Politicians need to tone down their language to avoid “inciting hatred” and inflaming tensions during the final stage of campaigning for the European elections, a senior police chief has said.
Describing the current mood in the UK as “incredibly febrile”, the country’s most senior police figure on hate crime urged public figures and prospective MEPs to temper their rhetoric as the battle for votes enters its last few days.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for hate crime, Mark Hamilton, who is the assistant chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said organised groups were preying on “heightened political divisions” and emboldening racists to “act out or express their hostility”.
His comments follow significant spikes in hate crime following the Brexit referendum in 2016, a trend that has continued to rise with 94,000 hate-crime offences recorded in England and Wales during the year to March 2018, an increase of 17% on the previous 12 months.
Last Wednesday the government was criticised for rejecting a proposed working definition of Islamophobia. The following day a man from Salford was jailed for 12 months with “Brexit and immigration” said to have motivated him to paint “no blacks” on a neighbour’s door.
Hamilton told the Observer that he and colleagues were witnessing the diffusion of extreme rightwing views where “hate-mongers adopt the broad spectrum of the far-right mantra”.
He added: “Tensions are being stoked on a national level around our relationship with Europe, about cultural identity and about immigration more broadly. In any scenario like this it’s incumbent on people with a public voice to think carefully about how they express views so they don’t incite hatred.
There is a responsibility on those who have a platform to think of the impact their words might have.Mark Hamilton
“There is a responsibility on those who have a platform to think of the impact their words might have on others and to not inflame tensions or inspire actions which could turn criminal.”
Declining to mention publications or outlets, the senior officer said the media also had a duty to avoid the dissemination of material liable to spread hate.
“The media also have a responsibility in the way these issues are reported, so we’re not fuelling hatred or encouraging a backlash on social media or in real life,” said Hamilton.
“Regular regurgitation of populist racist tropes in mainstream media and political speech are significantly more likely to impact on society than the rantings in an extremist’s chat room,” he added.
The head of a leading Muslim group said the situation in the UK was being felt across Europe. Bashy Quraishy, the secretary general of the Denmark-based European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion, said: “The UK has always been a multicultural society and people looked up to it and how it had succeeded, but now the success of rightwing parties is going to have a trickle-down effect here.”
Meanwhile, security sources are concerned that a decades-old publication calling for race war is continuing to motivate and inspire extreme far-right followers in the UK.
The newsletter, published in the 1980s by an American neo-Nazi, advocates the collapse of democracy and ultimately full-scale race conflict. Whitehall sources are worried that it is being shared among UK far-right networks with some experts believing that the dystopian vision is more popular than ever. “It is a concern that [the newsletter] remains available,” said a source.
The work is said to have inspired the Atomwaffen Division (AWD) a terroristic neo-Nazi organisation that in turn formed out of Iron March, an influential fascist forum that was taken offline in September 2017.
Active in the UK, the Atomwaffen Division is linked to five murders in the US and encourages members to attack minorities, especially Jews. The Iron March hosted more than 150,000 messages in six years from an intimate network of 1,600 users, one of whom founded the banned British Nazi terror group National Action (NA).
On Friday, neo-Nazi Jack Renshaw, a former NA member who planned to murder Labour MP Rosie Cooper in a terrorist attack, was jailed for life. Last week, a white nationalist and neo-Nazi online discussion forum reportedly received 80,000 responses from people in the UK in one month.