Dark Days for the Far-right

Photo by Christoph Theisinger on Unsplash

It has been a difficult few days for the far-right. Reeling from the news that the builders of Stonehenge — the most important structure of ancient Britain — had ancestry from Asia Minor (the area we now call Turkey), some weren’t even able to vent their spleen on their favourite Facebook pages due to prominent far-right groups and individuals being banned.

Those banned include the British National Party and former leader Nick Griffin, the English Defence League and founding member Paul Ray, Britain First and leader Paul Golding and former deputy leader Jayda Fransen, Knights Templar International and its promoter Jim Dowson, the National Front and leader Tony Martin, and neo-Nazi Jack Renshaw, who plotted to murder a British politician and groomed boys online.

Many nationalists did take to Twitter to rant about the Stonehenge story, however. I am not going to help make such accounts more prominent by linking to their tweets, but if you search on Twitter for the BBC headline ‘Stonehenge: DNA reveals origin of builders’ you will find angry people ranting about it being “fake news” by the “leftist BBC”, as though BBC journalists spend their time fabricating scientific findings to upset those who think the whiter the skin the more capable people are. The BBC actually picked the story up from the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Perhaps to deny the achievements and abilities of people with roots in Asia Minor, some on Twitter suggested that such people must have been slaves. I am not going to link to accounts that push supremacist narratives, but by searching Twitter for “Stonehenge” and “slaves” readers can find such tweets. According to the ‘logic’ of such people, ancient ‘Brits’ travelled vast distances over land and sea to enslave a lot of highly proficient builders and drag them back to southwest England to construct a mysterious monument.

In fact, rather than the Stonehenge builders being an enslaved workforce brought here by ‘indigenous Brits’, the evidence indicates that people of Aegean ancestry were established in the place we now call Britain several hundred years before Stonehenge was constructed. From around 4000 BCE, Neolithic migrants ventured into the ‘British’ Isles from the European continent — and they revolutionised this land. The Neolithic revolution shifted these isles away from nomadic hunter-gathering towards farming. They also pioneered the construction of megalithic monuments in the isles we now call ‘British’.

Genetic affinities with Iberian Neolithic people, as discussed in the Nature Ecology and Evolution article, demonstrate that British Neolithic people were mainly descended from Aegean farmers. A comparison of DNA from Neolithic human remains found across Britain with remains from people alive at the same time in continental Europe shows both were descended from populations in Anatolia (Asia Minor, currently known as Turkey) and spreading to Iberia (now Spain and Portugal) and then north.

It is not too strange, therefore, that people descended from Asia Minor are credited with building Stonehenge, as these had become the dominant people in Britain of that era. That might upset the far-right as it contradicts notions of an essential ‘British ethnicity’, to be preserved at all costs, by nativist movements. It also challenges claims of white supremacy, as the authors of the Nature Ecology and Evolution article suggest there were “considerable variation in pigmentation levels” among the European Neolithic population.

On the one hand, Stonehenge is a symbol of ‘British’ ingenuity and, on the other, a symbol of the success of globalisation of people, ideas and technology. And of migrants coming over here and doing things that still blow our minds.

Though it won’t last nearly as long, Facebook could be seen as a Stonehenge of the internet age. Vast, entrancing, with contested origins and, in terms of content one sees, a mirror of our views, beliefs and imaginings.

The far-right found ways of making Facebook work for them, and those who find it useful to trigger and mobilise the far-right appear to have made it work for them. This wasn’t what it was created to be — it was originally a student networking site — but, like perceptions of Stonehenge through the centuries, it morphed into a myriad of different things to different people.

The forced removal of far-right groups’ Facebook pages is a blow to the movement, coming soon after former English Defence League leader ‘Tommy Robinson’ (Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) was banned from Facebook and Instagram, and not so long after key far-right figures had their verified ticks and, in some cases, accounts taken away by Twitter.

We shouldn’t gloat as, no doubt, there are skulking figures who share the views of Thomas Mair forced into shadows and away from mainstream visibility. But, given the way in which social media allowed a marginal parasitic far-right cluster to project themselves and their narratives to ever larger audiences, I feel this is the right direction for Facebook and other platforms to move in.

We will have to keep an eye on the platforms on which the far-right groups will rear their heads — and the forthcoming EU elections will encourage that process of head-rearing. But at least some major ways of disseminating hate have been taken from the far-right hate preachers. As with parasites and viruses, pathological movements require host populations to spread within.

Greater public knowledge of anthropological reality, such as the heritage of current and former residents of Britain, and diminished access to vulnerable host communities are major threats to the far-right. Without access to vulnerable host populations, parasites and viruses cannot thrive.