It is a truth universally acknowledged that fascists don't like to be called fascists. (Apologies to Jane Austen.)
As a scholar of Irish history and politics, I never intended for any of my research and writing to be personal. I’ve published academic articles on the Armagh dirty protest and sexual assault in the journal Eire-Ireland. Although I write from a feminist perspective, the peer-review process has deemed my work to be solid, accurate interpretations of the evidence. And it should be, for all of the years I’ve spent studying Ireland: I hold an MA in Irish Politics from Queen’s University of Belfast, and a Ph.D. in Irish History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
So imagine my shock when, in response to what I believed to have been a banal tweet about my current research, Sputnik crashed down on my head in the form of hundreds — nay, thousands — of harassing, belligerent, anti-Semitic remarks from Irish people who think I have no right to comment — and no real knowledge of Ireland because I am not, myself, Irish. And I don’t pretend to be; my Twitter handle @Irish_Dr_Laura refers to my degree, not my ethnicity. Their abuse reached the feeds of American bigots, and all of a sudden, my life became about reporting racially offensive attacks on Twitter. I have had to block 213 people (and counting) for sending me hateful tweets over the course of just four days.
Here’s my original statement:
Yes, I made a joke about Gemma O’Doherty and Justin Barrett, but these figures are so preposterous that they’re the butt of many jokes on Twitter. It seems that fascists don’t like to be called fascists. And while I agree that the term is used loosely a lot of the time, these people and their followers are fascists, which I will demonstrate here (and in more detail in a later paper, which will chronicle right-wing nationalism in Ireland).
Gemma O’Doherty was once a respected investigative journalist, but she has become an Irish national joke in most circles. She has founded a political party called Anti-Corruption Ireland (ACI), and she uses her platform to rant about Muslims, the danger of 5G (which, in her words, will make the cancer rate “one-in-one” — i.e., 100% of people will have cancer), the “hoax” of climate change, and the allegedly made-up story about the dead babies at the Tuam mother-and-baby home. YouTube banned Gemma for making videos that violated the site’s rules, so she has taken to uploading her videos on her personal website. She also stages protests outside of Google’s Dublin office in the name of “free speech.”
Justin Barrett has a much longer and more sordid history as a right-wing bully. In the 1990s and early 2000s, he was a leader of Youth Defence, a group dedicated in large part to preventing abortion from being legalised in Ireland (he lost that battle in 2018). He was a vocal supporter of the 2004 Citizenship Referendum, which took away birthright citizenship for people born in Ireland. He is also a known associate of the openly fascist Italian group Forza Nueva. Today, Barrett is the head of the Irish National Party, a fascist party dedicated to — they may as well say it this way — making Ireland great again.
Throughout my diligent study of Irish history, “nationalism” has traditionally implied a desire to let the people of Ireland govern themselves and enjoy Gaelic culture (hence the GAA and Abbey Theatre, for examples). Nationalists and Republicans want the entire island of Ireland to be a single country, free from British rule. This strand of nationalism has a lengthy history that need not be delineated here in any great detail, so a few illustrative examples will have to suffice: the United Irishmen rebellion of 1798 (“the year of the French”); Robert Emmet’s rebellion a few years later; Daniel O’Connell’s repeal movement; Parnell’s more moderate Home Rule campaign; and of course the famous Easter Rising and War for Independence of the Twentieth Century. The paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland today and during the Troubles claimed to be carrying that torch.
This brand of nationalism was largely anti-imperialist and dedicated to the principles of freedom and equality. See, for example, Theobald Wolfe Tone’s famous stance on uniting “Protestant, Catholic, and dissenter.” Although I personally oppose violence, I have for many years been a vocal supporter of Irish unity.
But Gemma O’Doherty and Justin Barrett (the latter more virulent) advocate a different kind of nationalism. They claim to be the true trustees of the torch lit by Pearse, Connolly, and the other rebels, and say they are the protectors of Pearse’s proclamation of Poblacht na hÉireann. To Barrett and O’Doherty, the proclamation justifies their virulent anti-immigrant stance: they believe that when Pearse addressed the “people of Ireland,” he meant those with “Irish blood.” Though we can never really know Pearse’s intention, there is an argument that he was referring to people who live on the island of Ireland; if he had meant “people” as in “das Volk,” surely he would have capitalized People [see da Paor, L. The Easter Proclamation Of 1916 (2nd ed.)] Maybe he was referring to a Volk as in a blood-and-soil nationalism: to be Irish, one must have Irish ancestry — alas, we can’t ask him. But, as many Irish people fought in the Spanish Civil War, so I believe Pearse would have embraced my support for Irish freedom, even though I’m an American Jew.
But surely this concept, too, is problematic: How far back must one’s ancestors have come to Ireland for one to be Irish? White supremacists in the United States have repeatedly disproven the “pure blood” problem. There are many stories of white supremacists’ taking DNA tests in order to show their white genetic credentials, only to find out that — holy shit — they aren’t as white as they thought. The idea of “pure blood” in humans is absurd on its face.
