It took three years of work and an immeasurable amount of nerve to produce the film I saw on Wednesday. Nestled in my comfy seat at the Rich Mix with popcorn (aka dinner) and a drink (which I couldn’t open), I was there to see the results of a mission begun in 2016.
Hope not Hate (HNH) is an organisation from whom I receive regular emails and I follow their campaigns challenging racism and promoting inclusivity. When Patrik Hermansson moved from Sweden to London to study, he was keen to continue his anti-fascist activism in his new home, and got in touch with Joe Mulhall of HNH. Little did either know just how far this connection would take them.
Mulhall introduced the film, which was being launched in the UK this week having achieved success internationally notably in Japan and Sweden. Titled “Undercover in the Alt Right” it documented an undercover investigation conducted by Hermansson into the Alt-Right movement in the UK and USA.
Making contact with far right group London Forum, Hermansson gained the trust of top members and was welcomed into the fold. Developing a cover story that he was writing a thesis about suppression of extremist ideas, he boldly obtained hidden camera footage of secret meetings, interviewed members and discovered their frightening intentions. He even managed to attend a conference and, after being asked, delivered the opening address.
He found himself among the crowds in Charlottesville, Virginia at the ill-fated protest of the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue where the escalated tension resulted in an angry right wing protester driving his car into counter protesters, causing the death of Heather Heyer and injuring 28 others. Seeing footage of this act of terror and the ferocity of the anger among the extremists present on that day was quite emotional. I can barely imagine how frightening it must have been for Hermansson to have been among the chaos and violence.
Applause broke out in the cinema as the lights brightened, and grew louder as Mulhall introduced Hermansson for a brief Q&A. Asked what motivated his brave actions, Hermansson admitted he hadn’t experienced an epiphany, but seeing the rise of the far right in Sweden acted as the catalyst that made him want to fight back against these views which seemed to be gaining traction in the mainstream.
Speaking of his experience during his year undercover, he mentioned his surprise at the intensity by which the groups believe in segregation and supremacy, the lengths members of right wing organisations will go to and the sacrifices they are prepared to make for their ideals. The longer he spent surrounded by these ideas, he became scarily accustomed to them and felt his reaction lessening.
When asked whether he felt economic or cultural factors were the main motivating factors among the extreme right he answered it wasn’t specifically one factor. Mulhall added that through his experience with HNH there seems to be a rise in a sense of grievance following the recession, where students who would expect to leave university, find a job and start their independent life, instead are stuck at home without the job they studied for and the feeling of being ‘left behind’ developing a sense of relative poverty fuelling discontent. This in turn leads to the search for a scapegoat which instead of focussing on the source of the financial crisis tends to be blaming immigrants. In the USA it seems there’s been a ‘white lash’ following the election of Trump who appears to legitimise and embolden the right; by not dismissing them he gives them a sense of place and power.
Another viewer mentioned the lack of women in the film, barely any at all. Hermansson replied that misogyny is prevalent within the movement and it can be an important unifying and recruiting tool. Feminism is scorned and described as a ‘cancer’ within the right and when men who feel threatened by the change in society or being called out by the Me Too movement retreat to misogynist forums which can be gateways to right wing organisations.
On the flip side when faced with action on the street it is more likely that women will experience racial abuse, giving me the impression that women are perceived as weaker in the movement and seen as an easier target for vitriol. The same can also be said for homophobia, where recent Pride disruptions by right wing groups internationally are proving this form of hatred is another useful recruiting and unifying tool for right wing organisations.
It can all feel like an uphill battle as the rise in fascism seems to continue in the USA and UK and it was mentioned that it would be good to collect stories where intervention had worked and those at risk of falling into these malicious groups had in fact seen the light and realised how destructive they were. Telling stories like this would motivate and help stem the growth of hate.
Mulhall mentioned that spending time in affected communities where fascism appealed was part of HNH’s work in an effort to educate and enlighten as a means of changing attitudes where protests can’t. It made me glad when one audience member said as a teacher she would love to show the film to her students. It is young people who need to see how these insidious organisations work and be aware of how they essentially groom new members.
Making this film had come at great cost to Hermansson. He now has to live his life in secret after receiving threats from the right, but he waved off the praise he received for his bravery and perseverance. He came across as incredibly humble and quiet, but his sacrifice has exposed the UK’s racist underbelly along with the hatred it breeds and he should be very proud. His valiant efforts have culminated in a film that is an important tool in educating and in turn dismantling fascism and right wing extremist movements.
Despite the current political climate on both sides of the pond this film and the work of HNH gives me hope that love will ultimately win.
See the trailer of the film here – it will be available to view on Amazon Prime.
Please visit Hope Not Hate’s website here and donate if you can, their vital work needs to continue.