An upsurge in Covid-19 conspiracy theories may reinforce anti-Semitism, hate crime activists warned after exhibition opened highlighting interwar British fascism and its parallels today.
The Wiener Holocaust Library in London is organizing the exhibition – focusing on the motivations and propaganda of British fascists and their European peers in the 1920s and 1930s – due to concern over the recent growth in ideas of far right and populism in the UK and abroad.
Rare photographs including that of a woman in the streets of London waving a union flag with a swastika in her heart are featured in the exhibition.
“We want – we consciously want – to get people to think about the parallels between the past and the present, as well as the differences,” said Dr Barbara Warnock, co-curator of the exhibition.
She said a copy of Action, Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) newspaper, titled The Return of Manhood, bore similarities to the increasingly militarized misogyny of the far right. today. The front page of the newspaper also bears the motto Britain First – a fascist slogan that is also the name of a far-right group which had its application for registration as a political party approved by the Election Commission last month.
Parallels can also be drawn between anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Covid-19 and vaccine development, and pamphlets blaming “Jewish financiers” for WWI or suggesting they would profit from WWII.
David Rich, policy director of the Community Security Trust (CST), a charity ensuring the safety of the Jewish community, said the pandemic had led people with anti-Semitic views to play a central role in the campaign against Covid vaccines and public health measures.
“We see more and more people who are not really attached to a particular ideology but who are part of this amorphous mass fueled by conspiracy theories. An entry point to this has come with the pandemic and the anti-vaccination movement where the language is not explicitly anti-Jewish. That means a lot of people are at risk of being sucked in, ”said Rich, who will be a speaker at events held as part of the exhibit.
Others will include Joe Mulhall, the head of research at Hope not Hate, who said the anti-racist group feared individuals had radicalized into organizations that were now becoming smaller but more extreme as the pandemic diminished. and would become more obsessed with anti-Semitism beliefs.
“There is an unbroken lineage within the British far right that dates back to the 1920s and 1930s, which is explored in this exhibit. In some ways that prejudice and hatred has remained unchanged, but what has evolved is the way it is distributed, and that is the Internet, ”he said.
“Electorally, the far right has collapsed since 2010 and there is now a very fragmented scene across the country, but much of their politics has normalized and is part of the mainstream. “
The exhibition, This Fascist Life: Radical Right Movements in Interwar Europe, draws on material from the library’s own archives and the Searchlight Archives at the University of Northampton.