This is the first in a series of articles on why many local people do not want to see The Light being distributed in Stroud town centre. We have our own criticisms of the government’s approach to the pandemic. However, we are alarmed by the Light’s use of the pandemic to push support for racist hate speech – as well as for denial of climate change, NHS-bashing, and other reactionary views, which we will address later in the series.
This first article is about a piece in The Light’s November 2021 issue regarding an online radio host, Graham Hart (69), who has been jailed for 32 months after pleading guilty to eight counts of making a “programme in service with intent or likely to stir up racial hatred” (an image of the article is included at the end of this piece).
Before our article, a content warning. In order to make our case we have had to provide quotations regarding violent antisemitic language. This piece also discusses Holocaust denial, and some aspects of the Nazi genocide, in some detail.
The article in The Light, headlined “‘Hate speech’ pensioner jailed for 32 months” presents Graham Hart as a sympathetic character, “entitled to” his opinions. He is described as “question[ing] significant events throughout history”, and sharing “research findings”. The article uncritically reports his view that “his passion for the truth got the better of him and nobody was hurt or harmed by his sharing his opinion”. It does not question his claim that his efforts were motivated by an interest in “the truth”, nor tell you the truth of what the case was actually about.
The article suggests “his sentence poses serious questions about censorship and freedom of speech”. Given that the Light’s other articles generally focus on the idea that readers’ ‘free speech’ is also threatened, the overall impression given by this article is to invite readers to empathise with Hart.
In asking “How does it harm anybody else for him to have a different view of history?”, The Light misleads readers about the nature of Hart’s actions and the case against him. Hart did not only praise Adolf Hitler as “the greatest man of the twentieth century”. He broadcast that Jews were “like rats”, “filth” and needed to be “wiped out”. He made explicit threats of violence, saying, “If you’re listening Mr Jew we’re coming to get you. Let’s get rid of the Jews, it’s time for them to go. After Christmas I’m going to work, going on the attack because I’ve had enough. I don’t want bloodshed but if that’s what it takes to get it done.” He asked listeners to send him a gun. He said “that although baby rats look cute, they grow to be adult rats and that in a similar way, young Jews should also be killed.”
This list of disgusting racism is long enough, but it is incomplete – you can read further examples at the links. None of this information is in The Light’s article, however. Nor are any opinions from people who might find these things harmful, including Jewish people.
The article in The Light can only bring itself to say that “inciting people to violence in the name of anything is rarely a good idea”. It does not mention the word antisemitism, nor the comments of the Judge that Hart had “entrenched anti-Semitic feelings”. The article attempts to downplay the impact by misrepresenting the size of his audience, as “very niche” despite the fact his ‘Hoax train’ Holocaust denial song was viewed over 7,000 times on YouTube, for example. It says he “maintains he was just ‘mouthing off’”, but fails to mention that his own barrister said “He accepts racial hatred was likely to be stirred up”. For an organisation that describes itself as a ‘truthpaper’, these seem important truths that readers would want to be aware of. What purpose is served by leaving them out?
To defend someone like Hart and minimise the harm their words and actions cause is to promote hatred. To invite people to empathise with an antisemite and to downplay the harm their words and calls to action can cause is to promote antisemitism.
It might seem particularly strange that the Light would seek to defend someone who’d enthusiastically praised Hitler, given that in previous issues The Light regularly suggests that our current political situation is comparable to the Nazi period – with headlines such as the “Nazification of the NHS”. Why would a paper that sees the Nazi period as their main metaphor for negative developments in society take such a sympathetic approach to someone that denies the reality and horror of the period and who, they note, urged people to “question the official account of the Holocaust”?
There is a link: antisemitism. The Light barely conceives of the Shoah (the Hebrew term for the Holocaust) as a real event. It is an event with an “official account”, rather than a genocide. The Light’s references to the Nazi period are not an effort to educate about oppression or genocide, but to harness an emotional response through a symbol of pure evil. They do not engage with it as a historical event that slaughtered millions, one that was situated in a context of a long history of anti-semitism, racism, imperialism, oppression and genocide across the world. There’s more to say about how the Nazi period is often invoked in Britain in ways that avoid our state’s own role in this wider history, but writing antisemitism and the racism of the project of Aryan supremacy out of the history in the way The Light does is a particularly blatant attempt to manipulate people.
There are many criticisms that can be made of immunity/vaccine passports, but they are not the same as the yellow stars Jewish people were forced to wear in Nazi Germany. The yellow star was connected to centuries of European antisemitism, which had involved compulsion to wear distinguishing garments, mass deportations, and violent pogroms since the 13th Century (including in Britain). Immunity passports have been introduced during a pandemic, rather than following such a pogrom (Kristallnacht in November 1938). Death by shooting is not a punishment for not holding an immunity passport, as it was for Jews who did not wear a yellow star. There is societal debate about the effectiveness and ethical implications of immunity passports, and we can hope or expect them to be temporary measures. None of this was true of yellow stars.
