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Has the Irish Alt-Right Infiltrated S.P.A.R.K. ?

Divide and Conquer

Chances are, that if you’re a single parent, receiving social welfare or just plain struggling to makes ends meet each week, the crosshairs of the far-right are aimed squarely in your direction.

It’s how populist leaders, be it nationally or locally, rise to positions of influence or power. Your fears and worries are manipulated and these individuals or groups plant seeds of doubt in your mind as to who is to blame for your misfortunes.

I’m not revealing anything new by saying this. It has been standard practice for thousands of years. The ideology of “divide and conquer” has existed since humans have gathered into communities and banded together in order to survive. In order to obtain power over a group or even a society, those with nefarious goals would create mistrust between its members and  causing division and disharmony. Thus it becomes easier to gain influence over the majority necessary to achieve overall control.

It’s not something that happens overnight. It can take weeks, month even years to plan, activate and achieve this objective. It took the Nazis years before they felt comfortably strong enough to start mass-murdering the Jews, i.e. strong enough to feel they would get away with it. Trump, over a year before he was eventually elected, used his airtime and exposure to denigrate asylum seekers and immigrants from Central America. This energised a base who became distracted from who really was responsible for their own economic struggles.

All across the world we’re seeing this: Hungary, Italy, Brazil and the shitshow that is Brexit. It’s all about demonising a section of society, be it immigrants or LGTBQ+, stoking up fear where it doesn’t exist. If you look closely enough you may even see it in the places you work: a manager or boss in a company who seems all powerful and impervious to blame for poor performance. Do they have favourites? Are some people told one thing and another group something else? This is localised “divide and conquer” in action.

It’s a dripfeed process. A few whispers here and a few casual remarks there. Nothing too elaborate or ostentatious: so subtle you wouldn’t even know it was happening.

Are Single Parents a Target?

Something happened this week which demonstrates how this practice targets and affects the most vulnerable in our midst. I’m a member of a well-known, Irish Facebook group for single parents called S.P.A.R.K. The group was recommended to me by a family member when I was stressing out over a housing issue I was having. I was immediately made to feel welcome and the advice I received was accurate and invaluable. It was comforting during a difficult time and I’ve become acquainted with some marvellous and amazing people as a result.

Worryingly, over the past year, I started to notice a few random threads being created and comments being made that seemed out of place in a group designed primarily to help people overcome struggles in their lives. Some were innocuous enough like extremely bad advice being given. Unfortunate but easily rectified if caught in time before any damage done.

However, since homelessness has become a major issue in consciousness of the Irish public, more and more of the comments began to veer towards the “look after our own” variety or “immigrants get all the social housing” when a question about landlords or HAP was asked. This was usually by the same people, generally hidden behind an anonymous profile pic[1].

A quick glance at some of these profiles revealed a few common traits: they were strongly pro-life during a few contentious debates on the Referendum in 2018; they questioned the effectiveness of vaccines and, more presciently, took severe umbrage when called out on these matters. The reason I mentioned this is because those who were most vocal in counteracting their nonsense were 3 women who were not born in Ireland. More on this shortly.

Naturally everything would die down for a few weeks until a new topic or discussion would emerge and voila, they’d crawl out of the woodwork again. Rinse and repeat. Again, it’s important to remind yourself that the aim of the alt-far-right is division and mistrust among the vulnerable. Single parents fall into this category, so groups like S.P.A.R.K are ripe for infiltration and the members within, for manipulation. And it’s a long game approach.

A Tactic Unfolds?

This week, a group member offered other members the chance to write for a blog she was creating. There was one, fairly obvious, catch: it was unpaid with the remote possibility of compensation if the blog made money. Yeah, a truly wonderful opportunity!! Needless to say, this blatant attempt to exploit the other single parents in the group did not go down well with the 3 ladies mentioned above.

This budding “entrepreneur”[2] was vociferously taken to task for her proposal, took offense at being called out on it and complained. Without warning, the banhammer appeared and the 3 ladies were exorcised from the group. It was a sudden as it was shocking. Although the women rarely held back when confronting racist or pseudo-science comments previously, their advice and guidance on the important matters regarding single parenthood was always accurate and respected. Their knowledge and experience was invaluable to the wider group. Outside of the group itself, they’re highly regarded in the realm of social justice activism in Ireland.

Naturally this was all highly unusual. When questions started to be asked in the following days about what had happened, things became a little more confusing. Comments started appearing about how the women hated Irish people and they were always rude and opposed to different opinions. I thought this was extremely strange. Through my own experiences of dealing with them and, after subsequent research, I’d never seen any evidence of bigotry towards Irish people. I’ve witnessed and occasionally participated in their devouring of anyone who had made racist comments about immigrants.

What I also discovered was that those making the seemingly casual remarks that they hated Irish people etc, were those who had liked or supported racist, anti-vaxx or pro-life comments in the past. (Note: the 3 women were strong pro-choice activists during the referendum)

It’s the far-right modus operandi: infiltrate, casually release their toxic views into the public domain, then play the victim when they’re called out on it. They support and comment on each other’s posts to create the illusion of support for their beliefs. Even if some people know that what these people spread is bullshit, their vulnerability or insecurity is increased when strong personalities attack the racists and bigots for who they are. Many people do not like confrontation, even from people they respect. And with that, the alt-far-right congratulate themselves on a job well done. Divide and conquer has taken root.

What’s more worrying in this situation, is that the supposed powers-that-be within the group, i.e. the admins, boosted the effectiveness of the strategy by removing 3 of the most vocals barriers against this right-wing mis-information. Be it through naivety, incompetence or, and I hope not, complicity, the SPARK group has been weakened by the admins’ decision, which has yet to be overturned after considerable campaigning by other members of the group. A bulwark against the far-right and intelligent, accurate advice has been stripped from SPARK.

SPARK is not Alone.

It may all seem fairly unimportant to anyone outside the group about what has occurred this week. But I’m fairly confident that similar tactics are being carried out in many other community and activist groups across the country. Ireland may have proven itself to be a progressive nation due to the results of the most recent referenda we’ve had but we’re certainly not immune to the rise of populism, nationalism and racism that is rampart the world over. The fight against this occurs in the least obvious places.

This is why SPARK’s decision to remove these 3 courageous women is disturbing.

 

[1] I fully appreciate why a SPARK group member may have an anonymous profile pic, esp if they are or were previously involved in an abusive relationship. Far-right accounts are pre-dominantly anonymous using random imagery to hide their identity.

[2] https://twitter.com/Di_The_P_I

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