The connection between the virus, immigration, racism, and globalisation is a standard fare of the far-right, in the UK and elsewhere. The interesting innovation of the HH is their off-line, old-style campaigning. They use technology for organisation but, instead of blasting online content, they resort to the older practice of local visibility of their material. They belong to the ideology of stirring up dissent as a technology of social unrest. They choose areas where there have been strong concentrations of voting for anti-immigrant political platforms. They are the most vocal supporters of the conspiracy that implicates the virus with movement, foreign-ness, and the need to defend national sovereignty, the white race. There is very little innovative in their discourse; but their boldness and their local, physical methodology is quite distinct.
Last week, the "You Clap For Me Now" video circulated all over our social media feeds and many people could relate to the stories of discrimination immigrants face. Can you describe the current situation of immigrants in the UK? Has anything changed with the coronavirus?
AK: This is hard to gauge. There is definitely a sense of positive change. But does this change broader attitudes to immigration or just legitimises the narrative “let’s introduce a controlled system, whereby we get only the immigrants we need and want and like”?
Immigrant communities in the UK have been living in increasingly more hostile conditions since the Brexit referendum; this has of course changed for now but whether this will effect a lasting and deeper cultural change remains to be seen. I am pessimistic; once some form of normality returns, the effects of the new harsh economic crisis will most likely force people to revert to a more competitive spirit. Immigrants are now soft targets and they will become even more so as unemployment soars, incomes are depressed, and our life changes beyond recognition in the short and maybe in the longer term.
I believe that the economic crisis around the corner will wipe out any positive effects from the publicity given to the work that immigrants have been doing as part of the national services etc. I hope I am wrong - and my opinion is as valid as anyone’s because I do not believe that we can predict. But if I had to choose one scenario, I would say that the pessimistic one is more likely.
TRT WORLD: As many immigrant workers face deportation or discrimination - considered as the other/outsider, what do you think the situation will be as the outbreak spreads further ? and in a post- Covid-19 UK and world in general?
AK: For the UK this has particular resonance in the context of the Brexit debate. I think that, if things revert to some kind of normality, we will see a modest change in government and public attitudes - they will continue to praise the role of workers, immigrants included during the virus crisis but they will continue to push the sovereignty line. This is the main obstacle: control of the economy, of politics, of borders. Look at what is happening in Hungary, where the virus crisis is being used to strengthen the authoritarian and xenophobic processes already in place. I think that, once the virus crisis is contained, the memory of the people will be proven short. The savage economic crisis that awaits us will take over. The zero-sum ideology - your gain is my equivalent loss; my gain is your loss- will once again point to immigration, to control of borders, in the UK and elsewhere. The UK Home Office has indicated no change to its attitude so far and the ideology of the Home Office and its minister, Priti Patel gives me very little hope for the future.
Plus I am not sure the “useful, hard-working immigrant” narrative, welcome though it is in some respects, is a stable enough proposition to effect deeper changes about immigration as a whole. They are depicted as individuals and many people see them as the exceptions that prove the rule - open borders, restriction of sovereignty, multiculturalism etc etc have caused more trouble than good. The virus conspiracy theories are used to support this view.
In the end, what happens will depend on the outcome of a struggle between so many contrasting narratives: the hard-working immigrant who helped, the too many immigrants who take our jobs, national identity, the need to boost employment in times of unprecedented crisis etc. The virus crisis will not simply disappear. It will linger one way or another and will be accompanied by a social and economic crisis - the gunpowder of the far right in previous instances. There will be a new kind of racism too, directed towards the Chinese and the awful thing is that, just like in the case of the ‘Muslim-looking’ immigrant, we are already seeing this directed at anyone ‘looking like Chinese’, which means for many people all East Asian people. In short, I think that there will be change as a result of what is happening now - but the anti-immigrant discourse will change rather than weaken; and it may get even stronger in the face of the new economic crisis.
[NOTE: The article came from TRT World’s Eyes on Discrimination (EOD) Centre, which monitors and reports on offences, hate crimes and discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin and religion, or other related social categories. We promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.]
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