Fascist stickers have been appearing around campus. At time of publication, 8 to be exact. Debates seem to be raging most places I go around Sussex as well as online: should we be worried?
Some people are saying this is nothing – just a student “trolling”. Whoever is responsible doesn’t really believe what the stickers say, according to this line of argument. What they say is things like “Right Wing Death Squad” and “Britain Awake”. But does it really matter what is the exact intention of the individual behind these stickers? Even if it’s trolling, can we really say “just trolling” and dismiss them? I think not.
We need to view the appearance of these stickers in context. This isn’t just a news story on our front page, an event which has been and gone: this is a living, developing story, and it’s possible that readers will themselves find stickers scattered across campus buildings.
We think of trolling as the type of action taken by someone someone lurking in the shadows of the web much like the folkloric troll lurks dark woods. We think of trolls often as people who aim to wind others up, not hurt others – so some feel it suitable to diminish the harm of trolling with phrases like “just trolling”. But we need to remember that trolls can cause great harm and pain, and that the messages of these stickers are undoubtledly fascist. They reference the British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley and carry fascistic slogans. Their retro fonts and vaporwave design don’t belittle this. The way in which a message is expressed doesn’t negate the harm the message can do. The images don’t have to be a swastika to be far-right and fascistic. To those of you who think this is the work of a troll, that interpretation does not mean it isn’t also a fascist message. The far-right so-called ‘alt-right’ community online has strong links to the type of users seen as internet trolls.
Sussex’s stickerer has certainly been lurking in the shadows of the web. Research by Badger reporter Luke Richards revealed that the images appearing around Sussex as stickers are also on anonymous posts on the “fashthetic” threads on 4Chan. 4Chan is a site where the ‘alt-right’ community proliferates and shares ideas: we must remember that on sites like this internet trolls and far-right activists mingle, and recuitment material is made and shared. The style of these stickers, borrowed from vaporwave and “fashthetic” memes, is more suited to interesting and recruiting young people than the simple hate-filled image of a swastika.
Luke Richards noted that much of the content seems to have been created in the last few months, and this leads us back to some very important context to keep in mind. The far-right is gaining traction. The Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that monitors anti-Semitism in the UK, reveals that anti-semitic hate crime in Britain has increased by more than a third over 2016, with a spike at the time of the European Union referendum. In the US the outporting of “fashthetic” memes on websites like 4Chan has increased with Donald Trump’s presidency.
We have no way of telling what the student pasting these stickers intends; all we know is how people are reacting, and surely that is most important. If people finding them feel worried and in some cases threatened by the invocation of fascism in these stickers, then it must be taken seriously.
The context and history of fascism cannot be ignored. These stickers have been found outside the Islamic prayer room on campus and in a disabled toilet: targetting groups of people targetted by hate crimes, the xenophobia and ableism of fascist regimes is invoked.
We need to see beyond the picture we often get of Sussex University and Brighton as progressive, accepting places. We need to think about what may lurk underneath the surface if we follow that narrative and become complacent. It is up to each and every one of us to make our university and our city progressive and accepting: to challenge what is unacceptable and to change what is harmful.