So obviously Gemma and Justin Barrett are xenophobic, but why do I say they are fascist? While historians and political scientists disagree widely on characteristics of fascism, upon some qualities, there is widespread agreement:
➧ Use of fear to gain support.
➧ Identification of an “other” or “out group” to scapegoat.
➧ Deployment of violence against people who disagree with them.
➧ Reliance on emotional appeal over factual evidence; sometimes to the point of degrading the idea that there is real truth at all.
➧ Purveying the idea that it is only they, the fascists, who tell the truth in the face of government and/or media that consistently lie to and manipulate them.
➧ Appeal to bringing back a mythic past of the great nation along with extreme nationalism.
[See, for example, Albright, M. Fascism: A Warning. There are many books that deal with fascism, but this is the most accessible.]
The ACI and National Party engage in all of these tactics.
The claims of ACI and the National Party to want to reclaim Ireland for the Irish, from immigrants who are trying to “replace” the Irish or “breed” the Irish out of existence is pure fascism that deploys the language of neo-Nazis. Barrett and O’Doherty condemn abortion when practiced by Irish women, and support a pro-natalist philosophy for Irish people (as Mussolini did in Italy).
Both ACI and the National Party revile “multiculturalism,” “liberalism,” and “internationalism” as “weak.” (Are they trying to “bury the putrid corpse of liberty”?) They have identified a common “enemy” — immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants — and they stoke fear in people with the specter of being “replaced.” They long for an idyllic Irish past in which people could enjoy the “laughter of comely maidens” (per de Valera), when Irish people were all of “Irish blood” (i.e., white). They proclaim that Irish people have become weak and need to “wake up” to reality — and only they are telling the truth as the government and media — especially RTÉ — only lie.
Finally, the National Party uses violence in support of its tactics. In my particular case, violence refers to the coordinated anti-Semitic harassment on Twitter, designed to intimidate me either to quite Twitter or quit writing about Ireland. Or maybe just because they think it’s fun.
Since I’m going to save the rest of my history and analysis of fascism in Ireland for the larger research piece I’m working on, I’ll return now to the fascists on Twitter, who likely represent a significant percentage of all of the fascists in Ireland, as I have always found the country to be open and welcoming. Someone alerted Justin Barrett to my tweet about my research, and he reposted it on his personal feed — that’s how I ended up the target of innumerable anti-Semitic and otherwise personal attacks, some of which I’m quoting below.
Here are some examples of the abuse I’ve received. A small selection out of the 1,000+ tweets that have accused me and all Jews of genocide, called my “boyfriend” an ape (I’m married); and on numerous occasions, these Irish fascists have recommended that I “die”:
In addition, people have told me that “Ireland is more than potatoes”; “Admit you’re a witch”; “Why do you hate Ireland?”; and they have itemized my allegedly “Jewish” features including a “hook nose and rat face.” They have told me that I’m not welcome in Ireland, and claim that my degrees don’t mean I know anything because only people with “Irish blood” can understand Ireland’s history. They have asked me how I would feel about Irish people immigrating to Israel? In fact, comments about Israel may be the most common trope in all of the abuse.
Reminding these people that I am American, not Israeli, has no impact. Nor do they care that I never comment on Israel or Palestine, as I don’t have enough knowledge of the issues to make intelligent remarks on the subject. To them, I’m “a Jew” because my surname is Weinstein, and that’s all that matters.
ACI and the National Party are fascist groups that peddle conspiracy theories. They frequently quote Donald Trump and make reference to “fake news” in an effort to reinforce the idea that only they tell the truth; and the truth will bring the Irish people into the streets to reject immigrants and Europe (among other things). They claim that “multiculturalism” doesn’t work, and that immigrants will “replace” “real” Irish people.
But here’s the thing: I live in New York City, which is the most diverse city in the world. I ride the subway every day, and see people of every race and ethnicity sitting together, chatting, and, yes, dating. There are so many inter-racial couples in New York City that I wouldn’t even venture to estimate a figure. So regarding the idea that the Irish will be “bred out of existence”--no one is forcing anyone to marry or have sex with a person of another race or ethnicity. People do so by choice. And, despite the fact that Gemma claims in one of her videos that the Irish people would “never” vote for abortion, that referendum passed by a large majority in 2018.
And this, I believe, is the real fear of these fascists: that the majority of Irish people really are liberal and internationalist in their mindset. The idealistic Ireland that they nostalgically yearn for — abounding with “the laughter of comely maidens,” in which abortion and same-sex marriage were illegal, and where there was no international presence — doesn’t exist.
And really, it never did.
Laura Weinstein is an independent scholar whose expertise focuses on Irish history and politics. She lives in New York City with her husband and three rescue cats.