When discussing the election of Donald J Trump as President-elect of the United States, a lot has been made of the “fake news” phenomenon. OneBuzzFeed story in particular, featuring a cottage industry of pro-Trump websites in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia — coincidentally, the same country Melania Trump was born in — was cited by Barack Obama.
In this era of hyped-up McCarthyist accusations, it’s important to realise that the issue here does not just relate to America’s former adversaries. The Patriot News Agency — which arose in July this year, soon after it became obvious Trump would win the Republican nomination — is one such example. Whilst the New York Times notes that many foreign conservative outlets (such as the aforementioned Macedonian sites) have been set up to cash in on the Trump phenomenon, Patriot News had another objective: To get Donald J. Trump to be the next President of the United States.
The organisation is headed by Jim Dowson, described by The Times as an “inveterate agitator” and “the invisible man of Britain’s far right”. Dowson, an anti-abortion activist in Northern Ireland who helped set up the far-right Britain First political organisation. Britain First is such a far-right organisation that following the assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox, some in Parliament have called for the group’s proscription under the Terrorism Act 2000. Dowson himself advocated Britain’s exit from the EU and has expressed admiration for the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, speaking at a conference for far-right political leaders in Russia heralding Putin’s defence of traditional western values. This is presumably due to Russia’s stance on gay rights — Dowson set up his own organisation (the Parent Truth Campaign) opposing sex education and gay rights in 2001.
Dowson made it his mission, according to messages posted on one of his sites, to “spread devastating anti-Clinton, pro-Trump memes and sound bites into sections of the population too disillusioned with politics to have taken any notice of conventional campaigning,” in the same way that Dowson “made deft use of social media … to promote [his] work and convey an impression of mass following”, according to the New York Times
People familiar with Britain First will know that it is mostly known for its spread of repackaged vital memes online using blatantly misleading statistics or using the issue of animal welfare to its own advantage. Many people forwarding these memes are unaware of the origins of these posts, and thus misinformation and disinformation are spread abound. It’s no surprise that Jim Dowson decided he’d try his hand at trumpeting Trump in the US: after all, most people who read the fabricated stories on Facebook — such as the widely-circulated hoax meme that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump — actually believed them.
The fact that a pro-Trump Britain First activist has managed to create a viral conservative news website should be a wake-up call to liberals in the United States. The seeds of “post-truth” politics already existed beforehand, but the voices promoting them were dismissed as marginal, ringe and insignificant. It is imperative that activists within the United States stop squabbling among themselves and think of a populist counter-message to this extreme xenophobic nationalism which seems to be permeating online at the moment. Politics as usual is over, period.