Padraig Reidy: Even old-fashioned national socialist clowns deserve free speech

Joshua Bonehill (Wikipedia user JoshuaBonehill92)

Joshua Bonehill (Wikipedia user JoshuaBonehill92)

Joshua Bonehill is a national socialist, in an almost refreshingly old-fashioned way. When young Joshua speaks out against those who are destroying-our-society, undermining-our-culture, and so on, he does not equivocate with “neo-cons”, “internationalists” “bankers” or “global finance”. No, dear young Joshua comes straight out and says he’s against Jews (sometimes “the Jew”).

Bonehill hit the news this week after he said he would organise a march in Stamford Hill, north-east London on 22 March. Bonehill says his march is against the “Jewification” of Stamford Hill, to which one is tempted to answer “bit late, Joshua”. Stamford Hill is home to roughly 30,000 ultra-Orthodox Jewish people, mostly of the Haredi persuasion.

Bonehill is a keyboard Führer, an online agitator. His most notable “success” so far in his activist life has been spreading a false story about a pub in Leicester refusing to serve people in military uniform. The pub received threats of firebombing. Bonehill was convicted of malicious communications, though he escaped jail. He has a court appearance for similar offences lined up next week, and could quite conceivably go to prison for them, which would be a severe blow to his chances of rallying in Stamford Hill.

This hasn’t stopped a certain level of excitement spreading through social media (and indeed traditional media). Leftist and leftish friends on Facebook and Twitter have been excitedly discussing the prospect of Bonehill turning up on Clapton Common with hundreds of goons ready to make the borough of Hackney Judenfrei. In spite of his non-existent real world base, there is a very, very slight possibility that Bonehill could get more than a half-dozen. The Guardian points out that Bonehill has over 26,000 Twitter followers, “raising fears that even without a genuine political organisation behind him, his plan could draw in other far-right groups …”. To put that in slight perspective, I have a quarter of that number of Twitter followers, and can’t even muster people for an after work drink on a Friday evening, but then, I suppose I’m not trying to make a grab for the leadership of a scene that has been a mess since the collapse of the British National Party’s vote in the last European and local elections.

That is what Bonehill is getting at here. In his promotional YouTube videos for his march, he repeatedly calls for unity among “nationalists”. By targeting a Jewish area, he is hoping to rally the hardcore of British nationalism to his side; fascism’s attempt at populism, under Nick Griffin, had its thunder stolen by Ukip, and the hard core needs the reassurance of conspiracy theory and naked anti-Semitism.

Bonehill also appeals to his fellow racists’ sense of history, invoking the famous Battle of Cable Street, in which Oswald Mosley led the British Union of Fascists into (then Jewish area) Whitechapel and was met by local opposition from Jews, trades unionists and communists. Bonehill describes the 1936 rally as a “glorious victory”, which will come as a surprise to most leftists for whom Cable Street is shorthand for left virtue. (The Times’s Oliver Kamm has an interesting take on this.)

The memory of Cable Street is obviously looming large in the imagination of leftists and anti-fascists steeling themselves to organise against Bonehill. Cable Street is the universal good that everyone on the fractious left can share, and some would probably like to reenact it in some way in Stamford Hill, without necessarily working with the Jewish groups such as the Community Security Trust and the Shomrim, a community group Bonehill wrongly describes as a “Jewish Police Force”.

Cable Street was not the only time Mosley attempted to march in east London. Much later, in 1962, Mosley and his son Max (yes, that Max Mosley) were driven from the streets in Dalston, not far from Stamford Hill (watch this fantastic Pathe News footage).

So what is this then? Cable Street? Dalston? Even Skokie, Illinois, where the American Civil Liberties Union stood for the right of the American Nazi Party to march through a town populated by many Holocaust survivors (that march, in the end, never went ahead, but the position taken by the ACLU is often presented as a paragon of free speech principle, or bloodymindedness, or foolhardiness, depending who you talk to).

Bonehill has appealed to “the free speech community”– I’m guessing that’s you and me, dear reader – to stand with him, because “the Jews want us silenced” and his proposed protest has become “a battleground for free speech”. This is, of course, tosh. It is idiotic to conflate the support of free speech with the support of what people are saying. But that does not mean we could sit back and ignore this.

It would be wrong if Bonehill’s planned demonstration was banned in advance. Wrong because unpleasant though he is, he does have a right to protest and face counter protest (as did say, the EDL in areas with high Muslim populations), and wrong because it may lend a small bit of credibility to a deluded clown who may well be in jail by the time the appointed date comes round.

This column was posted on February 5, 2015 at