Comparing NHS staff administering vaccines to the doctors who stood trial at Nuremberg for the experiments they conducted on concentration camp prisoners – as the Light and its supporters do repeatedly – is shamefully inaccurate and offensive. The horrors Nazi doctors performed were brutal. The experiments involved investigating the limits of human endurance and existence, forcing people to stay outdoors at temperatures below freezing for hours while naked, for example. People were involuntarily infected with viruses including smallpox, or had bacterial infections, together with wood shavings and ground glass, inserted into wounds. There were grotesque transplantation experiments. People were burned with phosphorus, fed poison, or shot with poison-coated bullets. There was no regard for whether the people subject to these experiments lived or died, ‘experiments’ akin to torture were conducted without anaesthetic. The war crimes identified in the Nuremberg Indictments include the “systematic and secret execution of the aged, insane, incurably ill, of deformed children, and other persons, by gas, lethal injections, and diverse other means in nursing homes, hospitals, and asylums” [and] “the mass extermination of Jews.” Those who did not die were often disabled for life. Extreme pain and suffering was routine. None of this is comparable to the UK process for development or rollout of vaccinations against COVID-19.
As Hila Shachar has written: “the victims of the Holocaust continue to be “appropriated as political metaphors and dehumanised in the process”. As Jewish people and their friends we have on multiple occasions pointed out that such analogies are inappropriate and offensive (whether in response to window displays, or a speaker at a local protest wearing a yellow star). Our complaints are always dismissed. We hope that this piece helps explain why we feel so strongly.
When The Light denies that blatant antisemitism of the kind expressed by Hart is harmful, it denies the humanity of Jewish people – it denies that they can be harmed. When it presents Holocaust denial as a “different view of history”, it denies the genocidal intent of the Nazis. It denies not only the murder of six million Jews, but the murder of millions of members of other groups persecuted by the Nazis – Roma and Sinti people (sometimes referred to as ‘Gypsies’), Black people, Slavic people (such as those from Poland and Russia), disabled people, gay people, and those with other political or religious beliefs – communists, trade unionists and social democrats, Jehovah’s Witnesses. When it claims that Holocaust denial is an “opinion” to which someone is “entitled”, it denies that it is antisemitic and morally repugnant.
These forms of denial are not the only ways in which The Light engages in denial of truth, rather than the pursuit of it. Nor is the article about Hart the only example of The Light platforming or defending people with racist and/or anti-semitic views. It seems clear that freedom of speech is only of interest to The Light when it is the freedom to peddle hatred, misinformation, or falsehoods. When criticisms of this behaviour are made, the freedom of speech of those making criticisms isn’t welcomed. When local residents wrote and signed an open letter calling on organisers of an anti-lockdown rally to withdraw their invitation to another person who has published antisemitic content – Sandi Adams – was our use of freedom of speech welcomed and defended? The opposite. Despite acknowledging the difficulties caused by, and necessary debates about restrictions associated with, the pandemic, we were baselessly accused of being ‘government agents’, and told our piece was ‘libellous’ and should be taken down.
There is a debate to be had about the role of the criminal justice system in resolving the problems of hate speech and racism (and in perpetuating racism), but it is false to suggest that antisemitism is the only form of racism that generates prison sentences. The Light claim “Nobody is in prison for using harsh words” against Muslims or other groups, but the leaders of far-right extremist group Britain First were jailed for anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2018. More recently, a number of people were arrested, and so far one jailed, for posting racist messages on social media in the aftermath of the Euro 2020 men’s football final. Politicians and the media certainly often perpetuate Islamophobia and anti-refugee sentiment (as well as other racism including anti-Blackness) in ways that are insufficiently challenged, even rewarded. But it’s not consistent to raise these issues only to excuse antisemitism. A consistent anti-racism condemns both Hart’s broadcasts and Boris Johnson’s history of racist remarks, for example. Being consistent as an anti-racist means opposing the racism of the attacks on Gypsies, Roma and Travellers in the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill and the Holocaust denial that harms people in these groups as it harms Jewish people.
The article tries to imply that Jewish people are uniquely and specially protected against incitement to racial hatred – a common theme for antisemites. Why do this? How does it serve anti-racism, truth, or free-speech to mislead readers about antisemitic speech and threats of violence?
The article in The Light asks “What would George Orwell make of it?” In 1945 Orwell wrote that many people “will admit that they are frightened of probing too deeply into the subject… of discovering not only that antisemitism is spreading, but that they themselves are infected by it”.
We ask that readers of this piece confront this fear. We ask that you take the time to listen, to research the subject. We ask that you think very carefully about whether you want to continue reading, sharing – even writing for – The Light.
Whatever we think of how to best deal with Covid, none of us should have anything to do with a paper that defends spreading racist hate, and we don’t want to see it on our streets.