Rather like Covid-19, another virus has emerged recently which seeks to infect the population, not with a deadly disease but with a warped ideology and vacuous arguments that defy all logic and rationality.
Insider is of course referring to the emergence of far right political groups and conspiracy theorists who, in recent times, have emerged in Ireland, and elsewhere. Most recently we have seen some of these groups crawling out from behind their keyboards to hold anti-mask rallies and to perpetuate all manner of bizarre and ill informed conspiracy theories, from claims Covid-19 is a biological weapon released by government's via 5G to cull the world population, to others which claim that the virus does not really exist at all and that it is being used to erode our rights, and literally everything in between.
These kinds of conspiracy theories have seen a massive surge in recent times, particularly in the US. Of course it would be easy to dismiss these people as misguided or naïve, but if any of us have ever taken the time to read up on, or to watch any of the multitude of conspiracy videos online, then we will know that at the heart of any conspiracy theory is a somewhat plausible notion.
Many conspiracy theories contain facts, but are placed alongside pure speculation and downright misinformation. This is why, to many people, they can seem extremely convincing.
A cover for other political messages
The Internet and the free availability of information does not come without its problems as we have witnessed in recent years with the spread of anti-vaccination propaganda which has led to a sharp rise in diseases such as measles, mumps, and TB. Similarly, these anti mask rallies threaten to spread misinformation which will lead to an increase in cases of Covid-19. However it is not only the conspiracy theories that have been a feature of these recent rallies, far-right political groups have been behind the organising of many of these events using the anti-Covid conspiracy as a cover to incorporate their own political message including anti-immigrant racism, anti-LGBTQ+, and an ultra conservative nationalism.
'The rise of right wing figures internationally has also had an impact in spreading these ideas and giving them an air of legitimacy'
Recent far-right rallies around the country have seen violent attacks on people of colour, LGBTQ people, and left wing activists. It is clear that these groups have been emboldened by figures like Trump and Bolsonaro. They have been outraged by the progressive social direction that Ireland has been moving in over recent years, with marriage equality, women's bodily autonomy, and cultural integration for which they blame the Marxist left, despite the reality of these being open democratic decisions taken by the majority of voters.
Their disdain for the left manifests itself in an ultra conservative nationalism that appears to have little knowledge of Irish political history, for example about 40 of these individuals gathered in Galway last Saturday at the Liam Mellows statue in Eyre square, where they spoke of the great Irish patriots of the past, oblivious it would seem, to the fact that Liam Mellows [pictured above] was in fact a Socialist who would have fought tooth and nail against the kind of backward nationalism that these groups represent.
Underlying economic factors
It is worth analysing where the basis for conspiracy theories and the far right stems from, especially given how Ireland does not really have a history of far right nationalism or fascism (with the exception of the Blue Shirts ). There are a few reasons why such ideas and organizations have emerged at this time, one being that traditionally nationalism in Ireland was generally associated with the Left and the likes of Sinn Féin.
However, as SF has been moving politically towards the centre in recent years it has left a vacuum in nationalist circles which the far right have seized upon. Obviously the rise of right wing figures internationally has also had an impact in spreading these ideas and giving them an air of legitimacy, but the main reason has to do with the ongoing systemic crisis of capitalism which has sowed seeds of chaos, confusion, and contradictions.
'The far right comes along offering easy answers, blaming immigration for overburdened public services or moral decay as a source of social problems'
For example living standards, wages, and working conditions have generally declined for large sections of society, yet wealth production has never been greater. Public services such as housing, health care, transport, and education are drastically underfunded and cut across these sectors by private competition - which, contrary to neoliberal economic theory has increased the cost to consumers across the board - has seen life for growing numbers of workers become increasingly difficult.
Despite this, the mainstream narrative suggests lack of success is down to individual inefficiencies rather than systemic failures. Our daily lives are filled with these kinds of mixed messages, so is it any wonder people are confused?
Far right and the Left are not the same
In an attempt to rationalize these contradictions, people are rightly looking for answers, but for some it is easier to believe that conspiracies and political corruption are at root of these difficulties, rather than facing up to the need to change the economic and political system.
In this context, the far right comes along offering easy answers, blaming immigration for overburdened public services or moral decay as a source of social problems. By contrast the Left has a much more difficult job to explain the real reasons for these problems especially in the sound bite media culture that exists nowadays.
Another aspect of the problem is the political centre. Its neoliberal economic policies have created the situation we find ourselves in, these theories form the basis of our current political and economic order, so it is often deemed as heresy to go against this grain as the socialist Left do. It is not helped by mainstream narratives which imply that the radical Left and far right are two equally extremist political entities, as if there were commonalities between the two.
'The far right promotes division, national isolation, religious oppression, and ultimately the maintenance of the status quo'
Internationally, the political centre have repeatedly gone to great lengths to cut across the rise of the Left, to the extent that this has had an effect of opening the door to far right figures like Trump and Johnson etc.
The Left and the far right could not be more different. Whereas the Left fight against racism and inequality and for workers rights and solidarity, the far right promotes division, national isolation, religious oppression, and ultimately the maintenance of the status quo. They offer no real solutions to the problems that exist.
Ultimately conspiracy theories and the far right act as a smokescreen for the powers that be. They divert social discontent into blind allies away from the root causes of oppression and inequality. As things stand the far right in Ireland are a number of very small entities. Most people see through their distortions and are not taken in by what they represent. Let’s keep it that way.